Thursday, June 21, 2012

Melting Pot Massacre: hardcore, feminist, POC punk

Melting Pot Massacre: hardcore, feminist, people of colour, punk band, headed across the ditch to play their soul-tingling-sweet-screams at Sydney's Decolonise Punk Fest. 

Mellow Yellow caught up with them to find out how it all came to be.

1. Sydney Decolonise Punk Fest. What's that all about and why is MPM going along?

ss: I guess, being a POC band awakened from the nightmare of colonisation, the initial attraction was the word "decol" in itself. It helped when a friend who visited from Melbourne at Auckland's Decol hui in Feb 2012, recommended that we should totally play decol punkfest. That, plus the notion that Australia was willing to engage in decol politics, was, we thought, something pretty radical to begin with.
So in a nutshell, MPM went along because we assumed that the festival organisers regarded 'decolonisation' responsibly. We thought it was all these punk bands coming together to relate what decolonisation means to them.  We even half anticipated to "tolerate" white privileged acts thinking decolonisation is simply about being "anti-racist". 
(...well little did we realise how horribly naive that was!)

2. There's been kerfuffle on the FB grapevine about Sydney Decol Punk Fest being a bit of a white guilt token gig, where are you all on that train of thought?

Yeah as we mentioned before, we weren't too sure what we were getting into. I guess, we desperately wanted to believe that there would be at least one or two or a few people of colour and indigenous folks who have put all this effort and are challenged by a lack of participation from people of colour communities, that they resorted to leveraging off white male privilege, to make an epic thing happen. And then we read the FB stream of comments between various entities (some of whom are friends based in NZ whose politics we're in tune with) and we had a shock of our lives!..  So much internalised racism, and colour-blindness, denial even,  it was all a bit too much to read.. But by that time, our hard-earned flights were booked, and we were just focused on playing our music we figured, look, for what it's worth, when else would we, a self-identified poc hardcore feminist punk band get to play a festival in Sydney?     Let's just roll with this and if nothing else, show em' what decolonising punk sounds like!

3. Say “asian girl music” and people might think of pan pipes and canto pop. What's MPM all about?

ss: HAHA interesting isn't it that asian immediately triggers imagery of sino/east asian firstly! Anyway we chose punk as a genre to begin with and started using it more of as an attitude to various noise-rock genres per se...although, let it be known that some of us in the band are FANS of cantopop birl groups too (thanks to karaoke4lyf)! 
On a serious note, MPM collectively identifies as genderqueer, of 1.5/2nd generation migrant backgrounds, based in Aotearoa with roots from Asia.. if in a word, we identify as people of colour as a whole, which is a relatively new term in (post)colonial language I guess, but it does aptly address the fact that  we each hold and carry a mix of historicities through our ancestry, heritage, and familial ties through our diasporas...     I guess too often our subjectivities are constantly negotiated depending on which city, scene or people surrounding us... so in that sense, claiming as POC gives us the autonomy to position and re-position our sense of self and identity without having to constantly educate others/ justify our politics.

mz: It's also great outlet for our pent up rage that we're so often taught to just internalise.

4. Asian feminist punk music isn't exactly mainstream. How did you all get into it?

ss: well it all started with mz and I hanging out on weekends, youtube'ing vids of asian hardcore punk bands like King Ly Chee and My Precious. we were both toying with the idea of dual screamo and just experimented screaming and growling for fun! And then it got to the point when we just had to give it a good shot, get some other female friends we know play instruments, and get it started. We were all really mucking around, until we wrote our first song 'Welcome', realising that “shiit we got this sound”.
Months later, mz and me wrote and rough-recorded our second song "Behind Closed Doors" and we took the risk to just scream every single word and record it with distortion in our mate's garage. We liked what we heard. So we just kept doing more noisy stuff I guess. Having said that, we really wanted to incorporate all sorts of influences, and be "real" in our music, so having a punchy pop edge is important to some songs. I guess it's all about how we choose to deliver our message, rather than whether it reaches to mainstream or underground audiences..

mz: Shasha and I have been into punk music from a young age and we've both been in punk bands before, but I think we've have similar experiences and thoughts on the white-dominated punk scene in Aotearoa. I got into punk music at a young age cos I was sick of all the apolitical bubblegum stuff that a lot of my peers were into, and I was attracted to the attitude of defiance and rebellion against the mainstream dominant culture. But punk music was mostly played by white men and the punk scene reflected this white male dominance. When I first got into punk, there was a lot more anarcho-punks and willingness to be involved in radical politics, but soon I got disillusioned when more punks dropped out on activism and I started seeing shit in the punk scene that reproduced societal oppressions. I felt really alienated cos none of the music reflected my experience and there's such a eurocentric subcultural way of being that is so image-based it just didn't work for me, so I withdrew from the 'scene' and focused more on anti-racist anarcha-feminist stuff.  But if there's one punk ethic that we can owe the beginnings of this band to is DIY: "do it yourself" or "do it together".    There's no other asian feminist punk band in Aotearoa at the moment and we wanna see more so we just had to do it ourselves.
photo courtesy of ej tapnio.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Commemorating the Tiananmen Square Massacre

I wrote this article for Imminent Rebellion three years ago. Today marks the 23rd Anniversary of the Tiananmen Square Massacre and I'm re-posting it here because it should never be forgotten. With all the recent student resistance to budget cuts, it helps to know that we are not alone. We're part of a history of student resistance internationally, and we're still fighting back.

Commemorating the Tiananmen Square Massacre 

"Unless we overthrow this inhumane government, our country will have no hope," – Cai Ling, student organiser
Twenty years have passed since the Chinese Communist state’s massacre of activists at Tiananmen Square at 1989. Twenty years ago, students and workers involved in the June 4th Movement fought against the authoritarianism, patriarchy, corruption and bureaucracy of the Chinese Communist Party. This movement emerged from a context of economic reform that caused high inflation and declining living standards. During this movement, there were many inspiring acts of dissent and solidarity with worker and student co-operation and mutual aid. There was a momentary rupture in history where the state was under threat, and its power undermined through student and worker resistance. The city of Beijing was temporarily taken over by the people and became an autonomous zone. It was a significant threat to the power of the bureaucrats in the CCP, who then ordered army to massacre of students at Tiananmen Square. The horrific violence of the state should never be forgotten or forgiven. 

I will first look at some of the conditions in China based on my relatives’ experiences and describe an oral history[1] of this event from the perspective of an ex-Beijing student who now resides in Aotearoa called Jiefang[2]. Although it is hard to completely comprehend these events without being part of the cultural milieu and “being there”, much can be learnt from people who were there at the grassroots. But I also want to go beyond description and look at how and why this concept of ‘democracy’ was employed by students; how they were represented in the west; reflect on the strategies both authoritarian communist states and capitalist democracies use to suppress and limit dissent by using each other to assert their legitimacy. 

Some background

For many peasants and workers the communist revolution brought hope of freedom and equality. The ideals of Marx, Engels, Mao and Lenin were the basis for a radical restructuring of urban and rural society in China.  My maternal grandfather, who joined the Communist Party at age 30, just after migrating to the city from the village, believed the politics of communism would be beneficial for peasants like him and my grandmother. While the revolution provided material benefits to the working class and the peasantry (initially) – with relatively equal distribution of necessities such as food and clothing – this form of authoritarian communism made many worshippers of Mao. The regime created a personality cult around Mao, making it a crime to question his words. Neighbours would report his critics, who then would be arrested. An analogy my mother always likes to make is that Mao to most Chinese people during his reign was what God is to Christians – an omnipotent and omnipresent being, who guides the people to salvation. A colleague of hers was imprisoned for 8 years for saying one of the Communist politicians “didn’t look like a good guy”[3]. My paternal grandfather was also imprisoned for three months for being an intellectual. Intellectuals or people with education were considered dangerous and threatening to the communist regime: the Party needed total control over thought and ideology to govern well.

With this all-powerful state in place, there was obviously little scope for democratising power.  Since the establishment of the CCP government in 1949, there have been major turbulent periods caused by Mao’s policies such as the Great Leap Forward and Cultural Revolution. After Mao’s death government policies began to change. In 1978, Deng Xiaoping and other pragmatists in the CCP started making economic reforms. This marked the “opening up” of the Chinese economy (改革开放), and it allowed foreign investment and greater integration with global capitalism. However, after decades of anti-capitalism, this had to be presented to Chinese people as part of the ‘socialist’ program, so Deng termed this change “socialism with Chinese characteristics”. It was a program for modernisation and capital investment to expand the Chinese economy. Consequently, the gap between the rich and poor had greatly widened in China.