Clockenflap cheat sheet: Pet Conspiracy
Pet Conspiracy's occasionally out-of-control front chick Helen Feng tells Mark Tjhung about governmental intervention, man-on-man action, and going out on a limb
Where did your band's name come from?
I have a dog, and we just acquired a new cat. So we have a lot of animals between the band -- I don't think there's a single person in the band that doesn't have a pet. We put the band together really quickly, and we thought it was a one off. Just before we got on stage, [fellow Pet Conspiracy member] Huzi found this weird cap, with dog ears on it, and we decided to wear that and scuba goggles on stage. From that very powerful image, we decided to adopt this animal persona, and when we finally had to decide on a name, we thought about having something to do with animals. We decided on Pet Conspiracy because we thought our pets are probably conspiring against us, because we leave them at home too much.
Does a conspiracy ever raise eyebrows in the capital?
Ironically, recently, we were doing a performance for a government -- every government in China wants their own personal music festival -- and so they did this electronic music festival. About a week before we performed, they'd cleared everything, but of course there's always one kiss ass in the group who raises his hand and says, 'But the name of the band is Pet Conspiracy. Around the time of National Day, we don't want to have this name on our bill.' So we discovered all these posters with the word 'Pet'. But as happens in China with these strange policies, they always manage to disappear, and on the day of the show, our name Pet Conspiracy was everywhere. I wondered what happened, because I thought we were just 'Pet' [Laughs].
So you've just finished a European Tour. How was it?
It was brilliant. I'd heard a lot from other bands that had toured Europe before, [saying] attendances weren't great but it was still good. So we were expecting that as well. We found exactly the oppose. We had an incredibly turnout and almost every show. The audiences response was really good and gave us lots of encouragement -- more than we get in China.
How would you describe your own sound?
Music is only about 30 per cent of what we do. Sound wise, we're influenced by a lot of different artists. Jokingly, I always go with a mix of Nancy Sinatra and Marlene Dietrich. But I'm personally into down-tempo disco, and I think I've brought a lot of that influence into the band -- [like] Chromatics and Glass Candy -- debaucherous but still very slow. Also from lots of Frenchies, like Justice and Ed Banger stuff, which comes primarily from our first DJ. And then, we have a lot of wave influence, which we found when we were on tour, getting a lot of wave, dark-wave people. I was like 'Apparently, we're influenced by nu-wave and dark-wave'.
You were saying music is just part of what you do. Tell us about the rest.
We started as half music, half performance art. For us, it's still a lot of what we are. [We sometimes get] the criticism that we're not really genuine as a band. We are actually quite fake, because it is theatre. I don't come on stage and express 100 per cent of my personality -- rather it's more a character. For us, it's a lot of visuals, a lot of exaggeration, a lot of channeling of different performers, whether it be Amy Winehouse in her worst moments, or Nancy Sinatra and Marlene Dietrich.
Is there a philosophy that goes along with what you do?
There is definitely a philosophy. We tend to the darker side. We always touch and play with taboos. For instance, we have two completely straight men in the group who love to make out on stage. Why? I don't know -- they're completely straight! [Laughs].
Is that part of the philosophy, or just what they like doing?
[Laughs] It's just that we're always touching on something that's hopefully touching a nerve. We're not chasing a particular fashion. Rather, we just go on and do something edgy and a little uncomfortable, but also have this cabaret mentality of having something visually very dazzling. It's also a play on what China loves -- these visual spectacles with lots of people on stage and colours. We're just fucking around basically -- completely disintegrating the spectacle into something that's a little bit off. It's that mixture that creates what people see.
Do you love having that excuse to do something you wouldn't ordinarily do?
Absolutely. It's a lot of freedom for an artist. Because it always tends to being off and on the dark side, we can be very normal people in real life, but complete assholes on stage. It's wonderful. But sometimes it bleeds into reality, like when, recently, in a moment of peaking glory, I jumped into the VIP seats of the Tianjin government. Luckily I didn't get shot, but I broke my arm [Laughs].
Is that what we can expect at Clockenflap?
I don't know. I'm still nursing the broken arm, so I'm not sure. I'm definitely getting more conservative in terms of physical risk.
You're not ruling it out though, right?
I'm hoping this cask will come off before. But we've fallen off stages, we've broken glass on the ceiling. I broke a bottle on the ceiling, which showered down and broke my guitarist's neck. It was all a bit more punk rock when we went to Europe.
Any final words?
We're hoping to meet up with really cool people backstage who bring alcohol [Laughs]. It doesn't have to be very expensive -- it can be baiju or something.
Does According to front-chick Helen Feng, “Nancy Sinatra meets Marlene Dietrich.” In reality, down-tempo disco, with a heavy chunk of wave, French-electro influences and the occasional screaming outburst.
You care because Pet Conspiracy is at the forefront of China’s ever-growing electro-clash, disco-rock scene. And they’re also known for raucous live shows, which not even the threat of the firing line can curb. Says Feng: “Recently in a moment of peaking glory, I jumped into the VIP seats of the Tianjin government. Luckily I didn’t get shot, but I broke my arm.”
Here’s proof of their screaming, trashing, crowd-surfing antics on their recent European tour.
Heavy, solo petting Was billed for a recent festival as just ‘Pet’ when a government in China thought including the word ‘conspiracy’ was a little too provocative.
They promise guy on guy action “We always touch and play with taboos. We have two completely straight men in the group who love to make out on stage.”
Check out our other Clockenflap cheat sheets:
Web exclusive interview: Pet Conspiracy