In the wake of Rustic frontman Lucifer stripping naked onstage at SXSW’s recent Jesus and the Mary Chain reunion show, observers may be left wondering, “Can there indeed be a more wild and crazy guy in Chinese rock?!”
Well friends, I’m here to tell you there is. And while this one also has a penchant for getting naked onstage, that doesn’t even begin to explain the full extent of both his and his band’s gorgeous insanity – and their value to the Chinese underground scene.
Rock critic Zhang Xiao Zhou put it best: “Shanghai only has two bands. One is called Top Floor Circus. The second is called ‘other bands.’” With just over a decade of history behind them, Top Floor Circus (顶楼的马戏团dǐnglóu de mǎxìtuán) are the unrivaled hometown heroes of Shanghai—and arguably one of the best bands in China.
Though they’ve done just about everything they can to alienate listeners—switching from punk to hip hop and singing all in Shanghainese come to mind—Top Floor Circus have remained a cult favorite. Part of the reason for this is their spectacular live show: a brilliant, winking spectacle led by vocalist Lu Chen, who enjoys stripping down to his underwear, flashing saucy smiles and singing songs with titles like “Kuaidi Yuan” (《快递员》, an ode to express delivery men) and “Hailuo Ayi” (《海螺阿姨》, a love song for his cleaner).
Another is their absolute fearlessness; the band became notorious in 2009 for their anthem “Shanghai Doesn’t Welcome You” (a spoof on “Beijing Welcomes You”), which they released just in time for the run-up to the Shanghai Expo. A video of the song went viral on Youku, before getting taken down by the authorities (the band was also banned from performances for several months).
But to reduce the band to pure silliness on the one hand, or provocation on the other, would be missing the point. Because Top Floor Circus are much more, and much more brilliant, than that: they are jesters of the highest order, satirists who take aim not only at the social and political order around them, but at everything, from notions of nationality and culture to music itself. They are, in other words, China’s most incisively post-modern band. …Or, you know, they’re a bunch of naked guys in Santa hats having fun.
Check out their Douban for music, pictures, videos and upcoming shows. Below is a hilarious documentary about the band made by veryrock.net, for the band’s 10-year anniversary:
For more Chinese music goodness, have a read of our blogs on the new godfather of Chinese rock XTX, and the troubled genius of He Yong