Your Favorite Enemies play Mao Livehouse Saturday. Photo: Xiao Wei
Adding to a chipped tooth and bruised jaw, a visit to the birthplace of Chinese punk last week earned Alex Foster a "Wuhan kiss," or a couple of fractured ribs to the Chinese rock layman, after he "learned to fly" from the balcony of the city's VOX Livehouse.
"It's been a passionate tour so far," laughed Foster, lead singer of Your Favorite Enemies (YFE), on a train to Suzhou. "I've been beaten up with passion."
The heavy-hitting, socially conscious Canadian rock sextet will tie off a hefty 16-date tour at Mao Livehouse Saturday with Australian punk upstarts The On Fires and China's own scream team, Subs.
Originally booked to play the May festival circuit, YFE turned down some major European festivals and put off their long awaited third release until this Autumn. Their decision was not only to make room for The Hope Project, a benefit concert series in Japan later this month for Earthquake victims, but also their expanded China club tour, despite advice otherwise about turning a profit.
"A lot of other musicians told us not to come, saying there's no future there, like a body without a soul," he said. But Foster couldn't be more impressed with the unbridled passion of crowds, some of which he describes as "beautiful chaos."
"We've never experienced this degree of intensity before as artists," he said. "It's like being part of an amazing awakening."
In line with the DIY ethic that is attributed to their success following their 2007 self-backed debut EP, YFE is following the same spirit in China, with cheap hotels, train travel and street food.
"People know what's real and what's packaged. It's the difference between fire and neon lights," Foster said when asked for DIY advice for the many young Beijing bands. "Stay true, because it's always better to follow your own values and not succeed than realize years later you failed by following someone else's."
A former social worker with immigrant youth in Montreal, Foster was eager to communicate with the kids coming to see YFE performances.
"I was told, 'I'm stuck between the culture of my father and the insecurity of the future.'" Foster recalled one conversation after a show, "They're excited, but they know there's a struggle ahead."
Known for their active support for such organizations as AIDS charity (RED) and long-time spokesman for Amnesty International, Foster had been accused of "playing it safe" while in China.
"It's not about my politics, it's about filling the gap and distance between people," he said. "You don't make an impact by taking to the streets and invoking an incident. It would have been very selfish of me to get on stage and talk about my world views. That would just let people down."
"It's better just to share in moments with the people, going crazy, being alive. This way, you're just adding to the wave of transformation already in place."
"I'm already seeing that liberty in the crowd, I don't have to yell at it."