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Flowers – In Bloom?

China's first famous adolescent band, Flowers, had barely blossomed into youth when they appeared on the Chinese music scene in 1998. The three members, Da Zhangwei, Wang Wenbo and Guoyang, were all under 18 at the time, making one wonder why they weren't in school rather than performing in smoky bars. But in an industry not noted for its intellectuals, who needs education? Certainly not Flowers, whose 1999 debut album "On the other Side of Happiness" gave them a lot to smile about with its huge sales.

Flowers' music at the start of their career was pretty typical of what you might expect from a bunch of teenagers – pure pop punk reminiscent of US layabouts such as Green Day and Blink 182. 1998 was in fact the year that punk properly broke into China, as various Sex Pistols wannabes smashed and spat their way around the Beijing's underground music scene. Actually, maybe I should say "the month of punk" as the movement had seemingly fizzled out even before the hair gel had dried or the spit had hit the ground. The demise was mainly because of the anti-commercial attitudes of the bands, many of whom packed their amps and went off to Yunnan for an extended holiday of about two years.

"Flowers", unable as they were to hide their hunger for commercial success, were somewhat aloof from this scene, and often derided in some quarters for their attitudes. No matter, as the accessible nature of songs like "Stillness", "Disillusion" and "School's Out" made the band perfect for the music market they wished to conquer. Some credit must go to them for helping to give disaffected Chinese youth a resonant voice, as many teenagers were deeply affected by their songs and felt that Flowers' lyrics reflected their own life experiences. As a result, punk music in general became more widely known, no doubt much to the consternation of the Yunnan contingent.

In light of the band's commercial impact, some overenthusiastic commentators even declared that they were the true bringers of punk to Chinese. They pointed out that fans had previously found even the acoustic grunge of Nirvana's "Unplugged in New York" difficult to comprehend. But if you take rebellion - the bread and butter of punk - and water it down as much as Flowers did, it's debatable whether you have anything more than just pap.

Although their music wasn't very hard edged, Flowers were at least punk enough to get involved in a two year long lawsuit with their first company, New Bees Music. The dispute almost brought the band to a premature end, but was eventually settled out of court. Flowers marked the end of their purgatory by signing to EMI and bringing in a fourth member, a guitar player by the name of Shi Xingyu. Fortunately this change wasn't just a superficial face-lift, as the band had by this point become sick of the simple but effective music which had made them so popular. Like many other musicians, they were looking to diversify.

This diversification can be heard on their new album, "I' m Your Romeo", which features musical styles such as hip-hop and techno. Flowers now seem to be a long way from their old punk roots, but they are as straightforward as ever in their ideals ...or lack of them. Vocalist Da Zhangwei says "We have to earn our living through music... Pleasing our fans is our reason for making music and we don't care about other things." The songs are still fairly upbeat and the lyrics pretty direct, although Da Zhangwei has softened the tone a bit for some of the love related songs. At least having begun making music at such a young age, Flowers now have the opportunity to make the journey to full musical maturity, but that would be a much tougher route than the well trodden musical journey to the bank.

Feel the Flowers:


(CRI July 30, 2004)

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