Beijing bands rock NY, backed by film screening

Updated: 2013-03-18 10:55

By Caroline Berg in New York (China Daily)

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 Beijing bands rock NY, backed by film screening

Little Punk, a drummer from Shanghai, plays a lead character in Iceberg, about a fictional Beijing rock band. provided to China Daily

A skinny young Chinese man in a white Silver Apples T-shirt and sunglasses began the night with a drumbeat. Moments later, a fan clad in a black beret in front of the stage was throwing his right arm around as though he hoped to lasso the rocker's rhythm.

The drummer, Wang Xu, is half of the experimental electronic duo White+, which played at the Ran Tea House in Brooklyn, New York, on Saturday night along with two other Chinese bands, the Gar and Carsick Cars.

"It's so weird to see all these people I know from Beijing in this context," filmmaker Maya Rudolph said.

The concert was arranged in conjunction with a preview screening of Rudolph's first film, Iceberg, a 12-minute short about a fictional Chinese rock band. The film was inspired by the 25-year-old's experience living in Beijing and becoming immersed in its rock culture.

"To some extent, the lead character is based on Atom, the drummer from [Beijing rock band] Hedgehog, just because she's one of the most outstanding drummers in the world," Rudolph said.

Iceberg began as a solitary project with a script Rudolph wrote two years ago. Upon its completion, the filmmaker began generating interest and forming a team bit by bit.

"I started talking to a lot of friends who are musicians about this film idea I had and, big surprise, a lot of musicians also want to become actors," she said.

The New York native talked with China Daily about the perseverance it took to get the movie made in China with a bunch of novices, including herself.

On the first day of shooting, highways flooded in Beijing's heaviest rains in 60 years.

"We were shooting a scene in a tiny apartment with a balcony that was flooding, and the water was getting into the house," Rudolph recalled. "The crew stripped off all their clothes and went out onto this balcony and started bailing water with woks that we found in the kitchen."

With a tiny budget and just four days allotted for shooting, time was precious. Fears of power outages and drowned crew members filled the director's mind. However, Rudolph said no one was fazed by the potential setbacks.

For White+ drummer Wang, who played one of the lead male characters, a more pressing challenge was getting romantic on camera.

"I know [the crew was] all watching me like a jerk to kiss the girl," he said. "I just wanted to hide in the corner."

During two months of preproduction, Rudolph met with her actors two to three times a week to discuss the characters and to rehearse.

"Filmmaking is basically about over-preparing and then troubleshooting when totally unforeseen things go wrong," she said. "I got really lucky with a really dedicated crew."

Rudolph described Iceberg as a very local movie. All location scouting was done on bicycle, all scenes were shot within Beijing's second ring road, and White+ and Carsick Cars are featured on the soundtrack.

"I learned a lot from this experience," Rudolph said about making her first film. "I know what I must do to make the next one better. I hope there will be a next one."

Although the lead actress in Iceberg, a Shanghai drummer nicknamed Little Punk, wasn't at the weekend screening in Brooklyn, the night felt like it could have taken place at a Beijing rock club, with many of Rudolph's friends from China in attendance.

"I've never seen this place so crowded," said Ian Chan, who lives in Flushing, in the neighboring New York City borough of Queens, and has frequented Ran Tea House for eight months.

When the Gar took the stage and the band's lead guitarist strummed a familiar riff, a group of Chinese and non-Chinese shouted approval and instantly formed a mosh pit in the middle of the crowd.

One fan was a young graphic designer from Denmark visiting New York with his girlfriend. The two had been waiting in line for another concert next-door when the Dane heard that Carsick Cars was on Saturday night's bill at the Chinese-run teahouse. The place is easy to miss, as its entrance looks like the back door of a factory.

"There was no question we had to come see Carsick Cars," the man said. "I saw them play a few years ago at a festival in Barcelona and they were like nothing else.