Interview: Red Scarf

A minute into their new single ‘Freak Show 畸形秀’ and you’ll know whether or not Red Scarf is for you. It’s a deep dive into the mouth of madness as a high-pitched sorna leads the charge into a fierce battle of drums and guitar, as the sound turns into a symphony of metal-tinged break downs and free jazz roar before the unexpected buzz of a synthesisers drowns out the mayhem. It’s pretty bonkers. And I absolutely love it. 

One of Beijing’s gnarliest avant-garde outfits, Red Scarf return this weekend to unleash their latest album They Know We Know They Are Lying on Bad Head Records, a sub-label of Modern Sky Records specifically made for its more mischievous musicians. Made of a trio of madmen who deconstruct, reassemble, and then decimate genre after genre, their sets are a tension filled, technically awe-inspiring, and wildly fun take on rock, free jazz, and noise. I shot the band a few questions before their release show on Sunday, May 20th, at Yue Space. 


Translation by Cab 

There’s no easy to describe your music, but it’s clear each of you come from distinguished, technically proficient musical backgrounds. Could you describe the background of each of your members and explain how the three of you finally got together?

描述你们的音乐并不容易,但很明显,你们乐队每个人都有着杰出的、技术精湛的音乐背景。 能否具体描述一下你们每个成员的音乐背景,以及你们三个最终是如何聚在一起组乐队的呢?

All three of us are from Northern China. Li Xing, the guitarist, and Deng Boyu, the drummer, are from Hohhot and Baotou in Inner Mongolia. The saxophone player Lao Dan is from Dandong, a border city between China and North Korea. Li Xing and Deng Boyu have been deeply influenced by rock music and were also classically trained in jazz. Lao Dan began learning the Chinese traditional musical instrument, the bamboo flute, at a very early age, and also played saxophone. Around 2012, we all participated in the production and recording of some world music as well as a few experimental projets, but we realised soon that it was so boring and left us empty to create this kind of music. Imposing meaning, not at all what we wanted to do, and in addition was in no way related to our lives. By the end of 2014, Li Xing and Lao Dan made a noise/improvisational album together called ‘Killing Killing Killing’. It was more like performance art and it broke us out of our surrounding environment. Xiaoyu heard it and immediately connected to it. Thus, Red Scarf was born.



What stands out most to me is the array of genres sucked into your vortex of musical mayhem. Is there method to your madness?


Yeah, it is insane, and we want to make no secret of what we have experienced, learned, and been told – whether good or bad, we wanna truly represented them. These contradictions all come from our environment. A few days ago I thought of a word to describe it – “exam-oriented rock 应试摇滚”



The name of your upcoming album is ‘They Know We Know They Are Lying’. What or who exactly are you referring to?


It refers to all hypocritical, decadent, authoritarian, and arbitrary stuff. It’s inaccurate to think that it specifically referring to a system, because everything is related, not a single occurrence.



It sounds like you guys are having a lot of fun at shows and on record – something I wish more musicians in your scene should strive for. Could you describe your sense of humour? And what’s your stance on the avant garde and experimental music scene in Beijing and the rest of China?


There are few opportunities for us to rehearse together. We focus on rehearsing passages with a theme. Improvisational passages will be left to the mood of everyone on the day of the performance. The same for our recordings. The album was recorded in only two days. All of the recordings were recorded as synchronous sound and no metronome was used. We think that if the overall emotion is correct then everything is fine, and we do not modify the flaws. For us, the flaws will make the recording more resistance to listening . The names of the tracks usually appeare at a moment when we are arranging a certain phrase or tone, combined with some bad ideas,then the names just show up in our mind.

Does art need to ask questions constantly? Are we standing at a crossroads to make the declaration?





What can we expect at your release show this Sunday? Any special guests or surprises?


We will invite Song Yuzhe, the master mind of ”Mutuigua”and”Dawanggang”, We may randomly ask people from the audience to improvise together.


Catch Red Scarf this Sunday, May 20th at Yue Space with support from Song Yuzhe. Tickets can be found here:

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