Asian chic in 80s pop – the influence of China and Japan


JapanIn another blog post, I talked about bands flirting with Germanic and even Nazi era imagery and words. Other bands looked to the East for inspiration.

They included China Crisis, Gang of Four, Japan and…Huang Chung. At the time, China was still emerging from the years under Chairman Mao and the Cultural Revolution. While Japan had shaken off the legacy of the Second World War to become a mega economic power.

Like many young people, I had a T-shirt with a Japanese rising sun on it in the early 80s. I didn’t know that much about Japanese culture and had never watched a movie from that country. One band that used Japanese imagery in an unintentionally hilarious way was the German pop combo Alphaville with their hit single Big in Japan. I’ve posted the video made for that song below – try and keep a straight face.

Gang of Four, if your knowledge of 20th century Chinese history isn’t all that, were a group around Madame Mao put on trial after Mao’s death as China rejected his brand of communism. That band were heavily political and terribly serious, apparently influenced by the Frankfurt School of Marxism, don’t you know.

Chairman Mao pops up in the background on the album cover for Tin Drum, a massively successful LP from the band Japan. This was more of a tongue in cheek offering with very catchy tunes borrowing oriental sounds. I played it to death at college.

But Huang Chung is the band that made me laugh.  A kitsch notion of what Chinese rock music would sound like if it actually existed at the time.  The band were at pains to say they weren’t going to inflict ‘eastern scales’ on western ears. Huang Chung had some very un-Chinese band members – Hog Robinson, Jack Hues, Nick De Spig and Charles Darwin (sic).   They didn’t find the success they craved in the UK but did eventually break through in the US courtesy of Geffen Records – and a name change to Wang Chung.

This whole Chinese/Asian thing got to the extent that a club was planned in London called ‘The Great Wall’ to rival Blitz and Hell.

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