Speak Chinese or Die
  • Courtesy of John Yingling
  • Speak Chinese or Die

Back in the summer of 2013, tireless former Chicago scene documentarian John Yingling—currently residing in Missoula, Montana—announced that he would be taking his operation global. He’d made a name for himself around town by running the website Gonzo Chicago, in which he filmed and photographed every underground show he came across for years before relocating to Montana, where he continued doing the same thing. With the help of crowdfunding he started up his latest project, a web series titled The World Underground, then set off to China with little more than a camera, jumped head-first into the country’s punky musical culture, and traveled around meeting musicians and documenting their stories for two solid months. And now, a year and a half later, we have the final result.

“My brain hurts,” Yingling jokes, having just wrapped up the first episode of this ambitious project. “The process was intense. Translation was tough, due to the many regions we went through.”

The 90-minute episode “The World Underground: China” delves deep into the Chinese underground, covering over three dozen bands from all over the country and featuring interviews with artists, promoters, and producers. One of the film’s highlights is footage Yingling gathered by tagging along with legendary Chinese postpunk band P.K. 14 on one of their tours. “Going on tour with P.K. 14 ended up being crucial,” he says.

The obvious star of this beautifully made film is the music, and so many of these bands are excellent. They include hardcore, emo, postrock, and punk, and most would never pop up on America’s radar if it wasn’t for Yingling’s trip.

And there’s more being worked on. Two more episodes are in postproduction: one that covers another tour of Asia and one that takes a look at Yingling’s home of Missoula. A full-fledged Chicago episode—a tribute to the city where Yingling got his start as a filmmaker—is in the works too, “but I have to move back to finish,” he says.

Check out the first episode of The World Underground below. You can download a high-definition copy of it for five dollars from the website. Donations of all sorts of accepted as well.