Li Yang, 23, is the lead singer for a band called Demerit. He spent $3 to dye a chunk of his black hair blond. He gave a tailor another $3 to narrow a pair of black pants and add huge zippers and chains. A button on his jacket said, "No Life, No Future."
At a recent day-long punk festival at a drive-in movie theater, where even the resident dog had a mohawk, Li argued that Chinese punks have rejected the drugs and violence of some of the punks who gave rise to the genre in Europe and the United States.
"They were troublemakers," said Li, who is also known as Spike. "We are trying to change the image of punk rockers. We just want to tell the audience that the music is pure and that we are nice and not violent."
Many punk rockers in China are long on style and short on substance, critics say. Few of them can articulate what they stand for or explain what their songs mean. Some claim to be voices for the downtrodden but aren't familiar with true poverty.
Critics point out that most of the punks are members of a generation born in the 1980s, and the first to be raised in the one- child-only families mandated by the government. Their parents are seen as more indulgent, willing to let their only children lead the lives that they want.
"They don't know what they want because they want so many things," said Lu Bo, chief executive of Scream Records and owner of a now-defunct club that helped popularize punk music in Beijing eight years ago. "Those born in the '60s and '70s were told by their teachers and parents, 'This is the way you should lead your lives.' No one told this group. They're free to follow new trends."
Some analysts say that, in a way, China's punks can afford to be a little aimless. Many of them are more well-off than their parents...