Scottish Post-punk Band White China Releases First New Record Since The '80s
They rocketed from Scotland with a wall of fireball guitars, crashing drums, chiming keyboards, and soaring vocals.
In 1985, the Scottish youths of White China were about to plunge into the neon-colored whirlpool of the New Wave. With a freshly minted contract from Island Records, the group released the single “Smiles & Jokes,” a riffy pop gem that was equal amounts U2-esque wide-screen rock and Ultravox-flavored synth-pop. They could have been famous. But, after a few singles and touring with Top-40 stars Big Country, the plug was pulled.
The band’s label rep had been fired, and the group’s debut LP, The Innocence, was quickly tossed into the abyss infamously known as the vaults. White China splintered thereafter. The group probably would have been completely forgotten if “Smiles & Jokes” hadn’t grabbed the ears of New Wave radio programmers in the Philippines in the late ‘80s. “Smiles & Jokes,” with its booming, ethereal dance hooks, found itself sharing playlists with the kings of post-punk – the Cure, Echo & the Bunnymen, Joy Division, the Smiths, and Depeche Mode. In another country, and completely oblivious to the band members at the time, White China had fulfilled their promise.
As the decades progressed, “Smiles & Jokes” never really vanished from Manila radio. It became a staple of ‘80s flashback programs, especially those devoted to New Wave. Owning the original vinyl, always hovering around the $100 range to this day on Ebay, became a badge of honor among Filipino collectors. When the group started migrating online, they discovered this large pocket of passionate fans in the Philippines.
It is through this group of followers – namely Executive Producer Lena Sto Domingo along with Boyet Garcia, Alfred Dee, and James Zalvidea – that White China has returned with their first record in nearly three decades. Entitled The Big Chill, it is a limited-edition, vinyl-only EP of new and unreleased old tracks. Featuring vocalist/guitarist Pete Chambers, bassist Craig Manning, keyboardist Jeff Bernstein, and drummer Kenny Graham, White China itself has reunited and is preparing for their live debut in the Philippines.
The Manila trip wouldn’t be the first time White China has paid homage to their Filipino fans. In a recent magazine interview, the band wore matching shirts featuring WXB 102, the legendary Philippine-based New Wave radio station that was ousted from the FM airwaves in 1987 but was resurrected as an online-based entity in 2005. Still programmed by its brilliant original tastemaker George Frederick, WXB 102 continues to broadcast its uncompromising vision of classic alternative music to a global audience. Its life and that of White China seem intertwined; both were yanked from existence just when they were on the brink of regional domination, only to be revived from their slumber by fans who never recovered from their loss, fans who simply dared to be different.