When it comes to Pet Conspiracy, well, for Time Out Beijing, it was love at first sight. Formed at the end of 2007, they immediately grabbed our attention. Their live shows were unlike anything else: brilliantly flamboyant affairs involving elaborate stage design, band members wearing animal costumes and chains, not to mention trading instruments as well as French kisses – girl on girl, boy on boy, whatever goes went.
And, most brilliantly, you could hear the substance beneath the style. Pet Conspiracy’s gorgeous electropop fused clever songwriting with waves of synth, catchy hooks and pulsating beats, all held together by Helen Feng’s extraordinary voice. Alluring, soft, melodious, fierce, bewitching – she could do it all. It’s no wonder she won ‘Best Female Rock Vocal Performance’ at the 2009 Midi Awards.
The band soon followed up on their early promise with a brilliant EP – 2008’s Depot – that showed they were a serious proposition even when stripped of the lavish aesthetic of their shows. Very simply, it proved the then five-piece were the real deal. Their fan base continued to build, and a Pet Conspiracy performance became a must-see.
Things reached such a point that, at the beginning of 2010, a prominent industry figure tipped the band in this very magazine ‘to get picked up by a progressive label like that’ DFA and start blowing minds around the globe’. What actually happened is that Feng left Pet Conspiracy, thereby breaking our tiny musical hearts. And so, it was with great excitement we discovered that the four remaining members release their debut album this month, and we can once again talk about this electrifying outfit in the present rather than the past tense.
Huzi (guitar and programming), Fiona (aka Yun Yun; vocals and video), Edo (drums) and Mary (vocals and DJ) are having some time out when we arrive at the apartment complex near Q Bar where they’re rehearsing. In the corridor outside their musical den sits a small slot machine. Spirits are high as the band try their luck while smoking and drinking to the soundtrack of mechanical beeps and ripples of laughter. But, before they resume their session, we sit down to clear up the theories swirling around these pets and their latest conspiracy.
It’s not that Pet Conspiracy are back – they never went away – more that Feng’s departure coincided with the group heading off on a long European tour before squirreling themselves away to work on their long-anticipated album. ‘It’s been about half a year, doing this CD,’ says Huzi, looking every part the rocker in his leather jacket and jazzy trousers, ‘and during that period we’ve had to turn down shows to get the record out. Actually, it’s been about three years, counting all the songs we’ve worked on, so this release is really important to us.’
But, while we are obviously here to talk about the new album and the band’s future, it’s hard to let the past go. Feng may have left last year, but her shadow still looms in the minds of many. Her commanding stage presence led some to assume the band had imploded when she exited stage left. ‘People have that problem,’ acknowledges Huzi, ‘but it’s like a new movie is starting. It’s okay to have changes. It’s still about the music, and it’s always been fluid.’
And, if anyone should know, it would be Huzi – the only founding member still with the group, the one who has seen people come and go while continuing to drive the project forward. Because, while Feng’s departure may have caused the biggest splash, she’s not the first ex-Pet; Glorious Pharmacy drummer Zhang Wei used to carry out stick work for Huzi before Edo brought his Italian good looks and powerful drumming to the party, while local nightlife luminary Liman was the band’s original DJ before Edo’s fellow Italian, Mary, came to the decks.
‘Changing members is, to me, perfectly normal,’ adds Huzi. ‘The audience may have a different perspective, but, you know, the music didn’t suddenly become bad. It’s just, well, the reason Helen left is because of a difference in style, creative differences, and that’s that.’ And that’s that? We’re tempted to push things further, but Planet Helen has already taken up too large a chunk of our time together.‘
There’s no lead singer now,’ explains Mary, who has added vocal work to her DJing duties, teaming up with Yun Yun, who already offered backing vocals when Feng was still around. ‘And it’s a choice for us. There isn’t a central personality. Each of us has a role, but can switch. Fiona and I sing, but sometimes we switch; sometimes I go to DJ and Edo sings. It’s much more dynamic than before. That’s the point.’
But don’t be fooled into thinking this means there won’t ever be a new lead singer. ‘We’re probably going to have a fifth element,’ reveals Mary. ‘There might be another two members,’ adds Edo. And what about Huzi – the musical mastermind, who, on the evidence of the rehearsal that follows, has always been the one behind Pet Conspiracy’s distinctive sound? ‘I think I want to find four dancers. Can Time Out
help us find four dancers?’ Potential pets of the world unite, you have nothing to lose; it’s time to gain your dancing chains.Pet Conspiracy's album release show is at Tango 3rd Floor on Saturday 4 June.