On the road with two high school bands
Himsheela Bharati (Vocals), 18, from Nepal
Gwen Li (Guitar), 15, from the UK
Chloe Chang (Bass), 15, from the US
Trina Ma (Keyboards), 13, from Malaysia
Ariane Mahon (Drums), 13, from New Zealand
Jacque Wedgewood-Young (Guitar & Vocals), 16, from the UK
Marina Mihalkov (Backing Vocals), 16, from France
Ryo Koblitz (Bass), 16, from the US and Japan
Annie Lee (Keyboards), 17, from Korea
Dylan Mahon (Drums), 15, from New Zealand
Guillaume Dujat des Allimes (Percussion), 13, from France
Piles of equipment litter the entrance hall of Harrow International School Beijing. Two rival bands are packing their stuff in preparation for the much-heralded International Schools Battle of the Bands at 2 Kolegas – there’s a lot of stuff, a lot of noise, and a lot of excitement.
Stepping over and around one another in the jumble of amps and mic stands are the five members of Cross Out – an all-girl band with a penchant for combat clothing – and the six members of The Shanks, a chilled-out, laid-back mess to whom the music is all that matters. The two bands have earned the right to represent their school at the event after coming out on top of an earlier Harrow competition. We tagged along for the experience.
How often do you practice?
Gwen (Cross Out): In the past week or two quite a lot, like every day. Hopefully it’ll be enough.
Jacques (Shanks): Not enough, it’s all been quite laid back.
Gwen, tell us about your band’s name, “Cross Out.” Where did it come from?
Gwen: Well there was a week when everyone was deciding what to call the band, and Ariane came across a sheet of paper with loads of rejected names on it, all crossed-out … And, you know, it sounds pretty cool.
And Jacques, why “The Shanks”?
Jacques: It’s sort of carefree and relaxed, you know. We don’t want anyone to think we’re taking this too seriously. And it sounds kind of “reggae.”
After a brief sound check, the bands go their separate ways, wandering out through the assembling hordes of Beijing’s teen rock scene. There are tons of kids in attendance, all getting a kick out of the chance to engage in some friendly school rivalry away from the sports field.
With half an hour until “curtain-up,” The Shanks retire to the parking lot in a last, desperate attempt to learn their lyrics, while the slightly better prepared Cross Out nervously eye up the opposition from other schools, tapping their feet and trying to dry their palms.
What do you think your chances are against the other bands?
Trina (Cross Out): I really don’t know. We’re just going to do our best, and if we perform well it doesn’t really matter if we win or not. Well, it doesn’t matter that much …
Guillaume (Shanks): I think we have a small advantage because we’re playing reggae and no other bands are.
Are you nervous?
Dylan (Shanks): A little bit, I don’t like big crowds.
Ariane (Cross Out): (Nods vigorously while looking genuinely terrified.)
Jacques: Not really. I’ve played in a couple of bands and done this sort of thing before.
Do you think you’re better than The Shanks?
Gwen: I think we’re different.
Do you think you’re better than Cross Out?
Jacques, Rio and Marina (Shanks): Yeah!
Finally, the battle begins. The competition is fierce and the Harrow bands fight bravely, but in the end neither the carefree Shanks nor the camouflaged Cross Out emerge victorious. The winners of the tough two-hour showdown are WAB band The Taken.
Has this experience brought the members of Cross Out together?
Gwen: We are a lot closer now. At the first few rehearsals no one was really talking, but recently we’ve got to know each other really well.
How about you and your Shanks bandmates?
Marina: Yeah of course. I think the type of music helps a lot – it’s reggae so everyone pretty much gets to do what they want, which keeps us happy, but within a kind of structure.
Do you have any future plans for Cross Out or The Shanks?
Himsheela (Cross Out): This was the last Cross Out gig with this line-up! Hopefully when I leave the others won’t let the band fall apart. Maybe it’s time to start auditioning for a new lead singer!
Ryo (Shanks): I think this was The Shanks’ last gig too, as Jacques is leaving to pursue his solo career …
Marina: Yeah, without him who would do all the talking?!