SUBS HAVE SOMETHING of a publicity problem. It's not that the punk rock quartet aren't getting any: Whether in blogs, music magazines or the popular press, Subs have been getting plenty of attention at home and abroad. It's the content the band have issues with. 'In China, the media focuses on the fact that I'm a girl,' says vocalist Kang Mao. 'Overseas, they focus on the fact that we're from China. Nobody talks about our music.' Formed just two years ago, it's a wonder the group get talked about at all. Subs have neither official release, nor official representation. Yet they toured Norway and Finland in August, and are due to perform in Amsterdam on Saturday ahead of a two-week tour of Germany. The Subs' story began in Wuhan, where the founder members - Kang, Wu Hao, Shi Xudong and Shen Xia - first met. Guitarist Wu and drummer Shi were then in a metal band, and Kang in an all-girl rock group. But it wasn't until 2002, when they'd all moved to Beijing, that they got together to create their own brand of garage punk, inspired by bands ranging from The Sonics, to Fugazi and Yeah Yeah Yeahs. By then, Shen, who was suffering from a brain aneurysm, had been replaced by Zhu Lei. After their first gig in early 2003, the group was forced into six-month hiatus while the mainland battled the Sars outbreak. Even so, Subs were soon generating significant buzz; their live performances crackled with energy rarely seen on local stages, bringing invitations to support visiting bands such as Norwegian rock act Bonk, who played in Shanghai and Beijing last year. Bonk's manager was so impressed he booked them this summer to close a major Oslo rock bonanza, the ?ya Festival, playing alongside groups such as Franz Ferdinand and Sonic Youth. While Subs are not the first outfit to play abroad, they have risen quickly in a world where the backing of a record company is considered critical. 'We're the only band without a company at these major events,' Kang says, referring to large concerts such as the Gegentala Festival in Inner Mongolia. That's not from a lack of interest. 'We've had a lot of offers from all kinds of record companies,' says Wu. 'But none of the situations were right for us.' In the mainland rock scene, a recording contract generally means a bit of cash in exchange for the rights to what, in many cases, becomes a band's only release. Because companies invest the minimum - in recording, artwork, post-production and beyond - groups often end up with a product that is not only below their expectations, but also completely out of their hands. Pop labels made approaches without any idea of the kind of music Subs produced, attracted more by the novelty value of their aggressive, pint-sized lead singer. Women in rock are a minority the world over, but nowhere more so than in China. Then again, Kang - like her band mates - is anything but typical. A promising computer science student, she dropped out of university in Wuhan for the independence that punk represented, much to her family's dismay. Kang has turned her family's hostility into a song, describing how her mother chastises her for opting for four no's: no money, no job, no family, no future. Offstage, the tiny, soft-spoken Kang cuts a delicate figure. Onstage, though, she seems more animal than woman as she unleashes her furious vocals. 'I am a scream queen!' she yells to crowds from Beijing to Bergen, fearlessly throwing herself around the stage. The rest of the band are just as relentless: Shi threatens to bash sticks through drums; Zhu bounces across the stage, taking his bass lines with him; and Wu attacks his guitar like a primal beast. Subs insist they're not a political band. 'We talk about our lives; sometimes we talk about the things we are dissatisfied with, and sometimes that means talking about political things,' Kang says. Nevertheless, their lives are, to a degree, a political statement. The musicians have chosen a path that mainstream Chinese society rejects - something they acknowledge. 'Rock is about freedom and talking about things that are more important than money,' Kang says. 'That's threatening to the government' because it's focused on promoting economic success. The group's punk ethic resonates with those young Chinese railing against conventional expectations of success. As the name suggests, Subs see themselves representing all that's been repressed, hidden below the surface, or dismissed as sub-standard. 'We're here to say that, scars and all, we're fine just the way we are,' Kang told interviewers. 'We can follow our own way. This is power.' Then there's Brother, Subs' most controversial song with its references to the 1989 Tiananmen pro-democracy crackdown. Mostly instrumental, it features a line in English: 'In 1989, my friend's brother disappeared.' Kang sings this in English regardless of where she is 'because it is the language of the world'. Still, when the emphasis is on screaming rather than enunciation, language isn't an issue. 'Most of the Chinese audience doesn't understand the English lyrics,' Kang says. 'Then again, they wouldn't get it if it was in Chinese either.' Whether playing for a couple of dozen students in a rundown Beijing bar or for 1,000 people at the top rock club in Helsinki, the group grip audiences with their high-octane sets. On a weekend just after their Nordic tour, they were playing a small Beijing club packed with fans who fed off the adrenalin-charged performances. Like the more successful local bands, they regularly play four shows a month. What sets Subs apart from the pack, though, is the number of people who return show after show, with a steadily building level of excitement. While having Kang out front helps generate interest in the band, it takes more than just a fierce female rocker to hold their attention. 'Lots of audiences have been attracted by Kang Mao's screams,' says music critic Yan Jun. 'But what really makes them fall in love is the group's completely genuine attitude. The band has put their lives into their music - when they perform they're like people madly in love.'