BEIJING — The blue helicopter poised as if frozen in mid-flight, and the white silk parachutes on the walls of the NASA Club alert newcomers that they have entered the brave new world of Beijing nightlife.
From the circular glass control booth at the center of the club, disc jockey Zhang Youdai pilots the crowd through the expanding universe of cutting-edge rock from the West and the East.
State-of-the-art speakers shoot out a big bang of music as members of China's new global generation dance, play with hand-held lasers, or talk to friends a block or a continent away via cell phones.
Both the music and the conversation at the spaceship nightclub resemble a Tower of Babel as Chinese university students mix with their American, British, and Japanese counterparts.
The multinational crowd freezes when the rock group Sober takes the stage, but "Superlife!?" (the band's first song) sends a wave of energy through the room.
Fans bounce across the oval dance floor as the five-member group plays its surrealistic musical snapshots of life in postindustrial Chinese cities.
"I think the guys in Sober are really 'ku' [cool]," says one admirer who uses the latest English expression to have invaded the speech of urban Chinese youths.
Hip Chinese "newspeak" is just one aspect of the "generation gorge" that separates NASA's patrons from their parents. Three decades ago, most Chinese could only dream of owning a radio, yet NASA's young nouveaux riches have grown up with satellite television, MTV, and a computer revolution.
"Our music is a mirror of the times," says Sober songwriter Shen Lihui. "Our songs and our sound are completely new because our entire generation is a new global compilation of ideas and tastes."
Mr. Shen and other art-school graduates in Sober have largely given up their paintbrushes for musical canvases.
"In art school, we realized there were many things we wanted to say that could not be painted, and that's when we started composing songs," says guitarist Yu Kai.
Yet each of the band members seems to straddle the worlds of art and music, of the past and the future.
Mr. Yu says he still studies everything from the masters of Chinese ink painting to Vincent van Gogh. But Yu says the computer has become his digital palette, adding that he often "surfs the Internet for the newest trends in painting or music or life from Copenhagen to New York to London."
Keyboardist Zhang Yang says his musical tastes range from Bowie to Bach, from Tchaikovsky to the Talking Heads.
"If your world, your vision, is wide, your music will reflect that," says Shen.
A generation ago, the Chinese people could listen to only one channel: the party-controlled China Central Radio. "But today," Shen says, "the entire planet is a transmitter, and we are a mix of all the signals."