China is a mysterious place for western people. It also is not the first country that springs to mind when talking about rock music.
Beijing is the birthplace of Chinese rock. The capital was politicized and prone to foreign influence. The “Chinese rock” has its origins in in Northwest Wind style of music, which emerged as a main genre in Mainland China in 1980-1989. Most of the bands used to play in small bars and hotels. The main audience of Chinese rock was students and Bohemian society. The new music trend contrasted with the previous mellow cantopop style. The two songs – “Xintianyou” (信天游) and “Nothing To My Name” (一无所有) are the forefathers of the genre. Chinese rock was associated with the large-scale Root-Seeking (寻根, xungen) cultural movement that also manifested itself in literature and in film.
As a counterbalance to the Northwest Wind, Chinese rock music developed a separate branch – “prison songs”. Prison Songs are more melodic, sad, soaked with cynicism and despair. The lyrics are usually about the negation of one’s social role.
Western world discovered this genre of music because of Cui Jian, who performed with The Rolling Stones in 2003.
Cui Jian is considered to be a pioneer in Chinese rock music and one of the first Chinese artists to write rock songs. His Northwest Wind album Rock ‘N’ Roll on the New Long March, which included “Nothing To My Name”, has been called “China’s first rock album”. In spring 1989 the song became the anthem of the student protest at Tiananmen Square.
Another important step in Chinese rock music history was the MIDI school in Beijing. Founded in 1993 by Zhang Fagnou, it became the first institution in China that offered educational programs for jazz and rock music performers.
MIDI Festival of contemporary music was first held in 1999. Originally it was conducted in MIDI school only. But over time it has evolved into the biggest annual rock festival in China. The festival collects up to 80 thousand visitors and more than 100 performers per year.
In addition to the Midi school, the Painkiller heavy music magazine started efforts to bring bands such as Edguy, Lacrimosa and Hatesphere to China and organized tours of the country for them. Especially in the metal and gothic genre these tours are considered milestones in China.
Since the early ‘00s the live rock music scene has been thriving in clubs all around the country.
Presently, Chinese Rock has a new forum in the popular Television program, Pepsi Battle of the Bands (百事群音) a weekly Live program featuring top 10 Rock bands from all over China who compete for weekly survival.
Such Titans of Chinese rock as Cui Jian, Tang Dynasty, C’est Tensaw, Wang Xiaoli or Secondhand Rose are quite widely-known around the world nowadays.
Here are a few modern popular bands that might have slipped your attention.
One of the most successful rock bands, who managed to hold on to the Chinese music scene until 2014 is Brain Failure. Their music contained a mixture of ska and punk. Most of their songs were in English.
Carsick Cars is one of the most prominent Chinese indie rock bands. In dedication to the movement of No Wave back in 1970s/1980s’ NYC, musicians in Beijing created an active scene called “No Beijing” around 2005, and Carsick Cars successfully survives in the underground world throughout years.
The punk veteran from central China keeps a low frequency in doing gigs, but the band still gets a huge bunch of hardcore fans.
Duck Fight Goose
The members of Duck Fight Goose produce math rock and synth-pop with a very progressive mind. Their insistence in equipment and arrangement makes them stand out.
Queen Sea Big Shark
Queen Sea Big Shark are an indie rock band. They have very funky but also very hard-rocking sound that in some ways recreates the New York scene of the early 1980s. Like bands of that time – Bush Tetras, the Contortions, ESG – the Sharks combine tight rhythms with very loud, raunchy guitars.
The trio was founded in 2004. Although they claim their only influence is Michael Jackson, their music incorporates doses of reggae, ska, punk and indie rock.
Their post-punk, indie rock musical style has been influential on the Chinese rock scene since their first album was released in 2001, making them “elder statesmen of the Beijing rock scene”.
Formed by 4 teens from the hutongs of Beijing in 1996, New Pants are one of the most revered bands in China’s modern music history. New Wave and Punk Rock, particularly Ramones, influenced the band’s early sound. Recently their sound and style has evolved to an ’80s/disco/electro/indie-rock collage.
The Beijing bred trio consists of Wang on guitar and vocals, Guen Zheng on drums, and Liu Hao on base. Their brand of dirty rock has all the grit and sleaze of Queens of the Stone Age, mixed with the harmonies of more whimsical troupes like Wilco.
The band formed in 1989, becoming one of the first all-female rock bands in mainland China. With only one album out, they disbanded in the late 1990s. Their style was a gloomy, bluesy type of hard rock with slight touches of new wave and alternative metal. Cobra was very popular in the beginning of their career.
Hang on the Box
HOTB is a punk band based in Beijing. The band usually sings about sex and relationship issues in a forward political manner. The band usually sings about sex and relationship issues in a forward political manner.