Chinese Rock Scene

The music of resistance for those opposing the communist regime.

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Chinese Rock Scene
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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Brain Failure

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.

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Carsick Cars

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.

SMZB

The punk veteran from central China keeps a low frequency in doing gigs, but the band still gets a huge bunch of hardcore fans.

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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.

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Queen Sea Big Shark

Queen Sea Big Shark are an indie rock band. They have very funky but also very hard-rock 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.

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Mr. Chelonian

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.

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P.K.14

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".

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New Pants

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.

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Casino Demon

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.

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Cobra

The band formed in 1989, became one of the first all-female rock bands in 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.

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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. 

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36 comments sorted by best / new / date

    blackone666
    The anticommunist undertones of your posts make them quite laughable even if the content isn't half bad. Please, keep your childhood traumas out of anything music related if it's being published.  
    arturtishchenko
    Commie scum detected.
    Vandekill
    [deleted]
    Vandekill · May 29, 2017 12:56 PM
    Anjohl
    Hard to be a "Rock and Roll Rebel" when you've got to submit your song lyrics to the state for approval.
    soundsabbath
    Queen Sea Big Shark are the only ones i've heard of through Skate 2. This is a well cool tune.
    travislausch
    I would have added Cold Fairyland to this list as well. They've always had a great mix of styles from folk-rock, jazz and pop to progressive rock.  https://coldfairyland.bandcamp.com/
    travislausch
    Especially check out the track "Mosul" from the album on their Bandcamp's front page. Has some pre-In Absentia Porcupine Tree vibes!
    jesse.summerrell.lapham
    Great article! I'll have to check out some of those groups. I definitely have noticed there's a lot less rock and metal in China. I'll occasionally come across some folk-rock, indie-rock and post-rock, but that and anything else are often very under-the-radar. They would need to be, if any of their lyrics displease the CCP. Not many internationally famous rock, metal or even pop groups can perform in China anymore due to "political" reasons, whether it be lyrics or controversy surrounding the artist. (Iron Maiden had to alter lyrics, Megadeth weren't allowed to sing, if I remember correctly, and the confusion with Taylor Swift's "TS 89" shirt, related to Tienanmen Square massacre in 1989 that the government keeps trying to cover up). Fuck the Chinese government, the people there are mostly great though. Just avoid political conversations... 
    telecastrmastr
    Please do more articles like this. I loved Carsick Cars, and they led me to hedgehog, who are also pretty sick.
    Grave_Violator
    Not from mainland China, but from Hong Kong, this came out in 1989 iirc. The band is called Crystal Zone, this tune's got a real nice post-Seventh Son Maiden feel. Also the Hang on the Box chicks are mad cute.
    Spinnerweb
    "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." So much, you had to say it twice
    minusxero
    "So much, you had to say it twice in a forward political manner." FTFY in a forward political manner.
    monwobobbo
    whats missing in this story is how small the fan base is for rock music. despite the huge population there isn't any big name bands of a rock nature. J-Pop style music is way bigger
    Cazman
    It makes for very cool concert experiences if you are into metal. I saw The Haunted in Shanghai with maybe 20 other people and At The Gates in Beijing with probably around 20-30 people up front. Very different vibe from a fully packed club.