Bù Fàngqì: Music in China

If you ask most foreigners who have visited China what they think of the music, I’m sure their impression would be based on the sugary pop songs that flood the KTV’s and locals ringtones and the traditional twangy instrumented, high-pitched songstress music emitted from rock shaped speakers at the temples or parks, and that the only Western music that appears to have filtered through is I’m Your Venus and Lemontree, and of course Justin Beiber and Lady Gaga for the young folks, you know you’re in a secular country when ‘Oh, my God’ becomes, ‘Oh, my Lady Gaga.’  Chinese music is hard to define, they are stuck between traditional sound and emulating western acts and it is difficult to detect a unique Chinese sound. Since the country was cut off from the rest of the world when definitive music changes were happening, even staples for us in the West, such as The Beatles and Dylan, are absent from common knowledge, they have had a period of stagnation, unable to develop musically. Another prohibiting factor being the government censorship there are cases of Chinese bands being arrested for their ‘controversial’ lyrics. Now, as they are starting to open up to the West, the influence is apparent in their music, but perhaps too much so.

While I was in China I was able to attend a few concerts at the recommendation of my music savvy Chinese friend. These included Hedgehog, Pet Conspiracy, and Queen Sea Big Shark, these bands would probably be considered of the alternative/indie genre. It is interesting how all ‘types of people’ appear everywhere in the world, it is possible to see Chinese hippies, punks, goths, and so on, and music to cater to each crowd. Without understanding the language it was still possible to enjoy the music and they even had a few English songs in the mix. These bands would probably be considered underground in China, yet they managed to draw a good size crowd. It was easy to detect the shoegazer influence in Hedgehog, the Yeah Yeah Yeah’s in Queen Sea Big Shark, the lead singer even slightly resembled Karen O and Pet Conspiracy bore some resemblance to Crystal Castles.

There were also numerous foreigner acts. China is full of opportunities for foreigners, we are an attraction in ourselves, if you are averagely good looking back home, you can be a model or TV host in China, if you wrote for the school newspaper you can write glossy magazine articles, if your garage band played in at the local bar back home, you can be the opening act for a major Chinese act. I became familiar with some of the resident foreign acts, DJ’s that did the club circuits and several bands that were trying to make a name for themselves. But I had a feeling they were catering more to the expat community rather than the local one, aside from the artsy crowd, it’s hard to say how interested Chinese are to non-pop Western music, other than seeing it as a curiosity.

Unfortunately, I doubt I would listen to Chinese music on a regular basis, maybe the cultural divide is just too great, and even though the bands I saw preform weren’t at all bad, they didn’t seem to offer anything new or exciting to the music world. Sometimes I feel it is unfair that the West has this big influence on the East, whereas the only things that seem to trickle through East to West is cuisine, while on the larger scale we are generally naive about their culture. So I would want to rule out Chinese music completely, I’m sure there are a  lot of bands that I didn’t get a chance to discover and as the country slowly opens up and Chinese music gets a chance to develop there will be a lot more out there to discover. If you have any Chinese bands to recommend please do!

(Photos taken at a show in Hangzhou, bands are Party Horse, 10 and Pairs)

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