Chinese culture has undergone tremendous change in the last 20 years. We tend to notice the big events: Massive new skyscrapers, world class airports, new symphony halls, the Olympic Games, 5 star hotels and restaurants, etc. But what we might not see is that below the surface, there are other changes taking place.
China has developed an exciting indie music scene throughout the country. Though strongest in Beijing, excellent bands have appeared in Shanghai, Guangzhou and other parts of the country. Though there is a huge pop music industry with many very popular singers, these are acts that are less known but have developed a core following among the young. I’d like to introduce you to a few bands and hear about others you know that you can share with us. Follow the links to their myspace sites and the songs will usually play automatically. For the Neocha site which is in China, you need to click on the “play” button. I’ve included descriptions of each band either from the web or from my own knowledge.
I’ve been very impressed with many of these bands. Though currently most Chinese bands are overly derivative, that is to be expected when developing a music scene. Lately, there are more and more unique bands combining Chinese influences within western genres to create new and exciting sounds. If you want to hear more from any of these bands, you should be able to find different tracks on YouTube.
Cold Fairyland, a Shanghai band, is one of the most creative and skilled progressive rock bands in China. Their style combines Eastern melodies and rhythms with Western symphonic rock. While the fusion part is easy to describe the music itself is not. Composer/arranger/keyboardist and Pipa master Lin Di has been playing pipa since she was 4 years old. The band has a mix of cello/pipa/keyboards/bass/drums and electric guitar.
Hugely popular with both musical hipsters, for the brilliance of their compositions and performances, and with rock and roll party animals, for their wild, out of control pop frenzy, Hedgehog’s music is totally approachable and totally unique. Percussionist and vocalist Atom(子健) is a tiny girl who just barely peeps over the top of her drum kit but who bangs out explosive rhythms like a monster possessed. Bassist Box(博宣), the person responsible for keeping the band in line, punches out the tight bass lines that hold the songs together while seeming lost in oblivion. Guitarist and vocalist ZO(子健) slashes out huge waves of chords that seemed to fit perfectly within the songs yet at the same time tear them apart — while jumping, twirling, staggering and even falling over several times during his performances without letting up for the slightest pause. Hedgehog is a classic power trio with three of the best performers in Beijing on their respective instruments, but it is their song-writing skills that make this band more than just a great performance band and one of the most important in China.
Hong Kong’s PixelToy was formed by Ho Shan and lead singer Candy Wu in the summer of 2001. The two music lovers studied in the same university, and discovered in a conversation that they shared the same taste in music so much that they had to form their own band. They invited a friend to be a guitarist and participated in the annual “Teenage Band Competition” organized by Warehouse, in which they won the “Best Adapted Song” Award and started to be noticed. PixelToy has since become a patron in performances in schools or indie music scenes.
From Beijing … Sulumi + iLoop have been making left-field electronic
music for China’s premiere electronic label Shanshui records. From dub
to breakcore, these bad boys now annihilate crowds with live 8-bit music
made with vintage Nintendo Game-boy machines.
The indie band Crystal Rubic came into being in June, 2004 in the city of Hefei of Anhui province in China. They try different styles, including folk, dream pop, trip hop, brit pop,electronica… The vocal and song writer Vera was invited to Beijing by Pocket music magazine to give performance in last October.
IGO was formed in 2006 as a Synth Pop duo. The band members are JJay (vocals, songwriting, programming) and B6 (electronics, programming, visual and music production). JJay originally came from Beijing and formed a few post punk bands during the years he studied in Shanghai. After he got a master degree of science in US, he came back to Shanghai and met with B6 in 2004. As the most famous DJ in Shanghai, B6 played frequently in the major nightclubs of Shanghai and quickly built up a solid following. B6 is also an electronic music producer, and has published multiple compositions, including the background music for a Nike advertisement. He is also the founder of Neocha.com, one of the largest internet platforms for youth indie-culture in China. With totally different background, but shared passion for Depeche Mode, Kraftwerk and Royksopp, they decided to form a band.
Sa Ding Ding is a Chinese folk singer and songwriter. She is of mixed Han and Mongolian ancestry, and sings in languages including Mandarin, Sanskrit, Tibetan, a near-extinct tongue Laghu, as well an imaginary self created language to evoke the emotions in her songs. She also plays traditional instruments such as the guzheng and matouqin (horse-head fiddle).
R3 is a band residing in Shanghai but with members from Brisbane and China. Their music is a combination of industrial, electronica and trip hop.
Finally, we all know Wang Fei (Faye Wong) as an enormously successful Chinese pop singer. But many don’t know that she also sang on the Scottish band “The Cocteau Twins” Milk and Honey CD. She had covered two of their songs and they loved her voice, so asked her to sing with them. Since they were one of her favorite bands, she gladly accepted. The song is called “Serpentskirt” and is a favorite of mine. They never performed it together live so this video is the closest I can get.