We’ve done some posts on China and Taiwan music in the past, but those were about the general music scene. Today I’d like to feature two videos created by Brendan Madden, who lives in Qingdao, is a teacher and member of the band Dama Llamas, and keeps up with the scene in northern China. I’ll also feature a few other bands you might not know, and some comments about where I think things are headed.
These two mini-documentaries show the trials and tribulations of trying to establish modern music venues in China. So far, the audience has too many non-Chinese expats along with too few locals, though locals form most of the bands themselves. Right now, Beijing is the hot spot in northern China with the most popular bands in the country. Outside of Beijing, legitimate venues are hard to come by and the money isn’t very lucrative. In these places, rock n’ roll comes strictly from the heart.
These two videos are courtesy of Tripfilms.com, a site specializing in travel videos from all over the world. Here is Part 1:
Right now, Beijing is exploding with really awesome live music. We just had a festival in Qingdao, Max 09, www.qingdaomax.com (actually it was shut down by the government and we were forced to take all the bands to a local bar to play). It was still a really good time and the bands fuckin’ blew my mind. Snapline, The Swamp, Ziyo were my favorites. Really amazing, and every band was so different.
As far as the scene goes, the talent is there, the drive is there, but it seems like the money is not. Its pretty hard to justify going to a club paying a 50RMB cover and then being charged 20-50RMB per drink when you can have just as good of a time drinking 2RMB beers in the street. I feel like most of the shows I have been to in China are rarely full and half foreigners and half Chinese. And then from a bands point of view, its tough to go out and spend thousands on new gear, alcohol and drugs at the bar, transportation costs, accommodation costs and then play free shows. Its a fine line that has to find a balance that I don’t think is there yet. However, some of the bands are getting good enough where in the larger cities they can charge a lot of money. As an example I just saw that the Carsick Cars (amazing by the way) are charging 180 HK dollars for their shows in Hong Kong. That’s pretty impressive.
So I guess to stop my rambling, the live music explosion is gonna happen, its just waiting for the market catch up and the pop phenom to die down.
Musically, I think more and more synths with dancy beats are on the horizon and coming fast.
Seriously check out The Swamp. Their recorded music is good, but their live shows are some of the most mind-melting around.
Brendan, thanks for spending the time and effort to create these videos. They really give us an insight into the struggles incurred trying to build an audience from scratch in a land where this is all very new.
Another hot Beijing metal band is Brain Failure. Their Douban site is here and you can stream six of their songs.
Here’s a song from the Carsick Cars, whom Brendan had mentioned…
Here’s another video of Hard Queen, to give you a better idea of their music.
For those of you unfamiliar with Zhong Chi, her music is pop tinged with a spacey, otherworldly essence. You can stream her entire Easyworld CD here. Just go halfway down the page on the left. I think her style could make her a breakout artist. Here’s a video to check out.
Of course, nuthin’ like a little Pinkberry…
What is the state of music in China right now? From a Cantopop standpoint, there are plenty of popular singers doing the usual ballads that sell so well but aren’t my cup of tea. I have to admit, I’m not as enthusiastic as Brendan is with the rest of the scene. Too many bands haven’t mastered their instruments and tightened their performances. Music tends to be relative so after living there awhile, the bands that were better than average seemed much better than they really were. When I returned to the States, I quickly discovered that $10 small club bands were far better than most of what I had seen in China. A friend of mine who was a professional DJ/producer spent five years in Shanghai and had the same experience as I did when he returned to the States. But that’s a progression that WILL take place, and bands such as Cold Fairyland are already excellent musicians with terrific songs.
Several Chinese bands are making great music right now. Better venues need to be created, this kind of music needs airplay, and producers need to keep their hands off the bands and stop trying to turn the decent ones into pop acts.
Maybe the bigger problem is that there has never been a “transition” band to take their audience from Cantopop to indie and rock. The great transition band in the rest of the world was the Beatles and the two key albums were “Rubber Soul” and “Revolver”. They took a generation from “yeah, yeah, yeah” to “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band”. If an ultra popular Chinese singer could make that same transition, then I think the audience would follow. I’ve always wished Wang Fei would have cut a CD that was similar style wise to the Cocteau Twins, one of her favorite bands. It would have jump started progressive music in China and I’d bet she tried, but couldn’t convince her label.
I agree with Brendan that synth, dance, trip hop styles will be the first to break through. I’m a big fan of Shanghai’s I-GO and their synth beats.
How do I keep up with the Shanghai music scene? That’s easy; I bookmark the best damn music blog in China and check it out on a regular basis!