Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Chinese rock and roll

Musicians must be careful about what they say, but some of them are very loud.

The special flavour of rock’n’roll Beijing
The indie bands of the Chinese capital, Beijing, have their own raw, distinctive sound, says the BBC's Stephen McDonell - partly because they are so isolated from the rest of the rock'n'roll world…

Of course you can hear outstanding symphonies or jazz here. There are plays, there's dance, and there's still traditional Chinese music like Peking opera on offer. But the country's indie bands are dealing with the China of today - meaning, they know they have to be careful what they say and how they say it…

But Beijing's music-bar owners seem pretty blase about the prospect of being closed down or arrested because of subversive lyrics. Most musicians seem to know, somehow, the limits of what can be said. They push up against the edge - and when they cross the line, they usually do so in a clever, cryptic fashion…

And let's not forget, most artists here sing mostly about young love, heartbreak, hangovers, the streets where they live, the people they miss.

Some will wonder what's so special about Beijing and bands. It's not as if the city invented rock'n'roll. What created what we might describe as a "Beijing sound" has been isolation. It's not that the young rockers of China have never heard of David Bowie or the Foo Fighters, it's that few international bands play here. So, if you want to go and see some live music, it's odds-on to be a Chinese band.

The sound itself is raw, less polished, with mountains of enthusiasm and commitment to nothing more than the love of music for its own sake.
Ricky Sixx (Prince wannabe)
Players know they're never going to be on television in China, never going to be played on the radio here. Their fans hear their music by coming to the gigs. Popularity spreads by word of mouth.

There's a sense that everyone is equal. The most famous band will not necessarily be the headline act. The line-up is often drawn out of a hat and the set lists can be completely random…

I remember the first time I saw PK 14 play. They'd turn heads at any international music festival. Who did they remind me of? Was it early Talking Heads or Joy Division?

Not really. This nerdy, cool, shaking, high-energy, poetic explosion of music was all their own, with Chinese lyrics pelting out over syncopated drum rhythms and thrashing guitars.

You can't get this anywhere else: you have to come to Beijing…

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