Beijing’s rock music scene has come a long way since the 1985 Wham concert at the Workers’ Gymnasium – an event then regarded as the height of rebellious cool. Local bands such as the Carsick Cars and New Pants now excite the interest of Beijing’s teenagers. Or for those in search of punk rock rebellion, there is Joyside, whose songs include ‘I want beer’ and ‘I cannot live without cigarettes’.
But the current kings of the rock scene are Cold-blooded Animal. The band – which recently received the accolade of ‘most popular rock band’ at an awards ceremony at the University Students Music Festival – has a unique style that blends grunge with occasional bouts of Peking Opera. Little wonder then that website Sina refers to lead singer Xie Tianxao as a man who undergoes a stage metamorphosis from “a travelling poet” to a “tyrannical performer”.
However, it also says much about Beijing’s rock scene that the group’s eponymously named album has sold just 40,000 CDs and 150,000 tapes. As Sina points out, these numbers exclude “pirated” copies. One has to imagine that Cold-blooded Animal’s vast fan base has mostly listened to bootleg product, much of it exchanged over the internet.
Beijing’s bands thus face a quandary: how to juggle being commercially viable with culturally iconic.
One of those who is keen to promote the local rock scene is Michael Pettis, who somewhat unusually is also a professor of economics at Peking University. He founded D-22 in 2006, to give new bands a venue in which to flourish, and give young Beijingers a place to hear live music.
Pettis told British newspaper, the Guardian that the music scene in Beijing is vibrant and is developing its own distinct sound: “There’s definitely a Beijing sound. It’s just that we’re in the middle of it, so it’s hard to hear it. In 10 years time, ask me what the Beijing sound was and I’ll be able to tell you.”
D-22 and Mao’s Lifehouse Club are currently the choice places to hear bands – as well as at the annual Modern Sky Music Festival.
But famous CCTV presenter, Bai Yansong is a rock music fan, and thinks that the industry’s growth should be promoted. Bai – who is akin to China’s Larry King, albeit younger – announced on his show that he had lobbied former Beijing mayor – and now vice-premier – Wang Qishan to build more venues for rock music in Beijing. Bai’s view is that rock music is a key part of contemporary Beijing culture and the homegrown variety is an important source of creativity. He said that Wang listened carefully to his suggestion, especially when he said that the experience of European and American cities should be studied.
There is no question that China’s government is now paying a closer attention to ‘the culture industry ’. Pop bands from South Korea have attained followings across Asia. Indian music is fast going global. And as reported in WiC7, Ouyang Jian, China’s vice minister for culture, has recently hatched plans to spread Chinese arts across the world.
China has no rock exports to speak of so far – in fact, it is even a net importer of phosphate rock – but perhaps one day the Beijing sound will be exported beyond the nation’s borders.
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