rock music, rock bands

rock music, rock bands
The history of Chinese rock music (yaogun yinyue) began in the early 1980s. Since then, the number of bands and musicians has increased as much as the variety of music styles performed. The centre of Chinese rock is Beijing and today, due to the reform policy and market economy, the genre is supported by several music publishing companies (yinxiang gongsi), whose number climbed from one in 1978 to 300 in the mid 1990s. By 1993, rock music had lost its former underground status and transformed into a still subversive but tolerated genre within the PRC’s mainstream popular culture. The following overview will provide an outline of its four major periods.
The first Chinese rock band was founded at Beijing’s Foreign Language School No. 2 in 1980. Its name, Wan-Li-Ma-Wang, derived from the family names of the four band members, who played songs by the Beatles, Rolling Stones and the like. Three years later a band called Dalu (Mainland) appeared, made up of Chinese and foreign musicians that also played Western titles. The first important Chinese rock bands were founded in 1983–4, including Tumbler (Budaoweng), that mainly performed popular Japanese songs and is said to have been the first band to use electronic instruments. Musicians like Zang Tianshuo, Wang Yong, Sun Guoqing, Li Li and Ding Wu started here. A second band, Seven-Ply Board (Qiheban), was organized by professional musicians from the Beijing Philharmonic Orchestra, such as Cui Jian, and a group of folk musicians, among them Liu Yuan. Its repertoire consisted of popular Western songs. Within the following four years and amid the political Campaign against Bourgeois Liberalization, other musicians enlarged the scene and, together with those already mentioned, organized new bands, e.g. White Angel (Bai Tianshi, 1987), Mayday (Wuyuetian, 1987), Black Panther (Heibao, 1987), Tang Dynasty (Tang Chao, 1988) and Cui Jian and ADO (1987). Apart from organizing ‘parties’ and performing in small bars and foreign hotels, it was only Cui Jian who was known to a larger audience. In 1988 he released the PRC’s first rock album.
In terms of creativity and authenticity, Chinese critics often regard the second period (1989–93) as the heyday of Chinese rock music, before the genre became commercialized. It began with Cui’s nationwide beneficial concert tour for the Asian Olympics (cancelled after the fourth concert, 12 May 1990) and Beijing’s ‘Concert of Modern Music’ (Xiandai yinyue yanchanghui), featuring six bands on 17 February 1990: ADO, Tang Dynasty, Breathing (Huxi), Brothers (Baobei xiongdi), ‘1989’ and the first women’s rock band, Cobra (Yanjingshe). The concert is remembered as a milestone in the PRG’s rock history which made Beijing’s new rock culture publicly known. Meanwhile, a set of new bands emerged: while such groups as Red Army (Hongse budui), Self-Education (Ziwo jiaoyu), Acupuncture Point (Xuewei) and Wa-Minority (Wazu) recorded only a few songs, others were more successful, e.g. Face (Miankong), Again (Lunhui), Compass (Zhinanzhen), Overload (Chaodai) and Cobra.
At this point the Taiwanese record company Rock Records & Tapes (Gunshi changpian) recognized the market potential of Chinese rock and signed contracts with some of the bands. In 1992 it released a compilation under the name China Fire (Zhongguo huo) and one successful album by the heavy-metal band Tang Dynasty, featuring a distorted version of the ‘Internationale’. One particular feature of this period was the musicians’ aim to create rock with ‘Chinese characteristics’. Some incorporated traditional instruments and/or ancient lyrics or, in case of folk rock singer Zheng Jun, features of national minorities. Another example is Hou Muren, who arranged the album Red Rock (Hongse yaogun, 1992), which includes revolutionary classics such as ‘Socialism is Good’ (Shehui zhuyi hao). By 1993, many of the bands had their songs released in compilations or on solo CDs.
The third period (1994–7) saw a new professionalism, both in creativity and in marketing. It began with three outstanding albums, released by Rock Records & Tapes in June 1994: the spherical rock sounds of Dou Wei (ex-member of Black Panther), the folk rock of Zhang Chu, and He Yong’s (ex-member of Mayday) Garbage Dump (Laji chang), which was also the title of the PRC’s first punk song. Their stylistic innovation was denoted as ‘New Music’ (Xin yinyue) and underscored the diversity of Beijing’s rock circle in the mid 1990s. At this point the community split into different scenes and styles. Bands like Thin Man (Shouren) continued to play heavy rock, while others such as Black Panther turned to pop rock, a genre that is also popular with Zang Tianshuo, Point Zero (Lingdian), Baojia Rd. No. 43 (Baojiajie 43 hao) and the female vocalist Tian Zhen.
A stylistic fragmentation became visible in 1997, when the fourth period started with the emergence of the New Sound Movement (see New Sound Movement, Modern Sky Records). Newly founded independent record companies began promoting young pop-rock and pop-punk bands such as Catcher in the Rye (Maitian shouwangzhe), The Flowers (Hua’er), New Pants (Xin kuzi) and the experimental underground music of ‘NO’, The Fly (Cangying), Wooden Horse (Mum), Tongue (Shetou), Confucius Says (Zi Yue) (see Yaoshi-Ziyue) and the electronic individualist Chen Dili. This spectrum of sounds was enlarged by the female folkstyle singer Ai Jing and the singer Hu Mage, who accompanies himself on acoustic guitar, by the rap music of Li Xiaolong, and by fashionable bands such as Sober (Qingxing), Supermarket (Chaoji shichang) and The Dada (Dada). Hardcore punk is played by Bored Contingent (Wuliao yuedui) as well as by the bands Anarchy Jerks, Brain Failure, Reflector, 69 and the all-female band Hang on the Box.
Today, Beijing’s rock community consists of three generations who perform everything from heavy metal to pop rock, folksong to digital hardcore, grunge and blues rock to punk (for punk, see While the genres are promoted by both national and international record companies and via the Internet, the musicians engage themselves in ideological debates over the meaning and authenticity of Chinese rock. Topics such as social responsibility, Chinese characteristics and/or internationalization are frequently discussed in the media. Bands are formed and split apart; some are more successful than others and manage to participate in big concerts inside and outside the capital. Considering the rock scenes that have already emerged in cities like Shanghai, Chengdu and Canton, one cannot speak of Chinese rock as such, but rather of a heterogeneous field.
Baranovitch, Nimrod (2003). China’s New Voices: Popular Music, Ethnicity, Gender, and Politics, 1978—1997. Berkeley: University of California Press.
de Kloet Jeroen (2001). Red Sonic Trajectories. Popular Music and Youth in Urban China. Enschede: Ipskamp.
——(2003). ‘Marx or Market: Chinese Rock and the Sound of Fury’. In Jenny Lau (ed.), Multiple Modernities: Cinemas and Popular Media in Transcultural East Asia. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 28–52.
Efird, Robert (2001). ‘Rock in a Hard Place: Music and the Market in Nineties Beijing’. In Nancy Chen, Constance Clark, Suzanne Gottschang and Lyn Jeffery (eds), China Urban: Ethnographies of Contemporary Culture. Durham: Duke University Press.
Huang, Liaoyuan (ed.) (1997). Shinian Zhongguo liuxing yinyue jishi [Ten Years: A Chronic of Chinese Popular Music, 1986–1996]. Beijing: Zhongguo dianying chubanshe.
Jones, Andrew (1992). Like a Knife. Ideology and Genre in Contemporary Chinese Popular Music. Ithaca: Cornell University.
Steen, Andreas (1996). Der Lang Marsch des Rock ‘n’ Roll. Pop- und Rockmusik in der Volksrepublik China. Hamburg: Lit-Verlag.

Encyclopedia of contemporary Chinese culture. . 2011.

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