Chinese Rock and Sub-Rock Genres (extra credit post)
Although rock and heavy metal music are not often talked about when China is the topic of conversation, there has been a prominent music scene in these genres for quite some time now. Rock music began to pick up pace after Mao Zedong, the communist of China, passed away in 1987.
It really gained exposure when Cui Jian, “forefather of Chinese Rock”, left the Beijing Philharmonic, for which he had played the trumpet, to compose and record China’s first rock album. He called the album “Rock ‘n’ Roll on the New Long March”. In the late 1980s he played the first Chinese rock song, called “I Have Nothing” (“Yi wu suo you”). It was the first time an electric guitar was used in China. He became the most famous performer of the time, and in 1988 he performed at a concert broadcast worldwide in conjunction with the Seoul Summer Olympic Games. His socially critical lyrics provoked the anger of the government and many of his concerts were banned or canceled. The state of Beijing unleashed violence on any student demonstrators, which put an end to the movement, however Cui embarked on a nationwide tour anyway. He named the tour, “New Long March”, which he did purposely to mock Mao Zedong’s rule (or his own ‘long march’) of the 1930’s, which was the event that began his rise to power within the Chinese Communist movement. It did not take long for Communist party leadership to realize the extent to which Cui was turning people of China against its politics, effectively cancelling the remainder of his tour dates, again. Regardless of the rough start, Cui had pioneered a new breeding ground for Chinese music, one that would swell into the vibrant indie scene Beijing enjoys today. As Chinese underground rock has evolved from the tough beginning, it has since shed it’s very political content.
Zhou Shouwang, the frontman of experimental noise trio “Carsick Cars”, is another rocker who dropped the rebellion to the government. He traces his musical ancestry to the Velvet Underground, Sonic Youth and the minimalist composers Steve Reich and Philip Glass. In an interview with Michael Pettis, an American journalist who left Wall Street to found an underground club and record label in Beijing, Zhou reflects: “[Cui’s] music fit a more idealistic generation who knew less about music and city life and cared more about changing the world. I think we are maybe more pessimistic and also more interested in finding art that challenges us and makes us expand our thinking.”
During the late 1980s and 1990s, two rock bands became famous in China. “Hei Bao” (Black Panther) and “Tang Dynasty”. Hei Bao is an old-school rock band whose first CD, Hei Bao, used the popular English song “Don’t Break My Heart”. They formed in 1987 by two guitarists, Li Tong and Guo Chuanlin (nicknamed “Guo Si”). Guo Chuanlin later stepped down as guitarist to become Hei Bao’s full-time band manager. Other early band members include Ding Wu (vocals and guitar), Wang Wenjie (bass), and Wang Wenfang (drums).
Tang Dynasty rose to fame in 1992 with a self-titled debut album, “A Dream Return to Tang Dynasty”, which had officially sold about 2,000,000 authentic copies throughout Asia and abroad. Their sound is part progressive rock and artistic metal and part traditional Chinese vocal techniques with lyrical poetry and musical arrangements meant to bring back the days of ancient Chinese civilization; in particular, the cultural epitome of Chinese history as popularly represented by the era of the Tang Dynasty.
They soon became the icon of Chinese hard rock music, and their lightning-fast guitarist Liu Yijun, also called “Lao Wu”, became the first rock guitar hero in China. Tragedy struck in 1995 with the untimely death of bassist Zhang Ju, who was riding his motorcycle from fellow rock bassist friend Chen Jin’s home, when an accident occurred involving a collision with a truck in Beijing. This dealt a heavy blow to the band. Liu Yijun left the band in 1996 and was replaced by original founding member Kaiser Kuo, a Chinese-American who formed the band with Ding Wu and Zhang Ju in 1989.
The band’s 1999 release “Epic” was their second album, 7 years after their debut record. Epic did maintain a level of artfully composed series of metal rock songs that helped bring success to their debut album, but may otherwise be described as a little bit more of a straight-ahead rock album with somewhat less ethnic orientation. The album received lukewarm reviews from fans. Nevertheless, the album was still popular enough to elicit waves of unauthorized copies in the pirated market. In June of 1999, Kaiser Kuo again parted company with Tang Dynasty and later formed another well-recognized Chinese metal-rock band, Spring and Autumn (Chunqiu). Kuo was replaced for a period by former Iron Kite front man Yu Yang, and then by young guitar virtuoso Chen Lei, who joined the band in late 2000. In 2002, Lao Wu rejoined the group and Tang Dynasty is at its present five-man band form, featuring contrasting styles of Chen Lei and Lao Wu both exchanging and interplaying guitar work, and fattening-up their overall live sound with Ding Wu’s occasional coloring in their sound palette with a third guitar.
Punk rock became famous in China around 1994 – 1996. The first Chinese artist of the genre was He Yong of nu-metal style, influenced by bands like Limp Bizkit, Linkin Park and others. Around 1995 the first wave of Chinese punk bands appeared in Beijing, and the second generation followed in 1997. Some of these bands are “Yaksa”, “Twisted” “Machine”, “AK-47”, and “Overheal Tank”.
“Yaksa”, originating in Beijing in 1995, is one of the pioneers in the genre of metal/rock in China. With their powerful riffs, the super tight sound they created and might seem dark and negative, but the lyrics are uplifting. They are one of a few Chinese metal bands that were invited to play at Wacken Music Festival.
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