From Oldies to Ones to Watch: The Best Chinese Bands

From Oldies to Ones to Watch: The Best Chinese Bands
May 06, 2010 By Mark Turner ,

With the Strawberry and Midi musical festivals just passed in Beijing and the weather hotting up all around the country, many an expat mind is turning its attention towards summer partying. Though China’s live music scene has lost its teeth somewhat since the curbing of live performances and increased curfews introduced in the last couple of years (thanks in part to Bjork’s ill thought out, childish outburst in Shanghai) Chinese musicians are eager to prove that the scene is alive and kicking. eChinacities brings you some of the established names in Chinese music that you should have checked out if you haven’t already, plus some of the names tipped to be hot in the summer of 2010.

Cold Blooded Animal Band

Oldies but goldies
The words ‘Carsick Cars’ are synonymous with Beijing rock music and quite rightly so. Paying their dues since 2005, the Cars have become a favourite of both local and ex-pat music fans. Highlights of their career thus far include joining psychedelic feeback squall rock pioneers Sonic Youth on the eastern European leg of their 2007 tour and their 2010 American tour. Angular and ethereal but gutsy, jangly guitars capture the essence of the post-punk, art rock and noise movements in one nice, very tight Chinese package.

Brain Failure are among the old boys of the China rock scene with over 10 years since there debut LP Wuliao Contingent. Brain Failure pump out pretty standard punk rock noise that has been compared to big American punk names such as Rancid and NOFX. Perhaps not one of the most inspired bands, especially in the light of the current wave of experimental post-punk, they are definitely worth checking out just to see how China ‘does’ punk.

Chinese power pop trio Hedgehog’s galloping, bright, wall of sound driven rock is competent and melodic. One of the most accessible bands on the Chinese rock scene, Hedgehog have earned a reputation for rocking a good live show; singer Atom’s impressive stage presence belies her diminutive stature to great effect. Not content to merely thrash their instruments and weave melodies on home turf, Hedgehog have a US tour under their belt

Grunge band, Cold Blooded Animal, fronted by one of China’s biggest rock stars Xie Tianxiao (谢天笑), was one of the earliest and biggest bands in China bringing raw, uninhibited rock to a generation of youth who had just began appreciating the taste of rock n’ roll. Formed in 1994 in Beijing, songs like “Blessedness” (幸福) and “Secret Forever” (永远是个秘密) on the band’s first album of the same name became the anthems of China’s youth in the late 90’s and early 2000’s. Cold Blooded Animal were also one of the first Chinese rock bands to tour abroad, performing at rock festivals in both Europe and the States. Xie Tianxiao rarely gives concerts in Beijing, and when he does you can be sure it’s at one of the biggest venues or stadiums, packed to the brim with dazzle-eyed Chinese rock fans who chant his lyrics like a prayer.

Re-Tros (Rebuilding the Rights of Statues) are one of the most original sounding Chinese bands out there. Although they’re described as post-punk, the band’s sound more often than not borders more on trip-hop/psychedelic, their live shows possessing the power of leaving audiences in a temporary hypnotic trance. Composed of singer/guitarist Dong Hua, singer/bassist Min Liu and drummer Hui Ma, the trio has supported international bands like International Noise Conspiracy from Sweden and regularly rock at China’s biggest music festivals.

Ones to Watch
The Barque Of Dante play an incredible, schlocky blend of symphonic rock with lead guitar harmonies, dried flower gothic imagery and alternately romping and chugging Iron Maiden style bouncing riffs. Anyone looking for a dose of poodle-haired grandeur and black leather from Yaxiu in the 2010 can rest assured that Barque of Dante will provide for them and their lycra-clad, tattoo-adorned mistresses. These guys tore up the Ronnie James Dio rule book to stadium goth-like rock by numbers, chewed, swallowed and splurged it all out in a baozi pavement pizza affair of upcoming Chinese rock. All hail Barque of Dante, we salute you!

Pet Conspiracy are a five piece electric/alternative outfit whose music is conjured from the synth pop of 80s New Wave, the 8-bit skullduggery of hardcore dance, industrial pop ala Nine Inch Nails, and neo-analogue bleeps blended with inimitable Chinese characteristics. Or as they describe themselves, “Beijing’s hottest electro-cabaret troupe playing sexy China disco for your highly ecstatic opium den nights.” Pet Conspiracy are the ones to watch on the rock/dance crossover scene. Those potentially interested in a bigger sound with more straight forward punk attitude, also borrowing from China’s pop culture detritus and showcasing more restrained 80’s electro styling may find Wuhan’s AV Okubo appealing, they are hotly tipped to be big movers in the China rock scene during the coming year. They just played South by Southwest and their new album, scheduled for release in November, is produced by Martin Atkins of Pigface/Ministry/NIN fame.

The hot new things tipped to be blowing up this year are not all of the noisy ‘plugged in’ variety. Mamer (马木尔) comes across sounding like retro China pop band Beyond having a jam session with an ethnic Bob Dylan, replete with all manner of ethnic instruments and massive uplifting chanted choruses. Ethnically Kazakh and hailing from Xinjiang, Mamer is currently very popular amongst Chinese music fans and the epitome of a true ethnic musician, he is not afraid to get hurdy gurdy for his fans – his latest album featured a banjo duet/duel with Bela Fleck.

On an equally musical tip is Hoochie Coochie Gentleman who play folky harmonica-inflected blues rock. Sounding vocally superior on their English-language tracks, they pull of a very nice summery blues sound that is bound to be popular at music venues in the coming months. Bringing the folk/reggae/rap/rock/prog rock (their words not mine) for the summer of 2010 is Shan Ren Band. With slightly patchy, worn, fuzzy sounding recorded output, they have a charmingly warm psychedelic feel that comes alive with acoustic guitar strumming and sweet vocal harmonies harkening back to the fantastic 60s psych folk of Incredible String Band and Fairport Convention. Rootsy carefree bobbing reggae is also a trademark of Shan Ren; although played well and good fun, these cuts don’t reach the creative heights of their more predominantly folky songs.

Hottest among Beijing’s current crop of reggae musicians, Skarving are set to rise to the top. This band of very young gentlemen have taken the live scene by storm; what they lack in the experience put on display by their more aged musical contemporaries, they make up for in pure musical passion. One of the highlights of recent Skarving shows has been their ska rendition of that Pulp Fiction soundtrack song. Good ska with plenty of passion.

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