Some of you (well, ok, just Bowen) have asked about the music scene in China. Well, I've been learning, and here's a little info on that.
There's not much of a music scene the way we understand it in the US. Of course, they do have the ubiquitous, industry-generated, dull and homogenous pop music the way we have. People can afford to buy CD's now, and where there's money to be made fobbing industry-generated, low-quality dreck off on impressionable youth, there will be music industry execs to generate the dreck and do the fobbing. To be sure, some of the pop music is a bit interesting, or at least can qualify as a guilty pleasure, but it's mostly pretty ghastly. So of course this is what everyone likes. If anyone wants to start a Chinese edition of Teen Beat you're in like Flint.
The rock kids are all big fans of Pantera, Metallica, Cinderella (!), Bon Jovi, etc., and the greatest band of all, Guns 'N Roses!!! (:-P) I was forced to sit through a video CD of Guns 'N Roses last night with my adulating friend, shudder shudder. I have to explain it to him. He is in disbelief. Still, It's a sure bet that a lot of our best punk bands spent plenty of their youthful hours listening to Black Sabbath and AC/DC and KISS, so all is not lost. Note that I am making no quality comparisons between Black Sabbath and Cinderella (eww), just sort of a general transitional comparison from hard rock to punk. Of course, one of my secret hopes is that someone reinvents glam. Good high-quality glam, a Chinese T-Rex or David Bowie or something, not that godawful Hanoi Rocks stuff. It would be a shame if they skipped over glam, I think. Oh, sure, punk's all well and good for voicing your displeasure with a corrupt and dictatorial regime -- but dude, what about the drugs??? What about the hallucinatory space flights into your own psychedelic fantasy world?
So on to the alternative to industry-generated pop/rock (YES I'm reclaiming the word "alternative" for MYSELF! Give it back, you bastards! We need it in China!). As far as DIY, local or regional bands and so one, there isn't much opportunity. Well, it's probably different in Beijing, but out here in the sticks (which means all of China except Beijing and Shanghai) There aren't many places for bands to play, and they absolutely can't travel the way they do at home, mostly because no one has cars, and anyway the roads throughout most of China are pretty impossible. But even if they could travel, there's nowhere to play, and also there is little knowledge of or appreciation for independent kind of rock. Which means, of course, it is THE PERFECT ENVIRONMENT for good music to emerge! And lo, it does exist!
Well, sort of. In this environment you need to make some use of the established music industry infrastructure to get your CD's produced and distributed, so the bands I have heard are to some extent "big label" alternative music. But they do represent a new strain of Chinese music, and some of it's pretty neat. However, a lot of them have been exposed to our models of "alternative" bands and so there is some mimicry going on, at least in the presentation. Still, it's a step, and given the source is far more interesting than the stuff the spoiled and safe rock-star brats of the American "counter-culture" (ha!) produce.
So I have a student, Guo Jianya (interestingly enough, Jianya means "to build Asia"), at one of my schools who has been turning me on to some really cool stuff (his hometown is outside of Beijing, which is why he knows this stuff). There are some very interesting things happening in China! A lot of the "underground" stuff is a little poppy or mainstream sounding by our standards, but he also has some really interesting post-punk, guttural growly kind of stuff that I really like. There are also a couple of bands that play western-radio-style alt-rock (oops, I said it), including this really young band called "Miserable Faith" whose sound I can best (but poorly) describe as China's answer to Rage Against the Machine. The most interesting thing is what they have to say, and saying things is really not a risk-free proposition here. Considering their lyrics, how this CD got pressed is beyond me, except I think I remember Jiang Zemin saying once that not many people pay attention to rock music. Hmmm... famous last words? Anyway, here are some samples of Miserable Faith songs for your perusal (fortunately for us, they printed them in English as well as Chinese), and I think you will see what I mean. Thinking back on the Hundred Flowers campaign, where Mao encouraged opposing voices then had them all locked up, I wonder what will become of this kind of thing. Anyway, make of it what you will!
P.S. I have been informed that there are a couple of places to go hear live music in Kunming. Once I do it I'll let you know what it's all about.
No objections ever exist * Slogans have been all around
So say, you're impartial * Say, you're liberal
Someone wanna be the god of the people
Buddy say, you're impartial
Like a Bitch
Gloss over the flourishing age
Sell on, full of tricks * Sell on, full of conscience
This's a Problem
I am the hand beneath the shadow * I am the most cunning assist in the crime
Everyone in the world is glorifying the ruler * I want so much to slap on their faces
The Chinese stuff
To gain and maintain an ideal society