English text by Vivian Hua; Chinese translation by Summer Fang
“The world’s image of China is that of a faceless factory worker, the tasteless new rich Chinese buying property everywhere, the 1.5 billion black dots in the horizon sucking up resources. It doesn’t realize that there are also 1.5 billion potential creative minds in this country as well. I think it will take time to make that true.” – Helen Feng of Nova Heart
“世界对中国的印象一直以来都是千篇一律，毫无特征的工厂工人，只有金钱却毫无品味的中国买家，以及用力耗尽资源的15亿人口。然而大多数人都没有意识到，这15亿人口也是15亿个潜在创造力。我想这需要时间去使其成真。” – Nova Heart (新星心) 的冯海宁
From The Outside Looking In
On the international stage, mainland China’s music scene is still a novelty. It lacks the long-established cred of its neighboring Japan or the global buzz of Korea; and though prominent, even its folk music receives far less attention than that of more Western-influenced countries in South America, Africa, and Southeast Asia.
Nonetheless, in recent years, certain Chinese artists have been fortunate enough to tour internationally, as well as receive write-ups from global music blogs. Due to the lack of other exposure, these cherry-picked artists have more or less come to represent China’s underground music scene to international audiences. Some in the Chinese music scene consider these representations limited and short-sighted.
“There are a handful of bands who are disproportionately covered in Western media… where the angle is not, ‘Look at this musically interesting new band,’ but, ‘Look, there’s punk [and] indie rock coming from China, how strange…'” explains Josh Feola, a booker behind monthly noise nights in Beijing and co-founder of the blog site Pangbianr. “We call that ‘China cred,’ and it’s a bogus but expected journalistic copout. Maybe you could say a minority of bands are getting attention, but not necessarily the kind of attention they deserve, and the rest get pretty much nothing.”
Helen Feng (冯海宁), of the musical project Nova Heart (新星心), is one artist who has been lucky enough to be embraced by Western media. She has toured North America and been featured on La Blogoteque, an internationally-reknowned documentary video series. Fluent in English and Mandarin, Feng was born in Beijing and currently lives there – but because she spent much of her childhood in the United States and Canada, she has a particularly unique viewpoint of the Chinese music scene.
“There are a lot more opportunities to go overseas now, but I think just being a Chinese musician doesn’t really help anymore,” Feng explains. “China does get a fair bit of attention. However, the old curiosity about China has been replaced by negative stereotypes, and even though you have more chances to go abroad, people always try and pin you as a copy of ‘blah blah blah’ because they refuse to believe that [your music] could be original. The only time they think, ‘Oh that may be original,’ is if you’re playing some Chinese traditional instrument or… taking very directly from Chinese music…”
She cites a scenario where a Western music critic called Nova Heart a copy of Happy Mondays, ignoring the roots of Happy Mondays themselves, who were influenced by disco and dance music that had been going on for decades. “It was so wrong it was laughable,” says Feng, “but that’s the way they had to see it. It’s the way the world wants to see it: ‘No, it’s from China; [it] has to be a copy of blah blah blah.’
Perhaps one reason for the world’s proclivity towards writing China’s music scene off as derivative is the very real fact that it was, in its early stages of development, highly shaped by foreigners living in China, also known as expats.
“目前在西方媒体特色访问的中国乐队屈指可数…而媒体对中国乐队的透视不是，‘你看这支新乐队很有自己的音乐特色，但是，‘有很多庞克和独立音乐是从中国来的，好奇怪…'”Josh Feola，博客网站旁边儿的创办人，同时也是北京每月一度的”噪乐之夜”活动的发起人说到，”我们叫这种文章写作‘中国’ 伪报道’，’但这是预期的虚假新闻业。也许可以说少部分乐队确实得到了一些关注，但并不算足够，大多数乐队则完全被忽视了。”
冯海宁，音乐项目Nova Heart （新星心）的主唱，是少数受西方媒体赏识的艺术家之一。她已经完成其在北美的巡回演出，个人成长历程也被全球知名的纪录片系列 La Blogoteque 收录其中。冯海宁不仅会说普通话，也能流利运用英语。她出生于北京并现居于此 – 但由于童年在美国和加拿大生活多时，冯海宁对中国音乐现状有着独特的见解。
冯海宁举了个例子。西方音乐评论家将 Nova Heart 项目称为 Happy Mondays （快乐星期一）的翻版，却忽视了快乐星期一本身的由来：这是一个受迪斯科和舞曲影响深远的音乐项目。”这种评论是错误及可笑的，”冯说，”但那是他们的解读，是整个音乐世界想要这样去解读中国音乐：‘这是来自中国的音乐，那么它必然是其他音乐形式的翻版’。”
Featured: Nova Heart & Snapline // 新星心 & 粉笔线
Both Nova Heart and Snapline are Chinese musicians who have received a fair amount of domestic and international acclaim, and these mini-documentary videos showcase some of that overseas attention.