China’s Indie Music Scene: Transforming Contemporary Chinese Culture From The Bottom Up // 中国独立音乐现状剖析:从底层跃升并改变中国当代文化

Hidden beneath the gargantuan, State-driven China that is emphasized over-and-over again in news coverage lies an artistic day-to-day that few people see. As in any developing country, China has become a breeding ground for new and often innovative ideas – and included in that are an increasing number of musicians searching for their own identities. Many of them are following and documenting their own creative impulses, thereby bringing some musical change to a society otherwise dominated by mainstream Asian pop.

尽管中国一直以来都以庞然大国,国家统治形象示人,她所蕴含的日渐浓重的艺术氛围与文化发展却往往为人忽略。如许多发展中国家一样,中国正孕育着许多新颖,极具创造力的艺术思想 – 这些思想都来自于那些努力发声,力求为大众所见的艺术家、音乐家们。众多音乐家正跟随记录着他们自己的艺术脉搏,运用着他们的创造力,努力为日渐单一、主流化的亚洲流行音乐市场带来不一样的声音及改变。

“Foreigners in China, asides from bringing more information, had a part in integrating bands into Chinese life, by becoming musicians, good friends of bands, and even agents,” explains Hua Dong (华东) of the band Re-TROS, also known as Rebuilding the Rights of Statues (重塑雕像的权利). “Simultaneously, there is also a portion of people who are committed to taking the performances of Chinese bands abroad, releasing albums, bringing international musicians to play in China, etc., so that more people can hear [them].”

Indeed, Chinese musicians are quick to give credit where credit is due – but expat influence touches both extremes of the spectrum; it is at times helpful and at times harmful.

“In the most positive scenarios, [expat influence] means people who were doing DIY labels or zines or booking DIY shows in other countries can do that in China, and hopefully inspire more people to do the same,” says Feola. “In more negative instances, foreigners try to graft Western music industry models on the local music scene that can be culturally inappropriate or downright exploitative.”

“那些在中国生活的外国人除了带来了更多的资讯之外,还有一部分融入了中国的乐队生活,成为乐手,乐队的好朋友甚至是经纪人。同时,也有一部分人在致力于把中国的优秀的乐队带到国外去演出,发行专辑以及把国外的乐队带到中国来演出交流等等,让更多的人能够听到。这些确实在影响着中国的音乐文化和氛围。”乐队重塑雕像的权利的华东说。

确实,外籍人士的介入给了中国音乐家很大的帮助。与此同时,也带来了一定程度的伤害 – 其影响是两面性的。

“从积极方面来说,外籍人士将独立唱片,音乐杂志以及独立演出策划带来中国,也激励更多人参与进来,”Feola 说。”从消极方面来说,外籍人士希望将西方音乐工业的运作模式照搬进中国。这对本土音乐来说是一种文化层次上的不恰当改造也是一种赤裸裸的剥削。”

Xihu International Music Festival

“Expats were a big part of the [Chinese] music scene in the beginning, especially before the internet, because they were really one of few sources of information about music from the outside world. They brought local bands CD’s from abroad… and even helped take a few bands on tour. They organized parties. They brought over international acts. But I think to say that they shape, direct, or change the local music culture is ignoring the fact that the curiosity and the will to go for it came from kids in China that had a lot more to lose in their lives than the people who brought them a few CDs or organized a few parties.” – Helen Feng of Nova Heart“在中国音乐发展初期,尤其是互联网普及以前,外籍人士起了重要作用。因为他们在当时相当于为数不多的‘外面音乐世界’的资源来源。他们从海外给本土乐队带来CD… 他们甚至帮助乐队举行巡回演出,策划组织音乐派对,以及引进国际乐队。但我认为,简单地把今天的中国音乐形态归于当初一部分外籍人士对中国音乐的塑造,引导或改造是不恰当的。这是对当年一群对音乐带有强烈好奇心及追求的中国少年的忽视。他们当年为追求理想所失去的远比那些给他们带来国外CD或音乐派对的人要多。” – 新星心的冯海宁


Julien Raffaud, who plays in the Shanghai band Stalin Gardens, agrees emphatically. “Some… expat rock acts are just formed so employees from big multinationals can play drunken Jimi Hendrix covers on the weekends, as headlining acts, while local bands, who write their own songs, will only get to open for these assholes, and get paid less. Acts like Cloud Choir are a real blessing to their scene as they fit into what the local experimental acts are doing, so they aren’t stepping all over the local scene. They’re going for something like symbiosis.”

In addition to helping lay the foundation for the modern Chinese music scene, expats are also partially credited with changing cultural habits towards music consumption, in general.

“I used to think that watching a concert was a big deal; a long time would pass between each one – but foreigners are at the bar practically every night. They not only like to watch performances, but like to perform,” explains Lolly Fan (樊晏), a Media Executive at the influential Chinese record label, Maybe Mars (兵马司). “For them, live music is a relaxed, entertaining thing, unlike many Chinese people, who think it is like attending a big ‘ceremony’.”

Live music is now present in Beijing every night of the week. It is certainly not unusual to stumble across shows headlined completely by foreign musicians playing to audiences that only speak English – but this trend is slowly changing. As Chinese musicians are developing a home-grown voice – and outnumbering foreign musicians in the process – the double-edged sword of expat influence is growing duller and duller. The biggest changes have already been made, and what is to follow is a time of integration.

“Now the biggest players in the music scene, the top bands, are all Chinese; the best clubs are run by Chinese; the festivals are almost all 100% local endeavors…” explains Feng of Nova Heart. “The heart of the scene is Chinese now, and it will continue to be so in the future.”

上海乐队斯大林花园的Julien Raffaud 对此表示同意并强调说:”一些… 由多国人士组成的所谓摇滚乐队只是为了在周末演出 Jimi Hendrix 的歌曲。而本地的创作乐队,却只能成为这些乐队的开场并获得很低的报酬。像 Cloud Choir (浮云合唱团) 这样的乐队是不可多得的,他们会配合本地乐队的实验性演出,且不会喧宾夺主。他们与本地乐队是一种共生关系。”

除了帮助塑造现代中国音乐,外籍人士也在一定程度上改变了中国人在音乐消费上的文化习惯。

“我以前觉得看演出是一件大事,好久才会去一次,但是外国人几乎每天晚上都可能出现在酒吧,他们不仅爱看演出也喜欢演出。现场音乐对于他们来说,就是一个放松娱乐的事情,并不像很多中国人觉得是一种参加’典礼’式的感觉,”樊晏,中国有影响力的独立音乐品牌,兵马司的媒体代表说。

如今的北京每天晚上都有现场音乐演出。尽管其中的一部分依然由外国乐队完成,观众也以英语观众为主 – 但这种情况正在慢慢转变。随着中国音乐家在家门内的崛起并逐渐在数量上超过外国音乐家,外籍人士对中国音乐的双面影响正在逐渐削弱。中国音乐市场已经成型,接下来则需要通过时间来将其整合塑造。

“如今中国国内的顶级乐队都是中国人组成的;最顶级的俱乐部是中国人经营的;所有的音乐节也几乎由100%的本土力量推动…” 冯海宁说,”中国的音乐核心现在是中国的,将来也会一样。”

 

Listening Station #1: Experimental Sounds

Downloads and streams from a selection of our favorite Chinese musicians.

White+ (白+)

Re-TROS (重塑雕像的权利)

Ourself Beside Me

Stalin Gardens

Cloud Choir (浮云合唱团) – “The Way It Is” DOWNLOAD MP3
[audio:/wp-content/uploads/2013/10/Cloud-Choir_The-Way-It-Is.mp3|titles=Cloud Choir – The Way It Is]

“I think it’s a very fresh scene, intent on experimenting and playing around with standard musical formulas, so as to set itself apart and forge itself an identity, a place in the music world, or in music history. Fresh ideas and perspectives… I’d say the underground scene here is in its ”Big Bang” phase.” – Julien Raffaud of Stalin Gardens

“我认为这是个令人耳目一新的市场,充满了实验性与乐趣性并具有相当的水准。但要避免将其与别的音乐混于一谈。我们要赋予其独一无二的身份,帮助其找到在音乐市场以及音乐历史中的一席之地。新鲜的创意及视点…我认为今天的中国地下音乐正在孕育一场‘宇宙大爆炸’。” — 斯大林花园乐队的 Julien Raffaud

Changing Horizons & China’s Musical “Big Bang” Phase
视野转变 & 中国音乐的‘宇宙大爆炸’

Chinese music has been closely intertwined with the country’s political structures since the dawn of Chinese civilization, and an understanding of China’s history is vital to understanding its music scene. Music was seen as central to the harmony and longevity of ancient Chinese states dating as far back as the Zhou Dynasty, which spanned from 1122 BC to 256 BC, and music regularly worked its way into imperial courts as well as literary works, for hundreds of years to follow.

In modern times, the New Culture Movement of the 1910s and 1920s birthed Chinese musicians who traveled abroad to study Western classical music and returned to perform previously unthinkable compositions. New genres also spawned, such as shidaiqu (時代曲), a fusion of Chinese folk and European classical which is now credited for influencing modern East Asian pop music. It was a period of freedom that included state-sanctioned support of the arts – and throughout the 1930s and 1940s, pop stars like the female vocalists known as the Seven Great Singing Stars (七大歌星) dominated the music industry and played a vital role in cultivating the music and cinema of the time.

But after the Yan’an Forum on Literature and Art (延安文艺座谈会) in May 1942, Chinese reception towards music permanently changed. Involving speeches given by Mao Zedong, the Forum’s two main points were that art should reflect the life of the working class and be made for the working class, and that art should serve the advancement of socialism. These philosophies led to the repression of anti-revolutionary songs, and folk music was adapted into revolutionary music, so that illiterate rural populations could learn about the Communist party’s goals. Chinese artists who were not working with the blessing of the Communist party were held in low esteem or suffered persecution, and free innovation in the Chinese music industry languished greatly until the major political changes and reforms of the 1980s.

“Due to historical reasons, the ’50 to ‘70s were the eras of “model operas”; the art of real music was surpressed…” explains Fan of Maybe Mars. “After the reform and opening of the country, the backwards state of China’s domestic music scene was finally able to sprout… [but] we started late, so we are still in the imitation and learning stages.”

“The Chinese music scene is unique because alternative music has only really been a cultural phenomenon since the late ’80s and is still very far away from mainstream acceptance or even recognition,” says Feola. “So it’s underground by default, but that’s changing…”

中国音乐自中国文明发展以来都与这个国家的政治结构密不可分。了解中国历史对于了解中国音乐具有重大作用。从周朝(公元前1122 – 前256年)起,音乐就被视为宇宙和谐以及生命长寿的关键所在。音乐在各超各代的王室以及文献中都有重要作用。

在近代,随着新文化运动的开展,一群生于1910至1920年间的中国音乐家得以周游世界,学习外国音乐并在回国后表演了在那个时代难以想象的作品。新音乐流派也在此期间诞生,如时代曲,就将中国民谣及西方经典音乐相融合。时代曲对现代东亚流行音乐产生了深远影响。新文化运动期间,中国政府对艺术发展表现了很大的支持并给予了足够的自由 – 这一状态一直持续到1930 – 1940年代。女性流行乐演唱者如七大歌星等一时主导了中国音乐市场并在音乐及剧场发展中成为了主要角色。

然而在1942年5月的延安文艺座谈会后,中国对于艺术的理解永久性地转变了。毛泽东在座谈会上明确指出艺术应该反映工人阶级的生活并为工人阶级以及社会主义的前进而服务。这些思想导致了对所谓反革命歌曲的镇压,而民谣则成为了革命歌曲的工具。这么做的目的是为了让缺少教育的农村人口也能学习共产党的核心价值。那些不愿与共产党合作的艺术家遭到了名声损害或阶级迫害,中国音乐的自由创作之风由此收到重创并在1980年代的政治改革后才有所缓解。

“由于历史原因,50-70年代都是”样板戏”年代,真正的音乐艺术受到压制。.. 改革开放之后,国内落后的现代音乐才开始发芽… 我们起步晚,所以还在模仿学习阶段…” 兵马司的樊晏说。

“中国目前的音乐市场状况是很独特的。由于从80年代末开始,中国的音乐风气才开始转变,因此它暂时只能称作一种文化现象而无法为音乐主流市场接受甚至认可,”Feola说,”因此目前来说中国音乐还处在地下形态,但这一切正在改变…”

Sonic Throwback

Teresa Teng – “Honey Sweet” // 邓丽君 – “甜蜜蜜” (1979)

Born in Baozhong in Mainland China’s Yunlin County, Teresa Teng first saw commercial success in Taiwan in 1968, following a television performance and a subsequent record deal with Life Records. In 1973, she successfully crossed over into Japan and, thanks to a contract with Polydor Records, saw popularity throughout all of Asia.

In the 1980s, as political tension increased between Taiwan and China, Teng’s music — along with that of many others — was banned for several years in mainland China for being too “bourgeois”. Yet Teng continued to be played everywhere; the black market supplied both government buildings and nightclubs with her music, and her ban was eventually lifted. Because she shared the same family name (邓) as then Chinese leader Deng XiaoPing, she was also nicknamed “Little Deng”; and it was said that while Deng the Communist leader ruled China by day, Deng (Teng) the singer ruled china by night.

Teng desired to perform in mainland China and was finally extended the offer to do so in the 1990s. Unfortunately, she died suddenly from a severe asthma attack in May 1995, while in Thailand on vacation. She was 42-years-old (or 43, according to Chinese calendars). “Honey Sweet (甜蜜蜜)” is arguably her most famous song.

LYRICS
Where, where have I met you before?
Your smile is just so familiar
As if in a dream…
Where, where have I met you before?
Your smile is just so familiar
I just can’t place it
Oh, in my dreams
In my dreams, in my dreams, I met you
Such honey sweet smiles, how honey sweet
It’s you, it’s you; the one I met in my dreams is you
Where, where have I met you before?
Your smile is just so familiar
I just can’t place it
Oh, in my dreams

歌词
在哪里在哪里见过你
你的笑容这样熟悉
像在梦里
在哪里在哪里见过你
你的笑容这样熟悉
我一时想不起
啊~~在梦里
梦里梦里见过你
甜蜜笑得多甜蜜
是你~是你~梦见的就是你
在哪里在哪里见过你
你的笑容这样熟悉
我一时想不起
啊~~在梦里

 

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Written by
Vivian Hua 華婷婷

Vivian Hua 華婷婷 is a writer, filmmaker, and organizer. As the Executive Director of Northwest Film Forum in Seattle and Editor-in-Chief of the interdisciplinary arts publication, REDEFINE, much of her work unifies her metaphysical interests with her belief that art can positively transform the self and society. She regularly shares human-centered stories through her storytelling newsletter, RAMBLIN’ WITH VEE! In 2020, she will [hopefully] begin production on a comedic Asian-American series entitled Reckless Spirits.

Ask Vivian about MARSHMALLOWS, cuz she's gross... and being tips for being frugal while nomading!

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[…] China’s Indie Music Scene: Transforming Contemporary Chinese Culture From The Bottom Up &#8211…: […]

Jonathan Alpart
Jonathan Alpart
7 years ago

Vivian, thank you for writing such a fantastic, in-depth article about the Chinese music scene! I am in fact one of the committed “portion of people” trying to bring Chinese music to a wider audience. I am the guy who makes The Sound Stage – thank you SO much for including two of my videos on page 1 of your article! I was thrilled to see that when Josh Feola shared this piece on his Facebook.

I also wanted to let your readers know that things are indeed changing, even at this time of writing I think a lot of what was quoted on Page 4 is already becoming irrelevant! Since August I’ve been doing a radio version of my “The Sound Stage” series (which is fully financed by China Radio International, a Chinese state media organ) every Saturday night primetime 6-7pm on FM stations in nearly every major city in China where I play Chinese independent rock, folk, hip-hop and more – I’ve played a track from just about every band mentioned here in this article. I upload each broadcast here thesoundstage.bandcamp.com

Vivian, 这篇文章非常棒,关于中国独立音乐的见解非常深刻。感谢你写这篇文章。我本人也致力于推广中国音乐,让更多的人了解中国音乐。我就是The Sound Stage(音你而乐)栏目主持人。真的特别感谢你在你的文章中提到我的两期节目。在Facebook 上看到Josh Feola的分享,我简直太激动了。

同时,我也希望你的读者能了解到现在正发生的一些变化。事实上,在我写下这些评论时,你在文章第四页引用的一些业界评论已经不符合当前的情况了。从今年8月份开始,The Sound Stage(音你而乐)广播版开播——完全由中国国际广播电台独立承办,每周六晚上6:05点到七点,通过调频广播向中国主要城市传播。这档广播栏目中,我们会播放中国独立摇滚乐,民谣,Hip-hop等。你文章中提到的那些乐队,我几乎都有播放过他们的音乐。打开这个链接,可以看到所有往期的节目。

sOopahvi
sOopahvi
7 years ago

Hey Jonathan! Thanks for writing, and I love the work you do. I’ll definitely check out your Bandcamp… who are some of your favorite Chinese musicians at the moment? If you ever would be interested in putting together a Chinese music mixtape for REDEFINE, consider this an invite. Cheers and really good work on Sound Stage. 🙂

Jonathan Alpart
Jonathan Alpart
7 years ago
Reply to  sOopahvi

Vivian, I would love to, thanks! I’ll get to work on that right away. I really Residence A (A公馆)and their CD release party at MAO Livehouse was possibly the best show I’ve seen at that venue. I’m also very impressed by the music coming out of Dalian – namely, Which Park and Doc Talk Shock. Since I’ve started my show I’ve been branching out beyond Beijing and there is really cool stuff coming out of any and every city – Xi’an, Chengdu, Guangzhou. Check out Golden Cage, The Fuzz and The Muff. I’ll always have a soft spot for New Pants(新裤子), though!

sOopahvi
sOopahvi
7 years ago

I actually also reached out to Josh about a mixtape idea! I wonder if you guys could collab on a series or if you could do one later on next year in 2014? (He’s slated in January.) No rush. Feel free to e-mail me at huav@redefinemag.com, too! 😀

Jonathan Alpart
Jonathan Alpart
7 years ago
Reply to  sOopahvi

I’m cool with either! I’ve emailed you =)

Gonzo Chicago
Gonzo Chicago
7 years ago

This is really great. I read this from China, after having filmed over 30 bands in the last 2 months, to be released as a moment in time style documentary as soon as humanly possible. I hope to make this excellent, and spread it as far and wide as I can. Thanks for doing this. It needed to be done.

sOopahvi
sOopahvi
7 years ago
Reply to  Gonzo Chicago

Thank you kindly! Please keep me posted when you finish your piece. 🙂

bill bunkum
bill bunkum
7 years ago

Speaking of expat bands, do you think there is a place in China’s music scene for expat bands to be taken seriously? It often seems to me that an expat musician is seen more as a novelty than anything, and that there seems to be little excitement, coverage or promotion about what expats are doing musically exactly because they are not burgeoning, Chinese musicians.

sOopahvi
sOopahvi
7 years ago
Reply to  bill bunkum

Are you speaking in terms of the local Chinese audience or larger international audiences?

bill bunkum
bill bunkum
7 years ago
Reply to  sOopahvi

My only real experience is with local audiences, both Chinese & expats. I’m unsure what the int’l audience thinks. I’d agree with this article concerning them.

Jonathan Alpart
Jonathan Alpart
7 years ago
Reply to  bill bunkum

Many expat bands are respected and treated as “locals” as long as they are truly creating something new and not just playing “drunken Jimi Hendrix covers.” Take the band Pairs, for example. They are one of the biggest acts out of Shanghai, and the lead singer and guitarist is from Australia. I guess what people take an issue with regarding expat bands would be a concept that is something of an opposite to what Josh Feola described as “China Cred” – call it Expat Cred? “Hey, we’re foreigners in China playing rock music” just doesn’t cut it anymore. Having said all that though, this IS China, so I think it’s only natural that people would be more interested in what local Chinese people are doing. Hopefully as the scene here gains more ground and international prominence, it won’t matter who you are or where you are from, but just what you are bringing musically to the table.

tenzenmen
tenzenmen
7 years ago

thanks for using some tenzenmen links too (and i’ve added the article to alternativechina.tumblr.com). anyone looking to hear or buy more chinese music can check out tenzenmen.com.

also – D22 is no longer there (as is their url)!

sOopahvi
sOopahvi
7 years ago
Reply to  tenzenmen

thanks for the double heads up!

Ricky Maymi
2 years ago

Order a whole lot of Chinese vinyl, CDs, cassettes and even some shirts and posters from http://www.faroutdistantsounds.com

Written by Vivian Hua 華婷婷
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