“[Parents] want everything their children do to help them earn more money in the future, have a more upscale life; music and art cannot give their children these things,” explains Maybe Mars’ Fan. “In addition to daily homework, most parents give their children additional tutoring classes, rather than encouraging them to learn musical instruments, to build and cultivate their inner beauty.”
Yet there is a dichotomy when one takes stock of musicians in China’s underground music scene, where almost everyone found music on their own. Echoed again and again are the sentiments that formal music educations do not lead to the creation of real musicians, and that academic and technical training can sometimes negate a true interest in or appreciation for music.
“Although everywhere in China there is music, studios, and other training institutions, in actuality, most schools and parents don’t understand what art is. They force children to learn musical instruments, learn classical music for the sake of comparisons; the families might not even have a single classical music CD,” explains guitarist Steven Sill of the retro rock band Cat Machine. “These kinds of distorted values do not allow children to enjoy music.”
Like many independent Chinese musicians, Sill and his bandmates are self-taught, and propelled forth by a passion for the artform. “We first fell in love with rock and roll, then learned musical instruments,” Sill continues. “It’s a very natural process, which likely makes it easier to achieve certain results.”
Fan Yang (杨帆), the vocalist and guitarist of Ourself Beside Me, is likewise a self-taught musician and composer. She, too, sees the fallacy and social implications of forcing children to heartlessly study art.
“Chinese parents are actively having their children study art, but within these positives are some negative factors. More and more parents are encouraging their children to study art not for a love of the art in itself – and Chinese people’s desires to want a “good face”, peer pressure, [and] adding points to entrance exams are all factors,” says Yang. “[Which] results in many people who grew up learning music but don’t like music – might even abhor art; I think it is very depressing.”
There are, however, rare exceptions – as well as signs that these trends may be changing for younger generations as more and more Chinese musicians achieve commercial success through art.
“Certain Chinese indie rock bands have achieved domestic success and done high profile international tours, which has in turn trickled down to influence younger generations of college-aged musicians for whom it is far more socially acceptable to choose music as a pastime or, in rare cases, a profession,” explains Feola of Pangbianr.
Scarlett Li (李岱), founder of the DIY and multi-city festival, Zebra Festival (热波音乐节), also has a hopeful outlook. “Many families have begun to realize that arts educations are important to a child’s physical and mental development – that it plays a key role in shaping a child’s character and personality. To become elegant is just one part of it. Becoming a person with true grace and romance is what music and art can offer you, as well as your taste and personality.”
“虽然中国到处都是琴行、画室等培训机构，但实际上绝大部分学校与家长不懂什么是艺术。他们强迫孩子学习乐器、学习古典音乐的目的是为了攀比，家里可能一张古典音乐的CD也没有。这种扭曲的价值观并不能使孩子享受音乐，” 机械懒猫的吉他手 Steven Sill说。
“我们乐队跟中国的大部分乐队一样，先爱上摇滚乐，再学习乐器，很自然的过程，反而更加容易在音乐上取得一定的成绩，” Sill 继续说。
杨帆，Ourself Beside Me 乐队的主唱兼吉他，也是一位自学成才的音乐家兼作曲家。她也认为这个社会对强迫孩童学习艺术有着一种病态的理解和暗示。
但在这样的大环境中也有少数例外 – 越来越多的中国音乐家正通过自己所获得的商业成就来试图为年轻一代改变艺术学习的现状。
“一些中国独立摇滚乐队已在国内取得一定成功且在国际巡回演出中获得了较高的认知度。这些乐队正缓慢地对年轻一代音乐家产生影响。那些受所谓正统教育，被社会认同的孩子可能会将音乐视为一种消遣，甚至事业。”博客网站旁边儿的 Feola 解释说。
Listening Station #3: Folk-Inspired Sounds
Downloads and streams from a selection of our favorite Chinese musicians.
ShanRen (山人) – “Study”
“Much is happening in China as we speak: new sounds arise, new styles are formed, new topics [are] discussed and several culturally significant revivals are taking place as we speak… According to many industry insiders, after London and New York, Beijing is quickly rising to become the most creative city for new music in Asia.” – Julia Fortuny of the record label Maybe Mars
“就在我们聊天的当下，许多事情正在中国发生：新歌手的出现，新曲风的形成，新音乐话题的讨论以及多元文化复兴…许多业内人士认为，继伦敦和纽约之后，北京是亚洲范围内新音乐发展最快，创造力最强的城市。” – 兵马司的 Julia Fortuny
A Country With One True Cultural Capital
Throughout the country, diamonds can be found in the rough soil of the underground: Shanghai clubs boast an internationally-minded DJ scene; Inner Mongolian artists innovatively meld folk influences with modern sounds; Yunnan province musicians pull inspiration from nature and ethnic roots; Wuhan thrives with home-grown attitude; and so on. Yet, by all accounts, the epicenter of China’s live music also happens to be its long-standing historical and culture capital: Beijing. There, a music scene thrives in contrarian ways. In public spaces, government-approved music festivals bring in corporate sponsorships and acts from around the country and globe – while hidden near century-old ruins, bands perform to handfuls of people in dingy clubs and practice in underground rehearsal spaces.
“Beijing is contemporary China’s political and cultural center, and rock n’ roll’s biggest stage. Nearly all of the important culture, media organizations and record labels are all gathered here. If, for example, another city’s band needs the resources to succeed, they cannot be without Beijing,” says Lu of AV Okubo.
“I think that Beijing is an incredibly cool city, with a lot of people, a lot of chaos – and it has gathered a lot of interesting young people with ideals, and a great hunger and desire,” explains Wang of The Gar and White+. He parallels the “grey” feeling of Beijing with that of New York City, noting that the first time he went to New York, its energy and familiarity were shockingly reminiscent to that of Beijing.
在中国，闪耀的钻石要在艰苦的地下音乐土壤中发掘：上海的酒吧夜店是培养国际化DJ的温床；内蒙古的艺术家们正运用他们的创意将传统民谣与现代音乐结合起来；云南音乐家们从大自然和民族文化中寻找灵感；而武汉的本土音乐态度正在衍生；等等。然而，正如中国长久以来的历史和文化中心一样，中国的现场音乐中心是北京。在北京，音乐正以人们意想不到的方式蓬勃发展。在公开场合，经政府允许的各种音乐节带来了各方企业赞助以及国内乃至国际的艺术家 – 与此同时，地下的，非公开的乐队在为少数观众表演着。
“北京是当代中国政治和文化的中心，是摇滚乐最大的舞台，几乎所有的重要的文化，媒体机构还有唱片业都聚集在此，如果说一支其他城市的乐队想要获得成功所必须的资源，是绕不开北京的,” AV 大久保乐队的陆炎说。