China Beat Archive


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July 23, 2008 in The China Beat


Copyright July 23, 2008 Eric Setzekorn. Used by permission.


Like almost every aspect of Beijing life in the past five years, the live music scene has undergone rapid but uneven development. Beijing has always prided itself on the gritty originality of its live music compared to the dominance of cover bands in Shanghai or the saccharine Canto-pop of Hong Kong. The recent opening of new, modern venues on both sides of the city has allowed dozens of new bands and a newly affluent urban youth to establish a flourishing but still shallow live music scene.

For live music, particularly rock and hip hop music, the Olympics are bringing challenges such as new rules and regulations but could allow some bands to develop a global fan base which remains a central difficulty for Chinese groups. A less immediate and more difficult issue will be resolving the internal contradictions between Chinese rock and its relation to Chinese society. The elephant in the room of any discussion of China’s music scene is how to rectify the anti-authoritarian values which infuse rock music and even more so punk and hip-hop with the boundaries of the Chinese political system. At present the young, often highly nationalistic youth seem to be pulling in the same direction as the government,which comes as a shock to many foreign visitors and seems to betray the core anti-establishment values of rock, punk and hip-hop. However, the post-1989 cultural détente in which musicians stayed away from politics may be eroding.

Beijing has slowly struggled to rebuild its music scene after rock music had been identified by the government as a “bad element” following the events of 1989. The introduction of punk and alternative rock sounds from groups like Nirvana and Sonic Youth in the 1990s helped influence new groups like the all-girl band Hang on the Box, which was the first Chinese band on the cover of Newsweek Asia, and whose music marked a sharp change from the Bruce Springsteen-esque Cui Jian types of the 1980s.