NOT FROM BEIJING: Chinese Indie Rock

So there’s great rock
‘n’ roll in Beijing-what about the rest of China?


In 2007, America
discovered Chinese indie rock. Every major publication, it seemed, was sending
writers over to check out what was going on in Beijing. And although we now know that the
cute little girl at the Olympics opening ceremony was lip-synching, China’s
indie rock bands are, more or less, the real deal. Rock ‘n’ roll is being made
here, and it’s a refreshingly uncommercial enterprise.

Most of what reaches the US comes from the relatively
insular Beijing scene that orbits around bands like Carsick Cars who play
regularly at the rock club D-22, where almost any night of the week you can
join a crowd of expats and locals to see the new talent this scene is
developing. Still, China is a country with 1.3 billion people in it, and more
than a handful of non-Beijing-indie-scene records released this year are worth
paying attention to. Here are some bands worth keeping an eye on in preparation
for the Chinese Rock Invasion.


The Honeys

Water (ECRSC)

Started by musicians from Hangzhou and Shanghai, the Honeys
have been around for decade and their new album is ambitious, with big-rock
production that almost reaches a Bon Jovi-like bombast at times, but keeps
itself grounded with the smooth, laid-back sounds of Chinese stringed
instruments on the title track and others. Not the most groundbreaking indie
release of 2008, but a solid introduction to the genre.

The Swamp (and

The Metamorphosis (Self-released) /

This Guangzhou-based band released a remix album featuring
re-imaginings of their previous work (which leans toward psychedelic rock and
morose, atmospheric pop) by artists from the mainland, Hong Kong, and Taiwan.
Although the Swamp have existed since 1996, they’re just now coming into their
prolific own; in 2009, they plan to put out a new studio album featuring an
experimental symphony written for electric guitar and guqin, a traditional
Chinese stringed instrument.

Various Artists

Noise is Free: Mini
Midi 2008
(Kwanyin Records)

A compilation from the Mini Midi Festival (admittedly held
in Beijing) an experimental offshoot of China’s biggest music festival, this
handmade limited run of CDs features compositions from a number of sound
artists, ranging from a squonking sax improv to an amusing noise piece which
incorporates an oft-heard recording from a Chinese phone company: “Sorry, the phone you dialed is not answered
for the moment.”

The Rogue

Illicit Intercepts EP (Self-released)

Can a group of white dudes be a Chinese rock band? The first
release from these Shanghai-based expats manages to capture the energy of their
sweaty, beer-soaked live show. Impressively mustachioed frontman Dan Shapiro
yowls like a more impassioned Dave Grohl, and the band’s tight, aggressive
power pop is stirring, whatever their nationality.

Wang Wen

IV (Fox Tail)

This four-piece post-rock group from the northern coastal
city of Dalian,
released maybe the best non-Beijing record of 2008. Starting off in Explosions
in the Sky Territory, Wang Wen makes the genre
their own, adding flourishes like playful jazz drumming and melodica to their
celestial guitar twinklings and drones.

[Pictured: Wang Wen]

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