Rock is on a roll in China

Chinese variety show The Big Band, which features rock bands such as Hedgehog (above) and Black Head, is captivating Chinese viewers with its focus on indie rock music and rock culture.
Chinese variety show The Big Band, which features rock bands such as Hedgehog (above) and Black Head, is captivating Chinese viewers with its focus on indie rock music and rock culture. PHOTO: HEDGEHOG/WEIBO
Chinese variety show The Big Band, which features rock bands such as Hedgehog and Black Head (above), is captivating Chinese viewers with its focus on indie rock music and rock culture.
Chinese variety show The Big Band, which features rock bands such as Hedgehog and Black Head (above), is captivating Chinese viewers with its focus on indie rock music and rock culture. PHOTO: BLACK HEAD/WEIBO

BEIJING • Rock is reaching more ears and gaining mainstream recognition in China, as variety show The Big Band captivates the Chinese viewers with its focus on indie rock music and rock culture.

The programme features a competition of 31 bands whose styles range from indie rock, metal, punk, funk, Brit-pop to reggae, as it aims to bring lesser-known rock and indie bands to the masses.

The show - whose name in Chinese translates literally to "a summer of bands" - concluded earlier this month and has generated much discussion in China this summer.

The Big Band hashtag has been posted over 5.19 million times on the country's Twitter-like Sina Weibo.

The show has also gathered more than 400,000 "bullet messages" - a way users respond to live videos - on the streaming platform iQiyi.

"It has succeeded in building a platform to let the audiences know about China's authentic band culture and the people behind it," said Cui Longyang, an indie musician in Beijing.

"But rock and roll has been there all along, thanks to hundreds of thousands of rock lovers who have never given up on their dreams," he added.

Wang He, 31, and his band Zhi Ren are among these dream chasers.

To realise his decade-long rock and roll dream, Wang co-founded the band earlier this year with his rock-lover friends and colleagues, including an employee in a state-owned company, a senior manager and a firefighter.

Last month, the band made their debut in Beijing and entertained a full house of about 500 people.

"We enjoyed the performance and decided to continue with it," said Wang, who is also the band's drummer.

"Even my boss was there to support us and one of our friends got so excited that he jumped onto the stage and danced together with us."

His band has to set aside time to practise as most of the members have day jobs.

"Our guitarist, who is a firefighter, travels half an hour by train from another city to meet us every Saturday, and everyone took leave from work four weeks before the performance," Wang said.

At his home, the gathering place for the band, dozens of postcards from fans and friends piled up in a metal basket hung on the wall.

The band's frontwoman Ren Lu said that apart from support from their friends and fans, it is their unswerving passion for music that binds the band together.

According to Wang Jiang, a pop music critic in Shanghai, the 1980s and 1990s were the heydays of Chinese rock and roll.

"At that time, Chinese rock music was full of idealism and vitality and exploded like a music bomb among Chinese youth born in the 1960s and 1970s," he said.

But the genre's influence has since withered, as the new millennium ushered in an era of rapid economic growth in China. People were too busy for the so-called rock and roll spirit, Wang Jiang added.

Some observers say rock spirit is back to its golden era, but it is much more than nostalgia for people in their 40s and 50s.

According to Maoyan, a movie and television rating platform, people aged between 18 and 30 account for 58 per cent of The Big Band's viewers, with one-quarter of the viewers aged between 18 and 24.

"Bars and clubs are now flooded with the songs of the bands from The Big Band such as The Face and my favourite Hedgehog," said Hu Qihong, a 26-year-old rock fan.

"Beyond music, the show lets me know who these rockers really are."

Wang He said variety shows and mobile music apps have brought indie music to the public, especially the young people.

"Underground and indie music can reach more people now instead of a certain group of niche listeners," he said.

Last year, 263 music festivals were held in China, more than three times the total in 2011, with Shanghai, Chengdu and Beijing being the most popular cities for throwing music live shows, according to a report released by China Music Business News earlier this year.

Zuo Ye, a music critic and live music club manager in Beijing, said his club held about 150 live concerts last year and the number has grown by about 10 per cent annually in recent years.

"China's rock bands have been maturing in every aspect, including the quality of their music and performance, in the last decade," he said.

Cui said the increased attention paid to rock music has created a larger market, but he hoped bands and musicians would not lose focus on their music.

XINHUA

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 28, 2019, with the headline 'Rock is on a roll in China'. Print Edition | Subscribe