Heavy Metal in China – Part I: The beginnings (1986 to 1994)
With the emergence of pop and rock music in the late seventies and eighties, the establishment of discotheques in the main cities, the first cover bands inspired by western artists such as The Beatles or The Rolling Stones (for example “Mainland Band” or also “Alisi” who performed covers of Japanese rock songs), and finally, the first concerts given by Western artists in the country (Jean Michel Jarre in 1981, Wham! in 1985 and SheRock in 1986), the heavy metal scene also made its first few hesitating steps in the People’s Republic of China.
One of the first and most important hard rock and heavy metal bands hailing from China was Black Panther (“黑豹”), which saw the light of day in 1987 in Beijing. Two other bands formed that same year: Cui Jian’s more traditional Rock influenced ADO Band, as well as the lesser known and more punk-driven Mayday (“五月天”). Another popular hard rock band called The Face saw the light of day in 1989. Black Panther went through many line-up changes in the beginning, but managed to put out their first self-titled release in August of 1991, first sold in Hong Kong. This glam metal release with both Chinese and English lyrics is today considered to be the first sound of hard rock or heavy metal that ever came out of the country of China, and it set a new trend as several tracks hit the charts in Hong Kong. The record was finally officially released in the People’s Republic of China in December of 1992, but a million copies were soon sold, by which time the formation was already about to record their second strike entitled “Spirit Of Light” (“光芒之神”). This album was released in 1993 and included nine brand new tracks, all of which were sung in Mandarin. The band finally got a professional record deal with JVC in the same year, and their second record was reissued and released throughout Asia. Chinese metal music slowly began to get a little more attention from foreign countries at this time.
The formation that is today considered as *the* pioneer band of the Chinese heavy metal scene is, without a doubt, Tang Dynasty (“唐朝”). The band initially got together in 1988, when the founding members met at a party and soon started to give a few underground concerts. The Tiananmen incident, however, kept the band from organizing widespread concert series. Two of the original members – the now-famous American-born guitarist Kaiser Kuo (who later formed the heavy metal band Spring Autumn (“春秋”)) and drummer Andrew Szabo – had resided in the United States of America before the incident, and decided to return while the remaining two members, guitarist and singer Ding Wu (who was briefly involved as a guitarist in Black Panther) and bassist Zhang Ju, decided to carry on and look for new members. In autumn of 1989, the new guitar player, Liu Yijun, as well as drummer Zhao Nian joined the band, and together they rehearsed on a regular basis while looking to play at a few bigger venues.
The band soon had the chance to increase its fame when the members were allowed to participate at a festival called “90’s Modern Music Festival”. It took place at the giant Capital Stadium in Beijing, where the four men played in front of 18,000 cheering people. This event is today considered to have been China’s first rock music festival. Other promising rock bands from Beijing also attended this two day event on February 17th and 18th of the year 1990. First of all, there was ADO Band formed in 1987 which was the band of pioneer musician Cui Jian, who released what is considered China’s first professional rock album called “Rock ‘N Roll On The Long New March” (“新长征路上的摇滚”) in 1989. This multi-instrumentalist of Korean ethnicity had released his first record on cassette in 1984 and rose to fame with his influential success “Nothing To My Name” (“一无所有”) in 1986, which became something of an unofficial anthem for young Chinese activists during the Tiananmen Square protests. The short-lived glam metal formation The Breathing (“呼吸”), which had been formed in 1989, also attended the festival. A jazz, pop and rock formation called 1989 that was formed during the year the band’s name indicated was on the billing as well, the all-female rock band Cobra (“眼镜蛇”) that also came together in 1989, and finally, the lesser known rock band Baby Brother completed the line-up.
The rising success of Tang Dynasty helped them get a deal with a Taiwanese record company, and the four men got the chance to record a total of eleven tracks in a professional record studio over the next two years. The band looked to combine melodic and modern western metal and rock music with Chinese folk music and historic, mythological, or poetic lyrics. Melodic guitar leads meet traditional folk instruments, while high pitched and sometimes almost operatic male vocals meet more grounded chants and chorals. The band’s first record, entitled A Dream Return To Tang Dynasty (梦回唐朝) was first released in December 1991, and soon reissued on a more widespread basis in Southeast Asia one year later. Today, the album has sold over two million legal copies in the world. Due to political issues, the band’s version of “Internationale” (“国际歌”) was omitted from the first Chinese pressings of the record, and only appeared on later reissues. The band made a number of video clips for several songs on the record that aired on more and more popular music television channels. The videos often show rural landscapes of the country, traditional costumes, and everyday life situations in connection with Chinese mores. The band got greater attention when their album opener and title track “A Dream Return To Tang Dynasty” (“梦回唐朝”) was included in a shortlist for the category “International Viewer’s Choice Awards – MTV Asia” at the 1993 MTV Music Awards. The year after, the band also made it to the “Chinese Cultural Festival” (“中国文化艺术节”) in Berlin, Germany as well as to the “International Culture Festival” (“国际文化节”) in Fukuoka, Japan.
But at the height of popularity, several events would soon lead to an important decline of the young Chinese metal scene in the middle of the nineties…
Important records (1986 – 1994):
Cui Jian (“崔建”) – Rock ‘N Roll On The New Long March (“新长征路上的摇滚”) (1989)
Black Panther (“黑豹”) – Black Panther (“黑豹”) (1991)
The Breathing (“呼吸”) – The Breathing (“呼吸”) (1991)
Tang Dynasty (“唐朝”) – A Dream Return To Tang Dynasty (“梦回唐朝”) (1992)
Cobra (“眼镜蛇”) – Hypocrisy (1994)