• January 2, 2014 in National Styles

    Heavy Metal in China: Part III – Rising from the ashes (2003 – 2013)

    Band - Narakam (Hades)

    In 2003, SARS struck China and affected the entire society, including its musical culture. Famous bars were closed down, and more and more concerts and festivals got were canceled or postponed. Marketing business also suffered and broke down during that same year. Even the 2003 edition of the famous Midi Music Festival had to be canceled in May, and was finally postponed and held in October of the same year. The crowd at that edition of the festival was particularly aggressive and nervous, throwing bottles and eggs on stage when the Japanese band Brahman (“日本”) performed. Even the promoter, who tried in vain to calm the spectators, had his glasses broken by a thrown water bottle. Towards the end, the crowd finally ended up enjoying the show and cheered the Japanese band’s performance. I’m illustrating that, even from a musical point of view, Chinese and Japanese culture remains profoundly distinct from one another. These events led to a bad image of the metal scene and a lot of grim discussions, not only in Japan but also inside of the People’s Republic of China, after a year filled with bad coincidences.

    Even after the end of the epidemic, the Chinese rock and metal scene remained paralyzed. Many old venues remained closed, changed costumer bases, or had a complete change of style. After a half-year long hiatus however, the scene arose like the famous phoenix from its ashes, and many new bands began to spread their names abroad by performing shows and selling records in other Asian countries, but also increasingly in Europe and North America. International festivals inside and outside of Asia, from the Hong Kong Rock It Music Festival to the Wacken Open Air in Germany, helped the bands diffuse to a larger public and to get record deals with international labels. In 2012, three Chinese bands from Beijing played at Wacken Open Air: the Death and Thrash Metal formation Suffocated (“窒息”), and the Metalcore acts Yaksa (“夜叉”) and The Falling (“夜叉”).

    At the same time, more foreign bands began touring China, the first being a show by the (at that point) internationally rather unknown Italian power metal band Labyrinth in Beijing in 2004. In the years following, one could later cite bands such as the Dutch Street Punk formation Disturbance, German power metal icons Edguy, the legendary British rockers The Rolling Stones, and British alternative rock acts Placebo and Supergrass as playing in the Orient. In 2006, the female-fronted Austrian symphonic metal bands Edenbridge and Visions Of Atlantis arrived, along with American dark wave formation The Crüxshadows and thrash metal legend Testament in 2007, along with big names such as Nightwish and Dream Theater. German Medieval rock bands arrived around this time as well, including Corvus Corax, In Extremo, and Subway To Sally. The gates truly opened in 2009, with the arrival of Stratovarius, Turisas, Exodus, and Opeth in 2012. Many local bands were influenced by these concerts, and attendance increased in number. Several foreign bands recorded live albums in China, such as Taiwanese symphonic metal act Seraphim in 2006, and Corvus Corax at least partially in 2008. Foreign bands commentated frequently and very positively on Chinese crowds and the growing metal scene in the Middle Empire.

    Band OverloadThe internet also helped to rebuild the Chinese Metal scene, thanks to sites such as Douban in China, and Myspace on an international level. Small radio stations such as Hongkong’s Dragonradio formed in 2005, and steadily supported local underground scenes. New underground clubs such as Beijing’s D-22 venue became a new home to the increasing number of underground bands, and innovative events such as NOIShanghai helped organize and promote Noise acts from 2005 on. The Antidote Shanghai group united several disc jockeys, foreign guests, and local music producers who organized monthly music events around all kinds of electronic music, helping to diversify the Chinese rock and metal scene considerably in only a few short years. At last, these scenes were finally about to catch up with their respective Western counterparts.

    Many new compilation record series such as “Resurrection Of The Gods” (2001), “Dead Night” (2003), and “Black Battle Corpse” (2007) started to specialize in different subgenres, and often promoted underground bands without record deals. These compilations helped promising acts such as the Chinese progressive metal bands The Last Successor (“末裔“) and Mirage (“海市蜃楼”), or melodic black metal acts like Screaming Savior (“惊叫基督”) and Terminal Lost (“天幕落”) to increase their fame or even get their breakthrough.

    Projects like “Core In China” (organized by two people involved in the website “Rock In China”) received international acclaim in 2012 by spreading the name of bands such as Luktomo (“六道母”) or Why Lazy. Even though the metalcore bands Purgatory (“炼狱”) and Soma TNT (“索玛TNT”) didn’t release any official studio albums, they gained some popularity due to a Youtube video of the former band featuring the country’s first female guttural vocal performer Fan Doudou.

    The fact that many promising Chinese metal bands don’t release records remains a main problem. Despite emerging tendencies thanks to the internet, it’s an underground scene that basically exists around its vivid live shows in big cities like Beijing, Chengdu, Guangzhou, Shanghai, and Shenzhen, many underground fanzines, and obscure compilation records from black markets.

    Both the metal scene and the music itself became more and more open-minded as time went by. A good example is the band Voodoo Kungfu (“零壹”), that got together in Beijing in 2003 to play a mixture of black, folk, and industrial metal by including special members who performed a Mongolian Cello or who contributed traditional percussion and electronic samples to the sound. The metalcore formation Tarot Saint (“塔罗圣徒”), founded in the year 2007 in Beijing, mixes melodic death metal and modern thrash metal with folk influences. One could also cite the experimental psychedelic rock band LAVA.OX.SEX from Hefei, which is composed of four members with completely different or even conflicting musical backgrounds.

    Chinese bands also started projects with foreign musicians. The psychedelic, alternative folk rock formation Proximity Butterfly (“变色蝴蝶”) from Chengdu was founded by male and female musicians of American, Canadian, and Chinese origins in 2003. The post punk and gothic formation Boys Climbing Ropes was formed in Shanghai in 2006 by three Canadians musicians living in China, as well as a female Chinese keyboardist and singer. The melodic power metal band The Barque Of Dante from Mianying collaborates closely with Austrian singer Thomas Winkler and Greek vocalist Vicky Psarakis on the 2013 album Lasting Forever. Finally, the Beijing thrash metal act Raging Mob is fronted by German vocalist Robert Gonnella, and also features American guitar player David Hemmer.

    In Germany, Chinese artist, dissident, and political whistleblower Ai Weiwei (“艾未未”) released a controversial and highly experimental metal album entitled The Divine Comedy (神曲) in 2013, that talks about current problems in the country and the artist’s negative experiences with the Chinese government and other institutions. Indirectly, this political release introduced a larger public to the contemporary Chinese arts and music scene.

    Band - Ritual DayAlong with many new bands and original collaborations, some of the genre pioneers decided to explore new ground and become more active again. In late 2013, the legendary Tang Dynasty (唐朝) released a brand new album entitled Prick (芒刺), with a colder and more technical progressive metal sound, featuring a surprising title track accompanied by a video dealing with the horrors of the Iraq War. This release clearly strayed from the band’s melodic heavy metal sound that previously focused upon folk influences and lyrics about Chinese culture and history. Nine years after their last record, Chinese hard rock legends Black Panther (黑豹) also made their return with a mixture of classic and more modern elements with a new and energizing singer on the critically acclaimed album Who We Are (我们是谁).

    In 2008, the organization of the Olympic Summer Games in Beijing, the Zibo train collision, and the terrible impacts of the Sichuan earthquake led to many canceled concerts and festivals. In comparison to the SARS epidemic five years earlier however, the scene stood together this time, and improvised many charity events for the victims of the train accidents and earthquake. From that point of view, the metal scene even took certain advantage of these events and gained a lot of respect for its charity, which helped to slowly re-establish its lost glory from before 2003. The Shanghai Expo in 2010 led to several temporary shutdowns of important underground venues, but by this time the impact had become a lot less menacing for the flowering metal scene than expected. Instead, some artists realized the potential of this event and released an “Expo” compilation featuring ten rather unknown electronic independent artists like B6 and Sun Ye (“孙晔”).

    The rock and metal scene has finally built up a solid basis, and has continued to explore new ground and gain more and more international popularity. Thanks to the internet and movie projects like “Global Metal”, the Chinese metal scene is in a very healthy and stable state, and its future looks quite promising for 2014 and beyond.

     

    Important records (2003 – 2013):

    Voodoo Kungfu (“零壹”) – Voodoo Kungfu (“零壹”) (2008)

    The Last Successor (“末裔”) – The Last Successor (“末裔”) (2010)

    Rainbow Danger Club (“彩虹危险”) – Where Maps End (2011)

    Terminal Lost (“天幕落”) – Voulme Two: Phoenix Mountains (“卷贰 凤凰山”) (2012)

    Ai Weiwei (“艾未未”) – The Divine Comedy (“神曲”) (2013) 

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  • November 1, 2013 in National Styles

    Heavy Metal in China: Part II – Going through difficult changes (1994 to 2003)

    Band Overload

    Overload

    In 1991, the freshly formed Overload (“超载”) with singer Gao Qi of The Breathing (“呼吸) became one of the country’s next biggest metal bands. Inspired by the successes of American groups like Metallica and Slayer, their style was rather oriented towards thrash metal. This band helped diversify the Chinese metal scene, even though it took the band five years to pull off their first self-titled full length release in 1996.

    China’s first death metal band saw the light of day in the beginning of 1992. The band’s name was Tomahawk (“战斧”), and they soon adapted a more modern metal style that could be described as groove or post-thrash. The band’s first album also saw a very difficult birth and finally came out in 2001 under the title Dead City, which united the band’s compositions from the nineties with a few new tracks. Also coming to light was the country’s first doom metal act, formed in 1993 and called Hades (“冥界”). This band also didn’t release its debut album until 2002.

    These examples already indicate a certain decline and period of difficulty for Chinese metal music after a growing popularity in the late eighties and early nineties. On one hand, the Beijing Midi School of Music opened its doors, offering three month courses on the basics of Western blues and rock music, and several cities such as Wuhan developed a small underground culture. However, the Chinese government soon realized that Western rock and metal music would promote a more democratic movement and diffuse the regime’s message of globalization. It therefore began to ban rock music from television, and restrict artists in concert apart from a few public appearances during international events that the government tried to use as propaganda: to prove to the world the development of new expressions of art and culture in the country. The commercialization of the music industry advantaged pop artists from Hong Kong and Taiwan, while the metal scene sank back to the underground.

    Band - Narakam (Hades)

    Narakam (Hades)

    In contrast, the first punk scene emerged from 1994 on, led by the charismatic musician He Yong and his debut record Garbage Dump, which tried to discover new means of artistic expression. Bands such as Underbaby (“地下婴儿”) and The Catcher In The Rye (“麦田守望者”) soon joined the movement, and inherited the cultural, political, and social expression of the metal scene, which itself was going through a hard time, struggling to compete with the foreign pop, the local punk, and a more and more famous grunge scene. In addition to this, several tragic events occurred, such as the motorcycle death of Tang Dynasty’s (“唐朝”) bassist Zhang Ju in 1995, that stopped the activities of the country’s first big metal band for a while.

    With a new underground spirit, the growing metal scene slowly developed new methods to gain popularity, began slowly to return to old strength in the late nineties. The Beijing Midi School Of Music moved to a bigger school yard and established the very recognized Midi Festival in 2000. Around this time, new rock festivals began emerging all around the country.

    In the late nineties, brand new subgenres saw the light of day, and quickly emerged along with the extreme metal, nu-metal and post punk being the most popular among these. A second punk wave centered around Beijing-based bands such as Brain Failure (“脑浊”), Reflector (“反光镜”), or the all female shock band Hang On The Box (“挂在盒子上”) emerged, as well as the first serious hip hop scene around artists and bands such as CMBC from Beijing, Gongfu from Tianjin, and Yin Ts’ang (“隐藏”) from Beijing.

    As for examples of the new metal subgenres, one could cite the Beijing rapcore formation Yaksa (“夜叉”), the Beijing metalcore formation AK 47 (which also used electro and punk elements in their sound), and the nu-metal band Overheal Tank (“检修坦克”) from Xi’an towards the end of the nineties. One of the most popular metalcore bands soon became Ego Fall (“颠覆M”) from Inner Mongolia, that mixed modern metal sounds with traditional folk influences and often spiritually driven lyrics. The first emo rock band of the country was formed in 1999 under the name of Tookoo, and extreme metal bands gained popularity in the first years of the new millennium. One should mention formations such as the Kunming death metal band Purgatory (“炼狱”) and the Beijing black metal formation Ritual Day (“施教日”) as well. In general, all these new subgenres became popular in the People’s Republic of China with a delay of about two to three years in comparison to the Western world.

    Band - Ritual Day

    Ritual Day

     

    But the new wave of rock and metal music was not due only to numerous new bands or Western influences, but also thanks to a larger and especially well organized fan culture. The first independent Chinese music community organization entitled Noise (杂音) saw the light of day in 1997, as well as the country’s largest independent record label, called Modern Sky Records, that started to release popular compilation albums from Chinese bands. The underground punk magazine, called The Great Rock’n’Roll Swindle, first appeared in 1997, and the So Rock! magazine was published for the first time in 1999. Local magazines such as We (“我们”) from Chengdu (founded 1999), Painkiller Magazine from Beijing (founded in 2000), or specialized compilation records such as Made In Shanghai in 2003 became more and more popular, and supported many local metal scenes. At the beginning of the new millennium, the diverse subgenres increased in popularity thanks to new mass media, and particularly by use of the internet. Thanks to this new diversity, several older groups gained some much-needed new energy, and released new records in the late nineties and in the beginning of the new millennium.

    But another sad event would soon affect this flowering scene in the middle of the year 2003.

    Important records (1994 – 2003):

    The Face (“面孔”) – Instinct Of Fire (1995)

    Overload (“超载”) – Overload (“超载”) (1996)

    Tomahawk (“战斧”) – Dead City (“死城”) (2001)

    Hades (“冥界”) – Hades (“冥界”) (2002)

    Purgatory (“炼狱”) – Dream Of Moribund (“垂死者之梦”) (2002)

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  • May 30, 2013 in National Styles

    China1 - Cui Jian - the father of Chinese rock music

    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” (“”) 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)

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