So much has been written about the contemporary Beijing music scene, but don’t misunderstand us: we’re talking purely about volume, not about quality content. Unless you’ve spent time in Beijing delving into the depths of an increasingly robust community of young kids in bands or following bands, your concept of the music scene is pretty much restricted to the Carsick Cars (they played with Sonic Youth, you know!).
It’s not to say that the bands that receive coverage shouldn’t be popular, because they are quite talented: it’s just a poor representation of an incredibly diverse and powerful movement in Chinese youth culture. What would probably help us all is a nice hour long video about the many different social, political and cultural aspects of Beijing’s underground rock. You know, so we can understand.
That is, if we could find one that was done well. China Music Radar has a scathing review of a talk show discussion on Beijing’s musical scene which is about as heavy hitting as a whack-a-mole mallet. We’re not sure where, how, or why “BON TV” came about the idea of doing a round table on Beijing rock: In fact, we’re not really sure what BON TV is. China Music Radar has this tidbit of information about them.
From China Music Radar:
Blue Ocean Network (BON TV) is a brand new, pioneering television network producing a wide range of objective English language content bringing the human side of China to homes across the Western world. BON goes live on air in Summer 2009 in the United States.”
Since we’ve never heard of BON TV, we’re obviously a bit skeptical of their reportage, and for good reason: the host, Andrew Tate, asks questions that are bland and placative to the point of irrelevance (“Isn’t the music scene in China like that in American or the UK during the 60’s and 70’s?”). Even worse, Tony Webb, who apparently runs a weekly drum circle (which qualifies him to comment on Beijing’s underground music?), provides even blander answers that are nearly incoherent (“In the seventies, I was into dressing like a hare krishna, but like a rocker”), and actually admits to buying tickets to a Kenny G concert. The only moments of insight into the music scene are from Jim Blackburn, a Beijing local musician whose engagement in the scene can be glimpsed in his attempts to thoughtfully answer unfocused, generic questions such as “is there censorship in Chinese music?”
We have spent time in Beijing, explored the music scene, and have even played in bands up there (which Blackburn may or may not have been in, we’re not telling). What we can say is that something as elusive as a general ethos of a youth movement can’t be pinned down and dissected from a distance: it needs to be experienced to be understood, and may still elude the intellect.
We still like hearing about China’s nascent youth culture, so the few moments of interest in the video might make it worth checking out: just keep your hand on the fast forward button. And we would like to see more about Shanghai’s bands, too!
Part two of this video can be found at China Music Radar