The Guardian takes a look at China’s “indie rock revolution”, focusing on the These are Powers/Carsick Cars/PK14 concert organized by Split Works. Check out the original article here
Turning Japanese heads to China: The Shanghai scene
At Shanghai’s Dream Factory concert venue, the local talent outshines western bands to such an extent it suggests the Chinese indie-rock revolution is imminent
At the Zhijiang Dream Factory in downtown Shanghai, Mick Jagger proudly informs me that the Chinese music scene is the greatest in the world. Mick is a 20-year-old university student who, like most young internationally minded Chinese people, has taken a Western moniker for the benefit of foreigners who struggle to pronounce Mandarin names. Though it’s hardly shocking that his favourite British rock band is the Rolling Stones (followed by the Libertines), what’s more surprising is that Jagger and his contemporaries truly believe a Chinese indie takeover of the world is imminent.
On the bill tonight are Brooklyn industrial-dub assassins These Are Powers, and though their presence is hungrily received by Chinese fans, the band are playing second fiddle to local talent. Carsick Cars and PK 14 represent two of China’s most visercal new acts, taking their cues from Sonic Youth and the Fall respectively. Carsick Cars have even toured in support of their idols, after Sonic Youth’s Thurston Moore declared his love for them. But these bands are not mere copyists. Instead, they absorb elements of Western culture only recently accessible to them, and turn them into something distinctly their own.
The atmosphere at Dream Factory is potent in a way that is rarely is at venues in Japan and Korea. When Carsick Cars play their biggest hit, Zhong Nan Hai, named after a Chinese tobacco brand, the crowd spend three and a half minutes pelting the band with cigarettes, which litter the stage by the end of it like confetti.
Meanwhile, the majority of PK 14’s headline set is coordinated around the endless line of stage-invaders and crowd-surfers. Singing in Mandarin, PK 14’s lyrics address conflicts of interest and questions of identity in modern China in a way that is oblique enough to avoid the ire of government censors.
As the largest city in China, and with a long history of international exchange (having once been a treaty port), Shanghai represents the entry point for foreign cultures, where they are assesed and then absorbed or rejected. Jagger tells me a band have to be deemed worthy in Shanghai before they’re allowed to try and impress tastemakers in Beijing. Shanghai bands like Circus from the Top Floor and Cold Fairyland have already carved their names into the tablets of China’s brief rock history, with new acts like Boys Climbing Ropes hoping to follow suit. With everything from gypsy jazz to electroclash-influenced indie rock, Shanghai acts as a litmus test for emerging trends in China. Judging by the bands at Zhijiang, the future of China’s musical youth is a bright one.
• This article was amended on Friday 7 August 2009. We originally referred to the band Boys Climbing Ropes as Boys Climb Ropes. This has been corrected.