Frequent rainfall across China has not been able to cool down the heat of the nation’s rock music craze this summer.
Rock is reaching more ears and gaining mainstream recognition in China, as a variety show “The Big Band” captivates Chinese audiences with its focus on indie rock music and rock culture.
Aimed to bring lesser-known rock and indie bands to the masses, the show features a competition of 31 bands whose styles range from indie rock, metal, punk, funk, Brit-pop, reggae and more. Concluding earlier this month, the program, literally meaning “summer of bands” in Chinese, has indeed ignited heated discussion this summer.
On China’s Twitter-like Sina Weibo, the hashtag “The Big Band” has been posted over 5.19 million times. The show 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 China’s authentic band culture and the people behind it,” Cui Longyang, an indie musician in Beijing, said.
“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,” Cui added.
Wang He, 31, and his band “Zhi Ren” are among these dream chasers. To realize 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.
In July, the band made their debut in Beijing and entertained a full house of some 500 people. “We enjoyed the performance and decided to continue,” Wang, also the band drummer, said. “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.”
With most of the members having a day job, Wang’s band has to set aside time to practice. “Every Saturday our firefighter guitarist travels half an hour by train from another city to meet us, and four weeks before the performance everyone took leave from work,” Wang said.
As the gathering place for the band, Wang’s home is always filled with laughter and music. Dozens of postcards, from fans and friends, piled up in a metal basket hang on the wall.
Ren Lu, the band frontwoman, said apart from support from friends and fans, it is their unswerving passion for music that binds the band together.
“If you trace back to the very beginning, the 1980s and 1990s were the heydays of Chinese rock and roll. At that time, Chinese rock music, which was full of idealism and vitality, exploded like a music bomb among Chinese youth born in the 60s and 70s,” said Wang Jiang, a pop music critic in Shanghai.
But the genre’s influence has since withered, as the new millennium ushered in an era of rapid economic growth in the country. People were too busy for the so-called rock and roll spirit, Wang added.
Some say rock spirit is returning to its golden era. But this is much more than 40 and 50-somethings getting nostalgic. According to Maoyan, a movie and TV rating platform, people aged between 18 and 30 account for 58 percent of “The Big Band”‘s audience, and one-quarter of the audience are 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 favorite ‘Hedgehog’,” said Hu Qihong, a 26-year-old rock fan. “Beyond music, the show lets me know who these rockers really are.”
“Variety shows and mobile music apps have brought indie music to the public, especially young people, and has broken down cultural barriers,” Wang He said. “Underground and indie music can reach more people now instead of a certain group of niche listeners.”
In 2018, 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 some 150 live concerts last year and the number has grown by some 10 percent annually in recent years.
“Given the better overall environment, the success of ‘The Big Band’ is understandable,” Zuo said. “Since 2010, China’s rock bands have also been maturing in every aspect including the quality of their music and performance.”
More attention paid to rock music has created a larger market, and bands and musicians need to remember why they started and focus on the music, Cui Longyang said.