Rock the Mainland: 6 Chinese Bands to Check Out

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Article by Hector Herrera

Music is the international language of everything soothing, energizing, uplifting, melancholic and a whole spread of feelings that you just can’t help but put a soundtrack to. For some, music can give voice to an emotion so complex it’s impossible to come up with what to say on your own. A brilliant musician once said, “Words make you think a thought. Music makes you feel a feeling. A song makes you feel a thought.” But how to choose!? Even spending a lifetime on a headset won’t get you even close to scratching that surface. Some stick to a genre, some to an artist, some to what’s convenient, and still it’s hard to always hit that spot for when that perfect moment needs it.

As a kid, my source was the local music store, where 90 minutes was enough time to fill my batteries for the week. But the clerk wasn’t on the same page as me when it came to rock, and that opened a whole different way of discovering new stuff. That hour and a half became paved the way for what music means to me now. Of course, technology has made it easy for everyone to find and download all kinds of stuff. Now you don’t a need record store savant to get the latest hits and hidden gems, just a friend, a coworker or even just a stranger bobbing his/her head as hard as you at a show will take you to corners of music you’d never imagine existed. There’s an array of shows in the fast growing live house circuit in Xi’an and, monthly schedules are posted right here so get going and let’s talk some music in the upcoming shows!

Now I’m going to share with you some classic, rock, reggae, metal, pop, rap, jazz and more that will help you get started on the path towards the awesome music China has to offer.

直惘
Once And For All

Once and For All is a djent metal band from Xiamen that is, honestly, one of the best metal bands I’ve heard from China. We call this kind of band “export quality.” This is djent at its best! With sweet distorted arpeggios of incredible complexity, vocals that would scare off a bear, as well as lyrical intermissions and a rhythm section so tight they could probably give Chad and Flea a run for their money. It’s all covered in a thick blanket of technical metal, ambient, electronic, funk, groove and djent—tons of djent!

Listen to “Pachinko” by Once and For All

Kawa

This Kunming based band was formed by seasoned musicians from the Chinese folk, reggae and rock scene. After almost 20 years (and a lot of anticipation) they finally got together and formed the band Kawa.  This clash of roots reggae, rock, jazz and folk elevates their sound to a whole other level. With 11 albums to choose from over their 10-year career, you’ll find tracks that vary from heavy roots to slower, more folk-oriented songs.

Listen to “祝酒歌” (Drinking song) by Kawa

落日飞车
Summer
Rollercoaster

In 2009, three guys from Taipei released one album that wasn’t well received by the public (it was badass, if you ask me). After five years of silence, they came back with a five-piece band and a whole new attitude towards their music. Now their sound combines bluesy funk and 70s pop with grungy garage rock vibes, harkening back to a time when artists like Air Supply, Wham and George Michaels were still cool.

Listen to “My Jinji” by Summer Rollercoaster

后海大鲨鱼
Queen Sea Big hark

QSBS is a perfect example of how maturing musically will get you a long way. Originally formed in 2004 in Beijing, it was once just a two-piece with the sole aim of making dance rock. A parade of musicians has come and gone from their roster, but they managed to release some demos and a couple of albums that could be compared to the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, B-52s and Franz Ferdinand. QSBS has shared stages with some of the greats in their genre, earning sponsorships and touring around the world. In 2016, they went on to write some pop hits in that have become jingles to many online videos.

Listen to “超能力” (Super powers)
by Queen Sea Big Shark

MC Tiger

Beijing music producer, beat-maker and rapper MC Tiger has been in the business since his early teens, but in 2007 he and three other local rappers imported “jazz hip-hop” to China. Unlike his peers, he went for more of a storyteller’s flow, using very quirky samples and odd backgrounds, but this guy really impresses with his producing skills. His beats will get you jumping, without a doubt. Jazz samples are his main course, but he also plays with all kinds of world music and an array of genres that will keep you guessing about what comes next.

Listen to “Tigers in Music Country”
(音乐国里有老虎) by MC Tiger

Re-TROS

Rebuilding the Rights of Statues are the elephant in the room when it comes to Chinese new wave music, having led a storied career that includes international touring and working with Brian Eno. Recent work finds the band concerning themselves with synths and the like, but for me it doesn’t get much better than the stomping, brooding pulse of their 2009 LP Watch Out! Climate Has Changed, Fat Mum Rises…

Listen to “Up Next: Bela Lugosi’s Back”
by Re-TROS

Hector is a good guy living in good ol’ Xi’an