Two major news outlets, NPR and CNN, are covering in varying yet similar fashion the handful of Chinese bands coming to the US, both wondering if the whole Communist stigma will affect the Western-influenced bands’ reception in the US. As long as the music sounds good, right?
America is used to exporting its culture. It’s called soft power, this ability to dominate the tastes of people in other countries. So an American band touring in China isn’t such a big deal. But a Chinese rock band taking the stage in New York?
That’s new. Everything about China’s emerging rock scene is new — except for its inspiration. And one of the biggest rock bands in China right now has decidedly old-school roots.
Lost In New York
The members of P.K. 14 are lost in Williamsburg, a Brooklyn neighborhood. They’re searching for a store that sells used musical equipment. Lead singer Yang Hai Song doesn’t stand out at all here, what with his tight peacoat, black skinny jeans and black framed glasses. Inside Main Drag Music, the band is trying to pick an amplifier for the night’s show. They ask the clerk how each one is different. The floors are crowded with amplifiers, the musicians’ eyes are wide, and they’re giggling madly. The amp they like is bright orange, manufactured by the Orange Music Electronic Company.
They’ll take two.
“It’s quite hard to find secondhand music store in China. Everything’s new,” says Yang. “So it’s very hard to find the ‘70s, ‘60s. We have no history. We have no history, so we just find a new one. But it’s very hard to find orange.”
The ‘60s is widely considered the heyday of rock ‘n’ roll in the West. Yang says that Beijing’s rock-music development is in its own ” ‘70s” now. There isn’t much to look back on.
Yang is 36. He’s restless, jerky, like a character in a silent movie — constantly smoking and jumping about.
“When we were growing up,” he says, “everything’s changing very fast. End of the Cultural Revolution and beginning of the economy revolution. It’s like, you think of the McDonald’s, it’s exist[ed] a long time… Actually, no. Actually, it exists a very short time. Past 20 years, it’s crazy in China. It’s chaos.”
Two of China’s hottest up-and-coming rock bands—Carsick Cars and P.K. 14—are taking their first steps on a whirlwind American music tour to showcase the Asian giant’s latest export: rock ‘n’ roll.
The bands, along with a gaggle of other musical outfits, will hit nine cities—from New York to Chapel Hill, North Carolina—as they embark on their first official tour of the United States.
“We’re going to play to a different audience and we don’t know if they can accept us, especially as we will sing in Chinese, so we don’t know,” he said.
If buzz is any indication, Yan Haisong has nothing to worry about. The bands’ arrival has generated healthy anticipatory chatter on popular American music blogs and in the media, from Time Out New York to the Village Voice. Reporters and music junkies heaped on pre-show praise, with Time Out calling the tour a “roster of artists” that is “currently at the forefront of a national movement, pushing contemporary Chinese rock toward international acclaim.”
Considered to be largely underground and experimental, the Chinese rock ‘n’ roll scene has come a long way and is expanding fast. Just five decades ago, popular Chinese music was constricted to revolutionary songs and ballads approved by the government. Today, the scene has opened dramatically, welcoming in a variety of genres ranging from classical to heavy metal.