China’s independent music scene – making it to the mainstream? – It’s Beijing


Independent music has been no stranger to China in recent years. Live house and an “underground” subculture have been the cornerstone of groups less well known to the general public.

However, many independent bands in the Middle Empire also found ways to take their music in a more mainstream direction.

The variety TV show The Big Band, known as ن 的 夏天 in Chinese, first aired on the iQIYI streaming platform in May 2019 and returned for a second season in July of the. Next year. At the time of publication, The Big Band hashtag has been viewed 7.48 billion times on Weibo.

The audience of the show discovered bands like Hedgehog (刺猬), a mix of electronic and guitar sounds with reverb effects, but also saw more well-known artists such as Joyside, a beloved Beijing punk rock band. .

As COVID-19 took hold across China in early 2020, fears that the lockdown could damage the independent scene, especially the live shows so crucial to the genre’s fan base, have also arisen. manifested. However, with life largely back to normal, indie in China appears to be thriving, with COVID-19 controls in place, of course.

Beijing-based music promoter MusicDish has a finger on the pulse of today’s indie music scene. Their next event at Great Leap Brewing on Wednesday December 8th is called “You are the DJ! And is a celebration of the progress of independent music over the past decades.

READ MORE: ‘Unplugged’ Live Music in Beijing

Ahead of the event, MusicDish founder Eric De Fontenay spoke with It is on the meaning of independent music, China’s independent music scene during and after COVID-19, and whether indie going mainstream risks the genre losing its “underground” appeal.

Some people may not know what the term “independent” means. What defines indie music?
Well, like “world music” it’s a nebulous term that has different meanings depending on where you are. For example, in the United States, indie referred to groups that had not signed with a major label. However, it is now actually a genre.

In China, I would characterize indie as “alternative,” an alternative sound of the mainstream and as such, non-gender specific. These are usually live music acts, ranging from punk to rock to electronics (not counting DJs). You’ll find indie music in your local live house and in the lineup of big festivals like Strawberry and MIDI.

The rise of independent music in China and elsewhere has generally relied on an “underground” scene and small concert halls. What type of impact has COVID-19 had on these types of establishments in China?
The impact has been relatively limited, especially compared to other parts of the world, as the live music scene which is the lifeblood of indie music began to reappear in the summer of 2020.

While some sites like the Beijing DDC have fallen prey to COVID, several others have closed for reasons unrelated to COVID and many new ones have emerged since the restrictions were lifted; places like UFO Space and 24D come to mind. Even DDC will reopen bigger and better than before.

Now that life has largely returned to normal in China, with occasional local outbreaks of COVID-19, have we seen a post-COVID revival of China’s independent music scene?
It was actually quite an achievement to see. As soon as the restrictions were lifted around summer and fall 2020, it was like a gunshot at a horse race; a lot of bands started playing and touring. Most importantly, fans came and the shows sold out everywhere.

While I expected ticket prices to drop in order to entice fans out, they have actually risen from pre-pandemic levels; it was quite impressive. So I would say the state of the independent music scene after the pandemic is very encouraging.

Who are the big players in the Chinese indie music scene right now?
The obvious contenders are the bands that appeared on iQIYI’s  çš„ 夏天, known in English as The Big Band (most commonly referred to as Summer of Bands). This is supported by our participatory playlist for the Great Leap Brewing event. The top-recommended songs came from groups that received a lot of attention from the show like æ–° 裤子 New Pants, 刺猬 Hedgehog, and ç—› ä»° Miserable Faith.

But what is particularly encouraging is the wave of new bands that have emerged and the quality of their music and performances. Some of these groups like 丢 莱卡 WastedLaika and 柏林 护士 Berlin Psycho Nurses have grown well in a short time.

MusicDish acknowledged (in the WeChat post on the “You’re the DJ!” Event) that many independent musicians have had increased exposure through TV shows, festivals and more. You also mentioned that some “nostalgic fans miss the good old days when independent music was purely underground”. If independent music becomes too mainstream, is there a risk that it will lose its appeal as “underground”, “alternative” and even “independent”?
I usually hear that fear expressed, especially because of the Big Band that brought indie into the mainstream spotlight. The complaint is that bands are creating more and more music to suit these shows.

While there may be some truth to this, I generally don’t buy it and think it’s overkill. Humans are by nature nostalgic and thirsty for the good old days that still look better than they do today. As of 2020, we’ve been compiling playlists of our favorite music that are released each year, as well as a playlist of bands that are releasing their music for the first time.

I can tell you that there is a lot of music that sounds as underground and experimental as it was ten years ago, if not more.

MusicDish has an upcoming event at Great Leap Brewing. Tell us more.
The event is called “You Are The DJ” and celebrates the journey that independent music has traveled over the past three decades.


Basically we reached out to our mutual communities to research the best independent China music that I put on for a two hour night of music craziness!

The songs range from old music up to 1991, as well as recently released music and everything in between. The idea is to share all this great music as a community, but also to encourage musical discovery, as I’m sure everyone will hear (and hopefully fall in love with) the songs from bands they have never heard before.

For those who have been on the crowdsourced scene, if any of their song recommendations are selected, they get a free beer! It’s gonna be a party worthy of yaogun!

To know more, scan the QR below and follow the official MusicDish WeChat account:


[Cover image via Unsplash; all in-text images via MusicDish]


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