Round the World in 80 Sounds: China’s rock star rising

Beijing, China is a noisy place. China’s capital and largest city treats visitors’ ears to an endless stream of sputtering cars, clanking construction cranes and chattering pedestrians. But amidst all this growth, you could be forgiven for missing one particularly surprising sound – the strumming of an electric guitar. It’s the sound of an Asian rock scene on the rise – a new crop of Chinese bands that’s taking the music world by storm.

Along with the increasingly middle-class trappings of China’s economic boom like cars, clothes and consumer goods, an altogether different China has loudly been exporting an unexpected new product: the culture of its burgeoning rock scene. At creative concert venues in Beijing like D-22, a homegrown Chinese rock and experimental music scene is in full bloom, with a range of innovative, creative new bands leading the way. For a country better-known for its authoritarian cultural politics, the rebellious notes of this new rock counter-culture seems unlikely. Yet this new breed of Chinese music manages to straddle the line of the rebellious and the musical, shying away from the political while pushing towards new frontiers of creativity.

Expecting this new wave of Chinese music to include loopy new-age vibes and traditional Chinese instruments? Think again. These bands are more likely to channel rock gods like The Ramones, Radiohead and Sonic Youth. Want to see what rock music looks like in the 21st Century? It’s not just American and European any more. This week in Gadling’s new series, Round the World in 80 Sounds, we’ll investigate four Chinese bands you need to check out now. Keep reading below for our favorites.Carsick Cars
First formed in 2005, Beijing’s Carsick Cars have risen to a status as one of Beijing’s biggest groups, becoming unofficial frontmen for Beijing’s buzzing rock movement. Fans have compared the Cars’ noisy, experimental punk sound to other innovative bands like Sonic Youth and New Zealand innovators The Clean. Their new album, released in June of 2009 is called You Can Listen, You Can Talk. In this clip, the team plays their hit song “Zong Nan Hai” during an appearance last year in New York City.

P.K. 14
Another of the Chinese rock scene’s elder statesmen, P.K. 14 have been making music together since way back in 1997. Though they are associated with the Beijing scene, the band originally hails from Nanjing. Much like the Carsick Cars, P.K. 14’s music has been described as an artful blend of Post-Punk, tinged with a hint of Motown, and plenty of raw energy thrown in for good measure. The group’s infectious melodies led Time Magazine to name P.K. 14 one of Asia’s Best Bands. Forget Asia – these guys sound great anywhere. The clip below is a song called “Behind All Ruptures:”

Originally started as a side project of Carsick Cars members Li Qing and bass player Levi, Snapline has quickly evolved into a tight little band in its own right. Indebted to the dark, synthesizer-and-guitar-based sounds of bands like The Cure and Joy Division, Snapline’s live performances have been rumored to walk a line between brilliant and completely baffling. Here’s Snapline performing their track “Hey Jenny:”

Though P.K. 14 might have been formed earlier, Chinese band Joyside has earned its reputation as China’s most influential rock and roll band. Formed in 2001 in a bar on the outskirts of Beijing, Joyside has gone on to release five albums and get featured in a documentary on the Chinese music scene called “Wasted Orient.” Their punk-tinged sound references favorites like The Stooges, Sex Pistols and the New York Dolls. Here’s the band playing “Baby in Shadow:”

Noisy? Angry? Indie? Beijing’s growing rock scene is that and much more. With continued international attention at festivals like South by Southwest, these promising bands look ready to move beyond being just another trend in the Far East. The future looks increasingly bright for the rising stars of China’s rock underground.

Curious about the sounds of the world? Read previous Round the World in 80 Sounds posts HERE.