BOSTON — Chinese punk rock is a lot like Chinese street food — rough, honest, loud and maybe even less healthy.
The raucous cacophony erupted out of the country's most famous modern protests. During the 1989 Tiananmen democracy revolt, Cui Jian, the godfather of Chinese punk rock, taught a generation how to revel in rebellion. In the 1990s punk culture escaped Beijing and spread across the Middle Kingdom, taking the youth prisoner.
With consumerism on the rise, some young Chinese — without even a hint of irony — look to punk to help them survive a turbulent sea of change. Today alternative culture in the People's Republic has become so potent that Vice Magazine has even opened up a branch in Beijing to cover it.
These eight bands advocate political action from democracy to nihilism. China's young are listening.
Fanzui Xiangfa wants Tiananmen to burn. Their name means “Criminal Thought” and their songs call for the destruction of the cult of Mao. Most recently the band let loose a booming critique of China's environmental problems and Japan's government corruption. The Beijing-based band has no plans to sit down and invites China's youth to raise their fists in struggle.
“Dissonant, deafening and dangerous” is how the Guardian describes Torturing Nurse, an experimental riot that drives China's harsh noise scene. The raucous art collective rejects politics in favor of nihilistic noise, urging listeners to believe in nothing. Junkyyy Cao, de-facto leader, can be seen around Shanghai sporting a balaclava while performing with sheet metal and hammers.
It's hard to be a close friend of artist Ai Weiwei's in China and remain positive. Zuoxiao Zuzhou's views of China are bleak — “The people of this soil have no hope. There is a big problem with our education. For the past 60 years, people have been brainwashed.” Despite apathy and relationships with China's most outspoken, the “Chinese Leonard Cohen” relentlessly pushes avant-garde in China.
“Why the f**k am I loyal to you/we don't wanna be your victim of greed/sick of you, no future for us/how many people die in famine?” Demerit shouts in “Bastards of the Nation.” The band is a harsh critic of China's false promises, lambasting apathy and consumerism brought on by free-market expansion.
Brewed in the gritty deep streets of Hebei province, Flyx assaults fans with caustic lyrics and even more abrasive live shows. Surrounded by political corruption, they refuse to buy into what Beijing says urging the Chinese youth to "overthrow this hypocritical world!"
According to lead singer Dee, Gum Bleed is "the new voice of the working class ... against capital, oppression and discrimination." In a nation leaving its communist past behind Gum Bleed pushes a revolutionary agenda imploring listeners to not "forget the class struggle." Gumbleed's three-minute thrashes give Chinese youth a chance to scream in the face of growing consumerism.
Omnipotent Youth Society
There exists no other band with such biting and incisive lyrics commenting on the growing plight of third-tier cities in the PRC. Behind placid folk rhythms are darker messages exposing the real face of life outside of Beijing and Shanghai. For many an Omnipotent Youth Society show can end in tears.
The Carsick Cars are arguably the most well-recognized of all Chinese punk bands. Their popularity exploded onto the scene after praise from art-punk godfathers Sonic Youth. The Beijing-based band, while not strictly political, pioneered a sound for a generation and deserves a spot on the list.