While music streaming might be starting to turn a profit in some segments of the Chinese economy, for the vast majority of artists who aren’t TFBoys it’s still a struggle to make a buck. Independent musicians who want to make ends meet with their art can pretty much only do so in the relatively sophisticated markets of Beijing and Shanghai — maybe Chengdu if you’re a trap rapper with sufficient clout — and even then most of the bands scrounging around the underground scene must maintain a day job to make it work.
That said, there’s been a steady stream of fresh tunes coming from Shanghai over the last few months, mostly new projects by seasoned veterans of the city’s underground rock scene. Here are five worth spinning, and maybe throwing a few dollars toward if you like what you hear:
1. Scorpion Prisoner 69 – 四部复仇曲
First up, here’s Scorpion Prisoner 69 with 四部复仇曲 (“four vengeances,” or something like that), a fast-moving EP that bounces freely between punk, thrash, grind, and stoner metal. This was released at the top of the month, a followup to the band’s 2016 debut, which is mostly covers. It took them a year to come out with their first collection of originals, as the band members have to make time between their daily grind and side stints with fellow Shanghai punk miscreants like Round Eye. Bonus points for the album art by Sensitive Word, aka Guangzhou artist Tony Cheung, who’s become kind of a go-to for underground Chinese punk album art.
2. Green Land Ball – Free Qiu
A bit rougher around the edges, here’s the debut recording from Green Land Ball (绿陆球), the newest unit to feature the vocal talents of Huang Pei, aka Little Punk. Pei shot to Shanghai underground-stardom on the strength of her early solo work and as frontwoman of the band Boys Climbing Ropes, which broke up years ago but will briefly reunite for a standalone performance at the Concrete and Grass festival later this month in Shanghai. (Radii will be on the ground there for a full report — stay tuned.)
This new project is still pretty raw, but Pei’s energy and vocal drive is undeniably there, this time around backed by crunchier, wah-wah heavy grunge. The album description says:
Back in December we spontaneously jammed out a few songs and recorded them as iphone voice memos at Chow’s underground rehearsal space. Then Qiu went to jail cuz he’s too punk for his own good and they have been collecting virtual dust in an invisible cyber cloud ever since. Here’s 2 of them.
Hopefully the first two of at least several!
3. Foster Parents – Grim
More incestuous Shanghai music underground overlap with this one, the April debut from math rock duo Foster Parents. One of these guys works for the music promoter Split Works, which is behind the aforementioned Concrete and Grass festival. Small world of indie rockers in Shanghai, but that underscores the point made earlier — many working musicians in Shanghai supplement their income in other areas of the industry to be able to pay the bills. Anyway, Foster Parents came out with this polished LP of instrumentals earlier this year, which was physically released (and quickly sold out) in the form of a cassette tape by Guangzhou label Qiii Snacks Records. Highly recommend you dig into Qiii’s back catalog to hear what else is happening on the lo-fi end of the Chinese music spectrum, with a special focus on the southeastern tip of the country.
4. Ugly Girls – Welcome to the Suck
Here’s another brand new release, less than a week old: the debut album from Shanghai riot grrrl outfit Ugly Girls. The opening track “Fuck Boss” is your anti-work anthem as you look forward to the coming weekend, for sure. Ugly Girls features Andy Best on guitar, an old hand on the Shanghai underground scene who was among the first foreigners to start paying attention to underground Chinese music in a systematic way via his Kungfuology blog, and also had a hand in supporting some of the other artists on this list, like Little Punk. The Ugly Girls album is pretty great, a spirited collection of diatribes against gender stereotypes and anti-LGBTQ sensibilities — topics which are pretty common overseas but crop up rarely in the Chinese punk conversation.
Here’s the band showing solidarity with a performance at this year’s Ladyfest Shanghai, an annual event promoting female empowerment and gender equality:
5. Anti Dogs – The Poem of the Night
Last up, another (mostly) instrumental long-player by Anti Dogs. The Poem of the Night is the band’s debut, but they have a deep history in Shanghai, featuring ex-members of one of the city’s most storied and legendary underground acts, Top Floor Circus. Time Out’s Jake Newby writes:
Having formed from the ashes of one of Shanghai’s most revered bands, Top Floor Circus, Mei Er’s new project Anti-Dogs have released their first record, a five track album that’s completely different in tone to Dingma’s previous work. It’s a rewarding listen nonetheless and an accomplished debut.
Cover photo: Ugly Girls live @ Shanghai Ladyfest 2017