CITY MIX is a RADII series in which we give you a sonic spin through the underground music of a Chinese city outside the Beijing/Shanghai nexus.
The fringe scenes that make up China’s third-tier cities are sometimes overlooked for creative culture and musical content. Most artists end up relocating to the more bustling metropolises of the country, like Beijing and Shanghai. Located in Jiangxi Province, the city of Nanchang is a place rich in historical significance, but on the surface appears to lack the modern musical output seen elsewhere in Asia.
Nonetheless, being a city of over 5 million people, I thought that there was bound to be pockets of active artists making music — and thus the search began. At first I was met with an array of lackluster Mandopop and karaoke ballads. But eventually I came upon a hip hop collective, some post-metal bands, and even a few indie groups and experimental artists.
Throughout this mixtape I will cover what I was able to unearth in the process, as well as show some of the connections that Nanchang has with Beijing.
My prior research of other cities such as Tianjin and Shenyang yielded a healthy amount of hip hop. This is a fairly consistent trend around China at present, and Nanchang was no exception. Over time, I was led to a group of MCs and producers on the Nanchang-based label GanGanG. From an outsider’s perspective, the group stood out from other scenes in China that I’ve encountered, thanks to an underlying, almost small-town emo vibe to their catalogue, which is mixed in with a Chinese take on trap music.
1. SJoK/PRC/PRC 巴音汗 – “勿念 REMIX” (0:00 – 4:11)
2. Ocase – “SICK” (4:10 – 6:09)
3. Ocase – “D I E YOUNG” (6:10 – 9:10)
4. The Shanghai Restoration Project & Lei Lei – “20160810 Comic Book Video” Edit (9:11 – 12:00)
5. 毛毛Queencs/赣斯特G $wag – “想要知道” (12:01 – 14:55)
6. WHITE+ – “Red” (14:56 – 17:40)
7. 毛毛Queencs – “Gotta Go” (17:42 – 19:18)
8. 景德镇文艺复兴 – “满世 完结篇” (19:19 – 24:17)
9. Dopamine – “水棱” (24:34 – 31:30)
10. Be Persecuted – “Intro” (31:33 – 33:10)
11. Wang Xu – “Metropolis” (33: 11 – 33:34)
The founder of GanGanG is a producer and MC who goes by the alias SJoK. He’s behind a lot of the songs on the label as a mixing engineer. The track title means “Don’t Read,” and it’s essentially a love song. I particularly like how they incorporated recorded drums and saxophone in the instrumentation. Also featured is PRC 巴音汗 from Hangzhou.
Two tracks by Ocase come next, and contain melodic guitar laid over beats with from-the-heart vocals on top. He describes himself as a serious MC who is attempting to discover new possibilities in rap. What I find very entertaining on “D I E YOUNG” is a reoccurring vocal sample announcing the phrase, “Purchase your tracks today.” This makes me think he got it off an instrumental beat site, but never actually bought it, just singing over the demo version instead.
Lei Lei, aka Ray, is an animator and MC originally from Nanchang who has spent a lot of his creative career in Beijing. He and rapper J-Fever were the frontmen of now defunct hip hop group Hei! Lei Lei is currently working as an art professor in California, and this song is about a friend of his who did not like one of his cartoons. The chorus is light and funny, with Lei chanting the lyrics, “I don’t like the cartoons that you draw.”
Returning to members of GanGanG, we are met with an R&B groove by MCs 毛毛Queencs and 赣斯特G $wag. The two were early collaborators on the label, and often do events at a hip hop-friendly venue called Zhongshan Road Fly Bar (中山路的Fly酒吧). The track’s title translates to “I Want to Know,” and gives the feeling of someone in a relationship desiring to know the truth from their partner.
If one is going to examine the Beijing indie scene over the last 10 years, it would be hard to overlook the krautrock/post-punk duo WHITE+. The group includes Carsick Cars guitarist/vocalist Zhang Shouwang and drummer of the The Gar, Wang Xu. In 2012 they released a self titled album, where Lei Lei was a guest MC on the track “Red”.
A short but sweet track by 毛毛Queencs entitled “Gotta Go” comes next. Soft vocals sung in English accompany a beat that samples the intro to “What’s My Age Again” by Blink 182. This is another artifact of the emo touch that I mentioned earlier.
A short distance from Nanchang sits a town called Jingdezhen, a place famed for its pottery and from which the band Jingdezhen Renaissance (景德镇文艺复兴) hails. The song’s title translates to “The End of The world,” and has a very mellow and delicate sound to it. They recently completed an extensive tour of China.
The next two bands — Dopamine and Be Persecuted — are on the Nanchang-based metal label Pest Productions, which has loads of Chinese and international acts on its roster. Dopamine was an interesting find, with their post-metal track “Water’s Edge”.
The black metal outfit Be Persecuted — one of the longest-running Chinese bands in the genre — opened up their 2006 Bandcamp EP with a more atmospheric track, aptly titled “Intro.”
Wrapping up this mixtape is an experimental piece by SNARTE Space founder Wang Xu (not to be confused with Wang Xu, the drummer of WHITE+ above). It acts as a musical accompaniment to his short video piece, Metropolis. He spent time abroad in Italy, and is now curating visual, sound, and performance art in Nanchang.
Cover image: Jiu San (九三) from Jingdezhen Renaissance (163.com)
More in RADII’s City Mix series:
CITY MIX: Six Quick Hits from Guangzhou
CITY MIX: Tianjin Hidden Gems by thruoutin
CITY MIX: An Abridged Guide to Shenyang’s Rap Scene
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