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Is “The Big Band” About to do for Rock Music What “Rap of China” Did for Hip Hop?

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Last year, we reported that video streaming platform iQIYI, after making the hit show Rap of China and bringing the previously underground genre of hip hop into the mainstream, was aiming to make another variety show for Chinese indie rock bands. That show, which would take aim at a genre with a longer history in China as well as one with a bigger pre-existing fanbase, is now very close to hitting our screens — and they’ve just announced the bands who are set to compete.

The new gambit is entitled 乐队的夏天 (officially The Big Band, though the Chinese name is closer to “Summer of Bands”). The biggest indie labels in China — Modern Sky, Taihe Music and Caotai Music — have sent out their bands hoping they’ll become the next music superstars in the same way previously unknown rappers went big off the back of Rap of China (the latter might even outnumber the rockers at some music festivals nowadays).

Featuring on the band list that the show’s official Weibo account just released on May 18 are quite a few names which Chinese rock lovers will immediately recognize. Some bands are newly-established, while some have been active in the underground scene for decades. Before the show starts airing and the real competition begins, let’s take a glance at who the wannabe-(mainstream)rockstars are.

The Face, a rock/pop metal band formed in 1989, is already a legendary name among the young generation of rockers. Similarly, New Pants, a popular synth-pop/disco band formed in 1996 and a regular Modern Sky Festival headliner, as well as Miserable Faith, a rock band that has kept creating and been actively performing live for two decades, are both surprises in the line-up.

For rock concerts-goers of my age, the bands that were established in the mid-2000s back when we went to college and started to have a lot more time to dig into the underground music scene, might be the more beloved ones. Hedgehog used to be the most promising alternative rock band and went on tour in the US in 2009 and 2011. After experiencing a number of ups and downs, they seem ready to earn the love of young fans with their diverse works, driven by the petite but powerful drummer Atom.

hedgehog chinese rock iqiyi summer of bands

Having first teamed up in Guangxi province, Mr. Sea Turtle have received recognition in their new base of Chengdu with their chilled style of ska/reggae and signed to Modern Sky in 2012.

From the emergence of The Super VC in 2001, via Life Journey appearing in 2005, to the relatively recently-formed Penicillin, Brit pop has long been popular in China. All of these award-winning bands will be hoping for easier access to future audiences for their indie music via the show.

Punk is another long-existing force in China. The Big Band features one of the first pop/skater-punk bands to come out of the country, Reflector. Their take on “You Are My Sunshine” has been re-covered by countless musicians as well as a rising school band champion Gentle Grape, who will also appear on the show.

Funk band Peace & Love, jazz duo Mr.Miss, Hakka dialect band Jiu Lian Zhen Ren, and rock-with-traditional-Chinese-instruments act Namo will all be competing as well. The diversity of the bands’ styles makes us wonder just how they will be compared to each other in the battle for the final “Top 5.”

namo band summer of bands the big band iqiyi chinese rock

One clue may be via the “Super Fans” guest list that the show has announced. CEO of the partnering production company MEWE Media and former CCTV program producer Ma Dong, Alibaba Music chairman/veteran musician Gao Xiaosong, famous music producer Zhang Yadong (who produced Faye Wong’s indie album Fu Zao), vocalist of Taiwanese pop band Sodagreen Wu Tsing-Fong, cellist and actress Ouyang Nana, and comedian Qiao Shan are all on board and it appears they’ll join in some judging capacity.

iqiyi summer of bands

iQIYI’s credentials in taking an underground (or in this case semi-underground) music genre and making it very mainstream are of course already proven via Rap of China. MEWE Media also has a strong youth focus, having made perhaps the only hit debate show targeted at young people in China (Qi Pa Shuo, which has aired since 2015).

But are the indie bands ready for exposure in the mainstream? Will the “fan economy” make inroads into the rock music scene? And will these bands really be given freedom of expression on what is clearly being pitched as a bright and bubbly TV show? (From what we can tell so far from the promotional pictures of each band, even the metal core quintet Awake Mountains looks less brooding.)

It’s an intriguing set up, and we’ll certainly be watching to see what happens. It could be a special summer for the bands, and perhaps for the whole indie rock music industry in China.

Fan Shuhong
    Shuhong (aka Rita) is a language instructor, English/Chinese translator, writer, and proud bunny owner based in Beijing. She's previously worked in Washington D.C. and IUP at Tsinghua University. She loves Chinese language, Japanese arts, post-rock music and good English TV series. Instagram: rita_van

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