Every country has its own unique music scene with its own lineage of artists and influences. And within each of these scenes exists the silent voices of those who ride the margins of taste and audience expectations. This playlist aims to present some of China’s subaltern sounds. Look at the construction of this word: the prefix sub i.e. that which lays beneath, and altern, that which is alternate, which flies against the norm. The underground. That which operates outside the perceived centre of Chinese music, and the hegemony of Beijing rock. Can the subaltern speak? What might the elite do to watch out for the continuing construction of the subaltern?
This playlist was inspired by a book published in 2010 called China With a Cut: Globalisation, Urban Youth and Popular Music by Jeroen De Kloet. The musical examples in some cases are a little old, but this is intentional. Consider the issues raised and think about where we are now, four years later. Is Beijing still the centre of the music industry? Are women acknowledged for their talent rather than gender? Can artists from other cities make an impact? Are Chinese artists internationally recognized for their talent alone rather than for simply performing some essential sense of ‘Chineseness’?
The Spectacular Performance of Male Power
The first subaltern sound we’ll look at is that which was created by women who wanted to participate in the rock and punk movements that emerged during the 90s and early 2000s. Genre and gender are entangled, and this has created difficulties for acts that disrupt mass audience expectations. Rock n’ roll is Elvis’ hips, it’s Lemmy guzzling beer, it’s Cui Jian in a black t-shirt and red bandana. It’s Hell’s Angels. In other words, it’s the spectacular performance of male power. Or at least it was. From 1989 – 2010 a wave of empowered women impinged on the stereotype of a masculine rocker, delivering their own take on whoop-ass. Cobra, Queen Sea Big Shark, Hang on the Box, Hopscotch, Luo Qi and others worked harder then most to position themselves within rock culture.
眼镜蛇(Cobra) – Illusion
This is one of their more popular tracks, and features elements of improv and effect-laden guitars. It’s quite a serious piece, removed from any association to girliness.
Cobra focused on showing fans their musicianship and craft, downplaying the fact they were a band of women. It’s a shame their record label didn’t get this. They wanted to use gender as a ‘selling point’ – look at their Douban! ‘.com/Cobrafemaleband’. They were not ‘nice and funny’ girls with guitars, they were serious musicians who deserved recognition from their peers.