New Sound of Beijing: China's New Music Era by Zhang Xueying
The year 1986 marked the dawn of a new era for China's rock and roll world, when Cui Jian, "father of China's rock music" came out with his hit song, "I Have Nothing", The song featured a new blend of Chinese folk song and modern rock music. Soon after, bands began sprouting up everywhere. But gradually, the new rock music became cut off from real life and ceased to be innovative. By the early nineties, the genre fell into oblivion like a shooting star, greatly disappointing music fans.
During its 10-year development in China, rock and roll music has never been mains stream. Rock singers have always been regarded as problem youths and largely ignored by the adult public. Because the music became estranged from the people, fewer and fewer people cared to listen to it. But in the mid 1990s, a new crop of singers and bands arose. Their new and innovative styles have brought rock fans new hopes for the future of the Chinese music world.
Ou Ning and Yan Jun's new book, New Sound of Beijing, traces the evolution of China's new rock. Their book is written in a uniquely lively style that has attracted the attention of many. Ou Ning, the chief editor, and author Yan Jun, are active music critics in China's modern music circles. In their book they raised, for the first time, the idea that the changes in Beijing cultural life are reflected in music style changes. Based on this idea, the book draws parallels between China's rock scene since the mid-1990s and China's rapidly changing society.
Unlike the stars of the 1980s, today's rock stars were born in the 1970s and 1980s. They grew up on imported music. As a result, they have richer "ear experience", broader interests, and individual ideas. Music is only a part of the full richness of their lives-not their entire lives. For example, the members of the band Sober are all employees of advertising companies. They consider their band to be a part-time hobby. They will never find themselves cut off from reality with abstract dreams. Their music reflects real life, people's search for independence, and people's desires for reasonable pleasure seeking. Sober finds its echo in the masses.
Ou is particularly interested in music groups of the mid and later 1990s because, he says, the musicians can throw away all burdens, creating works of their own style. Younger generations do not have to deal with the outmoded regulations and irrational customs of the 1980s. Also, the internet has provided a speedy and efficient means for circulating musical news, giving rise to a host of new bands.
The new rock combines various musical elements such as popular punk, underground punk, fresh guitar music, noisy pop and experimental electronic music. Like Chinese society, the music is now more international.
Ou Ning strays away from traditional writing modes, and refuses to classify his articles according to established literary forms. In New Sound of Beijing, Ou expresses his ideas in a smashing-tradition fashion, in the same way rock music blew away traditional music. He believes different editing styles bring different rhythms to words. He says, " Like composing a piece of electronic music, after setting the basic rhythm I attach random bits and pieces. They are the raw material that presents a more real social background. I very subtly brings out points and emotions through repetition. All materials are arranged in turn according to some fortuity, and new possibilities rise from their weaving." New Sound of Beijing is a book without order or any traditional concept of chapters. Only the theme is pointed out in the contents.
Ou Ning seldom doctors up photographs. His book is minimalist- even the paper used for layout is the kind that absorbs much ink and has a rough surface, giving readers a sense of plainness and intimacy.
New Sound of Beijing has raised much disputes among readers. Some believe he is trying to please the public with claptrap, and his only purpose is to take advantage of the title "experimental publication" as a selling point. But others say that his work is revolutionary and represents a step forward for China's social development.