Listening to Cuijian and Chinese rockers

Continuing in the vein of Chinese popular music, I was in Chinatown just over a week ago and picked up a bunch of tapes from a CD store’s ‘bargain basket’. I still have a Sony Walkman tape-player and listen to tapes, and these were about 50 cents per tape.


It’s funny how one’s musical tastes can change over time. In your teens and twenties you think you have music all figured out. You know what’s ‘good’ and you know what’s ‘trash’. But I’ve found I just can’t listen to the same stuff I listened to 15 years ago. Besides, having lived in Asia for so many years, I’ve let its pop and rock culture influence me.


Though it has happened over time. And it’s also partly because I’ve become a little tired of Western pop and rock. It’s not to say there isn’t great stuff in a country like Australia -there’s a huge selection of great artists and bands, but it’s the same promotion engines you get sick of, that keep blasting out the same sounding stuff on and on. Granted, I should be married by now with two kids and listening primarily to talk-back radio. I’m in the next demographic. But I’m a muso…


And so my latest phase seeking musical stimulation is the Asian scene, and some of the tapes I purchased included PRC rock music. One was ‘Heibao‘, which I think translates as ‘Black Panther’, and the other was Cui Jian, and his album ‘The Power of the Powerless’.


And after listening to them I was pleasantly surprised. I felt previous listenings to such hard communist rockers were a little difficult to swallow, a little rough around the edges, but this time I just ‘got it’.


Because these guys aren’t mainstream, they’re not making loads of money and so they’re not getting the commercial and production support of the mainstream music industry. There’s an honesty and rawness to them, which is lacking in the West, where even indie music is marketed by a well-oiled machine with top producers etc…


Maybe that’s why I didn’t get into mainland Chinese rock all those years ago (always a fan of Wubai). Production-wise the mixes or catchy songwriting can’t compete with top American bands, but listening to them this time there’s a freshness that’s just hit me. Like they bring you back to what rock and punk were all about -music with passion and sincerity that impacts you without the polished production.


In fact it’s the polished production that sometimes leaves you feeling bored and restless, because it’s not raw, there’s no risk or adventure. Maybe there’s an implied message in a work of art that is to well polished: ‘we didn’t want to take to much of a risk, so we paid top dollar to make sure it’s sellable to the most amount of people’ (i.e. the lowest common denominator).


Ironically, even though the tapes I bought in Chinatown looked like the real thing, after listening to them I knew they were pirated copies. Real record companies don’t let the CD skip when recording on to their tapes. You wouldn’t know it from the packaging. So one day I hope to get proper copies and more albums of Cui Jian, Heibao and similar artists.




west the new east


About the cartoon

This silly piece is a reflection on how far a city like Sydney is influenced by Eastern culture -particular with food, health and religion such as Buddhism.


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