China’s Rockers too Pampered for Politics

Asia Times reports on the apoliticism of today’s generation of underground rockers:

With growing discontent over social injustice, young people everywhere in China know they should be rebelling. But the tensions that young urbanites face are simply not great enough to provoke them into that role. So what can they do? They often try to write songs that hint at discontent with China’s political system, but they don’t delve deep enough into real problems facing Chinese society.

For example, the song Guang Chang (Square) by the popular band , is based on singer-songwriter and lead guitarist Zhang Shouwang’s experience one morning at Tiananmen Square. On his blog, Shouwang wrote about a dawn trip by him and a friend to the square, where they milled around for a while. The police noticed them, saw them as suspicious-looking characters and placed them in the back of a police van, from where Shouwang looked miserably at the square in the rising morning light. The result was one of the most popular songs on their debut album, in which he sings: “This is a square without hope.” However, it is this kind of introspection that is at the heart of his music, rather than intense political angst of the sort that can affect the fate of a nation.

Carsick Cars is an indie-rock trio formed in March 2005. It is one of the most prolific and established acts on the Beijing indie-rock scene. Michael Pettis, finance professor at Peking University and founder of one of Beijing’s most influential record labels, Maybe Mars, helped influence a young Shouwang by playing him the 1960s band Velvet Underground. “After I listened to the Velvet Underground I thought I must start a band,” Shouwang said outside Yugong Yishan.

But is there a political agenda at work? Shouwang’s status in Beijing highlights just how political the “alternative” youth milieu in China is: not very. It’s important to recognize Shouwang’s point of view because, as Pettis said, “Shouwang will be one of the most famous Chinese musicians in the world in 20 years, and not just in China but everywhere.” His cult-like status has inspired many meta-bands to spring up, all of which have a similar sense of drawing inspiration from surroundings rather than from rebellion.

For more about Carsick Cars, read Michael Pettis’ interview with Zhou Shouwang on Danwei.

Carsick Cars perform Guangchang at a music festival in Taoyuan, Taiwan:

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