New Sounds of China (Radio series)

Episode 1: In the first episode of a five-part series, we provide a short, opinionated history of Chinese alternative music. Moving from the Cultural Revolution to the Jasmine Revolution, we begin with Taiwanese pop imported into late 1970s China, then progress through rock, electronica, hip-hop and alternative tracks, to arrive at the current Chinese music scene just in time for our second episode on Beijing post-punk and experimental music.

Episode 2: Following the sweeping historical introduction of episode one, we tighten our focus in episode two, and feature the music of just one record label, Maybe Mars. But what a label! Since 2007, Maybe Mars has been generating attention well beyond the domestic Chinese market, with its acts and attitude gaining coverage in publications as highly regarded and diverse as The Wire, Time Magazine, The New Yorker, The Guardian, and The Wall Street Journal.

Episode 3: After episode two’s critical assessment of the famous Maybe Mars label, we move into territory mostly uncharted by Western journalists, to consider the output of three less-hyped Beijing record labels. The resulting diversity of sound is breathtaking, ranging from the urban folk of Wan Xiaoli, with his tales of modern urban life; to the postmodern self-consciousness of New Pants, with their musical riposte to Pet Shop Boys’ “Go West”; and the curiously misplaced Britpop style of Sober, a band more influenced by The Beatles and Blur than Peking Opera and Maoist propaganda songs.

Episode 4: Our Beijing-centric presenters finally attune their ears to the sounds of a second city. Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan (or Szechuan) province, is stereotypically known for its spicy food and spicier women, yet also hosts a thriving alternative music scene.

Episode 5: Our final episode addresses the controversial matter of ethnicity and music in China. We question the portrayal of China as a homogenous nation, by playing modern tracks inspired by the traditions of the country’s many ethnic minorities. At the same time, just to be difficult, we counter the easy assumption that only minorities possess folk music, by playing tracks rooted in the traditions of the majority Han Chinese, including the work chants of Yangtze river boatmen sampled by Cui Jian, the godfather of Chinese rock.