What is the coolest underground Chinese music

The rise of Chinese rock in 10 bands

Fifty years ago, music in China was severely restricted. Progress hasn't been easy - big names like the Rolling Stones have been reluctant to perform until recently. Even so, Chinese talent has developed over the years thanks to smuggled tapes and pirated copies. Underground clubs are springing up in Shanghai and Beijing, and young talent is now finding a mature and distinctive voice that is retreating to the West. Here are 10 Chinese rock bands you need to know.

© Mstyslav Chernov / Wikicommons


Founded in Hong Kong in 1983, Beyond was still an English colony. Beyond was heavily influenced by progressive rock Pink Floyd. Despite initial difficulties, they are now considered to be one of the most successful and influential Cantonese groups ever to emerge from Hong Kong. Her first commercially successful album "The Arabian Dancing Girl" made her a success not only in Hong Kong, but also in mainland China, Japan, Malaysia and Indonesia. Despite the death of her singer Wong Ka Kui in 1993, her music remains culturally alive to this day. "Under a Vast Sky" has become not only an environmentally conscious call to arms, but also the unofficial anthem of the Hong Kong Occupy movement.

Carsick Cars

Calling yourself "China's Best Indie Band" Carsick Cars Just think about it for their ease. Signed to the independent label Maybe Mars and founded in 2007 to promote the best of young Chinese talent, Carsick Cars are perhaps the best expression of the vitality that young people and their newfound artistic freedom emanate. Fortunately, their Velvet Underground inspires talent more than this hubris. Her self-titled first record was released by the legendary P.K. 14 Yang Haisong and their subsequent releases made them one of the first Chinese bands to break out of the Chinese underground scene. They opened Sonic Youth on their European tour and performed in the influential South By Southwest. Their songs always make a smile, especially the best VPN so far, refers to the virtual private networks that Chinese citizens use to evade the ubiquitous Chinese state censorship.

Cui Jian | © Wikicommons

Cui Jian

It is impossible to discuss Chinese music without reference to its problematic relationship with the Chinese state. Cui Jian, affectionately known as "Old Cui", is an example of the extent to which rock music has been suspected by the authorities. Cui Jian was a pioneer in the Chinese music scene during the rocky period of the 1980s. The 1986 Beijing concert where he performed "Nothing To My Name" kicked off his career and raised suspicions from the old Revolutionary Guard. During an interview with the BBC, he discusses that he must use his contacts in foreign embassies to get tapes from foreign bands, even after he's had success. As always, the crucial moment came during Tiannaman Square. "Nothing to My Name" became the unofficial anthem of the Tiannamen protesters and its concerts would be suppressed for years to come. Despite recently playing with the Rolling Stones, state authorities are still nervous. He was supposed to sing on the state broadcaster's New Year's show for 2014/15, but withdrew in protest when he was informed that "Nothing on my behalf" was forbidden.

Dou Wei

Dou Wei first became attentive to the groundbreaking Chinese hard rock band Black Panther, one of the many groups that emerged in imitation of Cui Jiang's "Nothing to My Name". However, Black Panther and Dou Wei have maintained an easier relationship with the authorities. Although Black Panther was mostly active in the 1990s, a new album was released in 2014 with inspired hits like "Shameful". Meanwhile, Dou Wei established a reputation as a critically acclaimed multi-instrumentalist whose collaborations with ad hoc bands have explored as many traditions as ambient, folk rock, and post rock. In particular, his post-rock work, he admits, owes much to the British post-rock band Bark Psychosis.

Stop at the box | © Johnny Judge Gallery / Flickr

Stay with the box

Rough, sexual and intensely political, the all-girl band Hang on the Box can hardly be accused of shying away from controversy. The song "Bitch" from her 2003 album "For Every Punk, Bitch and Arsehole" is indicative of her radical views. Despite the fact that every iteration of the ever-changing line-up insists they are neither punk nor feminist, the influence of The Sex Pistols and Riot Grrl remains evident. Their punk nature coupled with the fact that women sing in English has resulted in Hang on The Box battling over and over for Chinese airtime. Accordingly, her record label, along with much of her popularity, is based in Japan. However, this accessibility, in turn, has resulted in them gaining cult popularity in the United States, where their legacy continues to be debated.


In recent years, Anglo-Sphere music blogs like Drowned in The Sound Has Begun to speak of a Chinese wave. Indie rock bands on labels like Maybe Mars and Modern Sky Records have not only conquered the youthful consciousness of the Chinese middle class, but have also found their way out of China's traditional Pacific sphere of influence. P.K 14 is arguably the grandfather of this movement on two different fronts. With heirs as eclectic as Woody Guthrie and Fuzagi, their first album "Upstairs, Turn Left" (2001) managed to establish a post-punk sound that was celebrated by international names like Time Magazine.

Shin (band)

Named after their former lead singer, who was nominated for the Golden Melody Award for Best Mandarin Singer, Taiwanese band Shin debuted their self-titled album in 2002. Her songs subsequently gained great popularity with mainland Chinese, Hong Kong residents and overseas Chinese people. When the lead singer achieved an intoxicating mix of notoriety and popularity, Shin left the band in 2007 to embark on a solo career. The band took a several year hiatus while looking for a new lead singer. After a successful search, they made their debut in 2010 under the direction of Jiu Shi Wei Yi.


The band was founded in 2005 and with their first CD from ex-PIL drummer Martin Atkins this indie rock band came together were all students in Beijing. Snapline quickly became one of China's most popular bands through their self-described attempt "to reconcile the sounds and ideas of the noise and minimalist musician of the 1970s and 1980s with the realities of contemporary Beijing". As you can expect from the now well-known record company, they are also strongly different from their cultural predecessors P.K. 14 and Cui Jian. Not only have their own style escaped the sinking of the Chinese Wave, but they've surfed at the forefront of the movement alongside Carsick Cars.

Tang Dynasty | © Daduzi / Wikicommons

Tang Dynasty

The Tang Dynasty was often celebrated as the first heavy metal band in China. Her first album, A Dream Return to Tang Dynasty (1991/2), which references one of the most prosperous epochs in Chinese history, sold astonishingly two million times. The obvious historical influence was not limited to the choice of title and name. The band includes "traditional Chinese singing techniques with lyrical poetry and musical arrangements" specifically referring to the Tang Dynasty. Expectant fans had to wait seven years for their second album, Epic. In the meantime, they lost their bassist, who tragically died in a motorcycle accident in 1995.

Torturing Nurse

Of all the bands on this list, the Torturing Nurse are perhaps the most outlandish. On their Twitter page, they describe themselves as "extreme hard nihilistic noise" and indulge even more than hang on the box when they push musical boundaries. The result, like the phenomenally influential Neutral Milk Hotel, uses unconventional instruments like umbrellas and meat beaters to create a sound with "brutal walls of static, screeching distortion and goosebumps screams" reminiscent of the American drone band Sunn. ). If you want to broaden your musical horizons both geographically and thematically, then Torturing Nurse is the way to go.

Author: Roxanne Barnett

Roxanne Barnett is a 43 year old journalist. Lifelong organizer. Reader. Animal lover everywhere. Student. Food trailblazer. Coffee lover.