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Variety show, 'The Big Band', gets rock rolling again

Xinhua | Updated: 2019-09-02 07:45
A poster of the variety show The Big Band, shown on Chinese streaming site iQiyi, which gives lesser-known rock and indie bands a platform to perform for the masses.[Photo/Xinhua]

Frequent rainfall across China has not been able to dampen the enthusiasm for rock music this summer.

Rock music is thumping on more Chinese eardrums than ever before and becoming more "word on the street" than "underground culture" as it moves into the mainstream. This is thanks, in part, to the variety show The Big Band, which has captivated Chinese audiences with its focus on indie music and rock culture.

Aimed at bringing lesser-known rock and indie bands to the fore and giving them a platform to perform for the masses, the show took the format of a competition among 31 bands whose styles range from indie rock, metal and punk to funk, British pop, reggae and more. Concluding earlier last month, the program has indeed ignited heated discussion this summer.

On China's micro-blogging platform, Sina Weibo, the hashtag #TheBigBand has been posted over 5.2 million times. The show has also garnered more than 400,000 "bullet words"-a way that viewers respond to live videos online-on the streaming platform iQiyi.

"It has succeeded in building a platform to let audiences see China's authentic band culture and the people behind it," Cui Longyang, an indie musician in Beijing, says.

"But rock 'n' roll has been there all along, thanks to hundreds of thousands of rock lovers who have never given up on their dreams," Cui adds, referring to all the hardworking musicians who ply their trade in bars and clubs across the length and breadth of China.

Much like drummer Wang He, 31, and his band Zhi Ren. To realize a rock 'n' roll dream that he harbored for more than a decade, Wang co-founded the band earlier this year, recruiting rock-loving friends and colleagues that include an employee of a State-owned company, a senior manager and a firefighter.

In July, the band made their debut in Beijing and entertained a full house of around 500 people. "We enjoyed the performance and decided to continue," Wang explains. "Even my boss was there to support us and one of our friends got so excited that he jumped onto the stage and danced with us."

With most of the members having a day job, Wang's band has to set aside time to practice.

"Every Saturday our firefighting guitarist travels 30 minutes by train from another city to meet us, and four weeks before the performance, everyone took leave from work," Wang recalls.

As the main meeting place for the band, Wang's home is always filled with laughter and music. Dozens of postcards from fans and friends pile up in a metal basket that hangs on the wall.

Ren Lu, who fronts the band, says apart from support from friends and fans, it is their unswerving passion for music that keeps the band together.

"If you trace back to the very beginning, the 1980s and 1990s were the heydays of Chinese rock 'n' roll. At that time, the genre, which was full of idealism and vitality, exploded like a musical bomb among Chinese people born in the 1960s and 1970s," says Wang Jiang, a pop music critic in Shanghai.

The genre's influence, however, has since withered, as the new millennium ushered in an era of rapid economic growth in the country. People were too busy for the so-called rock 'n' roll spirit, Wang adds.

Some suggest that China's rock spirit is once again returning, echoing its golden era, but this is much more than 40-and 50-somethings getting nostalgic. According to Maoyan, a movie and TV rating platform, people aged between 18 and 30 account for 58 percent of The Big Band's audience, and one-quarter of the audience is aged between 18 and 24.

"Bars and clubs are now flooded with the songs of the bands on the show, such as The Face, and my favorite, Hedgehog," says Hu Qihong, a 26-year-old rock fan. "Beyond the music, the show lets me know who the rockers really are."

"Variety shows and mobile music apps have brought indie music to the public, especially young people, and has broken down cultural barriers," Wang He says. "Underground and indie music can now reach a wider audience, instead of a group of niche listeners."

In 2018, China hosted 263 music festivals, more than three times the total in 2011, with Shanghai, Chengdu and Beijing being the most popular cities for putting on live shows, according to a report released by China Music Business News earlier this year.

Zuo Ye, a music critic and live music venue manager in Beijing, says his club held more than 150 live concerts last year, a number that has grown by around 10 percent annually over recent years.

"Given the better overall environment, the success of The Big Band is understandable," Zuo says. "Since 2010, China's rock bands have matured in almost every aspect, including the quality of their music and their performances."

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