• How does the world’s most populous nation – with one of the most stringent Internet censorship policies – nurture a music scene? Like most creatives, these artists defy convention (and sometimes laws) to have their voices heard. We’ll take a look at Chinese groups that toe the line but sound awesome and others that redraw the line and go their own ways.

     

    New Pants

    These artistic provocateurs have been synthesizing disco and rock since 1996, and they continue to stretch the bounds of popular music. Their just-released single, “Because of You Life Becomes Fiery,” sets the time machine back to about 2004, when Bloc Party and others emerged from the clubs to conquer the main stages. Speaking of main stages, New Pants have even played Coachella, proving their international appeal. (Thank you to Live Beijing Music and The Creators Project for the suggestion.)

     

     

    Dragon Well

    This hip-hop crew’s name is derived from a type of green tea, and the beats and lyrics go down just as smoothly. The trio has more in common with old-school rappers like Biz Markie and De La Sol than with today’s commanding forces in the scene, relying on mellower music to tell their urban tales. Sun Xu in particular has won numerous rap battles across China, and devotes much of his time exploring underground artists in Mongolia.

     

     

    SNH48

    If you’re in need of a smile, give SNH48 a listen. This army of pop-tart recruits is part Josie and the Pussycats, part Disney. A cynic would say their music is the kind of manufactured merriment that gives pop a bad name, but with two dozen cuties amped up on sugar and sunshine, you can’t help but get happy. Their latest EP, Engine of Youth, is out now.

     

    Golden Buddha Jazz Orchestra

    Tradition meets emotional timbre in the Golden Buddha Jazz Orchestra. They’ve brought their hypnotic sounds to the States and around the world by request of dignitaries and universities. Led by pianist Kong Hongwei, this revolving-door troupe uses flutes, ruan (Chinese guitar) and emphatic percussion to enrapture audiences.

     

    Holy Arrow

    With so much music out there, it’s rare that new songs elicit a genuine “Wow” from us. This historical tome, set to screaming metal and orchestral strains, earned its “Wow” factor. Holy Arrow is the brainchild of Schtarch, a solo composer with deep ties to his Hoklo ancestry. Eschewing mainstream Chinese influence, he sings in neither Mandarin nor Cantonese; instead, he uses Hokkien, often favored by nearby Taiwanese populations. (Thank you to Unite Asia for the introduction.) Featured image courtesy Pest Productions.

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