Greetings from a sweltering hot Sichuan province, and China’s Zebra Music Festival. I’m at the Middle Kingdom’s biggest inland music event, a grassroots affair that acts as a counterpoint to Shanghai & Beijing’s more globally minded city gatherings.
Want to experience a Chinese festival for Chinese people where international acts play second fiddle to its own ever expanding canon of great home grown talent? Want to see how China’s developing its own music scene and doesn’t need a leg up from the West? Zebra’s your place.
A wide range of ages and demographics inter-mingle at the festival that hosts pop monoliths (which I’ll politely leave out here) alongside thrash metal and disco electro, set in an idyllic palm-lined park which only three years ago was an undeveloped plot of wasteland.
I came a long way from London to check out the event, and wasn’t sure what to expect, but it turns out that whilst back home insecurity in the music world is at its peak, in China the business is booming. Here are the five best Chinese bands from the weekend that you can expect to be taking over the world some time soon as part of that all-encompassing World Domination package China’s been trying to flog us.
Beijing’s Bigger Bang are a tropical storm of black sea garage that showers and waves its way across the Chengdu crowd, who duly chop, dash and sway in tumultuous response. Singer Pupi is something of a pint-sized Karen O; her and her band cut such a fine form that, with the combination of their arch indie tunes, make them prime ambassadors for the rapidly swelling rock scene in China’s vibrant capital.
Eat Alien’s Brains
On first hearing Eat Alien’s Brains’s – who also win the award for best band name in China – it seems slightly odd that no one’s thought of layering Raging Speedhorn-esque thrash metal vocals over glitchtronic electro beats before. Or that such a thing could be so strangely pleasing on the ear. I know, I know – Enter Shikari! – but these guys sound nothing like the St. Albarns techno-metallers. They’re more like Crystal Castle bound up with Burial and… er, Sepultura. Trust me though, it’s a lot of fun.
Photo: Hugh Bohane
Of all the bands playing over the weekend, Mosaic stand up as lads most likely to take their success off the indie circuit and into the mainstream. Their highly infections synth-pop casts them as a kind of Asian Killers – albeit a hell of a lot less sourpuss than boring Brandon and his cumbersome Korg crew. Singer Xia Ying is a sartorial wizard who skips lightly across the stage to the glee of his large, adoring female fan base. If ever China fancies sending some local talent on a round the world pop diplomacy tour, these likeable whippets should be handed top billing.
Chengdu locals Moyo Studio look dazzled by the attention they’re receiving having been thrust into the limelight after winning a nationwide Battle Of The Bands. Despite their early appearance reeking of a concessionary prize slot, their colourful, female-fronted puzzle pop rouses a willing crowd, who dance to indie triangulations that pick up where Test Icicles imploded, infusing angular guitars with neon dreams and didactic 8-bit beats.
These guys get an honourable mention because despite having gone through a thorough retrofit of everything un-cool – they look like the Chinese Backstreet Boys and play earnest nu-metal – they are, according to anyone you ask, the best band Chengdu have ever invented. I beg to differ, but then who am I to judge the will of the masses.
Photo: Hugh Bohane
And if that’s not enough, photographer Hugh Bohane, who was also in attendance, put together this great little video to give you more of a feel of what it’s like on the fringes of China’s burgeoning music scene. Hope you enjoy it as much as a I physically can’t: I’m still in China and YouTube is blocked here!