A difficult question that I have a pretty uncomfortable answer to.
But before I answer the question, I’d like to define what I think a great band is. To be a great band, you have to meet the following criteria:
1. Your music has to be groundbreaking. Basically you can’t be a “genre band.” If a genre is established in the wake of your art, however, that is a strong indication that you’re a great band. Muddy Waters, therefore is a great band (artist) but Robert Cray isn’t. Robert Cray operates in Muddy’s wake.
2. You have to be amazing live. Not a great stage show, not cool clothes. You’re music has to touch people when you play out, whether you’re in a club or an arena.
3. You have to produce quality work for at least 5 years (unless you die tragically young). Most decent bands have 1 great album in them, usually 5-7 years worth of songwriting goes into a first album. If you can’t follow that up on your next go-round, you’re not a great band.
4. Your music has to impact listeners across cultures. If you’re only great within a defined context, I don’t think you’re great. Politics are a huge part of Fela Kuti’s music, but understanding Nigeria in the 70s isn’t essential to enjoying the music.
5. Your music must be danceable. Doesn’t mean you have to swing or pound with 4 on the floor beats, but your music has to have a heartbeat.
6. You must have something to say. Being a great technician isn’t enough, to be great you have to be using music as a way of expressing something meaningful that comes from deep in your soul.
Now that I’ve spelled out what I think constitutes a great band, back to the initial question: Are there any great bands in Beijing?
Unfortunately I have to say no. That doesn’t mean I don’t like and respect a lot of bands in Beijing, but I don’t think there are any bands that fulfill my criteria.
So am I full of b.s.? Are there any great bands in Beijing? If so, let me know in the comments section below.