No Genres?

I did a little bit of a double-take when I read Beijing Daze’s interview on the Beijinger website. Daze referred to a column Kaiser Kuo wrote about Chinese musicians being more free to play with genre distinctions than Western musicians. While the sentiment makes sense logically–music supposedly flowed into China without many of the normative critiques that regiment & segment music in the West–I don’t think it has any basis in the actual experience of Chinese music.

In reality, Chinese bands are incredibly tied to the idea of genre. Going to a gig here is often an exercise in spot-the-influence with bands like Nirvana, the Velvet Underground, Guns & Roses & even garbage like Linkin Park worn very proudly and prominently. Many Chinese bands explicitly link themselves with genres (there are even Chinese Brit Pop bands & Chinese Swedish Black Metal Bands) and they do their dead-level best to mimic their idols. I swear to God I’ve even seen a Chinese Brit Pop band pretend to fight on stage so they were more like Oasis.

Obviously there are a lot of original bands doing great things, but I think “the labels” are still very prominently stitched on the flannel shirts, metal dude t shirts and maybe even the missing lenses from all those frame-only fake Ray Ban Wayfarers.

It’s also cool that many musicians are forming bands outside their “normal” genre, but I don’t need to hear a metal dude playing funk. That’s  just another genre exercise with an eye turned towards showing off your chops. It doesn’t feel like they’re really creating something new. Instead, I want to see a band that mutates their influences into artistic expression.

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