The Best So Far: The Aughts

In these, the first few hours of the Year of the Dragon, we continue on from our last look back over the course of yaogun, part II of one man’s view of the best records to come out of China’s rock scene takes us into the new millennium. Chronologically we go…

Cold-Blooded Animal by Cold-Blooded Animal, 2000

Less inspired by Kurt Cobain than his embodiment, Xie Tianxiao, the band’s singer/guitarist who now goes by the name XTX, was a force of nature live, and though he still retains some of that energy, in the early aughts he was at his peak. Here, “Who Was it That Brought Me Here”, live at CD Cafe in Beijing in 2003.


Second-Hand Rose by Second-Hand Rose, 2003

Yeah, singer Liang Long dresses like a girl. But when you listen to the album, it doesn’t matter, and that’s the true test. “Gathering Flowers” showcases the bridge bewixt traditional China and modern rock.


Ma Music featuring Glamourous Pharmacy, Ruins and Wooden Pushmelon, 2001

This posse of bands led the early-aught alt scene, often infusing art into their performances, which signaled a commitment to more than just music. Xiao He, who walks both sides of the fine line separating idiot from genius in his current solo work, led GP; Ruins singer Zhou Yunshan first  added his name to the band’s and now just goes by his name; WPM’s Song Yuzhe makes great folk music. Listen to the whole record via this link, which may be in Chinese but is easy enough to navigate.

“How Steel Wasn’t Tempered” – Wooden Pushmelon by jWc


The World is a Noise Garden by Sound Fragment, 2002

Spacey and dreamy, the record showcases the empty spots even more than the titular noise. One of yaogun’s rare headphone records. Here, the lead track, “Deceive One’s Self” (ziqi).

Xin by Wang Lei, 2004

Wang’s first decade-plus in the arts saw him move from breakdancing to pop-rock to freak-folk. In the new millennium, he took to industrial music briefly, then discovered dub and fell in love. This record is the peak of that fascination, mixing traditional and contemporary sounds from a range of different traditions to create a minimal, groovy and bounce-along-able record.
“Again” – Wang Lei by jWc


P.K. 14 White Paper, 2005

Post-punk quartet P.K. 14’s third album sees the band in top form, just in time for the mid-decade “indie” boom. The video for “Them,” below, is one of several greats the band produced.



Omnipotent Youth Society by Omnipotent Youth Society, 2010

Singer Dong Yaqian may not look like he’s having a good time while performing “The Not-So-Omnipotent Comedy,” below, but the song, as evidenced by the singalong, is fun in a way that is rare (even if you wouldn’t know it by watching frontman Dong Yaqian); ditto, the album.

Sorrow, 2006
This Readily Assimilative People, 2010
by Lonely China Day

Two records made for headphones, and two records more representative of Twenty-First century China than any other yaogun album.

“One” from Sorrow

“Rise Up” from This Readily Assimilative People

L & R by Wang Wen, 2010

This Dalian-based post-rock group has a sizable following cross-country, and is helping fertilize the local scene by example and involvement through record label (Fox Tail) and venues (several short-lived spots).


Cang Lang Xing by Zhaoze, 2011.

Like their brilliant fellow (now former) Guangzhou resident Wang Lei, they seemed to have suffered somewhat from being outside of Beijing, not receiving anything remotely like the appreciation they ought to. But, like the two post-rockers mentioned above, they have a seriously intense fanbase. Below, “Cang Lang Shui Yu You” live in Hong Kong, May 2011.

News @

Ladies and Gentlemen…

As you have likely discovered, there is a whack of information and fun at, including timelines, mixtapes, notes on and addenda to Red Rock: The Long, Strange March of Chinese Rock & Roll, and much more.

The Bonus Tracks section is, now, complete: Six chapters’ worth of notes of a multimedia sort to both enhance and encourage the reading experience. The Liner Notes, more source-material-type material, has long been up and you’ve all already noticed that, surely.

Red Rock: The Long, Strange March of Chinese Rock & Roll is, officially, a textbook. But in a good way. Because if you’re going to be told what to read, it might as well be about the adventures of yaogun. University of Minnesota students taking Professor Jason McGrath’s ALL 3337 Chinese Literature and Popular Culture Today are among the first to be forced to read Red Rock. Go you Golden Gophers!

Other things to look out for…

jWc will appear on Fairchild TV‘s Leisure Talk program, for those in Canada with access to the channel and interested in hearing jWc blather on in Mandarin. Airdate is Monday, Feb 13, check their listings for the scoop.

jWc will appear, in person and in English, around Toronto in the near future:

On Thursday, Jan 26 at 7.00pm, University of Toronto’s Pan-Asia Student Society presents a Pan-Asia Cultural Showcase: A Night to Celebrate Diasporic Arts in Music, Film, Dance, & Literature. jWc has been asked to address the gathered masses at Hart House’s Music room: All the details are right here.


At the Toronto Reference Library‘s Elizabeth Beton Auditorium (789 Yonge St, just north of Bloor), speaking, in his most romantic tones, on Tuesday, Feb. 14 at 2.00 pm. Is there a better way to say ‘I love you’ than with yaogun? (No, there isn’t.)


Stay tuned, also, for more Red Rockrelated news in the near future.



Recently, Red Rock got a thumbs-up from self-proclaimed “music geek” Alan Cross, who is well known as the host of The Ongoing History of New Music from, among other spots, back when Toronto’s 102.1 FM was called CFNY; he now hosts a show called The Secret History of Rock which can be found on his website.

Meanwhile, in addition to getting time on the website for CBC Radio’s Day 6 (and their blog), the National Post ran a rundown of Day 6‘s stories of the year, the “winningest” of which was China:


Rock(-ish) 2012

In a happy new year move from an element of the Chinese music community, a track to celebrate the upcoming Year of the Dragon in a style dear to those of us, in the West, with fond memories of Band Aid and its international brethren and sisterians as well as those familiar with China’s own take on the phenom in that group’s wake.

Seems that over thirty folks got together in a studio to record “Rock 2012,” calling the song the Third Annual Yaogun Spring-Festival Theme Song Recording (though the word ‘yaogun’ might be better, here, translated at ‘Rock and Roll’ particularly based on the song lyrics, see below). The last time folks came together under such a banner was for a concert at Beijing’s Olympic Stadium last January featuring an even wider group of groups. This year, in addition to the concert, a song.

Sure, they’re not going to feed the world – heck, they probably won’t be able to feed Sun Jie, the most enormous one in on the recording (who is oft found manhandling a keytar in his aptly-named group Big Man 大块头 whose members are each no less than 220 lbs, though this video questions their hiring practices, assuming bassists, too, must meet the requirements) – but it is a gathering in the service of happy- and rock-ifying our new year.

As a person who was careful about assigning different meanings to “rock” and “yaogun” – in short: the former comes from the West, the latter comes from China, though not all rocky music made in China qualifies – it’s interesting to note that the singers here only refer to the English word for rock and roll. My quick translation of the chorus:

We’re singing rock and roll
Whether that day will come
We still want Rock N ‘Roll
Just for that little feeling of freedom”

I struggle with yaogun, and with China, and with China’s attitude and behavior toward yaogun, and this video is a good example. On the one hand, there’s a lot not-quite-rock about it. The folks involved, like the kiddie-band, and the sprinkling of popstar-types. The tune itself sounds like one of those “rock” songs a room full of executives might’ve written by committee and focus groups: ‘Ooooo! Don’t forget the traditional-music breakdown section,’ one says. ‘Right, that’ll test well with the older folks. And also we should totally bring down the music like halfway through and dramatically, slowly, bring it back in after a bit of that soft-singing,’ adds another. ‘Oh, and don’t forget that thing where you make the song suddenly go up higher, like a step,’ someone else chimes in. ‘That’s where you’ll get shivers!’

If the poppy participants and elements were cringe-worthy, the yaogunners among the ranks were nearly shocking: Lei Jun, of Oi!-punks Misandao, who is not the only bald one in the video, but is the only self-described skinhead, for one: There is footage from this flick of the band’s somewhat regular trips to load up on cough syrup to fuel the night’s shenanigans. I see Gao Hu of Miserable Faith, Xiao Nan, the venerable co-founder of Cobra, who was one of the stars of the nineties’ yaogun scene. And a few others.

But in yaogun’s, erm, long, strange march to something less than a hated and sometimes feared thing that needs to be stamped out – or worse: ignored – it’s stuff like this that helps it along. Pop is not necessarily the enemy, especially as a means to an end. Yeah, the poppers make it look bad, and the music here isn’t what you’d call epic, but pop is the quickest, best, and, really, only way to the ears of the masses. We just hope that the masses take to rock. And that these folks go from “singing rock and roll” to living and creating yaogun.

Happy New Yearses: 2012 and of the Dragon.

The Best So Far: The Nineties

The end of the year beginning of the year means the inevitable looking back at the year that was. But this past year, we reach end of an era, Yaogunnily-speaking. Taking Cui Jian’s performance of “Nothing to My Name” on national television in 1986 as our birthdate for yaogun, Chinese rock & roll turned twenty-five in 2011.

In celebration, I’m looking back through the best yaogun records not just of 2011, but the best yaogun records thus far. We begin with yaogun’s early years, heading chronologically through the nineties.

But first, a quick digression, allowing a moment to ruminate on the difference between Important albums and Good albums – in our minds, in silence – and know that only sometimes are records both. For my list, I have but one guiding principle, and it resides squarely in the territory of the Good: Would I put this record on and listen to it?

I’ve skipped the eighties, by the way, because Cui Jian’s debut album, Rock and Roll on the New Long March, which kicked everything off in the first place, is automatically on just about any yaogun list there is – think Rare, Important and Good.

Dark Dream by Dou Wei, 1993. A year after leaving the very Bon Jovi-y Black Panther and cutting his hair, Dou Wei let loose a record that was a bit further out there than anything for which yaogun was prepared at that point. Taking on new wave and goth, the rebranded Dou Wei headed further toward the fringes as the years went on. “Higher Being”


Balls Under the Red Flag by Cui Jian, 1994. Cui’s third yaogun record expanded the influences further afield, incorporating electronic and hip hop sounds, rhythms and samples. Below, “Flying”.

Various artists, China Fire Vol. II, 1996. The second of what would be three compilations came at a time when China Fire was no longer the only game in town. The first compilation, released four years previous, introduced the nation to yaogun, but it was yaogun of a limited range: The metal and hair-rock to which the first generations took. The second volume expanded the range. “All the Same” by Underbaby represents the Cobain influence that began to spread in the mid-nineties.


Squeeze by Zhou Ren, 1996. Zhou’s underrated album was influential across the spectrum, channeling and championing the growing alt-ification happening in yaogun at the time. What made the album stand out was the metal of Zhou’s early years mixed with a heavy dose of Seattle sound and a little dab of funk. But because record label Magic Stone was in the last years of its mainland operations, it didn’t give the record the push that its earlier releases received. “Fg” is the lead-off track:
Fg by Zhou Ren by jWc


Yaogun Beijing III (1997) is a great example of the compilation — and band, and genre — boom of the mid/late nineties. There is the classic hair-rock of the early yaogun days, but there is also grunge, alt, dark metal and more signalling the rise of alt. All-stars on the album include the man now known as XTX in an early guise and Zi Yue, who combines traditional opera, comedy and prog-rock in a mixture that’s still successful today. Hades is still going strong today; “The Nightmare Continues” was, it should go without saying, the only track of its kind here:


Boredom Brigade (aka Wuliao Contingent), 1999. Only Reflector and Brain Failure remain these days, but the quartet of bands here (69 and Anarchy Jerks were the other two, the former much more interesting than the latter) were atop the punk pyramid of the late-nineties. More on the album at this previous post. Here, Reflector brings the posse’s theme song:


Incantation by Wild Children, 1999. Their haunting acoustic folk may seem out of place among the fin-de-siecle harder-edged sounds coming out of yaogun’s first expansion, but the Wild Children packed all of the emotional punch of the punks, without cranking the volume.

….coming soon: Into the new millennium, and more…