Beijing music: still rockin' after all these years?

The capital's always been a hub for six-stringed melodies, but what's next?

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It’s 11pm on a Tuesday night at hutong noise hole School Live Bar, and it’s even sweatier than normal. Packed to the rafters, a sardine-tin crowd is now essentially sharing the tiny stage with a surprise supergroup, made up of members of various bands off the Beijing-based label, Maybe Mars, who look to be kicking off its tenth-anniversary celebrations in style.

The band are almost stacked on top of each other, there’s multiple singers around the mics and they’re ripping into a roaring finale. It’s almost emotional, but it’s certainly a marvellous snapshot that captures all the stellar work the label has done in raising the city’s scene in the last decade.

Over the series of anniversary gigs that follow in the next few days, its heavy-hitters all take to the stage, including ‘No Beijing’ wave headlights Carsick Cars (pictured, below), psych rockers Chui Wan, and the hugely influential post-punk outfit PK14 – led by the label’s towering CEO, Yang Haisong.

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Held at School, Yue Space and Yugong Yishan, the showcases are among the biggest and best attended this year – a year that has seen triumphant releases from Chui Wan, wall-of-sound indie slingers Birdstriking, and the energetic FAZI. Elsewhere, returning post-punk trio Re- TROS have garnered further international attention for their awesome latest effort, Before the Applause, released on Modern Sky.

These indie stalwarts, who mostly emerged from a Noughties guitar boom, are still coming up with the goods, it seems, but their names have been thrown around for a while now. Are new torchbearers waiting in the wings? Or are we looking at a scene reliant on its old guard?

A new breed

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'There are a lot of great new bands popping up in Beijing,' Maybe Mars' COO Nevin Domer tells us. 'The scene is steadily growing.' Indeed, at his label’s anniversary gigs, an exciting younger cast lined up alongside the old and made waves, including noisy art-rocking troupe Backspace (pictured, above), and the even noisier post-punkers Lonely Leary; though active for a few years now, the energetic trio have started to make a bigger impact on the scene, and recently played a stonking set at Yue Space described as 'a cesspool of insanity' by Will Griffith, the music man on the ground behind the Live Beijing Music blog.

Beyond the Maybe Mars family, the city’s punkier sorts are – as expected – still making a ruddy good racket. With aggro power trio The Diders unfortunately on hiatus, and old-guarders Demerit off on world travels, newer acts like short-lived Riot Grrrl group Xiao Wang have caused a stir this year, alongside power-pop trio The Sino Hearts. Further up the rockier climbs, 2017 has seen hardcore act Struggle Session (pictured, below) emerge and blaze through some memorable, 'brutally fun' shows, as they brand them, while D-Crash hold down the crustier end of the punk scale.

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'I’m also excited about the deepening of the psych scene,' Domer says. 'Chui Wan, The Dice and TOW are all expanding the boundaries.' Similarly, Griffith adds that 'slacker rock and shoegaze are blowing up right now,' pointing to acts like Default, who dropped their solid debut California Nebula in May.

We’re still rockin’, for sure, but in a scene that is growing outwards, with ever more crossovers and a seemingly increasing influence from the electronic. Griffith sums it all up: 'It’s bustling, it’s dynamic, it’s crippled, it’s complicated, it’s diverse.' Beijing may be going steady for now, and maybe no one is matching the Maybe Mars model just yet, but bigger things look to be around the corner.

Beijing’s bigger things, however, may not be a six-string-based as before…

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