Ten Chinese women who rock

The most vital female rockers active on the Beijing music scene today

They may not get a lot of glory, but women have been an integral part of Beijing rock from the very beginning. While their ranks have remained relatively few, more and more have emerged over the past decade to leave their mark. Here are ten of the most vital female rockers active today
Helen Feng: Nova Heart
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Helen Feng: Nova Heart

If ever there was a born performer, Helen Feng is it. After starting out as an MTV VJ, Feng moved on to a number of musical projects, including Free the Birds, party rock troupe Pet Conspiracy and her current vehicle, Nova Heart. Though Feng is also a badass behindthe scenes (along with partner Philip Grefer, she founded promotion agency FakeMusicMedia), most people probably know her for her smooth vocals and dark, seductive stage presence

Fu Han: Queen Sea Big Shark
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Fu Han: Queen Sea Big Shark

With her platinum blond mop top, languid glamour and vulnerable vocals, Queen Sea Big Shark’s Fu Han has long drawn comparisons to Karen O of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs – which says a lot about her status as China’s archetypal frontwoman. Since starting in 2004, Queen Sea Big Shark have risen to the top of the indie rock pile with infectiously appealing albums that have moved from surf rock to dance punk to straight-up pop. Through it all, Fu Han has remained at the centre of their success

Li Qing: Snapline/ Soviet Pop/ Spy Rat 51
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Li Qing: Snapline/ Soviet Pop/ Spy Rat 51

Imagine the cartoon character Daria combined with the badass girl from Freaks and Geeks, and you have Li Qing – the coolest (and probably most aloof) woman in Chinese rock. But behind her tough-looking exterior is a woman whose drive and passion for avant-garde music has helped push forward the underground scene as a whole. Li started out as the original drummer for Carsick Cars, before leaving to focus on her other projects: the post-punk trio Snapline, oscillator noise outfit Soviet Pop and recently revived project Spy Rat 51. In terms of scope, vision and ambition, Li is a woman on top of her game

Atom: Hedgehog
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Atom: Hedgehog

The curse of being Atom – indie rock trio Hedgehog’s diminutive drummer – is that nobody can quite get over how cute she is. And, frankly, we get it: with her big eyes, small stature, and rainbows-and-sunshine smile, Atom looks like she was beamed directly from some Japanese cartoon. But when you get past her cuddly appearance,you find one of Beijing’s most formidable indie rock drummers. Over the past nine years, Atom has served as the anchor for Hedgehog’s ever-evolving sound, remaining forceful, buoyant and always on-point

Pauline Zeitlin: Alpine Decline
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Pauline Zeitlin: Alpine Decline

Another female drummer who’s been raising the bar for Beijing beatmakers is Pauline Zeitlin, who, together with her husband Jonathan Zeitlin, forms the psychgaze duo Alpine Decline. Already seasoned musicians with more than a decade of experience in LA’s indie scene, the pair relocated to Beijing in 2012, where they quickly made inroads into the city’s noise-rock community. In that time, they’ve released two records filled with compelling, hallucinatory soundscapes driven by Zeitlin’s surehanded drumming.Take a listen and you’ll be impressed by her range, power and musical intelligence

Wu Qiong: Chui Wan
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Wu Qiong: Chui Wan

Bassists have a reputation for being a little, well, superfluous. While guitarists get all the glory and drummers get all the girls, bassists are charged with the thankless task of holding down the lower end and keeping everyone in line. Not so with Wu Qiong, the dynamic bassist for experimental psych quartet Chui Wan. Beneath the band’s undulating waves of Middle Eastern-sounding psych, Wu offers up alluring, enigmatic basslines that serve as an anchor and counterpoint to the main melody. As a performer, too, she is striking – with a cold, almost regal bearing that echoes her basslines’ strange, spidery arpeggios.

Yang Fan: Ourself Beside Me
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Yang Fan: Ourself Beside Me

More than maybe any other female musician, Yang Fan has helped define the possibilities for women in Chinese rock. Yang started out at the tender age of 15 as part of the groundbreaking ’90s grrrl rock outfit Hang on the Box, before moving on in the early ’00s to Ourself Beside Me, a band that became known for their drugged-out, ’60s-style art rock steeped in minor-key weirdness. Since the band ended around 2009, Yang has dedicated herself mostly to behind-the-scenes work.

Ben Ben: Skip Skip Ben Ben
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Ben Ben: Skip Skip Ben Ben

Ben Ben served briefly as drummer of Carsick Cars before dedicating herself full-time to Skip Skip Ben Ben. It was a gamble that paid off: the group’s 2013 release,Sacrifice Mountain Hills, proved to be one of the best records of the year. Fusing shoegaze with noise pop, the record unfurls a landscape of shimmering, gossamer guitar fuzz, punctuated by unexpected hooks, driving basslines and Ben Ben’s piercing wails. Through it all, she demonstrates a mastery of vision and tension that gives the record its haunting magnetism.

Kang Mao: Subs
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Kang Mao: Subs

Subs’ singer Kang Mao isn’t just the fiercest woman in Chinese rock; she’s arguably among its fiercest performers, period. Known for her banshee-like stage presence, outspoken tendencies and uncompromising DIY ethics, Kang has remained a formidable presence in China’s underground scene for more than ten years. Subs’ sound is defined by spunky, garage-rock explosiveness and Kang’s fiery, throat-rending vocals.

Sun Xia: Dear Eloise
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Sun Xia: Dear Eloise

Though Sun Xia started out as the bassist for PK14, her current creations couldn’t be more different. Formed several years ago with her husband Yang Haisong (the frontman of PK14), Dear Eloise make ethereal, shoegazy bedroom pop that combines Yang’s distortion-filled guitar with Sun’s icy, Nico-esque vocals. It’s the latter that gives Dear Eloise its singularity. With their detached, childlike purity, her vocals elevate the music to anew, spooky realm. Despite being somewhat reclusive (the duo never play live shows), she remains productive through her recordings

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