Updated: 2013-04-05 07:46
By Yang Yang (China Daily)
Zhang Qiushuang, guitarist and lead singer of the band Mr Graceless, says he wants to live his music dream while he is still young. Yang Yang / China Daily
More young Chinese are rejecting social pressure to conform in favor of their dreams; Beijing's burgeoning underground music scene reflects their joys and frustrations
Compliance, conformity and social status have long been strong characteristics of Chinese society. Confucius stressed their importance in maintaining a harmonious society and they have remained an ingrained part of the social fabric. But today, with the added pressures created by China's economic boom, for many young Chinese these characteristics have become a prison of social norms that largely stops them from pursuing ambitions or expressing individual personality.
Lately, things have begun to change. In the streets, subway stations and on the sides of buses across Beijing, posters of Wu Mochou, a controversial singer who came to fame through the television talent show Voice of China last year, have begun to appear.
Wu, who debuted on the program singing British singer Jessie J's Price Tag, is controversial because of her unique voice and singing style, which does not comply with the dominant aesthetic standard in China.
Her look, too, is anti-establishment, with a sharp fringe, blood-red lipstick and a seductive smile, which has nevertheless proved popular enough to win her a place as spokeswoman for Tsinghua Tongfang, one of the biggest computer producers in China.
The significance of Wu's popularity is that Chinese society is becoming more open. Born in the 1990s, Wu represents a younger generation that is breaking free from the chains of conformity and rejecting mainstream values.
If one medium best represents this change and the thoughts of China's young generation, it is the country's growing rock and indie music scene.
Beijing has become a mecca for young Chinese musicians with dreams of making a career through music, mostly playing in underground venues.
Formed in 2009, Mr Graceless, a Britpop-style band, consists of three 25-year-old men. Zhang Qiushuang, the guitarist and lead singer, and the bassist Yuan Shuai, both graduated from Beijing Jiaotong University with masters in engineering. Yuan works as an engineer and Zhang as a consultant. Drummer Zhao Jiulong, who graduated from Beijing Contemporary Music Academy, teaches children to play the drums.
"We are all going to quit our jobs next year and work full time with the band," Zhang says.
"We all think this is a good chance for us. We want to live once for our own dreams when we are still young. And even if we are not successful, we can restart our careers as engineers or take other professions."
Zhang is from Southwest China's Sichuan province but has been living in Beijing for about six years since college.
In the past, he has always listened to his parents' advice, but this time he is determined to follow his heart.
Most of the songs Zhang writes are buoyant and carefree. One of the band's most popular songs - My Channel - was written when he was a sophomore. "I imagine I am performing on a very nostalgic stage in the university of the 1960s, and many crazy fans show up like Beatlemania. It's a song about fantasy," Zhang says. The Beatles are one of his favorite bands.
In the song Mr Li, Zhang draws an image of his roommate, who was often mocked by other classmates for being too idealistic and clumsy, despite being kind and earnest.
The song Falling, written after breaking up with his girlfriend, took a year to finish because the feelings involved were so raw.
Last year, indie music label Maybe Mars signed the band to record their first album and they went on tour to promote it. The band is lighthearted and optimistic about the future.
"The tour opened my mind, changing my view on the world," says Zhang. "When I went on tour, I realized that there is no need to work and live like everybody and that you can make a living in this way. It's fun, unique and meaningful."
Birdstriking is a younger band, with two members born in 1990 and the other in 1988.
For lead singer and guitarist He Fan, music is a way to vent frustration and talk about life's problems.
"There are so many old people in China," he says. "Young Chinese people are living a depressed life. I cannot say that we are not encouraged to realize our dreams, but it's really hard to actualize your dreams in China. We have so much to worry about: job, marriage and house."
Birdstriking plays punk music and because of the politically sensitive nature, some of their lyrics have been banned from release.
They talk about the difficulties young people face in modern China. In one of the band's songs, Pie Magpie, He imitates the bird's sound and cries out his depression.
"Just like the name of the band, perhaps we consciously or unconsciously want to fight against the powerful machines," He says.
Li Qing, 30, is the guitarist with Snapline, who plays minimalist electronic music. As early as 2001, when Li was a high school student, she was thinking seriously about forming her own band and creating her own music. That thought is what drove her to a Beijing university, so she could experience the city's burgeoning underground music scene.
"Once I am into something, I will always try to find out how it works," she says, from a practice room on the edge of an underground parking lot in downtown Beijing. "I love music thanks to my father, so I try to understand how to create music and I want to write my own songs."
Li trained as an engineer but did not go into that profession. Instead, she took a job at Maybe Mars and played guitar for a band called Carsick Cars, before forming Snapline with bassist Li Weisi in 2005.
Li says she is lucky to be able to pursue her ambitions, having seen many friends give up on theirs over the years due to social pressure.
Li lives a simple life on her savings while the band's two other members, Li Weisi and Chen Xi, work in the IT industry. Asked what the difference is between making music and working, Li Weisi says he feels free when he plays because it is a hobby without the pressures of making a life.
Li is part of a rebellious fringe among China's young generation that is determined to do things their own way in all respects. She says she can't understand why so many people bow to social pressure, whether that means giving up on ambitions to take a steady job or marrying for security or status instead of love.
The band is sure of one thing - they want to make a difference to the social status quo in some way, even if they just make a crack in it like Wu Mochou with her bright lipstick and attitude.
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