Are China’s aging rockers nothing more than a relic of the past?

Source:Global Times Published: 2016/9/27 19:28:39

Tang Dynasty frontman Ding Wu performs on stage in Chengdu, Sichuan Province in October 2013. Photo: IC

Chinese rock band Tang Dynasty had a tough time this week as their first show in 16 years on Central China Television has been widely dubbed "a disaster" by netizens, including their own fans.

The concert's problems were many. For instance, the song "Dream Back to Tang Dynasty" was shortened from seven minutes to four, band frontman Ding Wu's guitar could barely be heard due to sound issues and the overall volume of the concert was turned so low that the live band completely lost its earsplitting power.

In addition to these unforeseen technical difficulties, Ding's voice seemed to have lost the power of his youth as his singing came across as strained and out of tune, while his iconic high pitched voice was completely missing from the concert.

If the concert achieved anything, it was making rock fans realize that their spiritual leaders have started aging.

Nostalgic lens

So far the discussion about the concert seems to be swinging between the "terribleness" of the live performance and "lingering nostalgic feelings."

Three days after the show, Ding wrote a blog post on Sina Weibo attributing the poor performance to his physical condition and stating that the band never thought it would one day play in the name of "nostalgic feelings."

This is not the first time that a Chinese rock legend has found themselves in this type of awkward situation.

To commemorate the 30th anniversary of a performance by Chinese rock icon Cui Jian, which is widely seen as rock'n'roll's introduction to mainstream audiences in China, several of China's pioneering rock legends have been invited to perform at various events this year.

However, these live performances have not lived up to audience expectations.

Earlier in this year, singer Wang Yang (better known as Lao Lang) invited eight Chinese rock pioneers to perform during the final night of I Am a Singer, a TV reality show. The audience reaction to the show was mixed.

"The real embarrassing thing for Tang Dynasty and other early rockers lies in the misunderstandings that have crept up between them and their fans, which is already irreversible," music critic Ashui commented in an article he wrote for thepaper.cn.

In the article, Ashui pointed out that age is actually not a factor because rock'n'roll requires little precision. For instance, some Western rockers that are getting along in years such as The Rolling Stones, Metallica and Muse are still able to present high-quality live performances even though they can't perform their old songs as perfectly as they did in their youth.

In his article on Sina Weibo, Ding told fans that, "you always define our generation through the lens of nostalgia."

According to Ashui, this comes across as placing blame for the poor performance on the fans, and is a prime example of the lack of understanding that exists between rockers and their fans.

Ready for retirement?

Tang Dynasty is just one example of a broader phenomenon. Nearly all of China's first generation of rockers, such as Hei Bao (Black Panther) and Magic Stone Music's big three stars (Dou Wei, Zhang Chu and He Yong), are seeing their careers fall into decline.

"Chinese rock music over these past 30 years has developed so fast that it's a little bit out of step with current social movements," music critic Dadi pointed out in an article posted on the WeChat account of music company Daxiang Music.

Dadi further explained that every movement in the UK and US' rock history has shown that they are always closely linked to social changes, but in the Chinese mainland, except for a brief period in the 1980s, there are almost no clues that can explain the popularity of Chinese rock.

While the current domination of folk songs and young pop idols seems to indicate that the golden age of Chinese rock has passed, some rock fans are still holding out hope.

"When I saw those middle-aged guys shouting out the lyrics to 'Dream Back to Tang Dynasty' as enthusiastically as when they were young, I cried my eyes out," reporter Zhang Ying wrote about Tang Dynasty's performance in an article for Qilu Evening News.

"Chinese rock'n'roll is not beyond saving yet. It's just waiting for another spring. Perhaps it's already on the way to a new era," Zhang wrote.

China's earliest rockers

Cui Jian: father of Chinese rock

Dou Wei: former member of rock band Hei Bao (Black Panther)

He Yong: particularly active in the 1980s-90s,  with Garbage Dump his only album

Luo Qi: former member of band Zhinanzhen (Compass) before going solo

Wang Feng: founder and lead vocalist of rock band No. 43 Baojia Street

Wang Yong: well known as a keyboarder and guzheng player

Xie Tianxiao: lead singer of band Cold-blooded Animal

Xu Wei: rocker that later took a pop turn

Zhang Chu: well-known as "the loneliest singer-poet," has not released a new album since 1997

Zang Tianshuo: the once representative rock singer was jailed in 2008 for inciting violence

Zheng Jun: achieved overnight success after releasing his first album Naked in 1994


Newspaper headline: Rock’n’chair?


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