2018 in Music: a Shortlist
2018 was an interesting and eventful year for Chinese music. The so-called « hip-hop ban », Freddy Lim and his band Chthonic banned from entering Hong Kong for a festival organized by Denise Ho, the Lil Pump scandal… But 2018 was also a year of intense musical creation. So what to retain from 2018 in music? With no particular order, here is a list of songs, albums and events I wish to remember:
Demerit, Out of the Fog (过失, 走出迷雾), Maybe Mars
Ten years! Ten years since Demerit first album, Bastards of the Nation, released in 2008, just before the Olympics. We waited ten years, but Spike, the singer, did not rest. He opened the “DMC”, a punk bar in Tongzhou, organized several music festival there (or I should say “fucktivals”), moved back to Qingdao and opened a new DMC. After a tour in the US, Demerit came back to tour China with their new album, 10 angry tracks and new musical influences. “The boys are coming back” indeed!
Wutiaoren, Stories (五条人, 故事会), Modern Sky
The “five guys”, who are in fact four, came back this year with an album inspired by old cantopop and Hong Kong movies. One of the best Chinese folk band, from Haifeng in the Guangdong province, who sing in dialect – the Haifeng hua is close to the Fujian dialect. Lots of great songs in the new album “故事会”, full of humor and cynical political comments.
2018 is unfortunately the year of the extension of the Chinese concentration system in Xinjiang. Reports have showed the extent of the “reeducation” program that affects roughly 10% of the Uyghur population. Among famous Uyghur being detained right now, a lot of singers, artists and musicians, as Ablajan, the “Justin Bieber of Xinjiang”. Here is a song from 2016, “Dear Teacher” on the importance of education for young Uyghur children. Let’s hope that 2019 will be the year of the release of all detained Uyghurs, Kazakhs or Kyrgyz.
Chthonic, Battlefields of Asura (閃靈, 政治)
Chthonic is without any doubt the most radical Taiwanese band. Not because their latest album is called (in Chinese) “politics” (“政治”), not because the lead singer is an elected member of the Legislative Yuan since 2016, or because they were barred from entering Hong Kong for a festival organized by their friend Denise Ho, or because the Hong Kong journal HK01 stated that it is “consistently opposed to Taiwan independence” in an interview with the singer Freddy Lim. But because their music is powerful mix of black metal with Taiwanese indigenous influences. Their song “Millennia’s Faith Undone Official”, featuring Denise Ho, is beautiful:
Struggle Session, 2016-2018 Discography
After touring pretty much the entire world with their 1mn hardcore songs, the Beijing “brutally fun fastcore” band Struggle Session is back with a complete discography, from 2016 to 2018, with epic songs like “Fuck You! This is Hardcore”. And yes, fuck you, this is hardcore.
Underdog (败犬乐队), EP
The ska/punk superband Underdog, composed of the singer ChaCha, the bassist Lao Ma from SMZB and the handsome drummer Guan Zheng (from Joyside, Casino Demon, etc.), released this year their first E.P., six powerful ska songs – and even a cover from the Pulp Fiction soundtrack. “无知是一种保佑” (“Ignorance is Bliss”) is one of my favorite track:
After After Party
My favorite discovery of 2018, the Hong Kong crazy punk band After After Party with its catchy and humorous songs like “I’m Late” (on being late on your periods) or “Selfie 101”. They rocked the (too) peaceful Clockenflap festival this year with a (too) early concert. I hope to see an album someday .
PK14, What We Talk When We Talk About His Name (當我們談論他的名字時我們在談論什麼), Maybe Mars
It is always an event when PK14 release a new album. The godfathers of Chinese post-punk released their new album at the end of the year, so we still need some time to absorb the poetic songs written by Yang Haisong. As always, PK14 delivers powerful and elaborated songs, sublimated by the croaky voice of Yang Haisong.
P-Town (皮痛), 不要忘记复仇
I waited a long time to listen to another album from the punk band P-Town from Hefei in Anhui province. I always admired their mix of hardcore and nu-metal, and their powerful songs that show a strong defiance against all authorities. In this new album, P-Town don’t sugar-coat their critics of the Chinese social system and the familial pressure. The song “Home Hell” (家庭地狱) is a good example of P-Town unique style.
88rising, Head in the Clouds, 88rising
The new project from the 88rising label, featuring the Higher Brothers, Rich Brian, Joji, etc. Some songs are so catchy, they will be stay in your head for weeks. Especially when the Higher Brothers are involved (“Swimming Pool”, “Let It Go”, “Red Rubies”…).
Kris Wu, Antares, Universal
After “Do you have freestyle” and “Skr”, Kris Wu HAD to be in this list. And Ariana Grande was pissed off at Kris Wu because his Chinese fans used VPNs to buy his album, allowing him to dominate the US charts.
my little airport, 你說之後會找我 (you said we’d be back), 维港唱片
The ninth studio album of the Hong Kong lo-fi indie duo. Nicole and 阿p are back with popy nostalgic songs in Cantonese that make you want to take Polaroid photographs while sipping an organic latte in Tsim Tsa Tsui. Always extremely popular in Hong Kong or in China, their concerts are fully booked weeks (or months) in advance. Four years after the Umbrella movement, Hong Kong political indie pop is still thriving.
David Boring, Unnatural Objects and Their Humans, StreetVoice
Ok, the album of the most promising post-punk band from Hong Kong was released in 2017 and not in 2018. But I’d like to emphasize once again the quality of this post-Umbrella band and its importance for the Hong Kong underground.
Wang Wen (惘闻), Invisible City, Pelagic Records
Wang Wen is a progressive rock band from Dalian, formed in 1999 by the guitarist Xie Yugang. They have released over the years more than sixteen albums, and collaborated with equally talented musicians like Serge Teyssot-Gay or Yang Haisong from PK14. This last album is wonderful, like everything they do. As they stated on their website, “[Wang Wen] turned around suddenly and switched their attention from the zeitgeist to where people actually live, hence the new album Invisible City, consist of eight relatively short but exquisite songs” (“short” means 8 minutes).
Lil Pump is not really on this list, let’s say I’d like to emphasize the reactions on the Chinese hip-hop community. After Lil Pump racist song, virtually all the Chinese rappers released a diss track, including our friends backed by the Communist Youth League CD-Rev, but also PG One, whom we lost after the hip-hop ban in January 2018 (see below). A discreet return:
The “Hip-Hop Ban” (courtesy of the Communist Youth League)
2018 was the year of the infamous “Hip-Hop Ban”, when the State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television allegedly stated that rappers couldn’t appear anymore on TV. The “ban” started with an old PG-One song, “Christmas Eve” (圣诞夜), accused of being sexist and promoting drug use (“Today we can go to my place, take some powder and have some fun […] Bitches, you should all come live with me / Show me your booty, dressed up like a reindeer / I climb on top of them and drain my tank, while singing Jingle Bells”) by the Communist Youth League in a Weibo post. That’s why PG-One infamous song made it to the list this year:
SUBS, Super Universe Baby Scream
A best-of in form of a 12′ vinyl from the legendary punk band SUBS, led by the Wuhan-born singer Kang Mao. A good opportunity to listen to some classic tunes, like “Down” or “Brother”.
继续嚎叫, Keep Screaming
A compilation of the last 20 years of Chinese punk-rock in a box including several 12′ vinyls. Unfortunately, some choices are quite unfortunate, like the absence of Reflector (反光镜) – even if we don’t like the band, they were part of the Wuliao Jundui. This best-of allows me also to include a song by SMZB, “Dancing in the Punk Rock Music”, the third track of the album. Yes, it was a sad year since SMZB didn’t release any album, but 2019 will undoubtedly be the comeback of the boys from Wuhan.
Chinese Dream, 中国梦
2018 ended with Hou Dejian (侯德健), the famous Taiwanese rock star, composing the new song praising Xi Jinping’s thought, “Chinese Dream” (“中国梦”). Hou Dejian is best known for his 1978 hit, “Descendants of the Dragon” (“龙的传人”), and his participation to the Tian’anmen demonstrations in 1989 – he stayed on the square with Liu Xiaobo until June 4th, trying to negotiate with the authorities a peaceful retreat. 30 years later, his song is was covered by Wang Leehom, a famous taiwano-american popstar, and was quoted by Xi Jinping during the presidential visit of Donald Trump in 2017. A sad but unsurprising turn of event for the Taiwanese rock star. But we all know that there is only one song called “China Dream”, and it was released by SMZB in 2004:
Second Hand Rose, Birth to Bloom (二手玫瑰, 我要开花)
The new album of one of the most well known rock band from China. Formed in 2000 by the Heilongjiang-born singer Liang Long, Second Hand Rose’s sound is a skillful mix of rock and Dongbei traditional music and opera. This new album is in line with the previous ones: if you already love Second Hand Rose, you will love “Birth to Bloom”, which contains songs previously recorded for the romantic comedy “Miss Puff” (“泡芙小姐” – the song is definitely better than the movie).