2022, A Year In Transition?
2022 saw a lot of things happening in the Sinophone world: China’s “A4 Revolution”, and the subsequent lifting of the major zero-COVID policies, maybe a reopening of the country to the outside world (who knows?) – but also a surge in COVID infections. 2022 is also the year of the (quasi) reopening of Hong Kong and Taiwan, which means that foreign artists can now tour both islands, and that Hong Kong and Taiwan band can now perform outside their borders after three years of relative isolation. So, as usual, here is my very subjective (and non-exhaustive) review of this year in music, with no particular order (and with some books at the end). If you want a really good review, I strongly suggest Michael Hong’s Top Mandopop and Cantopop albums of 2022, and also Jake Newby’s list of “The best music to come out of China in 2022“. Also: I missed some albums last year, so you might find some 2021 albums in the mix… Anyway first here’s the playlist to guide you:
Wu Wei 吳維 – “The Man on the Atlantic Coast” 大西洋邊上的人 (Wuhan/Portugal)
Of course, I am going to talk about Wu Wei’s new album first. It’s the second solo album of the singer of the legendary Wuhan punk band SMZB. At the time of the recording living in Portugal, Wu Wei offers with this new album a very personal and intimate glimpse at his life outside of China. The punk singer incorporate sounds from Portugal, may it be dogs barking or flamenco (“The Dogs Bark All Night”, “Obrigado”), but maybe the biggest change is the birth of his son, whose cries can be heard in “Bem Vindo”. An exile poet, Wu Wei’s sound is quietly transforming into something new and exciting.
Sheng Xiang Band 生祥樂隊 – “Kafka on the Rivers-and-Lakes” 江湖卡夫卡 (Meinong Dam)
After an album dedicated to Hakka food and a long tour all around Taiwan, Sheng Xiang comes back with a new album, always politically engaged and ironic. The song “江湖卡夫卡” makes fun of Taiwan’s local politics, while the album is as usual written by the Hakka writer and poet Chung Yung Feng.
SPIT! – “SPIT!” (Taiwan)
The first album of the hardcore band from Taipei SPIT!, formed in 2016 and recently joined by the singer Tina and the legendary guitarist Vince Chang, from Touming Magazine. 18 minutes of power violence by a hardcore supergroup, with members coming from Selfish Sucker or Stench of Lust. I warmly recommend their live performances.
My Little Airport – “跟你開玩笑” (Kowloon)
As always, the Hong Kong legendary anti-folk band My Little Airport captures the city’s zeitgest as no one else. Can we still make jokes in Hong Kong anymore?
Wasted Laika 丟萊卡 – “走神的衛星” (Beijing Wudaoying Hutong)
Technically an album from 2021, but it’s one of the album I listened to the most this year. The languishing spleen oozing from of this post-indie-punk band from Beijing makes me want to buy a can of Yanjing at the 7/11 near Yonghegong at 2AM on a cold December night after a show at the School Bar. But Beijing is closed and the guys from Wasted Laika are walking on the frosted streets alone.
C.S.B.Q – “年轻的朋友你要去向哪” (Changsha暴青)
The worthy successors of SMZB, the Changsha band C.S.B.Q is again proving that they may be Chinese punk’s best hope. After the working class/COVID tinted album “未来的宝藏”, C.S.B.Q offers with this new album in reference to T.S. Eliot another glimpse into youth’s despair and rebellion in China.
Wang Wen 惘闻 – “Painful Clown & Ninja Tiger” (Dalian & also a bit of Shijiazhuang)
Jake Newby already talked about it in his incredible newsletter “Concrete Avalanche“(subscribe if you haven’t already done it). The post-rock instrumental heroes from Dalian are back with an album… with lyrics for the first time. Jake Newby is pointing out the influence of another legend from Northern China, Omnipotent Youth Society who released a new album two years ago. Another masterpiece from Wang Wen (especially “There’s a Walmart Underneath the Olympic Square”, a very 萬青 title).
Lo Ta-yu 羅大佑 – “安可曲” (Taipei 不是我的家)
After Cui Jian last year, it’s Lo Ta-yu’s turn to release a new album, this time full of covers and references to jazz classics from the US or Japan. The album was released exclusively in vinyl (but you can still stream it).
Casino Demon 赌鬼乐队 – “City Life Sucks” (Beijing City Life Sucks)
Casino Demon, the Beijing indie-punk veterans, prove once again that they are still full of dark humor and catchy songs. “I have lost so many things already / Even parts of my body”.
The Admonished Trio 孝顺一族 – “孝顺一族” (Taipei 地下社會)
A first album for the Taipei punk trio formed in 2021, including the ex-guitarist of Wayne’s So Sad, Liu Wei (who previously formed another band called 勝利一族). Liu Wei is also known for his melancholy and his addiction to alcohol, as mentioned in this article by HK01, “The rocker always drunk” (總是喝醉的Rocker). 孝顺一族 wins the medal of the best band name without contest.
MC Hotdog MC熱狗 – “Mr. Yao’s 8th Grade Syndrome” 姚中二 (差不多 Taipei)
After being on The Rap of China’s jury and touring with the Higher Brothers and 小老虎 for “The Next Big Thing”, the Taipei legendary MC comes back to Taiwan with an album full of bangers, tackling as usual Taiwan’s school and family pressure (“白老鼠”), and the Taiwanese rap game (“除了說唱我什麼都不會”). But this time, MC Hotdog deserts young Taiwan girls (the famous but controversial “我愛台妹“) for Taiwan aunties (“阿姨”).
Elephant Gym 大象體操 – “Dreams” (Kaohsiung)
The Math-rock trio from Kaohsiung released in 2022 their new and best album, “Dreams”, with the collaboration of many great Taiwan musicians, as 9m88 and Sheng Xiang. The definitive sound from Southern Taiwan.
The Chairs 椅子樂團 – “Shangri La is Calling” (Retro Taiwan)
We stay in Southern Taiwan with The Chairs. Like a clockwork band, they release an album every two years, and as always in this 2022 album The Chairs are mixing 60’s pop and psychedelic rock in what constitutes one of their best efforts to date. Only one song in Hoklo (“輕聲細語”) alas.
The White Papers 白皮書 – “慌張的馬” (Beijing Universities Dorms)
Only 4 tracks in the new EP of the Beijing post-punk sensation, can’t wait for a new album in 2023 (I hope).
Sound Fragment 声音碎片 – “有限身 无穷念” (PRC)
The veteran indie-rockers are back with an hypnotic album mixing electro and indie rock.
Hedgehog 刺蝟 – “烏鴉谷 – 暈暈眾生,命命相連” (Beijing D22)
The ninth album of the Stakhanovites of Beijing indie rock. They try in this new album a more experimental sound. The drummer Atom is also experimenting on her own, with a song, “殺生“, released on her Bandcamp account.
Jay Chou 周杰倫 – “Greatest Works of Art” 最偉大的作品 (Taipei/Paris for tourists)
Maybe not Jay Chou’s best album, but surely the most Parisian. And maybe the most annoying if, like me, you’re a Parisian.
Hualun 花伦 – “Wuhan Wuhan” (Wuhan – obviously)
Another album from 2021 that I got my hands on pretty recently. This OST was composed for the documentary “Wuhan Wuhan”, and departs from the post-punk band usual sound to capture the sonic atmosphere of the martyred city, the people’s despair and hope at the same time. A beautiful album.
Heteropod Buddha 地藏喇牙 – Demo (Taiwan/Galicia)
The first demo of the Taipei crust punk/d beat band Heteropod Buddha. Angry, anti-capitalist, anti-fascist and anti-war – what else do you need? Catch their live performances in Taipei and around.
Wellsaid – “Lurking” (Hong Kong)
After a first EP in 2017, the indie-rock band Wellsaid is back in 2022 with a very interesting new album, written in the midst of a global pandemic, after multiple line-up changes. Unite Asia published a superb review of this new album here. Don’t hesitate to support the band on their Bandcamp, it’s not an easy time for Hong Kong indie-rock bands.
Curry 3000 咖哩3000 – 再美的旋律不过是撩拨你的借口 (Beijing Scream Club)
A new album by the pop-punk supergroup Curry 3000, after their first EP in 2020. The band is composed of Da Wangzi of The Human Centipede 人体蜈蚣, Li Peng from Reflector 反光镜, Jiang Han from Mr. Sea Turtle 海龟先生 and Hayato from New Pants 新裤子. If their first EP was very fast-punk, this new album is much more pop-punk and under the influence of Li Peng from Reflector – the song “再美的旋律不过是撩拨你的借口” can only be described as 小清新流行朋克 (yes I just invented a new genre, what are you going to do?) in the sound and the scenography of the MV (we need to talk about the representation of 7/11 in Chinese MVs). I thus recommend listening to their first EP, and in particular “All In For Freedom”.
Jun Xiao 肖骏 – “Atypical Airship” (Beijing Blue Note)
I don’t usually talk about jazz, but in this case I will make an exception for Jun Xiao, a young jazz guitar player – the first Chinese artist to release an album with Blue Note. After a first album recorded in New York in 2017, Jun Xiao – who has a Master’s degree from SUNY and is now a jazz professor at the Nanjing University of Arts – released a new jazz-experimental album this year. Hua Dong, the lead singer of Re-Tros, sings on the first track “Drown Into Deep Down”, while Leah Dou, the daughter of Dou Wei and Faye Wong, collaborates on “Somberton”.
SADOG – “10th Anniversary” 十週年 (Taoyuan)
The punk-blues trio from Taoyuan released this year their second full-length album for their 10th year anniversary, after countless demos and even a short musical film, 奧少年 Shabby Boyz.
Reversing Into Garage 倒車入庫 – “苦中作愛” (Taipei Parking)
Another trio, this time from Taipei, playing punk-garage songs with depressing titles (「朋友的朋友自殺前的日記」”The diary of a friend of a friend before committing suicide”) or humorous ones (「交流道旁的檳榔攤」”The betel nut stand next to the exchange road”).
Xiaowang 小王 – “Kachakacha” 咔嚓咔嚓 (DIY Beijing)
Finally, the first album of the all-female punk band Xiaowang. Jake Newby talked about the release of their album, recorded independently in Yiwu in his newsletter. Maybe the worthy successors of Hang On The Box and SUBS, with a hint of Hiperson in several songs (“睡覺吧”). The album is almost accessible outside of China (it is listed on Apple Music China), and has the best cover of the year.
Nathanel Amar – Scream for Life. L’invention d’une contre-culture punk en Chine populaire (Presses Universitaires de Rennes)
2022, it’s also the year I released my first book, on the invention of a punk subculture in China, which consists of an ethnography of the punk community, mostly in Wuhan and Beijing. I’m really happy to finally share it with the world, in it I discuss the history of the punk subculture in relation to other Chinese counter-cultural communities, the way Chinese punks have opened and maintained spaces to perform and socialize, or the message of truth conveyed in their lyrics… I also translated a lot of songs, and gave a pretty long discography at the end of the book. If you read French, you can get a copy here. If you don’t, you can still get a copy, but you might not understand. But I also write a lot of stuff in English (most of it on Open Access), you can check it out here.
Adam Kielman – Sonic Mobilities. Producing Worlds in Southern China (University of Chicago Press)
A very good book written by Adam Kielman on two bands from Southern China, Mabang 馬幫 and Toy Captain 玩具船長. The author, also a musician, joined the two bands during his PhD fieldwork and brought back a lot of fascinating observations of the two bands “who sing in dialects no one understands” (Guiliuhua for Mabang and a specific Hoklo language for Toy Captain).
Meredith Schweig – Renegade Rhymes. Rap Music, Narrative, and Knowledge in Taiwan (University of Chicago Press)
Another excellent book published by the University of Chicago Press, written by Meredith Schweig on Taiwan rap culture. The author has spent a lot of time researching the Taiwan hip-hop community in the early 2010s. Schweig mostly analyzes overtly political artists as Dwagie, but the story is fascinating from beginning to end. A must-read for anyone interested in Taiwan and hip-hop!
Nancy Guy (ed.) – Resounding Taiwan: Musical Reverberation Across a Vibrant Island (Routledge)
A collective book on Taiwan sound and music, from music under Japanese colonial rule to garbage truck annoying (but useful) music. I reviewed it (among other books) here.