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Discover China through Its Rock Bands

China Today, January 23, 2017 Adjust font size:

“If you feel passionate about something, you’ll find the way to it.” This is Eric’s explanation of how he came by all he wanted to know about local music on a Chinese website. He was overwhelmed at the number of young Chinese musicians out there keen to express themselves. Whether in their 20s, 40s or 50s, they acted totally off their own bat in forming bands and writing their own songs. He discovered through them how China’s burgeoning economy and emerging metropolitans collide with long traditions and the great store its citizens set by stable work and food on the table. Having broken out of the conventional mold, the lives of the youth are now infinitely more colorful. Eric couldn’t wait to seek them out in this rapidly developing city and listen to stories about their lives.

On November 24, 2016, the Jessica Stuart Few band, whom Eric manages, performed at DDC in Beijing, kicking off their second China tour. Deng Di

Eric spent his flight back to the U.S. planning how he would bring his music company, Music Dish, to China. It was this that motivated his second trip to Beijing the following year, and his long-term stay thereafter. To make Music Dish more accessible in China, Eric and his team decided on the Chinese name “duli xiaochao,” meaning independent stir-fry, for two reasons. The first is the Chinese people’s deep love of dining. They like talking about food just as the British like talking about the weather. “Stir-fry” is a very popular cooking method across China. The second phrase endorses the first, as Eric found that many music platforms in China, including and, are names of dishes. His hope, therefore, is to serve stir-fried fare to music lovers here.

Delight in Rock from China’s Northeast

Eric stayed. He lived in the 798 Art Zone and frequented live music houses in the houhai bar area. In the course of seven years, his music business has gradually expanded. Eric helps bring western musicians to China. Jessica Steward, earlier mentioned, is a vocalist he has worked with for two years. He released her last two albums in China.

He has also promoted his favorite Chinese bands, among them Secondhand Roses, Hedgehog, NAMO band, and Gemini, and helped them go global. In 2015, Eric brought some of them to play at the Paleo music festival in Switzerland, and also organized Gemini’s performance in Korea.

Among all the indie bands he has worked with and his Chinese friends, most of them northerners, Eric finds he has most in common with people from Dongbei, China’s three northeastern provinces of Liaoning, Jilin, and Heilongjiang. The band Secondhand Rose is a prime example. Eric is a close friend of the lead singer’s. His co-worker, a designer who organizes fashion shows of Chinese-style clothes on the street of NYC, is also a young woman from the city of Shenyang in Liaoning.

“They are hospitable and outgoing. The girl from Dongbei I work with is even more independent than she is beautiful. The way the people there speak reminds me a little of Brooklynese, the dialect of my home district in New York. I want to speak Chinese with a Beijing or Dongbei accent,” Eric declared.

While on the subject, we spoke of the regrettable decline of China’s Northeast, a former hive of heavy industry. “We can only hope they can make a transition. But it takes time. The same goes for the Rust Belt of America, where manufacturing was once the pillar industry. People from places in Middle America, such as Michigan, are nostalgic about the good old days. This is the downside to the modern globalization trend. Progress is always hard, and so is change.”

In 2015, with Eric’s help, the Dongbei rock band Secondhand Rose went to perform at Paleo, a grand music festival in Switzerland. East and West collided head-on when the band members, dressed in Dongbei-style clothes, sang in Chinese to exuberant English- and French-speaking audiences.

To Eric, China’s yaogun (rock ’n roll) differs from western rock music. “It has so many influences from Michael Jackson and other western pop singers… but it’s not just about taking a guitar and doing what is done in the West. It’s reinventing rock with Chinese characteristics. Young and middle-aged performers sing about love, their dreams, and their opinions. The music itself bridges audiences of different cultures.”

For Eric, the contemporary Chinese yaogun inherits the spirit of the first-generation rockers of the 1980s, epitomized by so-called godfather of Chinese rock Cui Jian, and at the same time boldly incorporates folk, heavy metal, punk, Shaanxi Opera, and even the song and dance duets of Northeast China, fusing the best of everything, in a way that could be compared with Beijing Opera.

Eric has been to Shenyang, capital of northeast province of Liaoning, where temperatures often fall below -15 degrees centigrade in winter, and dined there with local friends and their families. He feels at great ease with the outgoing elderly residents of the city. As winter grows colder, the city reminds him more and more of where he grew up.

In January 2016, he promoted the event, “Serve the people, serve the rock” to celebrate 30 years of China’s yaogun. It was held at the China Institute in NY. Eric held an exhibition there of everything he had collected about Chinese rock – CDs, posters, and books – at festivals and concerts. The exhibition gave a glimpse of China in the 1980s, from a rocker’s perspective, and attracted around 200 people.

“I had one friend who came and said to me, ‘I’ve been in America for five years and have been trying to find Chinese events. This is the first time I feel like I’m back in Beijing.’” Eric said that was the biggest compliment he could ever have hoped for.

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