The Rise of Metal

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A short but well written article about the uprising movement of chinese metal scene. based on an interview with Yang Yu of and Painkiller Magazine. BTW, GOU FU MAO is the chinese name of Irish journalist Mark Godfrey.

General information

Author Mark Godfrey
English title The Rise of Metal
Publication Beijing Review
Date of publication 2009 exactly on 2009/08/13
Original URL The original article was posted on

Entities mentioned

In this article, especially the following entities (bands, artists, cities, articles, etc.) are being called out:

Painkiller Heavy Music Magazine

Keywords & Genre

The following keywords / genres apply for this article:

Report, Metal


A short but well written article about the uprising movement of chinese metal scene. based on an interview with Yang Yu of and Painkiller Magazine. BTW, GOU FU MAO is the chinese name of Irish journalist Mark Godfrey.

2009 on Beijing Review Magazine, VOL. 52 issue NO. 32, AUGUST 13, 2009

Full Text

The Rise of Metal


Someone I turn to a lot for direction on Chinese rock music is also an unlikely spokesman for the scene within a music scene that is Chinese heavy metal.

Since first meeting him a few years ago on one of those smoky Friday nights of live rock at the 13 Club in Beijing's Wudaokou university district, I've learned from Yu Yang how Chinese metal fans are most vociferous and loyal as China slowly embraces alternative and rock music.

Yu is the quality control man on a burgeoning Chinese alternative music scene. Even remote Chinese cities today have a proliferation of rock bands. Quality control is only lately kicking in, however. He's also an inspirational character, dressed like a Chinese college lecturer or office worker who built the most comprehensive Web portal there is on Chinese rock,

He doesn't dress for his part in a music scene that's as much about appearances as it is about sounding like Western guitar gods. But this multilingual 30-something is encyclopedic as much as he's discerning in his knowledge of the music. His Rockinchina blog turned into a website and a virtual rock n 'roll handbook, created as a labor of love and referenced by everyone interested in local music.

Yu is proud that the best-selling gig in the past year at Star Live, Beijing's top rock club in terms of capacity and facilities, was Lacrimosa, a Swedish symphonic metal outfit, the kind of band unknown to non-connoisseurs. But the band still outsold bigger and more mainstream names that have also booked the venue.

How did he do it? By knowing his audience and selling it hard. It helps that he runs Painkiller, the best-selling but not the only magazine serving China's metal music fans.

The ability to know his audience and muster it for concerts allows Yu to pay the band's travel costs, give the venue its cut, and still take a modest profit.

This, alas, is not the norm for rock acts touring China, which, given the increasing prosperity of its huge population, has emerged as a realistic market for many overseas acts. China's rock promoters typically overbook or undersell: They hire venues whose scale flatters the foreign band's local following. Too few tickets sold means there's nothing to pay the band.

Tales abound in the Beijing rock scene of backpedaling and post-gig bargaining with local venues on a price previously agreed. It's an ugly scene that surfaced when a well-known New York punk band, NOFX, diverted its gear to Beijing for an extended leg on its Asian tour, only to finish the (very well attended) gig to find that the local promoter had no money to offer. Ticket sales, it argued, had underperformed.

It's perhaps easier that Yu mostly concentrates on heavy metal, a micro-scene of the Chinese music scene, which is itself a microcosm in the shadows of massive Chinese pop and classical music industries. While local alternative music magazines like So Rock (published out of Shijiazhuang, capital of Hebei province) fill out their pages with translations from UK and U.S. rock publications, it's rare indeed to find copy on Chinese acts in Western magazines. There are a few, like Carsick Cars, and White, experimental art rock and electronica outfits respectively, which make the overseas music press.

Chinese rock is often over-praised by so many overenthusiastic foreign photographers and students who crowd the front of average gigs, clicking and applauding mediocre stuff. Not to be negative about this fan base—they encourage artists who get comparatively little encouragement locally—but the breathless stuff sometimes written in the local expat press about Chinese rock music suggests we live in New York City's last village of the 1970s.

In reality the scene is far more about appearance than substance. There's a lot of image: Local rock stars spend as much time studying photos of rockers like rakish British rocker Pete Doherty as they do his music. Hats, pants and hairdos are done with one eye on the mirror and the other on the New Musical Express, the UK-based bible of indie music.

Amid all the fawning, I find in Yu someone who knows the potential and the limits in China's rock scene. His own tastes are very niche. Through his magazine and promotion company, Painkiller, Yu has made a viable if modest business out of metal.

Given that there's the language barrier between incoming fans and locals we could use more bi-linguists like him and his website. The critics who are most worth reading are, of course, local but if you're a passing foreign fan or critic you can't read them.

When you see big brands like shoemaker Converse reaching young Chinese by buying the approval of local rock banks, you'd figure rock music is China's future sound. Perhaps, but we need some Yu-like realists to guide the way.

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