Alternative Chinese bands

A few weeks ago I wrote about my favourite Chinese tv shows. Today is the turn of my favourite Chinese bands! Well, maybe I wouldn’t even need to add the adjective Chinese. These are some bands I love, and they happen to be Chinese. I know that when people think about contemporary Chinese music they think about sugary Mandopop, but that’s not what you will find here. Scratch under the surface of Xiao Pingguos and singing contests and you will find a lot of interesting bands in China.

Hanggai 杭盖

Genre: folk rock

They have to be the first on my list! One day in April 2008 I went with some friends to a tiny Mongolian bar next to Gulou, in Beijing. There was a band playing. They were amazing and I bought their demo. That band was Hanggai and today they are one of the most international Chinese bands, as they play regularly in festivals all over the world. They even played in my hometown in Spain, where every year there is an ethnic music festival. Unfortunately I was in China, if not I would have tried to be their private guide, haha. I have seen them live 5 or 6 times, in Beijing, Shanghai and Suzhou. They mix traditional Mongolian music (including throat singing) with rock and metal.

It’s very hard for me to choose only one song from them to include in this article, but I have to do it. I’ll put Xiger Xiger because this video is cool. Note: throat singing is what the extremely cute horse-head fiddle player starts doing at 3:30.


Omnipotent Youth Society 万能青年旅店

Genre: alternative rock

I knew this band through C. Their self titled album from 2010 is very popular among alternative Chinese more or less my age and a bit younger and the audience goes crazy in their gigs. I saw them live in Shanghai’s Strawberry Festival in 2013. They sound better in the albums than live and they seem to be in a bit of a creative rut, as they didn’t release many new things after the 2010 album, but they still deserve to be in my list because that album is frigging amazing. Check the following song and wait for the “high” that starts at 1:10. Love that trumpet.


Wang Wen 惘闻

Genre: post rock

There was a time, during my first couple of years in Beijing, when I thought Chinese bands couldn’t properly play. Ten years ago, too many bands in the Beijing underground scene were rich kids with expensive instruments that were wasted in their hands. Then I listened to Wang Wen. I finally saw them live in Suzhou last year. C. used to be a singer so he’s not a big fan of post rock. He got bored and went outside to chat with his friends. I was nailed in front of the stage for the two hours. They were incredible.


– Queen Sea Big Shark 后海大鲨鱼

Genre: indie rock

I haven’t been listening to them all I should have, but they’re fun and party appropriate and I recommend them. They are from Beijing and also have songs in English. I only saw them live once in Shanghai, 6 years ago. This video is very interesting.


Island Mood 岛屿心情

Genre: alternative rock

They are not a new band but I heard them for the first time only a couple of months ago. Not all of their songs are in Youtube, so I would suggest going to their Douban (kind of like a Chinese bandcamp). My favourite song is the third one, 斯坦. That one is not in Youtube so I chose another one below.


Chinese Football

Genre: emo, math rock, softcore

My latest discovery! I think one of their songs popped out in Xiami (like the Chinese Spotify) one day. The band’s name is only in English but they sing in Chinese. All of the songs have to do with football! I had to laugh when I saw the title of one of them: 世界悲, which would mean something like “world sadness” and it is a homophone of 世界杯 “world cup”. I think everybody knows how hopeless Chinese soccer fans are about their national team, hahaha. Ah, they are also on Bandcamp.


And I think that’s enough for the moment. If you want to listen to more Chinese bands you can try Xiami (I think it only works in China, though). There is a website and an app. You can search for a tag like 中国摇滚 Chinese rock and many songs will appear. Douban is also a good resource, but when you already have a band in mind and want to listen to more songs. And if you can’t read Chinese, many bands can also be found in Youtube.


I am always interested in listening to new music! Any band you can recommend, Chinese or not?