Soundtrack Spring Break With These 10 Hot Music Releases From China

With Spring Break just over the horizon, we’ve rounded up some epic new Chinese music to get your blood pumping — from metal and punk to lo-fi indie pop vibes

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4:49 AM HKT, Tue March 7, 2023 4 mins read

New Music is a monthly RADII column that looks at fresh Chinese music spanning hip hop to folk to modern experimental, and everything in between. This month, we introduce you to new offerings from Tassi, Agoraphobia, Absolute Purity, and more!

The Year of the Rabbit is off to a lively start, with fresh Chinese music releases coming in left and right as labels and bands try to make their mark early.

Judging by the sounds we’ve heard so far, rock ‘n’ roll is alive and well, from the woozy psychedelic high of Canned Dream’s latest to the rustic, old-school charm of newcomers Nanqing. Better yet, the experimental scene in China has found its way into the minds and ears of listeners outside of the country, with labels like WV Sorcerer and Dusty Ballz leading the way.

So before the spring comes calling, let’s dip into some of the stellar new releases the first two months of the year have brought us.

1. Canned Dream (谷水车间) — Family (家庭)

One of Shanghai’s most delightfully strange and beguiling acts returns — albeit with a new name, Canned Dream, and an abridged lineup (frontwomen A Re remains the core).

While the band’s psychedelic clockwork of noise rock anarchy, spacey strawberry-tainted melodies, and bewitching siren-like vocals remain intact, their newest endeavor, titled Family, takes on a more freewheeling acid jazz veneer, dipping its already woozy sound into new cosmic realms.

A boisterous off-kilter romp introspection of family in all its messiness (from A Re’s sister’s newfound Christian faith to her grandma’s death), Canned Dream may overwhelm unseasoned listeners. Still, for those willing to get on their wavelength, you’re in for a treat. Watch the music video for the single ‘Grandma’s Funeral’ below:

2. Nanqing (南青乐队) — 散财童子

Nanqing — the young four-piece Henan band whose crusty classic rock ‘n’ roll sound pogos between grunge-infused breakdowns and gruff-voiced folk ballads — return with their latest album, 散财童子.

Far from the Kurt Cobain imitators of the past and much like the grunge genre itself, you can trace the band’s influences back to blues, ’70s psych, and classic rock in all its glory. Better yet, you can hear remnants of the golden years of Chinese rock, both in its lyrical richness and guitar rock swagger.

3. Chunyang Yao (姚春旸) — Post-Oblivion (泯默集)

Multidisciplinary creative Chunyang Yao, an artist from the Naxi ethnic minority in the Southwest China city of Lijiang, finds commonality with the Ainu indigenous people of Hokkaido, Japan. Yao merges the two ethnic minorities’ cultures, sounds, and struggles to survive on the ‘margin of modernity’ in her latest effort, Post-Oblivion (泯默集), released by London-based label Dusty Ballz.

The album’s first half showcases the artists’ almost sociological melding of field recordings, analog synth drone, and bewitching vocals, distorting and subverting musical cues recorded from Hokkaido’s natural soundscape. In contrast, the second half is a haunting and mesmerizing long-form improvisation of voice, noise samples, and synthesizers, leading listeners deeper into an entanglement of oblivion.

4. Li Hongqi and Yang Haisong (李红旗和杨海崧 ) — ‘Noise Concerto for Violin and Guitar’

Over the past six months, post-punk godfather Yang Haisong has quietly released a collection of atmospheric albums under the small Beijing label Share the Obstacles, pushing the renowned artist’s avant-garde sensibilities to the forefront.

Combining his poetic prose with ambient, experimental, and noise music, his latest release — aptly titled ‘Noise Concerto for Violin and Guitar’ — teams him up with cult independent film director Li Hongqi. While the former’s weapon of choice is guitar and theremin, the latter turns up the dissonance via a violin — a suitable counterpart to Yang’s shrieking guitars, cosmic theremin noodling, and deadpan musings which pad out the nearly hour-long sonic excursion.

5. Agoraphobia (广场恐惧症) — 赤纯心

After quietly but steadily keeping busy behind the scenes, Beijing’s Agoraphobia returns with a two-track EP titled 赤纯心. This is their first EP since the band was formed in 2012.

Employing a combustible noise rock sound that’s scrappy, tender, and volatile all at once — there’s an earnest youthful enthusiasm to their sound that’s immediately endearing. With strong emo rock and indie pop shades, their melodies find ways to embed genuine emotion while elevating them with some elegant and thrilling guitar hooks.

6. Return the Truth — ‘Live To Die’ (‘向死而生’)

Long-standing Beijing hardcore act Return the Truth pays tribute to the diehard scene in China and worldwide (H.C.W.W) in their new track ‘Live To Die.’

In true punk fashion, the video features a murderers’ row of cameos from the global punk community, including King Ly Chee from Hong Kong, Shenzhen’s What A Beautiful Day, Beijing’s Hell City, School Bar head honcho Liu Hao (of Casino Demon and Joyside), and even Machine Gun Mike out of the U.S.

7. Palms — ‘路口’

Lo-fi Qingdao indie pop duo Palms, featuring Kram and Xiao Zhou, are prepping for the release of their debut with SJ Records.

Woozy, jangly indie music that captures a sense of fleeting youth with sincerity and wonder, their new single ‘路口’ aptly captures that introspection of time without imparting a mid-life sense of despair nor a declaration of forever young.

The DIY music video, meanwhile, unfolds like a long-lost VHS tape found in the dust-cover shelves of an abandoned KTV parlor.

8. otay:onii — Dream Hacker (夢之駭客)

Zhejiang-born, Berklee-educated singer and producer Lane Shi, aka otay:onii, has been causing a stir in indie music circles here and abroad with her boundary-pushing industrial pop music, which some have described as “Industrial Bjork meets Chinese folk music.” (One hell of a combo, if you ask us.)

On her latest, Dream Hacker, released with WV Sorcerer Productions, she hones in her noise and improv tendencies, instead focusing on a more “infectious ballad-oriented narrative,” as described on Bandcamp.

Don’t be fooled, though: Shi, who cut her teeth with acts like Dent and Elizabeth Colour Wheel in the U.S., waves her freak flag proudly — canvassing across distorted and visceral electronic soundscapes and bilingual lyrics that showcase her unique vocal intonations and themes of self.

9. Absolute Purity 绝对纯洁 — ‘Crime Fiction’ MV

Anxious, whimsical, and potent in its delivery, Shanghai dance punk renegades Absolute Purity released a music video for their track ‘Crime Fiction.’ With the help of director DJ Furth, the music video finds the band stuck in a dystopian world where technology has enslaved a generation of young adults.

The song was first included in Absolute Purity’s 2022 debut album, We Fought Over The Moon. The album was a full course meal — a blissed-out mix of post-punk, electronica, and psychedelic music that is packed to the gills with surprises and some of the best sound designs out there.

Led by the taut yet delicate vocals of Wen Jun (formerly known for her band Guai Li), which jolts from desperation to innocence with crackling ferociousness, the band emerged as one of China’s most fiercely original talents.

10. Tassi (水樹) — Northland IV (北​之​國 IV)

Headed by the frontman of Buddhist-scripture-evoking post-black metal outfit Bliss Illusion, Tassi takes the former’s spiritual yet turbulent sounds and turns them outward, moving into blackgaze territory and finding a tranquil beauty amongst the cosmos.

Centered around a fictional character who, in search of his one true love, “travels through various mysterious dimensions, witnessing the whole from the beginning to final perishing process of divinity,” Tassi’s Northland series can be considered a modern-day retelling of a bodhisattva.

The artist released the fourth act of the series in China in November 2022, but it only became available on Bandcamp this February. The album was nominated for multiple entries at the 13th China Rock Midi Awards, including Best Rock Album of the Year.

The track ‘幽靈世界,’ in particular, is quite something. It veers from the sprawling emotionality of the Icelandic post-rock band Sigur Rós to the gut-wrenching raw theatricality of Scandinavian depressive black metal acts.

Cover image designed by Haedi Yue

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