5 Chinese Musicians and Bands to Listen to in 2024

From rap to post-everything club music, post punk, jazz rock, and avant pop, here are our picks for the year

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Simon Frank
7:20 PM HKT, Wed January 17, 2024 4 mins read

Coverage of Chinese pop and underground music has thankfully long since moved past “Oh my god, they have [insert genre here] in China.” By now hip hop, punk, techno, and other subcultural styles actually have their own local histories. As the novelty of a certain subgenre appearing in China for the first time wears off, it’s important to ask a key question: does this sound good?


So, which Chinese musicians and bands should you be keeping your ears tuned to in 2024? Some of the names below will be familiar to dedicated RADII readers, and others are just starting to bubble up. Taken together, they show the diversity of China’s music scene today. Based in the mainland, in Hong Kong, or even overseas, they create rock songs, club tracks, and ambient sketches, recording to tape in studios, or producing music on computers right in their own bedrooms. Whether they’re rapping about life in a megacity or improvising jazzy psychedelia, we believe these artists are making music that isn’t just good for China — it’s innovative and interesting in a global context too.

Cocoonics

Shanghai’s avant-garde club scene is both hyped at home and firmly on the map internationally. But 2023 wasn’t the best year for it: the end of pandemic restrictions didn’t reverse the outward flow of DJs and producers, scene hub ALL Club swapped owners at the start of the year, and mainstay venue Elevator closed its doors after a final NYE blow out. While established artists like 33EMYBW and Gooooose released excellent albums last year, there’s a bit of a gap between elder statesmen and artists just finding their voices.


Enter Cocoonics — one of the few artists in Shanghai these days who’s not only DJing almost every weekend, but also making her own tracks and performing live. The Hong Kong-born, Shanghai-based musician has recently been previewing new songs on Instagram, hopefully part of a follow-up to her well-received 2021 EP wu… / HA!, which combined downtempo and ambient flavors with cut-up breakbeats and gnarled Cantonese rapping. Fingers crossed we get a new release this year — and that the high-velocity electro and jungle which have been fueling her DJ sets seep into it.


The River, Orchestration, Walkman!

The River, Orchestration, Walkman! can be a bit elusive — sometimes a trio, sometimes a quartet, based somewhere in Southern China, often in Guangdong province but seemingly not tied down to a single location. Their Chinese band name could be more directly translated as “Riverside stroll,” which serves as apt description for their languid, improvised jazz rock — adventurous yet laidback, they wander in no great hurry towards poignant, melody-filled moments. Things can get a bit freeform, or even test your attention span, but there’s little in-your-face cacophony.


Still, the band is very much part of China’s noise and psychedelic underground, and tells us something about how the subculture is evolving. Artists are basing themselves in more affordable parts of the country (preferably with easy access to nature), and jazz is increasingly in the air as an influence, audible in recent performances by other bands like Hangzhou’s Dolphy Kick Bebop and Yiwu’s Ducktrick. The River, Orchestration, Walkman! move fast, recording themselves and self-releasing online, so don’t be surprised if you see a new album from them this year. Despite keeping a relatively low profile, the band has interestingly already managed to garner some international press, providing an example of how more esoteric music from China sometimes spreads beyond its borders faster than mainstream fare.


otay:onii

Performing at Shanghai rock dive Yuyintang last year, otay:onii (Lane Shi) mangled a keytar, writhed under an octopus-like mask, and jumped off stage, rushing up against audience members. In lesser hands, the performance might have come off as merely quirky, but Shi’s set felt and sounded genuinely heavy, transcending the limits of the venue’s less-than-pristine sound system. Whether singing alongside the barest of synthesizer or piano accompaniment, folding raga-like drones into warped rhythmic loops to create sophisticated electronic pop, or channeling gales of overdriven fuzz, her music always feels like a report delivered by someone who’s been to the edge and back. Though her keening, vulnerable voice has prompted comparisons to Bjork, it also has a bluesier, deeper tone, one that compliments the more aggressive side of her music.


Born in Haining, Zhejiang province, Shi spent much of the past decade in America, studying at Berklee College of Music in Boston before moving to New York. Her 2023 album 夢​之​駭​客 Dream Hacker was already one of RADII’s top picks last year, but considering her prolific release schedule and dedication to touring, both solo and with her doomy punk band Elizabeth Colour Wheel, one can expect to see her name a lot this year. Shi recently relocated to Berlin, so it should also be exciting to hear how the new environment impacts her sound.


Lonely Leary

“Chinese post punk” is a bit of an odd genre tag. Whereas post punk can in theory encompass a staggering range of musical experimentation inspired by punk’s liberatory ethos — from minimalist rock to amorphous electronics, funk, dub, and more — if you hear about a Chinese band working in the genre these days, they’ll probably be playing slightly rough-edged guitar music with declamatory lyrics. The format is not without its charms, but much of its lies in the shadow of PK14, an excellent band who first figured out how to smash together Joy Division, Fugazi, and Mandarin poetics two decades ago. However, Lonely Leary stands apart. Formed in Shandong in 2012 before relocating to Beijing in 2014, band’s sheer intensity places them ahead of many of their contemporaries.


On their most recent album, 2020’s Passenger on the Eve, bassist/vocalist Qiu Chi sounds like he’s singing through clenched teeth, constantly on the verge of breaking into a scream but holding back his anger. Meanwhile, guitarist Song Ang generates sheets of corrugated noise and drummer Li Baoning locks in to syncopated, sometimes stuttering, grooves that go past simple timekeeping. Word has it that early in the New Year they were holed up in an analogue studio in Beijing working on a follow-up, so we’re eagerly looking forward to hearing how they push their music, and Chinese post punk, forward.


YoungQueenz

Listening to YoungQueenz is all about the voice: the Hong Kong rapper’s raspy, gravely voice sounds like he’s stayed up all night getting up to no good, instantly adding depth and darkness to any track he appears on. Though only 27 years old, the way he effortlessly swaps between Cantonese and English bars and the gravitas of his lyrics belie his age. Though you could loosely define YoungQueenz as a trap artist, his music can’t be limited to that style: he draws upon myriad other hip hop and electronic subgenres to craft songs that always link back to the struggle of life in his hometown.


YoungQueenz has been releasing music since he was 15, but he isn’t just a rapper — he founded Wildstyle Records in 2011, produces music, and directs music videos, making him a linchpin of Hong Kong’s music scene. Naturally, he’s a serial collaborator, stepping up to the mic for Hong Kongers like Yung Takeem, N.O.L.Y., and Fotan Laiki, as well as Shanghai’s Charity SsB and American rappers such as Mach Hommy. YoungQueenz is clearly already a veteran, but 2024 might take him to the next level — rumor has it he’s planning to drop his next mixtape for the Year of the Dragon.


Banner image by Haedi Yue.

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