Chinese Musicians Pay Tribute to Influential Guitarist Glenn Branca

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1:51 AM HKT, Wed May 16, 2018 1 mins read

Glenn Branca, the American guitarist, composer, and prime mover of the seminal No Wave avant-garde music scene of 1970s New York, passed away yesterday at the age of 69. The news hit China this morning, with fans and musicians inspired by Branca’s iconoclastic approach to the guitar expressing shock and sadness on social media.

Zhang Shouwang of Carsick Cars and White/White+ on Weibo

Though not exactly a household name among mainstream music fans, Branca exerted an outsized influence on one particular tributary of young musicians who started playing in Beijing in the mid-2000s: the self-named No Beijing cohort. Mediated through the international popularity of Sonic Youth — whom Branca also influenced heavily — bands like Carsick Cars, and in particular their lead guitarist Zhang Shouwang, made a close study of Branca’s work, incorporating elements of his playing and compositional style in the construction of his own brand of guitar-torturing noise rock.


In 2006, Zhang recorded for one of Branca’s famous 100-guitar compositions — Symphony No. 13and soon after assembled a homegrown guitar army back in Beijing as a tribute. This project eventually became his long-running, constantly evolving side project, White (now called White+), which Zhang named after Branca:

Shouwang selected the name White as a literal reference to one of his favorite guitarists, Glenn Branca, who played in the New York no wave band Theoretical Girls and has gained international fame for his symphonic arrangements for one hundred electric guitars. Inspired by this concept, Shouwang arranged similarly dense, guitar-oriented ensembles, most often performed at Yan Jun‘s long-running weekly 2Kolegas performance series, Waterland Kwanyin.


Liu Peng of post-punk band FAZI, which formed in 2010 in the central Chinese city of Xi’an, also claims Glenn Branca as a primary influence. After first encountering Branca’s music via Sonic Youth, as most Chinese fans did, Liu tells RADII:

He let me realize another kind of possibility for playing the guitar. Before that, everything I’d heard was conventional. Branca’s anti-conventional approach had a great impact on me.


The final piece of music that Branca released before his passing was The Light (for David), which he composed for four guitars, bass and drums and dedicated posthumously to David Bowie, who “also counted Branca as an influence.” The Light (for David) premiered in October 2016 at Brooklyn venue Roulette Intermedium. When asked what’s next in an interview ahead of the premiere, Branca, who was known for his gruff exterior and unfiltered interview answers, replied, “Death?”

You can stream Branca’s 1981 masterpiece The Ascension, which David Bowie listed among his top 25 all-time favorite albums and compared to “the drone of Tibetan Buddhist monks but much, much, much louder,” here. RIP.

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