Hey, big family! I created a show for a public radio station in Beijing nearly three years ago, exclusively about independent and underground Chinese music. Since then I've been sent to Shanghai and three other large cities in the interior to interview bands, having interviewed close to 80 so far. As an American I feel thrilled to be doing this job and discovering all this great music while having the chance to hang out with so many brave and interesting people. I can talk about Chinese music, my job, living in China, etc. AMA!

For the occasion I made a playlist to give everyone a taste of what has been happening here musically. [Bandcamp] [Soundcloud] (These are identical)

Proof: http://i.imgur.com/QBonFlS.jpg

Edit: WOW front page! If you are more interested now than you were before about Chinese music, you have certainly made a lot of Chinese musicians very happy today, Reddit! Please follow my show because that's exactly what it is about! 非常感谢!时差 太多了,晚安!It's nearly 3 am here, good night!


iTunes Podcast





微信 观众号:CRITheSoundStage

Edit2 So I got up early to answer more questions but now I really gotta go!

I told Residence A the reaction they got and they are THRILLED! It seems most commenters liked them the best (yay!) so I made a subreddit for them /r/residencea . I'll respond to everyone's PMs asking about how to get their record in due time. I was planning to interview them again on the radio in a few weeks...now we have a very interesting subject to discuss!! I also made a subreddit for the show /r/crisoundstage for updates about ALL kinds of Chinese music!

Comments: 1574 • Responses: 58  • Date: 

Xanola601 karma

Do you feel as though you have to be careful doing this AMA in regards to the government? What are some things you think would most surprise Americans about life and pop culture in China?

TheSoundStage1125 karma

I feel like I have to be careful more to avoid hurting the feelings of the people I work with than getting in any kind of actual trouble.

The most surprising things to Americans I think about here is how similar it is. By that I mean, I feel like Americans for the most part believe that the entire nation is just one big Foxconn factory. In the big cities anyway, Chinese kids like to dress cool, listen to music, have dinner with friends, dick around on their cell phones and go out at night drinking and partying in clubs. China is awesome!!

maybe_born_with_it618 karma

If you're under duress, speak the words "No, they just call it food"

DrakeMaijstral225 karma

He did as you said, but unfortunately, no one on reddit can hear him speak.

TheSoundStage231 karma

All good, guys.

YouArentReasonable110 karma

What is the nature of the lyrics the rockstars sing? Do they advocate the principles of freedom or are they more poppy... like about love etc...

TheSoundStage313 karma

It really depends on the band. Some bands like SMZB skewer the govt whenever possible. Some just sing about mundane stuff. One really cool thing though about Chinese culture is that they have this very very long tradition of criticizing the government indirectly through the usage of metaphor. This dates back to ancient times with Emperors. So you'll have a lot of lyrics that seem weird at first but if you read between the lines you can get the message.

flyinggrandmother476 karma

Surely the government must know about this? Do the bands ever get in trouble?

TheSoundStage347 karma

Don't downvote this guy. It's a good question.

Nowadays I don't hear about any bands getting in trouble. That may be because they know how to "play the game" or maybe the govt just doesn't care. Another poster mentioned Cui Jian, he's the "godfather" of Chinese rock. He was banned from playing for years for wearing a red scarf over his eyes once live in concert. The only musicians that get busted these days AFAIK are for drugs.

BoringPersonAMA113 karma

don't upvote this guy

it's a good question

Well now I'm confused.

TheSoundStage118 karma

Sorry, I wrote it wrong and then ninja!! edited it to fix that.

Roadside-Strelok41 karma

Surely the government must know about this?

Not sure if this is the case with China, but in many formerly communist European countries metaphors and other indirect ways was how writers, musicians, artists, etc. were able to "bypass" censorship. If it was something obvious, it would have been found out by the censors and they would not get permission to publish their work.

TheSoundStage35 karma

It is the case.

YouArentReasonable27 karma

That sounds very cool.

Would these metaphors translate into English? If so any examples you think are interesting that you would like to share?


Are the lyrics just anti govt or do they also promote the actual ideal of free express. I ask because being anti communist does not necessarily make you pro freedom. Perhaps anti-government is allowed but not expressing an alternative govt etc?

TheSoundStage68 karma

Every episode of my show has English subtitles - check it out and see for yourself! ;)

Xanola80 karma

Thanks, I think this is the first reply I've ever gotten in an AMA. I think that's probably a good point, we do tend to have this view of China as this dystopic big brother society industrial nightmare, which I'm sure there are elements of, but I'm sure it isn't nearly as pervasive as we might imagine.

Follow up question, I've heard there is a lot of humorous spending amongst the new upper class in China, things like PBR being a luxury beer. Is this an accurate view and do you have any other good examples?

TheSoundStage131 karma

Haha yeah PBR is sold here well maybe not as a luxury beer, but definitely as a higher-end beer. Also, fun fact: they rolled out some kind of WWII Honor the American Veterans beer can design for PBR here in China. Have ya'll seen that???

Xanola67 karma

Haha what? Are this and this what they look like?

TheSoundStage43 karma

YUP. Thanks for saving me a trip to the store out in the cold!

Terron196519 karma

I take it the bands are all approved by the communist party for you to party with.

TheSoundStage44 karma

Capricious is the name of the game, my friend.

prof_talc16 karma

What do you mean by that? Like the gov approves bands randomly? Cool AMA btw, enjoying it a lot

TheSoundStage39 karma

Thanks. I mean I think the era now is one of a lot of reform and experimentation where anything goes as long as it's not causing a huge problem for govt

maxtheterp555 karma

I get also get paid by the Chinese government, except for me it's to help produce a news magazine show about Latin America and the US in D.C.

Can we trade? Your job sounds much cooler.

TheSoundStage469 karma

I dunno man, treat me to dinner and get me wasted on Baijiu and we can talk!

lilkhobs306 karma

What has been the scariest part of your job?

TheSoundStage734 karma

Once I played a hip hop song that an intern had promised me was OK lyrics-wise...after it had broadcast I got a call from my manager asking me why the song said "I want to get out of this communist prison" !!! I thought I was going to get fired!! Also the asshole story!

RooftopBBQ231 karma

Once I played a hip hop song that an intern had promised me was OK lyrics-wise...after it had broadcast I got a call from my manager asking me why the song said "I want to get out of this communist prison" !!! I thought I was going to get fired!! Also the asshole story!

So what happened? And do you have to screen all your songs for content that is critical of the government?

TheSoundStage525 karma

uh well after that they wanted me to submit all the lyrics to every song I played, but that was exhausting for everyone, and now they trust me again lol

zombieregime136 karma

how long before the intern disappeared?

TheSoundStage389 karma

Your perception of China is outdated! She's doing fine working on a Master's degree!

MediocreAtJokes61 karma

Yeah but I bet you were just a liiiittle pissed at her.

For curiosity's sake only did she just miss the lyric, or not think it was a big deal?

TheSoundStage127 karma

Oh yeah, I was pissed don't get me wrong! She fucked up big time!

shotofsean238 karma


I lived in Beijing for 3 years and absolutely loved the Hutong areas, live music and a cold Tsingtao, nothing beats it! My question is How much do the communist party pay you? And also, what's your favourite rock bar in Beijing?

TheSoundStage299 karma

LOL you're asking me how much I make...you must be a Chinese! Just kidding. Let's just say if it was in American dollars I'd be near poverty level in the US, but here it does me just fine! My fav bar in Beijing used to be 2 Kolegas until it got shut down. I really enjoyed the space at Hot Cat but their booking sucked so I kind of stopped going. XP has been killing it lately in terms of good sound and solid booking.

Shuang24 karma

Best new bands to come out of Beijing in the past year-or-so?

I feel like XP and their satellites have cornered the market, at least when it comes to their PR outreach for us expats who have left for less smoggier pastures.

TheSoundStage29 karma

I agree. The XP/Maybe Mars machine is smothering. But they do a lot of great stuff, too, so I can't hate.

The Eat is a new great band with lots of potential. The Twenties. The Diders.

fleaa198 karma

What VPN do you use?

TheSoundStage218 karma


(I took this out because the government is cracking down on VPNs so I don't want to help them by publicly saying what's good.)

Feb 9, 2015

DictatorDono100 karma

Whats the governments view on VPNs and what not? Given that they have so much censorship, it surprises me that it's so easy to get one set up from what I've heard.

TheSoundStage238 karma

They're probably technically illegal like a lot of things here but whatever

Sixty-to-Zero162 karma

How often do American and Japanese bands go over there? Is it mostly locals only?

How does a musician even make it in China? I haven't heard a single Chinese band before. I've heard japanese, Korean, Philippines was even represented.

Does the punk scene over there get put down a lot by the government?

TheSoundStage157 karma

Tons of foreign bands have been coming to China lately. It's really put itself on the map as a place to play.

Edit: Sorry I missed your last two questions.

The only way musicians make it here is by doing mainstream music and going through mainstream channels. They have "Idol" shows here now and lots try to make it on there. But for most indie musicians they don't make much money. That's why I like them so much. In America, every band deep down thinks they are going to be the next Nirvana and make the big bucks, but in China that can't happen, not even 1 out of a million. So they just really love music.

Punk shows used to get shut down but I think it was mostly because of the noise. It's pretty much a permanent part of the fabric here now.

nomisazodrac115 karma

What was your most memorable concert?

TheSoundStage241 karma

Oh wow too many! I guess for now I'll mention three. One was the second concert I ever saw in China, it was in Beijing. Some really amazing bands played that night and it was life-changing for me, obviously! I had no idea that rock music even existed here, let alone that it was so good!

The next one was with my classmates during that same semester when I was studying in Beijing we went and saw this amazing band called Hedgehog, and the club we were in (now a pizza restaurant) had this overhanging balcony directly above the stage where you could get a bird's eye view of the band, and my friend was really drunk and kept saying he wanted to jump off and on to the stage, but I wouldn't let him because I didn't want him to break his leg! Kind of a non-story I know, but that was such a hilarious night.

OK here's a real story. Last year we had our first "music awards" show at a live venue where we gave away awards to local bands and had some of them perform. It was a big deal since the show is officially state media (i.e. the government) so to have them behind a public rock event was a big risk for them. Anyway, we had a punk band play and during their set, some wacked out guy went on stage, stripped completely naked and bent over and spread his asshole open to the whole audience...this went on for TWO WHOLE MINUTES! The whole concert including that was captured on tape, but I'm not going to upload it until I finish working here for reasons I hope you can understand! Believe me though that it happened, the footage is on my harddrive and one day it will be on Youtube!

OK_Soda45 karma

Why...why didn't someone stop him? How do you just get up on stage and goatse for two minutes without a security guard pulling you away? Also, what does a state-sponsored punk band sing about?

TheSoundStage69 karma

They talked shit about cops and urban enforcers (城管). HAHA yes it was a total goatse! That's the thing man...people think China is like this 1984 place...and in a lot of ways it ABSOLUTELY is...but in other ways they're just human beings and when someone does a fucking goatse on stage they just freeze in shock and no one knows what to do...

note: the punk band was not state sponsored haha...only the concert...so you can see the problem ;)

AndemanDK17 karma

why didnt you have any security people that could handle it??

every venue ive visited here in denmark has someone whos ready to jump on stage if something happens

TheSoundStage33 karma

Because state media was unprepared to have a ROCK CONCERT 8-)

Druidpryde11 karma

YES! Absolutely love hedgehog, saw them open for PK14. So much great music coming out of the middle kingdom

TheSoundStage20 karma

Hell yeah. PK14 is fucking world class.

thatcurvychick91 karma

Do people ask you questions about what America's like? And if so, what's the most common questions/misconception?

TheSoundStage185 karma

Oh yeah all the time. A lot of them watch American TV shows and think that America is just like that. Friends was HUGE a few years ago, now a lot of people watch Big Bang Theory. Cable dramas are very popular as well because some Chinese streaming sites have bought the rights to them and subtitle them. So most people's conceptions of America are a combination of Chinese govt propaganda (bad) and American media (excessively awesome). Questions...well a lot of people ask me why the fuck I'm in China and not in America living the dream. Or they'll ask me if things they see on TV are true. Like if we all have big houses and SUVs. Basically everyone in China is The Cable Guy in regards to how they view America. They think it's awesome.

Bagaratoni32 karma

Do you think people's conceptions even out because of that?

TheSoundStage90 karma

I think people are confused if that's what you mean.

YouArentReasonable4 karma

Do you think American television should do more to insert messages about freedom of religion, speech, and freedom from tyranny in their shows to help educate the Chinese people?


If you downvote would you mind giving a quick reply to say that you've done so? I'm a bit paranoid about being flooded for making this response.

I'm honestly not sure why a question is being downvoted. It isn't leading and it got a quick response.

TheSoundStage46 karma

Honestly I think they do enough of that already.

Edit: why was this guy downvoted? It was a great question!

DJBurgerLove57 karma

Are chinese rockstars as into, or into at all for that matter, the Sex Drugs and Rock'n'Roll lifestyle like typical rockers? Do they have a liquor or drug of choice if so?

TheSoundStage124 karma

Yeah. Ketamine is big here, but I think that's actually more the clubbing scene. Once [around seven years ago] I was in a venue seeing some bands and there was this table of four guys and they took out this really nice wooden box that was full of weed. Like a fucking pencil box full of weed. And they all took out papers and started rolling...as soon as a joint was rolled they'd light it up and pass it around while still rolling...it was a rolling/smoking factory. Crazy if you think that now that could never happen with all the recent drug busts and shit. Jackie Chan's son RIP

Edit: I removed part of the answer to protect some artists' privacy.

I also want to add that Chinese rockers in general are a LOT less about sex drugs and rock n roll than their western counterparts. I think Asian people are just more low-key.

TheSoundStage56 karma

Are you guys digging this playlist?!?! I'm rocking the fuck out!! It's 1:15 in the morning here!

James-Wing45 karma

So, how's communism?

TheSoundStage173 karma

Pretty non-existent from what I can tell!

professor_geebs39 karma

Craziest thing you've EVER seen while partying?

TheSoundStage94 karma

Large-scale military police drug bust on a bar street preceding the Olympics. People loaded into cop vans. Let's just say I was very lucky.

sredac38 karma

Are there any parts of your job that you dislike?

TheSoundStage73 karma

Low pay and little support from employer. They don't get it.

cutecottage29 karma

So, do they know you're doing this AMA?

TheSoundStage58 karma

Nope but I hope they read it

thehexpistols36 karma


TheSoundStage28 karma

  • MAO, XP, Hot Cat, Mako, Yugongyishan, Post-Mountain, Tango, Jianghu, DDC, Temple, Lao What, 13 Club...

  • For national, most of them do it themselves or are sponsored by a local label or company like Converse. Internationally they usually are invited, sometimes even by a country's govt, like in Europe this happens a lot (wtf America?) The Chinese government has been wising up lately yes and getting on board with sending bands abroad. It's awesome!

  • You mean like reviews and stuff? There are lots of blogs that discuss Chinese music, but nothing that's an exact equivalent of Pitchfork. anyway, I'll list some sites below:

http://pangbianr.com/ http://www.livebeijingmusic.com/ http://beijingdaze.com/

and of course my show!!!!!

We've had two annual music awards show the past two years, here are the Youtube links!

[2013] [2014]

Dave955736 karma

Do you hang out with Cui Jian? He's awesome. 我很喜欢崔健。 :D

TheSoundStage58 karma

我也很喜欢崔健!!No, I have never met Cui Jian, the godfather of Chinese rock and roll! I have seen him in concert though twice and he is really something to see. Such a talented and charismatic performer. I'd love to interview him and hopefully will get the chance if my show gets bigger. For the most part though I focus on newer and younger musicians.

willem_catz_defoe30 karma

Do you have any suggestions for finding good Chinese music? How did you originally get involved with a public radio station in Beijing? One last one, what kind of censorship do you come into contact with while on-air in China?

P.S. You've got an awesome job, Dude!

TheSoundStage79 karma

Do you have any suggestions for finding good Chinese music?

That's literally what my show's about!

How did you originally get involved with a public radio station in Beijing?

I majored in Chinese so I knew I wanted to be out here after I got my degree. I was just kinda floating around teaching English doing the bohemian thing for a few yrs here when my friend got a job at the station and then put in a good word for me. He directed an awesome documentary about graffiti in Beijing check it out!!

what kind of censorship do you come into contact with while on-air in China?

Great question! Basically we all have to abide by the three "Ts" - tiananmen tibet and taiwan, meaning we can't talk about them. I can't play any music that blatantly implicates the government. Maybe you think I'm fucked up but I figure if I follow their rules I can still slip it in. Keyword: blatantly. I play shit all the time that criticizes the society, the consumerism, the oppression, education system, etc. Also I host my show in English so I think that helps me get away with a lot more.

Yankee051323 karma

Thanks for doing this! How is living in China different from living in the USA from a culture perspective?

joe9439103 karma

People socialize with other people. Like a lot. They'll go eat lunch with a group of friends and then head over to the park to discuss business while playing badminton. In the US we're really isolated and Chinese have more of a social life in general.

They also don't care at all what other people around them are doing or thinking. People always stop at the top of the escalator to check their email while people pile up behind them because who cares about the people behind you? People will also just stop walking in the middle of the sidewalk abruptly to check their phone. They don't bother to move over to the side. People will just calmly ride their moped down the sidewalk filled with 100s of people at 30mph because who cares about anyone else? It's like to Chinese people that other people are invisible while they are in their own world. When you speak to them though it is completely different. They actually do give you their full committed attention.

Everyone has a distrust and a disregard for government. If the government is doing like an ID check people will just walk around the barricade and just avoid them. If there is a barricade up that is supposed to keep people out of like a park people will just step over it. Nobody cares about the government and nobody looks to the government for a solution to anything. Government workers wear red bands around their arm to symbolize the communist party. The communist party tries desperately to get attention and love but nobody cares.

It's actually a lot more free in China than the US in many ways as long as you aren't always talking about how you love democracy and want to see the communist party burn. That'll land you in jail but if you want to do just about anything else just go ahead. Nobody is going to stop you. I have a wine vending machine at the entrance to my apartment building that the kids are always using. It's literally a machine on the street that dispenses wine bottles without an ID or anything.

People are really nice! It's like US southern hospitality but the entire country. If you don't instantly have friends in China you are just totally mentally messed up and have no hope.

TheSoundStage50 karma

The 9,439th Joe is correct.

TheSoundStage78 karma

It's a lot more free than people realize. You can drink beer in a moving vehicle and in the street. That about settles it.

axilidade22 karma

how'd you get set up with all the being allowed to live in 北京/中国? did you fly in with a tourist visa and alter it later? i'm not necessarily trying to establish something entirely of my own, but i know you obviously can't just walk in and set up shop.

not sure what i want to do in life, but i know i want to do it in 上海. haven't been in 2 years, i miss the hell out of the city </3

nikatnight13 karma

He probably did that. So many people come here on F business visas or L tourist visas or Z student visas.

TheSoundStage30 karma

Yup. Came on a tourist visa and figured it out.

lulz9 karma

The rules have changed, you can't fly in on a tourist visa and change it in-country any more. You have to apply in your home country now.

TheSoundStage52 karma

Actually I survived on a tourist visa by taking a fucking bus to Mongolia every 3 months and re-entering. It wasn't until I got my current job with a work visa that I didn't have to do that anymore. Sucked.

corgiroll19 karma

Would you say there are any big western influences on Chinese music and what they are if any?

TheSoundStage26 karma

All of them!

KommandCBZhi18 karma

Any Chinese metal bands I should watch out for?

TheSoundStage22 karma

  • The Metaphor (隐喻乐队)
  • Dream Spirit (梦灵)
  • Nine Treasures (九宝乐队)
  • Ordinance (军械所)

Willamaxj18 karma

How does what you are doing benefit the government? Couldn't the money be spent elsewhere?

TheSoundStage43 karma

There are some people I work with above me who see the soft power benefit of sharing this subculture with the rest of the world would be my guess.

drlazar18 karma

I just found out about Residence A thanks to this AMA. How can I get these guys' music? I've been frantically googling for 20 minutes now..

TheSoundStage18 karma

YEAH!!! I love them! I actually told them I'd be doing this AMA and they should prepare some stuff in case it takes off! Unfortunately it's quite difficult for Chinese bands to market their music abroad. I'm so glad you asked. PM me and I'll see about getting you a CD!

TheSoundStage17 karma

Hey man here are some live videos I shot of them

And of course the episode I did about them!

postbroadcast14 karma

Hey! Are you a fan of Carsick Cars!? They are one of my favorite bands and no one I've met in America seems to know of or like them.

TheSoundStage18 karma

Haha...yeah I love Carsick Cars! I'm laughing though because they are super overexposed in the west (relatively speaking!) They have a very powerful PR machine behind them. Not to diminish their accomplishments as musicians at all, but there is a lot of other great stuff here, too!

SuperstarTinsanity13 karma

Hi! What is your background and what prompted you to do this? For the past two years I started to become really interested in working in radio.

I was from HK but there are many things about mainland that has changed that I don't know. My other question is, what is the regional media entertainment scene like in mainland? (Context of the question, it seems to me like every other actor/actress that you no longer hear about in HK have gone to the mainland to shoot drama, and always followed up with "oh he's huge there!"

TheSoundStage17 karma

I majored in Chinese and took some vocational high school courses in media production. I never really did anything with radio, but I was a theater geek in high school too so learning about voice projection and diction really helps!

Regarding your second question, I've got no idea, sorry!

the______dude11 karma

How's the reggae scene in China? I've heard Long Shen Dao and they're really good.

TheSoundStage17 karma

Pretty damn good. I included a track on the playlist in the OP. "Yunnan Reggae."

In fact, the producer of Bob Marley was a Chinese-Jamaican, Clive Chin.

gegonut9 karma

Aside from financial issues, what other hurdles might there be for getting some of these bands booked for shows in the US?

Is there a special dynamic between bands from mainland China and Hong Kong? Do they view themselves as part of the same or a similar scene?

Finally, any routes for tfvsjs CDs or merch? I'm really into what they're doing (Toe also) but I've only ever heard what I can find on YouTube or SoundCloud.

TheSoundStage11 karma

Hi, the major problem for Chinese bands playing abroad apart from money is visas. America is pretty tight on that, but maybe now after APEC it will be easier!

I don't know much about HK bands, so that probably answers your question :)

Here are some sites you can buy CDs and stuff, but they are not comprehensive enough IMO. That's not to say there isn't a lot of great music there though!

https://tenzenmen.bandcamp.com/ http://faroutdistantsounds.blogspot.com/

fatfartpoop9 karma

Is techno/dance prevalent in the indie/underground Chinese music scene? Is there a rave subculture that you know of?

TheSoundStage8 karma

Yeah there is one but it's not my bag.

im-a-new8 karma

你好朋友! 你会说中文吗? Could you explain what led you to create a show for a Beijing radio station? How long have you lived in China? And if you've ever tried Tsingtao beer, what do you think of it?

TheSoundStage13 karma

会说!青岛啤酒很不错 但是必须在青岛喝要不然不真正!我在中国六七年了。我觉得属于中国的独立音乐很牛逼所以中国的电台当然应该播放!

GeorgeAndPFunl8 karma

Chinese groupies, do they exist?

TheSoundStage17 karma

Probably, but I'm married!

Evilknightz3 karma

Great AMA prospect! Any of the bands you're a fan of in particular that you'd like to share?

TheSoundStage3 karma

Check the playlist I linked in the OP!

juicejug2 karma

I know there is a big difference in the DIY/independent scene between Europe and America in terms of crowds. European fans are on average much more receptive to non-mainstream live music largely, I think, because there are so few bands compared to America. And a large part of this I think is due to the cost of starting a band being much higher in most of Europe.

How would you describe the Chinese rock scene with this mind?

TheSoundStage4 karma

Great question! The vast majority of Chinese people don't give a shit about this kind of music. But also keep in mind that the population is huge, so even a small percentage of them is a lot. Independent music though has seen a notable increase in popularity just in the last five years. Maybe like a dozen fold. It's really about to break into the mainstream...think Nevermind in the 90s? Anyway, walk around the Gulou district of Beijing on any weekend night and you'll see tons of live music. The music scene is crazy here! There's too much now to stay on top of it all.