Beijing Noise

Beijing Noise: Indie Rock in China
, Andrew David Field (forthcoming, 2016-17)

China’s indie rock scene has been building up momentum since the 1990s, but in the mid-2000s it exploded with a new vitality. Since then, bands such as SUBS (pictured above by the author, performing in their hometown of Wuhan, in July 2007), Carsick Cars, PK-14, Hedgehog, Brain Failure, Lonely China Day, and RE-TROS emerged to become leading voices in China’s growing indie rock scene. Like their counterparts in the West, most of these bands favored the dissonance, discordance, and sonic thrills of grating guitars, clashing keyboards, earthy chants, and screaming vocals to the more pleasing and harmonic sounds of Chinese or Western pop music.

Who are these musicians and why did they choose to devote their lives to making noise in the People’s Republic of China? What does their music mean to them, and what can this scene tell us about China as it rockets into the 21st century as (soon to be) the world’s leading economic power, yet still under the control of the Communist Party?

In 2007, in an effort to answer these questions, Andrew David Field embarked on an ethnographic journey of discovery by taking a deep dive into the music scene and getting to know the bands and their members on a first-name basis. Basing himself in Beijing, the undisputed capital of rock music in China, he spent several months engaging with the scene and hanging out with its key players and performers. From small, dingy rock clubs such as Dos Kolegas, D22, and Mao Livehouse, which serve as incubators and show-houses for China’s leading indie rock bands, to rock festivals in Beijing, Shanghai, and Hunan, where these indie bands could showcase their music to a much wider audience, he was there to witness it all.

In the process he shot many hours of raw film footage of the bands, wrote dozens of journal entries, and took hundreds of photos on his journey to the heart of Chinese rock music. Beijing Noise will draw on extensive interviews with dozens of key players in the indie music scene including the rock bands themselves, managers, club owners, record producers, and promoters, to present an original and groundbreaking account of a musical revolution in process.

Andrew is also the co-producer and co-director of the documentary film: Down: Indie Rock in the P.R.C., which has screened to audiences in film festivals and academic conferences across the globe since 2012.



ANDREW DAVID FIELD‘s research has been concerned with aspects of Chinese history, and contemporary Chinese urban society and culture. He is currently Associate Dean of Undergraduate Programs at Duke Kunshan University. He is fluent in Mandarin Chinese and has spent much of his adult life living in China, including periods spent in Taiwan (1988, 1993-4), Beijing (1996, 2007), and Shanghai (1996-9, 2008-present). He has a PhD in East Asian Languages and Cultures from Columbia University and is also conversant in Japanese. He is the author of Shanghai Nightscapes: A Nocturnal Biography of a Chinese Metropolis, co-­authored with sociologist James Farrer (University of Chicago Press, 2015), Mu Shiying: China’s Lost Modernist (Hong Kong University Press, 2014), and Shanghai’s Dancing World: Cabaret Culture and Urban Politics, 1919-­1954 (Hong Kong: Chinese University Press, 2010).


By John Scanlan

John Scanlan is the Series Editor of Reverb with Reaktion Books.