Tianjin rocks its own style

Tianjin rocks its own style

Young indie bands like Stone Lion show a modern and creative side of the ancient city of Tianjin through their music. Provided to China Daily

For many years the people of Tianjin have taken pride in quyi, a term used to describe the various traditional local folk arts, such as storytelling, singing and cross-talk.

But Zhai Yi, a DJ at Tianjin People's Broadcasting Station's culture channel, says the focus on arts from the past is sad.

"It means Tianjin has nothing new to offer," he says. As a Tianjin native who loves the city, he wants to show the world it is not a place stuck in history.

When Zhai stumbled upon a group of indie musicians from Tianjin in 1996, he discovered that they shared many ideas about displaying a different side of Tianjin-"a much more modernized and creative side"-as Zhai puts it, to wider audiences across China.

Their idea evolved into a record label, Tianjin Feng Wei, meaning Tianjin style, with 11 original Tianjin bands on the books. They have released five albums and several of the bands will perform in Tianjin on Jan 11. Three of the bands will take the stage at Beijing's Mao Livehouse on Jan 12.

It's not the first time the bands have performed outside Tianjin. For the past five years, they have been touring China and sharing their "made in Tianjin" music.

The name of the label reflects the music they do. Walking the streets of Tianjin, Zhai says the feeling of Tianjin feng wei can be seen everywhere.

"Feng wei means something unique and exclusively belonging to the city. We used the phrase to describe our music label because those bands are from Tianjin and they have a style of music that originated from here," says Zhai.

The 40-year-old also changed one character of the word feng wei. Instead of using the feng character that means wind, he uses the feng character that means to be crazy, "because those singer-songwriters are crazy enough to insist on doing their music", Zhai explains.

Zhai says people from Tianjin have a good sense of humor and a positive outlook on life, which is reflected in their music.

Li Liangjie, lead vocalist and founder of the band Rock, agrees. He incorporates humor into his songwriting and performances by combining quyi with rock tunes, which gave birth to his trademark "quyi rock 'n' roll". The band will release its debut album, Tianjin Dolls, on Jan 11.

Li, who studied classical guitar from age 16, has been performing in bars in Tianjin since 2005. Li and his band wear long robes, resembling the look of quyi performers, and sunglasses onstage.

"I am not the kind of rocker who is cool onstage. I like writing lyrics that sound like chatting. I don't want to educate people," says Li, 40. "But it doesn't mean that I don't have my attitude. I can express my disagreement or anger with ironic words."

Zhai has also discovered young bands from Tianjin, such as Stone Lion. Founded in 2011 by Zhang Yingjian, the band impressed Zhai with its uncompromising dedication to its musical style.

Zhai says earning a living in the music industry used to be relatively easy in China around 1995. There were many music stores on the streets of Tianjin selling cassettes, CDs and DVDs. For young music fans like Zhai, following the latest news of the music scene and buying albums from their idols was the coolest thing they could do.

But with CD sales plunging and digital piracy rampant in China, artists are struggling. "There is only one music store in Tianjin selling legal CDs," says Zhai. "I hope that the government can promote and protect original Chinese music just like they helped Chinese films."

As the founder and investor of Tianjin's 13 Club-the city's first live house venue-Zhai says they have around 150 performances every year featuring a lineup of local and touring acts.

"I remember clearly that we had only one person come to a show. I told the band to play as scheduled because we don't want to lose that person," he recalls.

To ensure the survival of the live house and the record label, Zhai finds himself picking up a number of odd jobs, such as DJing, writing articles for the local newspaper and producing commercial performances for big stars.

Zhai says the original Chinese music scene needs to be offered more opportunities, especially by the media.

When he DJs, he never plays music by pop stars like Taiwan's Jay Chou because "he has enough attention", he says.

"I want to spend much more time introducing other talented singer-songwriters, who are ignored by the market."


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