Rock artist and Baidu communication director Kaiser Kuo recalls in the Wall Street Journal how Beijing became for a short while the Mecca of heavy metal, as artists from around the world gathered for this niche market in music.
Wall Street Journal:
In 1988, Kaiser Kuo, a Chinese-American metal fan, traveled to Beijing on a student visa after finishing college at the University of California, Berkeley. The young musician, whose parents came to the U.S. in the 1950s, was surprised by what he found: Guitars and amps for sale, evidence of a nascent rock scene that had formed around local artists interacting with visiting diplomats and journalists.
China was just opening up to the West, and fans were soaking up decades of U.S. music at once, Mr. Kuo says. He teamed up with two Chinese locals, including a charismatic singer named Ding Wu, to form Tang Dynasty, perhaps China’s first metal band. The group blended Western rock and metal with lyrics and sounds reminiscent of ancient China (The Tang Dynasty was a period of prosperity and cultural openness in medieval China.)
Cassettes brought by Western visitors’ kids weren’t the only way metal spread in China. According to Mr. Kuo, in the early 1990s, U.S. music companies would dump unwanted inventory—say, leftover CDs from an artist that a label had dropped—because doing so would allow them to reduce their tax burden in various ways. The discs, off-loaded to third parties, would end up on Chinese ports at cut-rate prices, 15 cents or less, with little nicks to ensure they couldn’t be sold in the U.S. Cannibal Corpse, a U.S. death metal band whose music had been banned in several Western countries, was especially successful there, Mr. Kuo recalls.
In the late 1990s and 2000s, waves of Chinese bands from Overload to Suffocated, along with Taiwan’s Chthonic and Silent Hell, helped build out the region’s scene. While metal is by no means mainstream in China, bands from different subgenres play in Beijing every night of the week, says Mr. Kuo, now an international communications director for Chinese search engine Baidu: “Beijing became a Mecca for this,” he says.
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