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Rock music making inroads in China
A new book and documentary examines the Chinese brand of rock music and a group of musicians resisting the country's modern values and aspirations, as Joanna McCarthy reports.

Rock n Roll provided the soundtrack to the swinging 60s in London and the fall of the Berlin Wall.

But now, what about China? A new book and documentary take a closer look at a Chinese brand of rock music known as Yaogun and spotlight musicians resisting their country's modern day values and aspirations.

Joanna McCarthy reports.
Transcript
(Montage of edgy footage of Chinese rock musicians)

JONATHAN CAMPBELL, AUTHOR, 'RED ROCK': To me the West forgot about Rock n Roll before China even started with it and China took on that sort of spirit and hope.

For Chinese people through the past four decades, since the mid 80s, Rock n Roll changed the world.

JOANNA MCCARTHY, REPORTER: Jonathan Campbell has spent the last decade observing the rock scene in Beijing and Shanghai.

(Brain Failure concert)

JONATHAN CAMPBELL: I think a lot of Yaogun's power isn't necessarily in the lyrics that are being sung, but it is in the model that's being created.

It is the idea that even in 2012 people in China need to know that there are alternatives, that you don't just to strive for the job, the car, the wife, the kid, the television, the whatever.

(1980's Chinese pop music)

JOANNA MCCARTHY: Jonathan Campbell's new book charts the progress of Yaogun from its modest beginnings in the 1980s to the vibrant Indi rock movement of today.

It all began with this man, known as the godfather of Yaogun.

CUI JIAN (singing with Mick Jagger): Because wild horses couldn't drag me away...

(Early footage of Cui Jian in 1986)

JOANNA MCCARTHY: Cui Jian gave the country its first taste of the Rock n Roll when he appeared month national television in 1986.

The song he performed, 'Nothing to My Name', resonated with those who felt the ground shifting beneath their feet.

TEXT ONSCREEN: "I want to give you my dreams, and give you my freedom. But you always laugh at me, with nothing to my name."

Nothing to My Name - Cui Jian

(Clips from demonstrations in China in the late 80s and early 90s)

JONATHAN CAMPBELL: You're coming into a time when the entire nation is engaged in this conversation of what the new new China will be.

Because in the late 70s when the new leadership comes in after Mao, they start to open the doors and they start to allow people to make a little bit of money, there's a little bit of a sense of capitalism, but it is leaving behind a lot of people.

SONG (translated): That day you tied my eyes with red cloth, you covered up the sky.

JOANNA MCCARTHY: Cui Jian performed for hunger strikers in Tiananmen Square and 'Nothing to My Name' became an anthem for the movement.

(Shots of Tiananmen Square protestors)

JONATHAN CAMPBELL: Not that people said, "Oh Rock n Roll - I should go to the square and protest", but people said, "Wow this music and the ideas that came out of it, we're living in a time that looks a lot like the 60s in the United States" is what a lot of people in the 80s were saying in China.

(Subs play at Rock Heart Beijing performance)

JOANNA MCCARTHY: Two decades on, a time of unprecedented economic growth, Yaogun is still pushing boundaries.

The band Subs is a stalwart of the punk rock scene. They've graced the cover of China's Rolling Stone' and toured Europe, fronted by their mercurial lead singer Kang Mao.

A new documentary by filmmaker Andrew Field follows the band on the road, revealing much about modern China.

ANDREW FIELDS, DIRECTOR, 'DOWN: INDIE ROCK IN THE PRC': One of the musicians who became key to the film, her name is Kang Mao. So in my movie she discusses one of the songs she wrote called "Down".

And in the song she sings that, you know, this is something that her father told her, he said, "You have no job, no money, no family and no future," and so she incorporated that into her song.

(Montage of shots of Kang Mao)

She says that she is foregoing this path towards a more affluent life. She's actually going down in life but she's happy doing that.

(Excerpts from the documentary 'Down: Indie Rock in the PRC)

JOANNA MCCARTHY: China's rock scene today is largely tolerated and sometimes even supported by local authorities, but there's little tolerance for open dissent and bands are careful to walk a fine line.

ANDREW FIELDS: To be honest, most of the rock musicians in China kind of keep their politics under their sleeves. They don't really go out and blast them on the stage because they know that even just having the space to play in a rock club or in a concert hall somewhere is still a very dubious privilege here in China.

JIM MIDDLETON: Joanna McCarthy reporting.
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