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Jesse Doyle: Sounds of the Beijing Underground

The music scene in China is currently undergoing a much needed revival and it's being stemmed from the capital and cultural heart of the nation, Beijing. Deep inside the city's university district there is an establishment which is at the forefront of this revival, an venue which is fundamentally changing the way Chinese youth are thinking. The lyrics being sung from within its walls are a far shot from the cultural conformity which people have come to expect from the largely government-controlled Chinese music industry. For the youth in Beijing, indie rock club D-22 provides refuge from the monotonous sounds of mando and cantopop, which have dominated the party-controlled radio waves in recent times. The bands gracing the stage of D-22 have certainly struck a chord with China's youth who are more than open to hearing fresh sounds. One of these bands is P.K. 14, whose front man, Yang Haisong, also runs the independent label Maybe Mars Records with Peking University professor Michael Pettis, known locally as the "Godfather of Beijing Rock." The label has been instrumental in nurturing the Beijing indie-rock scene, which over the past five years has undergone a major transformation from a somewhat nascent scene to one of the most developed and promising in all of Asia. Pettis is no stranger to the world of underground rock. During the 1980s, in New York's East Village he ran the indie-rock club SIN, which played host to a number of groundbreaking bands including Sonic Youth and Swans. From there he moved into the world of investment banking and worked the markets for 14 years in New York before sensing the need for a change of scene. After a trip to Beijing Pettis felt that it was the place to be. Having secured a position as a professor at Beijing's Tsinghua University's School of Economics and Management he made the move. Now Pettis finds himself shaping the indie-rock scene with D-22 alongside his professorship just as he did some twenty years ago, albeit in unfamiliar territory.



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