W:O:A Metal Battle 2012: a conversation

W:O:A Metal Battle is tying up at 13 Club tonight, where 19 bands have been vying for a chance to represent China at Wacken Open Air Festival in Germany this August.
To get a better understanding of what’s happening, Rock-in-China curator Max-Leonhard Von Schaper and Liu Ke of Raging Mob (2010 Metal Battle Winners, participating this year) talk about the state of the metal scene and the contest. They gave insightful answers, so I asked if they minded sharing on BeijingDaze and they both were down.

For those serious metalheads out there much of this might seem elementary, but for folks who only have a cursory understanding like me it served as a nice crib sheet, and provided a greater appreciation for Beijing’s metal scene.

Max-Leonhard Von Schaper

How many metal bands do you think are active right now? It seems there are over 250 chronicled in RockinChina at one time or another…

It is very difficult to say how many metal bands there are in China, but I would guess that the actual number is rather close to a thousand bands than only 250. Most bands are concentrated in the Beijing area but there are a huge number of artists and bands in other tier-1 and tier-2 cities and a certainly unknown number of bands in tier-3 and tier-4 cities. With the advent of Douban it is amazing to see how many new and unknown bands suddenly are accessible. For example the bands around the record label Tasty Trance Records, like Card B Card B or Eat Alien’s Brain were totally unknown to me.

What genres do you see have the strongest presence and why?

I would say that the new metal and metalcore-influenced genres have the biggest following. Take Double Control Where or Forget and Forgive from Shanghai as two examples of relatively new bands that have come up mixing these influences and their more melodic metal into something new (for China). Really traditional metalcore bands are rather rare as a lot of bands are trying out new genres and mixing other elements into the music. In that regard China is following the Western wave of metalcore and electronic-influenced metal with a lag of a couple of years.
To cover this wave of core-related bands, Rock in China has started the CORE IN CHINA compilation project that will capture China’s latest and best metalcore, deathcore, nintendocore and hardcore bands.

I see a lot of bands playing Euro/US genres. Is there any metal that is distinctly Chinese?

Similar to the discussion that happens about “Chinese Rock” or “Yaogun” the question remains why should there be anything distinctively Chinese in metal that comes from China? As a German, I like to make the comparison with bands back at home and I don’t think there is a really “German metal” out there that has broken through. In contrary, most bands are rather identified by the genre they stand for, e.g. power metal or thrash metal, than by their origin. Hence why should it be different for music produced in China?

In my opinion it’s the quality and energy within the music that should count and not the label given to a band based on their country. Nevertheless there are some bands that have created music that can be labeled as Chinese metal because it has started in China or is so different from other music that it doesn’t fit into any other category.

Examples are Voodoo Kungfu that called their music “Dark World Music” and Tengger Cavalry that successfully mixed Mongolian folk music with power metal and hence have transformed “Viking Metal” to “Mongolian Metal”. However by just offering something new, success on a global basis is not guaranteed, as the Wacken Open Air show of Voodoo Kungfu has shown.

What was the problem, didn’t Voodoo Kungfu perform well?

Nothing major happened at Wacken and that’s the problem. I guess the gig was good and people got interested but there was no follow up.

Do you see Metal getting stronger/weaker or staying the same in China?

I think metal is getting stronger in the sense that there are more bands out there than a couple of years ago. Instead of being years behind in what is happening in the Western world, a lot of bands have closed the gap of musical development and there is a reason that more Western metal acts are coming to China these years. In 2004 there had been only Labyrinth that took the trip to the Middle Kingdom, but now the main bands such as Lamb of God or Opeth have been here within the first two months of 2012.

It seems lineups change a lot in metal bands, why do you think that is?

It is difficult to find the right person for a band that fits musically and also personally together with the others. I think that especially for bands that start in universities, graduation is a major impact and one that can change someone as they leave the “student life” and start to concentrate on their “job life”. Another major impact comes around the age of 30 when parents and other family relatives make pressure on band members to become “realistically”.

Liu Ke (translated from original)

It seems the 90s was the metal scene’s zenith. What happened?

At that time, rock and metal were still pretty new art forms, so not many people were paying it mind, therefore there wasn’t much resistance against it. Second, there was only a small amount of domestic metal you could hear, so the few bands around got a lot of attention. There were also companies investing in it, backing the few bands that later became famous. Now although there are lots of bands today playing lots of styles, that doesn’t mean the scene is healthy. Also, there’s no real support system for them either, so in this respect, it’s not as flourishing as the 90s.

So what styles are most prevalent and why?

All the traditional styles, like thrash, death, black, etc. Lots of new –core bands are around. And you’re seeing distinct Chinese metal with folk styles. We kind of affectionately call it “Agricultural Metal” (农业金属). In Beijing, you can now find at least one band playing any style out there.

What have been the biggest challenges playing metal these past years?

Writing and performing better. We all have day jobs; we’re not depending on metal to survive, so we just look at it from an artistic standpoint. It’s just like reptiles shedding a skin – you’ve got to struggle or else you’re not going to evolve.

Do you think China’s metal has progressed or declined over the past few years?

The whole environment has changed. The crowds are subdividing. Every kind of style now has a band playing. At the same time a lot of showy elements have made it in, all the while Mainstream media still looks over true rock and metal.

It seems you have a lot of Euro-American metal in China. Is there anything native to China?

I don’t think there is any 100% pure Euro-American metal in China. All of it has passed through the Chinese filter. But if I had to pick, I’d say Voodoo Kungfu. Our guitarist Li Xiaoliang 李晓亮 used to be in that band. They developed their own artistic expression, and are very Chinese.

What do you think metal will be like 10 years from now?

It’s like Chinese football: They’ll still be people playing, and people will still watch. I’ll definitely still be playing, and there’ll still be a small amount of people coming to listen.

jtdj

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