Rock and roll first made its way to Chinese audiences as reference materials for the critique of capitalism, before it began to spread among the children of officials and musical families. Memories of early-1990s rock exist only in the communities of expats and elite intellectuals, who forged friendships in the Kempinski Hotel and Song Huaigui’s restaurant, Maxim. At the same time, bootlegged American and European cassette tapes traveled further inland from the coastal regions. Before rock was even officially introduced to China, a substantial supply chain had already formed on the gray market.
Approaching the turn of the century, artists couldn’t resist using their bodies to rebel against society. Fashionistas in patent leather rushed to the discos, and radical activists to Yuanmingyuan; there was a moment in which art and music could find common ground. In 1992, four students from the Tsinghua Academy of Arts & Design, including Colin Chinnery, who would later become an artist and curator, formed the alternative rock band Acupuncture. They left one song, “Nothing Much,” in the infamous Beijing Rock Compilation. Wang Qiang, from the Central Academy of Fine Arts, formed the important heavy metal band Ghost World. Feng Jiangzhou, Song Yonghong, Yan Lei, and Wang Jinsong, members of the seminal band The Fly, all became accomplished contemporary artists. (Translated by Yvette Zhu)