What Was China’s Music Scene Like 12 Years Ago?

By That's Beijing, January 13, 2022

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It perhaps goes without saying that China was a very different place 12 years ago compared with today; this is true for the country’s indie music scene. 

It was way back in 2010 when MusicDish first came to China. The music promotor has been at the forefront of the Middle Kingdom’s indie music scene led by the company’s founder – American national Eric De Fontenay. 

MusicDish events might be familiar to That’s Beijing readers.

Back in June, 2021, we covered the first of the ‘Get Unplugged’ events; Beijing’s Aotu Space featured some of Beijing’s most talented acoustic performers including American singer-songwriter Eric Allen. 

READ MORE: 'Unplugged' Live Music in Beijing

June, 2021 also saw the arrival of ‘Summer of Love’ in the Chinese capital; the festival sought to capture the 1967 “hippie” fever that swept across the United States. There were certain details that weren’t replicated such as the 100,000 person attendance! 

READ MORE: Summer of Love Coming to Beijing

And more recently, MusicDish’s ‘You are the DJ!’ allowed fans to pick a playlist of their favorite indie tracks. The event was a celebration of indie music’s rise in China over recent years. 

READ MORE: China's Indie Music Scene - Going Mainstream 

MusicDish’s latest event in Beijing celebrates the music promotor’s 12th anniversary. Ahead of the event, De Fontenay spoke to That’s about the changes he’s witnessed on China’s indie music scene over the years and what he’s got planned for the big birthday bash. 

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The 12 anniversary celebration takes place on Saturday, January 12, 2022. Image via MusicDish


What were the biggest challenges on the indie music scene in China 12 years ago?
A little of everything at the time. Obviously, there was rampant piracy led by Baidu that had an mp3 search page at the time. The page allowed you to download virtually any song. 

The market was also really niche compared to today with a very limited fanbase. More importantly, it was nearly impossible for artists to make any sort of decent living off their music.

What are some of the biggest changes you’ve witnessed on the indie music scene in China over the past 12 years?
A lot of those challenges I mentioned have changed. 

For example, we now have a legal music market where the overwhelming amount of music listeners use licensed streaming services like those from TME (Tencent Music Entertainment) and NetEase. 

Moreover, the fanbase has steadily grown initially thanks to festivals such as MIDI and Strawberry (to name a couple), but more recently, as a result of Summer of Bands (乐队的夏天) (television variety show also known as The Big Band) which really broadened the market to a more mainstream audience. 

There’s also been an explosion of new music and bands over the last several years that have really raised the bar on the quality of the music – I call this a boom era for Chinese indie. 

Bands and promoters have become far more savvy marketers while bands have more choice as a new generation of labels and managers have emerged. 

But the regulatory landscape has also become more challenging over the last few years. And of course, there is the uncertainty around the pandemic which can’t seem to quit. 

But generally, I’ve seen the market grow and mature over the last 12 years and am very optimistic for the future. It’s a good time to be working in the indie music scene.

Tell us about the bands and DJs performing at the MusicDish 12th anniversary. 
While I had some affinity for punk in the 80s, I was far more of a metal head. That all changed when I came to Beijing whose small yet thriving punk scene turned me into a devout convert. 

So, it seemed appropriate to tap that scene for our 12th anniversary and the lineup is stellar if I say so myself. From 70s garage punk (The Diders) and 60s proto punk (Ravages) to OG classic punk (Hangnail) and grunge punk (Hindbrain) with a splash of kawaii core (Xiaowang), we have a range of music that would suit anyone who has a love for the harder sounds perfect to pogo to and that fit the Beijing aesthetic so well. 

And thanks to our friends at Nugget Records, people who purchase a presale ticket will be able to bring home a unique souvenir of the night –  a cassette tape of the live recording of the band’s performance, duplication right there onsite.


This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity. 

For more information, follow the MusicDish WeChat Official Account by scanning the QR code below:

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[Cover image via Unsplash]

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