Okay, I’ll bite.
Everyone in this very small community of Beijing music scene bloggers has been all over the recent articles posted by the intelligent and knowledgeable Mr. Max-Leonhard von Schaper over at Rock in China. I read the first article, Why No Beijing and D-22 are not worth the hype! before everyone else started talking about it and I could have said something then, but I saw it for what it is — what Max has admitted to it being — which was a controversy bomb designed to incite discussion.
If you don’t have time to read the whole thing (it borders on tl;dr), basically Max points out that it’s a bit unfair that the foreign media gets to focus entirely on the Maybe Mars lineup, because that’s not all there is to the Beijing indie scene. (Max, I know you read this, so feel free to tell me what massive points I left out by boiling your essay into one sentence )
Having been on the internet for far too long, I expected it to turn into a mud-throwing contest. However, the beauty of small communities — online or offline — is that they’re usually civil and easily managed. I was pleasantly surprised when even Matt Neiderhauser, who was pretty personally implicated in the attack, retorted with a measured argument without taking potshots.
So I thought I’d throw my opinion out there.
Quite simply: no, Maybe Mars isn’t all that. It’s a great label, fostering bands I simply adore (and a bunch I don’t give a crap about); D-22 is a great venue, the one I credit with my falling in love with the Beijing scene (it was a better introduction than Tiny Salt Cafe 2); the management team is great, because they have connections and funds and the know-how to get exposure to the Western (American) industry. But all of us here in Beijing know that it’s not “Chinese rock”. It’s not even “Beijing rock”. It’s a section of the Beijing scene, and an even smaller section of what’s going on across the nation.
But the problem with media is that it is still localized — to where the publication is based or the circle of friends the blogger has. Think about it: even if you read a New York Times article about the indie scene in the city, you’re not going to hear about all of the genres and bands that are perhaps worthy and interesting, you’re going to hear about the ones that reporter has been exposed to through connections, funds, and know-how to get exposure. The effects of that are amplified by physical distance.
Maybe I’m naive, but I like to think that any Westerner with half a brain and an actual interest in Chinese indie music will look at an article about Maybe Mars and not say “okay, this is it”, they will say “wow, awesome, I wonder what else is out there”. I’m pretty sure that most people genuinely interested in indie bands these days knows how little actually gets through to mainstream media.
What I’d like to see is a round-up of what interested indie scenesters in the West who have read and become interested in Chinese independent music and have sought it out themselves say about Maybe Mars. My guess is that it’s along the same lines as Max’s basic statement: they’re okay, but they’re not the be-all and end-all of the Chinese music scene.
I know that the language barrier for Westerners is immense. But I also know a person, who I often credit with giving me a kick-start with my gig-going and thus this entire site, who lives in the DC area in America, who has never studied Chinese formally, and for whom Chinese indie music has become a passion. She’s on Douban, catches up with her favorite bands more than I do, and went to see Casino Demon & Hedgehog perform at the Chinese Culture Festival in Washington DC. Of course she’s the exception to the rule, but all it takes is a few well-placed passionate people like her in the Western blogosphere to help everyone understand that Maybe Mars isn’t the only thing out there.
And I think it’ll happen. The response Maybe Mars has gotten in America is heartening, and what I think we need to do, as people on the inside, is introduce as many foreigners as we can — inside and outside of China — to the Chinese music that they’ll like. We can’t be elitist, we need to squash the music snob inside of us that makes us cut down the tall poppies of Maybe Mars and Modern Sky, because maybe if we introduce a punk fan to Joyside or an electro-rock fan to AV Okubo or an indie pop fan to Life Journey and give them the tools (websites like Rock in China, for example) to explore for themselves, they’ll go looking and find a whole world outside the walls of D-22 and the ring roads of Beijing.
Max might be complaining about the media mis– or under-informing people, but I’m convinced that what an indie music fan does when they hear about indie music in the mainstream media is explore further. So instead of complaining about it, we should boost our own signals and get the word out to people searching in English for more than just the Maybe Mars sound.
Which is really what Max, Matt, the Maybe Mars team — and each of us enthusiasts — is all about, in the end.