History of Electronic music in China

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History of Electronic music in China


General information

There are numerous kinds of electronic music referred to within this article, both of academical nature and non-academical nature, underground concerts, experimental vanguard border-crossing and club-related electro composings.

The roots

Electronic music, or music composed by the help of electronical instruments, such as computers or synthesiszers, had a similar start in China as the rock music, with the opening of the China's borders at the end of the 70s, beginning of the 90s.

Electronical music, however, has always been different from rock music for it is also seen as a new means to develop traditional or classical orchestra music. Therefore also in China, the development of electronical music has taken an academic and a non-academic way.

"In 1984, Yuanlin Chen and a group of fellow graduate students at the Beijing Conservatory, among them Tan Dun, Zhu Shi-rui, Chen Yi, and Zhou Long, presented the first electronic music concert composed and performed by Chinese composers. According to Ping Jin, the program consisted largely of works performed live with synthesizers, using some pre-recorded material. Zhang Xiaofu describes this event as significant in large part because none of the students knew what an electroacoustic performance should be like and so they followed their imagination."[1]

The 2000s


"After the 1990s with the provocative rock and punk scene and small-scale experimentalism, the real breakthrough for Chinese underground and avant-garde music came in the early 21st century. The reason for this was the rapid spread of information through an increasing use of the Internet, and a fast growing club scene which was introducing DJ culture on a larger scale. This led to the birth of a young generation of Chinese experimental musicians. Through the Internet, Chinese musicians are finally able to hear and download anything happening in experimental music worldwide. This includes hearing “classics” in different areas, from Aphex Twin to Merzbow. Dickson Dee continues to release CDs and to bring many foreign experimental musicians to Mainland China while the sound artist, curator and critic Yan Jun started the Sub Jam label in Beijing. Taiwanese composer and contemporary music theoretician Dajuin Yao established the Post-Concrete label based in Berkeley, California in 1999, and many new artists like Wang Changcun, Zhong Minje, Zhou Pei (Ronez), Zhang Anding (Zafka) started experimenting with noise and sound art. FM3, maybe the most well known Chinese experimental music unit in the West (famous for their Buddha Machine release), becomes active in Beijing. The years 2000 to 2003 is definitely the start of some kind of “scene”; one which is obviously modelled after a very different kind of “genealogy” to the West. The important connection in the West to classical education at universities is not relevant here. Neither is there a history of experimentalism to build on with a more or less close connection between different generations of experimentalists. In China, the experimental music scene is young – in every sense of the word."[2]
"In early November 2003, Dajuin Yao organized the Sounding Beijing festival in a venue called the Loft Space. During three nights some of the most prominent names in Chinese experimental music shared the stage with several foreign artists, performing the most extreme and varied sorts of experimental music ever presented in China. This event is generally regarded in China as a kind of breakthrough for the electronic music community – it was a sign for the young generation of experimental electronic musicians that they are not alone. “There is a scene and many people are doing the same things as you”, was the message. In 2003, the Post-Concrete label released a double CD entitled China – the sonic avant-garde, the most complete compilation of Chinese experimental sound makers to date. Following the Sounding Beijing festival and the release of this CD the term Sound Art started to be widely used in China to describe various forms of sonic experiments, and the same year, Li Jianhong, composer, improviser, guitarist and founder of 2Pi records label, organized the first 2pi festival in Hangzhou. Since then the 2Pi festival of noise and sound continues with new editions every fall and has become the most important showcase of contemporary experimental music in China. So when one speaks about experimental non-academic Chinese music, one can refer to pre 2003 and post 2003 music."[2]
"After 2003 one might say that the scene is consolidated. The youngest generation of laptop artists started by using the Internet and hacking software. It was a DIY culture, although one in which many of its members had little or no background in music, let alone the art music culture. Laptop became the instrument of choice and artists started their own record label for releasing their own music. The development in this field is moving fast and is rapidly changing, and with new styles and genres, like soundscape and field recordings, it is obvious that the experimental music scene has also changed the way the artists listen to the world. In 2004, the hyperactive noise-unit Torturing Nurse was created in Shanghai, and artists such as Lin Zhiying, Zenlu, Bai Tian aka Bai+ian, to mention just a few, started performing and releasing their works on CD. Zhou Pei (Ronez) started the noise/experimental CDR label DouFu Records in Guilin, and today there are quite a few small artists who own CDR labels specializing in experimental music in China, all established in the last few years. Most sound artists have their own websites – myspace is very popular one – and Lawrence Lee, journalist and music critic, now based in Beijing, is running the Global Noise Online site, a database and forum for experimental music activities in China."[2]

Waterland Kwanyin

The Waterland Kwanyin series is a concert / event series, started by Yan Jun, in 2006, hosted at the 2 Kolegas in Beijing and bringing together artists from all over China and all over the world, exhibiting the latest innovations in vanguard music.


In 2008, Qiu Yu starts experimenting with low-bit music.


On May 4th, the compilation record EXpo (VA) is released world-wide.

Further information

Articles at Rock in China


  1. Gluck, B. (2005). Electronic Music in China. The EMF Institute.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 Zbigniew Karkowski & Yan Jun , The Sound of the Underground – Experimental and Non-Academic Musics in China

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