First finding popularity on college campuses in the 1990s, Chinese urban folk has developed into one of the most vibrant genres of Chinese independent music.
Folk bars are a staple of Beijing’s live music scene and beer brewer Guinness is teaming up with independent music promoter Splitworks to spotlight the new generation of Chinese urban folk with a monthly live music series.
Award-winning singer Liu Dongming will launch the Guinness “Made of More” series with an intimate performance at Yuyintang tomorrow. He promises a gentle experience. “There’s no need to bring earplugs,” he says. “It will be very folky and easy listening.”
Although the volume may not be cranked up to 10, Chinese urban folk is notable for its rich detail. Most tracks feature an acoustic guitar with diverse embellishments incorporating many of the country’s ethnic music traditions and melodies.
It’s a vibrant mix that encompasses Chinese modern and historic music traditions with notable Western and Japanese folk influences as well. Lyrically, urban folk focuses on daily life with many of its absurdities treated poetically.
Liu’s music has always been notable for its texture and he describes his latest album. “Earth Dodge” as “more diverse musically.”
Released in April, the album sees Liu experimenting with electronic beats and exotic instruments for melodies. It’s an adventurous followup to his 2010 China Music Media Awards-winning debut “Genju Zhen Ren Zhen Shi Gaibian” (According to the changes of real people and real things), but Liu sees that as part of his musical evolution.
“Creativity means to spawn originality,” he says. “I recognize it’s a good thing that it sounds different.”
Liu is one of the four singers that were selected to be spotlighted in the Guinness “More Music” series. Urban folk grew from its popularity among college students in the 1990s into a popular sub-genre.
Folk clubs like the now-defunct River Bar in Beijing served as launching pads for popular singers like Wan Xiaoli and Zhou Yunpeng, who now regularly perform at Chinese music festivals.
“Folk has received a lot of attention in China over the years,” Liu says. “There’s quite a number of newcomers, which is a good thing. Although some of them still need time to mature, I believe that we’ll see a whole bundle of quality work from this young crowd as long as the passion’s there.”
He’s currently into the group Zhang Zhi, praising the group’s two releases for their melody and production. He sees these new acts are a reminder of his past. Born in Tengzhou in Shandong Province, Liu took a train to Beijing in 2000 with music on his mind.
“I was young and restless then,” the 34-year old reflects. “I knew it was going to be hard but I had the drive. Beijing was a city full of young dreams and I was a bit of a dream chaser, too.”
Through a steady stream of EP releases and live performances, he blossomed into an underground cult figure and now an award-winning artist.
Also known as Liu2, he will be performing with another guitarist and a bassist at the show tomorrow. While he admits that music is more of a hobby, Liu is happy with his place as a modern Chinese musician.
“To me, music is not everything, but it is a very important part of my life,” he says. “I enjoy doing what I do as a musician and if the tickets sell then that’s also great.