30 Chinese Punk, Crust, Oi and Hardcore Bands
In China, punk and hardcore shows are thrown at least as often as metal ones. Venues such as School Bar in Beijing and Prison in Wuhan, being smaller DIY venues, provided nightly platforms for punk artists, letting the scenes in each city grow in more of a supportive way compared to others.
Since the first bands came onto the scene more than 20 years ago, punk remains relevant due to an ongoing inner strife which can’t be extinguished with a simple trip to the hot spring hotel. Angst needs to be let out and whether it be a subversive lyric or one about the frustrations of daily life – it will be heard within the Chinese underground. Here are 30 bands across the punk spectrum of China.
脑浊 Brain Failure
“Isn’t it a delight should punx visit from afar?” The statement on Brain Failure’s Weibo is a welcoming one – making the band sound friendly and diplomatic. Morbid name and tough appearances aside, the band is pleasant to listen to – with songs like “Coming Down to Beijing” sounding like a Chinese version of Rancid. The longstanding band gives a feeling of nostalgia for those sweaty, drunk times at School Bar or Temple in the capital, even if you haven’t been there.
Part of Beijing hardcore/punk label Real Deal Records, D-Crash are a Beijing-based crust punk band who formed in 2012. The band have been a part of many punk festivals, though their occasional grinding sound made them welcomed by the metal community as well. Their recent split with DISM, System of Bullshit is a scathing document of hard riffing, gruff vocals thicker than the smog over the capital’s skyline.
Rarer than the bands playing punk in China are bands sporting extreme punk fashion styles such as mohawks and reverse mohawks. The Demonstrators, though, had no problem at all choosing all of the above in order to “demonstrate” what China can do with the music and aesthetic. The group are also a part of the Beijing-based H.B.K group including D-Crash Shave n Shut, and Hell City.
Demerit is a hardcore-punk band who are tied to Beijing but also closely associated with the Qingdao scene and the punk bar located there, DMC. As far as their music is concerned, this is straightforward, leather clad, fast, furious and often growled punk, with gang-shouted choruses on songs like “Revenge! My Justice!” Their Out of the Fog album cover depicts people from various subcultures trapped inside a large cage with a small sign on it reading “Joy Square” with a punk who managed to squeeze through the bars running free. The band is also known for having Public Enemy producer Brian Hardgroove produce their Bastards of the Nation release. They recently contributed to the Never Too Old to Motörhead tribute album via Katabomb Records, joining bands from Portugal, Italy and France.
Inspired by Japanese garage rock and hardcore punk, this “Jet rock” band play, as the band states, simple and rough music. They also have a taste for football as much as they do, say, beer, playing for a local Beijing team. The Diders got to be close to their Japanese inspiration in 2015, playing a national tour with Japan’s Jet Boys.
燥馬醫 Dirty Roach
From the capital of the hot and sweaty Yunnan province, Kunming, comes a filthy little roach hiding under the toilet. The unisex band has a unique approach – dirty riffs with feminine vocals. The songs are both in English and Mandarin, with the song “给得太多了” being about giving a partner too much. They stand as a fresh new example of female musicians driving the Chinese scene to new avenues.
The recent Stand As One compilation album from Real Deal Records compiles some of the current punk bands in China, unified as one tattooed fist clenching 24 tracks of defiance. Beijing’s Discord made it onto the comp with the song “Discord,” but for a further sampling of the band, check out their 2018 album Beijing Power, a Mandarin-sung punk assault with “whoa ohs” and guitar parts which sometimes border on metal.
刘得龙与人体蜈蚣 Dr. Liu & the Human Centipede
Tom Six’s The Human Centipede features a character named Dr. Heiter sewing people ass-to-mouth to get his kicks. Liu Delong is the doctor in the house tonight, and the suffix makes me think what a Chinese remake of the movie would look like. Jokingly, they have written on their Douban: “Their music is the same as human beings, pursuing simplicity, tranquility and elegance. A modest gentleman, with no distracting thoughts, high mountains and flowing water, reciting poems and playing the piano.” As if. Imagine you’re on the tail-end of that centipede and Liu is at the front being force-fed gutter-found punk CDs. Eat!
Spiked hair, leather boots, studs, piercings and attitude are what Qingdao’s Dummy Toys are all about, taking the punk aesthetic to its purest form and re-imagining it for a new generation of Chinese street punks. The band’s Not A Puppet album and live shows have garnered respect from the punk and metal community, with Dummy Toys playing alongside bands from various genres on huge festivals throughout the country.
Free Sex Shop
Veterans of Beijing’s School Bar based punk scene, Free Sex Shop are an all-female punk group who play a casual and cool form of punk rock that isn’t about snarling for rights or complaining about cops as much as observing the little things in life. In the video for “Pretty 3,” annoying alarm clocks, going to a job you hate, and unfriendly taxi drivers are sung about as the girls jam on.
Put on your red jumpsuit and pucker up. “Kiss Me, I’m Punk” is Gum Bleed’s bonafide classic, and turns crowds in Beijing’s School Bar, where they are based, moving entities. with the whole floor becoming a moving entity. The microphone is passed along generously during their shows, uniting the people with anthems like “Punx Save the Human Race” from the album of the same name. Gum Bleed – a band of fun and camaraderie, but also one where you may leave their shows with as their name implies, a bloody mouth.
Hangnail are indeed part of the next generation of punks looking to make their mark in the annals of Chinese punk history. They do have the fundamentals down, but I was surprised with the versatile song writing on their 2018 album Beijing Punx. They have managed to walk the tight-rope of sounding as if they don’t care so much, though the song arrangements say otherwise. Don’t rip that hang nail off. Bite and swallow it.
Hang On The Box
HOTB made history when they emerged in 1998. As the first all-female punk band in the country, they ushered in the the sentiment that expressing oneself via subcultures such as punk was indeed acceptable in the country. Hang on the Box then, within six months of their first live gig, appeared on the cover of a Chinese edition of Newsweek, and served as poster girls for an entire generation of Chinese youth. They are still going strong to this day, seeing the next generation of bands such as Dummy Toys and Xiao Wang lead the next crop of punkers.
Anarchy in the People’s Republic of China. Brazen song titles like “Chaos PRC,” huge mohawks and leather jackets – three things you’ll rarely see in China unless you attend a Hell City concert. Thrash-infused punk is what this band plays, sharing stages with groups across the scene spectrum. Good thing they are underground, or the authorities may come knocking on their doors.
Subjects of the documentary Wasted Orient in 2007, Joyside have certainly seen the Chinese punk scene evolve through the years since their emergence in 2001. Their debut album Everything Sucks certainly encapsulates a persuasive mood that many bands have followed. The band is ever versatile, playing a variety of speeds and styles – songs such as “Dong Dong Dong” are slower and genuinely romantic, while ones like “I Wanna Piss Around You” are quick like held-in-urine and oddly just as romantic.
Way back in 2003, Beijing’s Kill Tomorrow’s album title Beijing Rejects Get Together may have been a bit more poignant than if released now. After all, when you know the clubs and the bands, it’s pretty easy to find like-minded rejects in just about any major Chinese city these days. Seeing videos of this band playing in 2004 though feels like just as much of a relic as any New York punk band playing a gig in the ‘70s. The self-released disc is particular sounding, with uptempo songs like “Kill Tomorrow” giving way to slower, moody interludes – a perfect example of tension and release.
Mi San Dao
Founded in 1999, Mi San Dao were an Oi punk band and the first true S.H.A.R.P. skinhead band in China. The name derives from a tasty pastry but you’re going to find something tastier in the songs. “Soul of Chinese Cops” features scathing lyrics like “You are working for the fucking government. You take money. You send people. You send people to the fucking jail.” Vocalist Lei Jun tragically passed away in 2015, though his contributions to the scene are anything but forgotten. Today, bands like Shave ‘N’ Shut follow the lead paved by Mi San Dao.
2001-2021 – 20 years of The Noname. The Xi’an-based band is an endearing example of how the simplest riffs and lyrics are often the most effective. Songs like “Smash Everything” get the point across wonderfully – that being that The Noname is against all false hope in the world. Of course, bands have to evolve and The Noname have, but not at the expense of sticking to their guns.
Beijing’s Pizzaface combines an animated aesthetic with an unhinged stage presence which results in concerts looking like fight scenes in Ninja Turtles movies. The band has proclaimed that they are “a cartoon come to life” and their shows prove that unpredictability is still one of the greatest excitements in punk.
Return the Truth
“We are CNHC! Fuck the rock stars. It’s not a coincidence that we are all fond of the name of RTT just because it’s our insight of life and faith to future.” Return the Truth are a Beijing-based hardcore band who emerged over a decade ago, quickly joining the CUA (China United Action) crew. Formerly featuring singer DJ, the band regrouped and have been releasing tough tracks like “Die Hard” and the 2021 single, which speaks to the situation everyone was feeling at the time, “Everything’s Fucked.” “Everything’s fucked. We fucked it all up. We’re all gonna die. Go and save yourself.”
‘The sexiest, hairiest and loudest band in China’ marked 10 years of being a band recently. This is no small feat for a group which includes several expats. The Shanghai-based group, on albums like Culture Shock Treatment, took everyday occurrences in China and turned them into social critiques that locals and expats alike could relate to. Recently, the strains of COVID put a halt to their 10th anniversary show, but that just adds to the growing legend of Round Eye, where tragedy does become humour and often a song.
Shave ‘N’ Shut
A skinhead on a crucifix with one arm free with a bottle of beer in hand says all you need to know about this Oi! punk band from Beijing. This is the cover of the band’s Brewed in Beijing (which may be also a reference to Yanjing beer) EP. While the band says “Made in China! Bad Quality!” on their Facebook page, the disc sounds produced well enough. The band is not all about drinking their faces off, though, as songs like “Fight for Rights” reflect the strife that they and all fellow punks go through in their daily lives.
Shochu Legion 烧酒军团
The Beijing-based three-piece band Shochu Legion features heavily tattooed punks bringing the heavy, crusty riffs which crowds eat up in the form of skanking, started jumping on the stage and shouting lyrics into the mic to favorites like “Mask.” “Social needs… I put on a mask. Work needs… I put on another mask. Family needs… I put on a yet another mask. My needs… I put on yet another mask” grunts vocalist Han Qian. Take off your mask and join the legion.
Shoot the Gun
Shenzhen is a tech city located in the deep south of China, near Hong Kong. Under the brilliantly illuminated skyscrapers in an underground club, you might just catch Shoot the Gun playing. This hardcore band brings the beat down – shouted, gang vocals, crunchy riffs and the odd breakdown allowing the audience to break open the pit to catch some fresh air.
生命之饼 – SMZB
Wuhan is known for being a focal point for punk in China and out of this city and the famed Prison Bar come legends SMZB. The band has a notable Celtic influence, though their songs are all over the map, with some about China’s war heroes, some like “Red Riot” condemning the event with the lyrics “Red riot. Red riot. How many ignorant fights? Red riot. Red riot. How many innocent died?” and on “The Chinese Are Coming” the lyrics humorously state “The Chinese are coming. They aren’t terrorists but worse than Vikings.” Oi! Their latest single “Ten Thousand Ways to Rebel” also acts as a tribute to the Chinese punk scene and to the late Lei Jun (China’s most famous skin head).
Spill Your Guts
SHHC. Shanghai hardcore punk band Spill Your Guts describe themselves as blackened hardcore. The band is another featuring expats who found their way together in the metropolis of Shanghai and decided to create something cathartic for the masses of underground fans. Their fan-made video for “Full Blast” is a peek into the daily chaos caught on CCTV cameras across China. – car crashes, cops bashing a taxi, a guy’s crotch getting burned and a truck going full speed out of a tunnel engulfed in flames.
Fronted by Kang Mao —China’s long running band SUBS have enjoyed, throughout their 10-plus year tenure, experimenting with different mediums, making the band get classified as “art punk” more often than not. Their latest full-length, yoU aRe yoU, continues the trend, experimenting with new wave, post-punk, psych, and electronic among everything else and the kitchen sink.
It’s always a mystery as to what Tianjin-based Teddy’s singer will be wearing on stage. I have seen him don butterfly wings and a pink ballerina dress, underwear, a gimp mask, and on all fours looking literally a human dog (Iggy Pop reference goes here). They play equally rabid punk, with songs like “Masturbation Master” and “Noisemaker” allowing mosh pits to open up early and the temperature in the former punk watering hole of Tianjin, DAFA bar, to heat up significantly.
不复之血 Unregenerate Blood
Still Young! Still Angry! The next generation of Chinese punks should use Unregenerate Blood’s album title as their motto. “Wake up! Change! Fight! Try to survive!” the band commands in the track “Light in the Dark” while concert-goers throw down in the pit. The Beijing-based hardcore band released the vinyl version of this album via Madness HZ Records. Add it to your collection and you may look the opposite of the child on the cover.
Xiao Wang (Little King)
This Beijing based “kawaii-core punk” band, obviously influenced by J-rock and pop as much as punk and hardcore. Cute one second and hostile sorceresses the next, the band always keeps the listener in a state of suspense for what’s to come next. Although a newer band on the scene, Xiao Wang have been a part of some major punk festivals including Tsingtao Calling and Smash Your Ass.