Tree Village and Beijing Underground

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This paper attempts to reveal the lifestyles and life-attitudes of Beijing underground rock artists and analyze the various geographical patterns, including settlement, migration, and organization, associated with them. A special focus is placed on Tree Village and its surroundings. The time frame stretches from mid-1990s to mid-2000s.
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   Tree Village and Beijing Underground By Greg Yang8/15/10  8/15/2010 TreeVillage and Beijing Underground Greg Yang2 0.   IntroductionThis paper attempts to reveal the lifestyles and life-attitudes of Beijingunderground rock artists and analyze the various geographical patterns,including settlement, migration, and organization, associated with them. A special focus is placed on Tree Village and its surroundings. The time framestretches from mid-1990s to mid-2000s. To my regret I am not able to gatherprimary sources through first-hand field study in Beijing. Nevertheless I havefound a myriad of sources and data that have been very enlightening on thismatter.1.   The Underground Community(ies)There are a few consistent themes in the Chinese (and especially Beijing, which will form the basis for the analysis below) rock scene: among them areoverground vs. underground; community vs. individuality; and conformity vs.marginality. The fringe nature of underground rock movement necessitates anetwork of interconnectivity among its musicians for several reasons:1) The Beijing underground of late 1990s and 2000s is formed by out-of-towners 外地人 who are attracted to the cultural capital. This city offers the biggest poolof rock audiences and the only rock and roll school in the entire nation -- the MidiSchool of Music. In fact the school proved so instrumental in uniting musiciansfrom around the nations that the famous poet and music critic Yan Jun onceremarked that If it would change its name to Midi Music Association, I don'tthink anyone would object (Yan 2002). But common Beijingers have adeep-seated prejudice against these out-of-towners that roots in the historicalpolitical and cultural dominance of the capital. They treat them as uncouthheathens and to an extreme even inferior citizens (I remember suffering some of this prejudice at school back in the 90s). This is not unlike the attitude of city dwellers toward industrial newcomers from the countryside in early cities. Thustheir common exclusion was cause for their mutual inclusion in the undergroundrock community.2) Beijing society (and indeed that of any other major cities in China) is extremely complex. Dead corners are everywhere. Without the right connection, it'shorrifyingly easy for an outsider to be conned. Particularly, rockers need to know the right people to play for and the right places to play at. Even if they can findthese eventually, having connections significantly saves their time, which, giventheir general poorness and lack of a second job other than playing music, is  8/15/2010 TreeVillage and Beijing Underground Greg Yang3 money that goes into their basic amenities. So again, the insider-outsidercomplex also forces them to bunch together.3) Last but not the least, their common rock spirit forms the inherent bond of thecommunity. The underground shares the same disgust toward commercialization,and often times toward the brainwashing nature of the mainstream (of course, with the irony that the underground is constantly incorporated by themainstream). They play not for mass consumption, but for fans who appreciatetheir music --- in other words, they do not seek to persuade, but only to expressmeaning and unmeaning to those who wish to interpret, those who already possess the rock spirit. A running joke in Beijing says, “Metal bands play forthemselves; punk bands play for the next band,” and another goes, “Any Beijinger who listens to rock has probably already formed his or her own band” (“BeijingUnderground”).Let me qualify this seemingly united front of the underground. In truth, theunderground despite a monolithic appearance is diversely fragmented by subgenres, especially in the extremal forms like death metal and hardcore punk and even hip-hop. It’s furthermore fragmented by geography which is oftenclosely associated with genre. On the national level, the Beijing scene will be morecohesive within itself than with the Wuhan scene; on a municipal level, which isthe primary concern of this discourse, two far apart rock villages will intersectmuch less often than with themselves. But regardless, the spirit of experimentation and pioneering pervades the entire body, and interplay betweensubgenres are not unusual, as exemplified by the song 《都别废话》 ( Shut theFuck Up ) by Twisted Machines and the rapper IN3, which remarks: “ 摇滚和 hip-hop 没有冲突 (There's no conflict between rock and hip-hop).”(From here on, this essay deals with geography more intensively, and for yourreading ease, a Google map is provided here: http://maps.google.com/maps/ms?hl=en&ie=UTF8&msa=0&msid=102676223201368928949.0004877330e78c0349526&z=11 )2.   Historical BackgroundThe cohesion of the underground both leads to and is a result of its geographiccongregation. Historically, Emperor Kang Xi in 18 th century built the summerpalace Yuanmingyuan 圆明园 and his son Qian Long encouraged its settlement of artists and built it up as a cultural hearth of the nation. This was all destroyed by European Imperial powers in the Second Opium War in 1856-1860. But in late1980s and early 1990s, a second wave of artists settled in it and recreated the  8/15/2010 TreeVillage and Beijing Underground Greg Yang4 palace as a center of avant-garde art. Among the settlers mingled some poor rock students of Midi. Even though this art village was closed down by the Beijinggovernment in 1995, the spirit of community remained, and its artists dispersedelsewhere to join existing or to create new ones. At the same time around 1989, a small group of rockers centered themselvesaround Xi San Qi 西三旗 , the base of Cao Ping (a famous rock instructor) ; amongthem was the fledgling precursor of Tang Dynasty (“Band Data”). Sometimeduring mid-1990s rockers also gathered around Dong Bei Wang 东北旺 , to the west of Xi San Qi. According to Jereon Groenewegen, year 1997 saw the emergence of a new rock community centered in the Tree Village 树村 as discussed above (55). This groupalong with Dong Bei Wang is largely formed by out-of-towner rock artists aroundthe country. (Prominent among them was the band Tongue whose role in theunderground formed the basis for Groenewegen’s master thesis.)3.   Geographical Visualization and Factors of Migration and Settlement All of the above communities mentioned dot(ted) around northwest or northBeijing just inside or outside the 5 th ring. To get a contemporaneous sense of theirgeography (much of which has changed in the rapidly developing city that isBeijing), let me translate a passage from “No, Tree Village is Not Utopia” by themusic critic and researcher Yan Jun (I have provided the Chinese characters of important place, people, and band names after the English names) : From the west gate of Qinghua University head north, pass the stinky the river on the left and the piano factory on the right, and you’ll reach Tree Village. Then after a street you’ll see Hou Ying 后营 --- from July 1998 on groups of Midi students settled in here and made it a lively village. Now head north for another 20 minutes, pass Tree Village Elementary School or Rock PawnShop, and if you aren’t hit by the 371 buses that run on the street then you’ll have arrived at theChrysanthemum Park East Station 菊园东站 . Then, of course, walk west to reach the park itself.If you don’t mind me jabbering on, walk north for 15 more minutes and you’ll find yourself at acrossroad. Around you are some restaurants, grocery stores, supermarkets, neighborhoods, black cars (taxis without licenses), idle people, dirty water, and, finally, a big sign saying “Dong BeiWang” 东北旺 --- This is the other major rock village.What should be of your concern right now is the police station 150 meters from here. If youaren’t a legal resident of Beijing, you’ll very likely be jailed in Chang Ping and fined and bedeported; however, if you are, let’s continue north through the narrow alleys and spacious streets, passing the Dong Bei Wang Elementary School and the old fishing place, to Gou Bei Tou’s 沟北头  public bathroom. Immediately turn east and proceed to the end of the road. OK. Tongue
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