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Chinese Pop Music History 20 Years Special - Tang Dynasty
    2007-04-25 15:11:32     CRIENGLISH.com


Their music might have sounded unpleasant and unusual to the ear of audiences who were used to pop music from Hong Kong and Taiwan. But in the mid-1990s, rock was on the rise. It was under these circumstances that Chinese-American Kaiser Kuo came to China and formed China's very first heavy metal band Tang Dynasty together with other three members in 1988.

What made Tang Dynasty stand out from the rest is that they infused traditional Chinese culture into heavy metal rock, a western production.

From its establishment in 618 to its downfall in 907, Tang Dynasty was the most prosperous time in Chinese history. How is the Tang Dynasty associated with rock? Kaiser explained.

"The reason Tang was such a great dynasty in Chinese history is because it was so cosmopolitan, it was so open to outside influences. Rock music, the Western phenomenon, is something that was introduced to China. I thought it fit well with the mood. Also, I think there is a relationship between metal music and martial traditions, whether they are western or Chinese. Many of the musicians here, in Beijing specially, who play music grew up reading 'Water Margin' or 'Romance of the Three Kingdoms.' And (I) love martial arts stories like Jin Yong. Yeah. That's what I was thinking when I came up with the name."

Growing up in America, Kaiser was greatly influenced by Western heavy metal, which is bombastic and crusty.

"I grew up listening to a lot of old Genesis, Peter Gabriel and the few albums immediately after him, King Crimson. But I also love the classic stuff. Zeppelin and the Who are two of my very favorite bands to this day. I also like a lot of newer metal bands and something of the old classic heavy metal bands, Sabbath, Judas Priest and Iron Maiden. And the band that probably influenced me most when growing up, probably the most reviled band in history in terms of the music critics, is Rush from Canada. I love them and I love them without the slightest bit of embarrassment to this day."

Apart from music style, the band also borrowed the "rock" image from the West: four boys with long hair in silver metal and black leather coats.

Perfectly carefree, it sounds very hippie. But later, they proved themselves able to make China's own rock music.

At the beginning, Tang Dynasty was temporarily formed for a soundtrack to a Chinese film. They were a no-name rock band like many others in Beijing. The wheels of fortune turned after they met the founder of Magic Stone Records and secured a record deal.

Holding up their music beliefs, Tang Dynasty finally rose to fame in 1992 with a self-titled debut album called "A Dream Return to Tang Dynasty."

The album combines elements of traditional Chinese opera and old-school heavy metal. Lead singer Ding Wu borrowed many singing tunes from Chinese opera that made him sound special as a heavy metal rock musician. What's more, some lyrics were even extracted from poetry in the Tang Dynasty.

What you are hearing now is called "Flying Bird" from their first album. Ding Wu's high-pitched voice stands out distinctively from the music.

Apart from traditional Chinese vocal techniques with lyrics that brought people back to the glorious days of Chinese civilization thousands of years ago, Tang Dynasty's music can be considered homegrown Chinese rock music, as the late bassist Zhang Ju explained.

"Our band is not a productive one. We won't write songs only because fans ask for more. Our music should be about our lives, our experiences. "

Tang Dynasty's music comes from their heart and soul. That makes their works very Chinese.

The band became a heavy bomb in the music industry, which was at that time filled with sentiment and nostalgia.

The album sold 2 million copies in Asia alone. Their music video won the MTV best Asian music video award. At that time, Tang Dynasty was voted the best Chinese rock band and became the most notable cultural phenomenon in Asia. What's more, their lightning-fast guitarist Liu Yijun, who joined the band later, became China's first guitar hero.

But today, when we look back, we are no longer sure whether the emergence of Tang Dynasty in Chinese rock arena was a blessing.

They infused so much aspiration and passion into their first album, it reached a level that no one has to this day, even they themselves, will be difficult to surpass.

Maybe rock is a kind of music that only belongs to the poor and downtrodden. It's about aggression. After Tang Dynasty became rich and famous, they may have lost the very spirit to make genuine heavy-metal rock.

What's more, the 1995 death of bassist Zhang Ju in a motorcycle accident dealt a heavy blow to the band.

The band's subsequent release, "Epic," seven years after its debut, received lukewarm reviews.

People still missed the strong convulsion inside themselves as they listened to "Ninth Tempo" from the first album. The sound of the guitar was like a sharp knife thrusting into your body.

A year after the release of their second album, Kaiser left the band. Tang Dynasty needed to find new partners.
The band now still plays live in Beijing occasionally, with no firm date being set for a new album. It doesn't matter now because people seem to enjoy talking about their historical success in 1993 and recalling the most glorious days of Chinese rock music.





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