Qin Qiang and Me
The quest to find listenable music in China is not an easy one. Despite an easily romanticized view of this ancient place and its rich cultural traditions, one is much more likely to encounter wretched pop music from Taiwan or Korea, watered down versions of western bands or endure countless hours of suffering in a karaoke bar.
Though the realm of traditional music offers much respite, I often find my dick in my hand rather than a microphone when stumbling upon it, but a form that has profound value to me personally is Qin Qiang or "the sound of Qin".
Although the variety of opera found in China is as diverse and the linguistic variations (sorry know-it-all Americans, if you think you sound smart to not call the language Chinese, I hate to tell you, nobody knows wtf is Mandarin or Cantonese here) usually distinct to each province. The specific form found here in Shaanxi is marked by a brutal visceral force that I see as coming from the same place in the heart and the gut as punk rock or even metal. True to these similarities to other branches on the musical tree, a d.i.y. spirit and culture exists around this musical anomaly.
In this vast urban sprawl and densely populated city life, you will always find a park. MECCA's home is nestled with the confines of a former city zoo and although in a constant state of construction induced flux, it is the people of this neighborhood who make the park what it is: a gathering point in the community. Here, not in the theater or on the stage will you find the essence of Qin Qiang, at least in my perception.
Another trait Shaanxi Opera shares with its punk brethren, it is almost universally disliked in any mainstream context of musical notion. The most consistent criticism I hear, "it's just noise". That is supposed to be a deterrent to me? Regardless of background, Chinese or laowei (foreign), I can say absolutely, pretty much everybody I know hates it. It is an older generation of Chinese who have kept this fire burning and with the rare opportunity to be the youngest guy at the show, the novelty of my white skin and ridiculous accent, I do stand out a bit when arriving at a performance. The fact that I tend to stand front and center, drinking beer and head-banging to the songs perhaps emphasizes this, but it does indeed come naturally.
Each day, elements from the retired class of my neighborhood (this city has roughly the population of NYC and I don't know of a single retirement home) wake up each day, fill their ever-present tea cups, grab small collapsible stools and in most cases put their axe (the stringed instrument er hu) on their backs, and make the walk to the park to join with their friends and just play. From that time around 9 am until the strict adherence to a 12 o'clock lunchtime, nothing exists except for music. Although a crowd may randomly assemble to watch, or some unknown person might stumble upon them and join in, this is a core d.i.y. music community with no motivation beyond playing, no concern for the popular tastes and no consideration given to any outside influence. This is pure music, art and culture and it belongs to them.
Yet, the brute force and raw emotion is as intense as it is made out to be. Through shouts, growls and arrhythmic screeches in the local dialect, stories are told, but I don't think you could say these words are articulated. The male and female voices form distinct roles and the high shriek of a woman's squeal and the guttural urgency of the man, can invoke very different spirits.
Unable to really find an attitude or music that I relate to here, my experience with Qin Qiang was a social and extra-curricular one. I attended performances for enjoyment and leisure and although I wish I would have made more effort to make a truly documentary approach, I glad in hindsight to have had a valid experience.
Shaanxi Opera X is mostly a thrown together thing, from the scraps I managed to capture in my time in Xian, but I think that the passion these artists exude can register in the spirit of rock and that the sound of Qin really can be heard calling out from the muddle of these field recordings.
I think the sentiment of peoples’ attitude towards Shaanxi Opera can best be explained by the simple words heard at the conclusion of the final collage piece of this release. After making a quick mimicry, my building security guard can be heard saying simply, "I don't like this".
If I was an aged Chinese man, and this was my home, I would hope my dedication to this music would be a wrinkled yellow middle finger in the face of those who
released November 28, 2013
SHAANXI OPERA X
Qin Qiang remix and field recordings
2012/2013 Xi'an, Shaanxi, China
MECCA / Scott Nydegger
1. Shaanxi Opera X
Live at 易俗社 Yi Su She National Theater
Live sound by Cratan
Mobile recording and remix by MECCA
2. Xian Opera whY
Field recordings from Wan Cheng Gate Opera Street
And Changle Park (Old City Zoo)
Mobile recording and collage by MECCA
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