Shanghai has grabbed the attention of internationally successful musicians in recent years. This has given the city’s local bands and musicians a share of the limelight – and a lot of them are well worth being discovered and enjoyed. From bubblegum pop to heavy metal, there is something in Shanghai’s music scene for every kind of music lover. Insider tip: if you’re in Shanghai, check who’s playing at the MAO Livehouse. This venue puts on great local music acts and is well worth a visit.
With a debut album released to massive critical acclaim in 2018, Dream Can have made a considerable impression on the city’s music scene. This three-piece, all-female psychedelic rock band from Shanghai are a weird and wonderful surprise. Following in the footsteps of experimental female math rock bands of Japan like Tricot, Dream Can breathe much-needed new life into the Chinese rock scene.
Punk rock has seen a resurgence in China and there is no better example than Spill Your Guts, an intense and aggressive hardcore punk act. The band is made up of Western expats living in Shanghai, rather than local Shanghainese. In 2018, the band toured across Russia for a fortnight, took all the best footage from that tour and turned it into a music video.
For those looking for something more classical, Ji Liu is an excellent place to start. Ji Liu is a local Shanghai star who since a very young age has been tipped as something of a music prodigy. The pianist takes the power of classical piano and mixes it with the softer tones of lounge music, creating unique and soothing melodies. He also breakdances (though not while simultaneously playing the piano).
Embodying the kind of punk that was huge in the ‘90s – that is, punk with a skater influence and a sound that blends ska, hardcore and grunge – Dirty Fingers are arguably one of the biggest underground bands in Shanghai. They’re energetic, fun and keep themselves very busy with regular live shows. For all their swagger, they’re also fantastically competent musicians.
After you’ve spent enough time in Shanghai, you’ll notice the term ayi flying around. Literally meaning ‘auntie’, people use it as a term of endearment for an older woman. Lao Ayi (or Old Aunties) have taken their name from this idea and are delivering to the Shanghai music scene something very fresh and exciting. Similar to Dream Can, they are a three-piece, all-girl band but of a slightly different style; specialising in quality post-punk in the vein of The Stranglers.
Although now based in the US, Guo was born and raised in Shanghai. She has burst into the spotlight as an accomplished cellist who has kept her roots close through a mastery of the Chinese erhu (a two-stringed Chinese fiddle played with a bow) as well as the cello.
This thrashy, sludgy hardcore band provide blast beats, groovy riffs and guttural shouts galore. Their music is very intense, with a garage sound that harks back to the hardcore tunes of the ’80s and ’90s. A grassroots band who work hard and play even harder, The Loudspeaker put on an intense show and are well worth seeing for the energy and spectacle alone.
Another immigrant to the US, Bright Sheng established himself in his native Shanghai before leaving for America in the ’80s. He has taught, written, played and composed his way through some incredible contemporary classical music, including having written three operas – the standout titled Madame Mao (2003). His genius method of fusing Western classical music with a deep Chinese influence makes for an interesting sound.
This article is an updated version of a story created by Rachel Deason.