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September 21, 2017

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Contemporary music scene strikes a chord with listeners

BEIJING--After decades struggling with official censorship, China's contemporary music scene is finally taking off, fueled by live shows, the Internet and a government eager to cash in on a growing market.

Chinese indie bands came late to the music scene, largely missing out on the lucrative days of vinyl records, cassettes and compact discs, and also suffered enormously from state broadcasters' preference for pop.

But from rock to rap and hip hop to grunge, the independent music scene has blossomed in recent years as the Internet and an explosion in live venues have given an outlet to acts long shunned by state-run television and radio.

"Since I have been here, everything has changed," said Helen Feng, the lead singer of the electronica band Nova Heart who returned to her native Beijing in 2003 and has just finished a European tour.

"The changes in the music scene have been massive. Everything has gotten better, personal liberties have gone up, the numbers of bands have gone up, the numbers of venues have gone up, financial support has gone up, fans have gone up."

Born in Beijing to Chinese parents, Feng, 34, spent most of her childhood in the United States where she was raised on the likes of Natalie Cole and George Gershwin, eventually graduating from University of Southern California where she minored in music.

Since returning to China, the blonde diva has been at the center of the Beijing music scene, fronting three different successful bands, while working jobs with state radio and television and American music video giant MTV.

Feng, whose bands have toured throughout China, playing numerous outdoor music festivals, says there is no longer much government antipathy to modern music — something veteran music producer Kenny Bloom agrees with.

"The government has become supportive of the music industry ... no one is banned in China and no one is arrested for singing a song, at least not to my knowledge," said Bloom, who runs an Internet platform promoting Chinese indie bands.

While available sales data is thin, bands get by on what they make from concerts and fairly low-level CD sales in a market notorious for piracy.

Bloom said many of the around 100 music festivals that now take place in China every year were sponsored by local governments eager to showcase their local enterprises, bolster regional tourism and let the music industry grow.

"The fact that they give licenses to all these music festivals is a great indicator... they are letting these big festivals take place ... with up to 60,000 people going to them. And nobody seems to mind."

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