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Carsick Cars front man Zhang Shouwang (Mark MacKinnon/The Globe and Mail)
Carsick Cars front man Zhang Shouwang (Mark MacKinnon/The Globe and Mail)


When it comes to indie rock, is Beijing 2010's Montreal? Add to ...

The Carsick Cars were prevented by the Ministry of Culture from opening for Sonic Youth when they played in Beijing in 2007, and a show last year by the now-defunct Oasis was cancelled at the last minute when Chinese authorities discovered that members of the band had once played at a Tibet Freedom Concert in New York. It became much more difficult for foreign bands to play here after Bjork, the eclectic Icelandic singer, ended a 2008 concert in Shanghai by shouting "Tibet! Tibet!" over the final bars of her song Declare Independence.

Yang of PK-14 says high politics are less of a barrier for him than modern Chinese society, which defines success in very Western terms: a steady job and a house that you own outright. Yang says his band has only run afoul of the censors once in their 12-year career - they were warned before a Beijing music festival last year not to play a youth-rising-up song called "Red Bars." The 36-year-old has far more frequent run-ins with his parents, who regularly remind him that playing rock music for a living is not "a real job."

In China, it isn't yet. Nearly all the musicians who have come to Austin have day jobs that pay the bills that CD sales and proceeds from the shows don't.

"In China, life is about saving face. If you play rock 'n' roll music, you're kind of weird, you're kind of a freak," said Yang, who recently started a side career as a freelance record producer after years as writing reviews for the arts sections of local newspapers and magazines.

"Rock music in China is even more about rebellion than it is in the West. We live in a different system, so we define ourselves by our music, by our art, by doing something."

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