The Underground Bands Playing Out China’s Hit TV Show
A new television drama has taken China by storm. Released on April 22 on Tencent Video, the Chinese homicide drama “The Long Season” has quickly jumped to the top of review site Douban’s scoreboard and dominated social media discussions in recent days. However, viewers have not only been impressed by the show’s high production value, or the exceptional performances of its lead actors — its music has also left a mark.
“Every song selected to be the ending of each episode is a godsend,” wrote a netizen on the microblogging platform Weibo.
Set in rural northeastern China, “The Long Season” tells the tragic lives of several families tied to an old factory. Blue-collar workers here were once held in high esteem, before massive layoffs at the end of the 20th century disrupted many of their lives. The show follows these families as they explore an old homicide case, which shocked the small town and changed the lives of its residents.
The show has been widely praised for its masterful evocation of life in a small Chinese town at the turn of the century, with many fans especially impressed by the show’s unusual choice of soundtrack: mainly songs from Chinese underground bands, stitched together with stunning visuals of a lost era.
Unlike most other Chinese TV shows, which have set opening and closing theme songs, each of the 12 episodes of “The Long Season” ends with a different song. Several of these songs are in English, including a downbeat version of English classic “Blue Moon,” sung by Chinese band The Molds.
But perhaps the choice of somewhat obscure Chinese bands should not be that surprising. The show’s director, Xin Shuang, used to be a guitarist in the legendary Chinese punk rock band Joyside. He then became a director and found success with highly-rated TV show “The Bad Kids” in 2020, which was also praised for its soundtrack. On both shows, Xin worked with the same music director, Ding Ke.
Below are some of the bands featured in the series.
Hiperson & Fazi
Formed in 2015, Chengdu-based five-piece rock band Hiperson first gained mainstream attention with the release of the hit song “No Need For Another History.” The band’s name — which sounds similar to “Hi person” — comes from the desire to have a dialogue with its fans, the band’s guitarist said in an interview.
Meanwhile, indie rock band Fazi was formed in 2010 in the central city of Xi’an. The band is famous for its electric live performances and wide range of musical influences, from post-punk to heavy metal.
The song “You Turned My Face to Tomorrow,” co-produced by the two bands, is the ending track of the fourth episode. The moody song begins at a pivotal moment of the show, starting with a low female voice singing acapella before an intoxicating electronic beat kicks in and the refrain rings out: “Suffering is just an illusion of the body.”
Formed in 1997, Supermarket is regarded as one of the first electronic bands in China. The three-piece band, made up of a guitarist and two DJs, has a dedicated cult following in the country — in large part due to its longevity. For many fans, the band harks back to a period when the country’s electronic music was exploding in popularity in the 2000s.
“Who can imagine one day I would be hearing Supermarket in a domestic TV drama? This is the first time I don’t skip the ending of a TV drama,” a viewer commented on Tencent Video.
Their song “Entelechy,” released in 2015, is the ending track of the second episode when a main character in the show finds out that someone from the past who played a crucial role in his son’s death has returned. The experimental song, with its metallic stabs and radio chatter, rounds out the episode in a suppressive mood.
“Bit by bit, day by day, year by year, I have never changed,” the lyrics go, as the main character loses himself in a cornfield.
Formed in 2001 in Beijing, legendary punk rock band Joyside dissolved in 2009 before making its grand return a decade later. The band was the subject of the documentary “Wasted Orient” by Kevin Fritz, which depicted the band on their first tour at a time when rock music was not popular in China.
“They managed to keep the essence of punk, the old school passion, the classic chords and tones, the frank and direct stage presence. There's nothing more enjoyable than that,” said Yan Jun, a Chinese experimental musician, in an interview with The Paper, Sixth Tone’s sister publication.
Joyside’s “If There Is A Tomorrow” ends the penultimate episode of the series. The English song relies heavily on lead singer Bian Yuan’s crooning vocals, which has continued to inspire fans to leave their life’s problems and troubles on comment boards for the song since it was released in 2020.
Formed in 2006, The Molds and their Chinese name, “Die Young,” were so-named because the band members believed that all their favorite musicians died young. Heavily influenced by American rock band The Cramps, the band often sings covers of famous English songs, including “Blue Moon,” which ends the first episode.
The slower-tempo version of the English classic kicks in as the main character watches his son at their dinner table. As the song goes on, viewers see that the boy’s mood changes, as water drops from his shivering hair, ending with a portrait of him pinned on a wall.
Editor: Vincent Chow.
(Header image: A still from The Long Season. From Douban)