Dongguan From the Underground: Music to Your Ears

ATM (阿童木)

ATM (阿童木)

As a vehicle for the outpourings of the soul, music perhaps has no widespread equivalent. Whether it’s a guitar strum, vocal tones or melodic tapping on a desk, organized sound is always there and ready to express any and every mood.

Guga Santos

Guga Santos

“I think people need to be more open to expressing their thoughts through writing. Whenever I had a problem, I’d go and grab a piece of paper and write down some words or rhymes. It became addictive. For me, that’s how I got started in music,” said local Brazilian rapper Guga Santos.

It’s practically a given that asking anyone whether or not they enjoy listening to music will elicit a reply of yes, they like everything. Huge swathes of people today are extremely spoiled when it comes to choice regarding most anything. Not too long ago, you had folk music played by workers for some brief after-work entertainment and the bourgeoisie had refined, “classical” music.

Discerning what’s good and bad in the gigantic mix of options can be so exhausting that some choose everything and nothing at all. Others grow disillusioned with what’s out there, so they create their own favorite hits.

“Today, there are too many bands in China. The music industry is messy. These days, we prefer foreign bands since their music is more avant-garde. When listening to the music from Chinese bands, we always consider whether this music is able to keep up with trends,” said Hei Guo (黑锅), guitarist and vocalist for ATM (阿童木).

Mic Junior (咪仔)

Mic Junior (咪仔)

Development is always available if there’s something that’s worth striving. If nothing excites a society, progress is sometimes reversed and people will revert back to comfortability.

“Before you came into local clubs around Dongguan and most of the people were in the pit dancing wildly. They’d shake and follow the rhythm with the DJ. Now, you can only see people playing dice and asking the DJ to play some Lady Gaga,” said DJ Mic Junior, founder of the Basement DJ group.

There’s nothing wrong with pop stars and playing games on a night out, but when you go to a music club, shouldn’t it be to appreciate the sounds and feel the urge to move? Some blame the entire music industry for widespread carelessness.

“The radio scene, it’s hard to handle. They want you to be something you’re not. They don’t care about your music, only that it sells. So, if I could get my music on a [record] label, I would only be happy if they accepted me for me,” Guga clarified.

Perhaps ditching mainstream music altogether is the answer.

“It’d be very hard for most people to focus exclusively on underground music. This would need consumers to calm down and listen carefully to the work, otherwise it wouldn’t make sense. Most people in this century prefer fast-food-style music and don’t have the patience to do this. Some will just feel it’s all too noisy,” Mic responded.

Others disagreed.

Nan San Men (南叁门)

Nan San Men (南叁门)

“To be honest, I don’t really like this “underground” word. The ideas we want to share with Dongguan is a kind of positive culture, not the one with so many four-letter words like the previous style,” said Soul Man (瘦文) of the Nan San Men (南叁门) rap crew.

Like other cultural forms, free-spirited music in Dongguan has struggled to keep up with China’s urban giants.

“Art seems more passive in Dongguan. The people here may not want to understand and analyze the arts positively. After all, Dongguan is an industrial city, where the cultural and artistic atmosphere hasn’t grown enough. Cultural development has only begun in recent years,” explained Hei.

His bandmate, bassist Peng Haibin (彭海彬), goes further.

“Many cities began to make original music earlier than us and they did very well. However, in the past few years, Dongguan is getting better and better, and slowly matching other cities. Especially this year and the last, Dongguan’s cultural output progressed quickly,” said Peng.

Like others pursuing alternative art forms, many musicians migrate from similar interests, curious about new possibilities in different environments.

Chum Rock (鸡偆)

Chum Rock (鸡偆)

“I started breaking in high school and became interested in working as a DJ after almost four years. So, I bought a small DJ machine to try it by myself. I later met my current tutor at party through Jasonz (of Puzzle). After the party, Jasonz introduced me Mr. Tommy and told me to ask him to teach me. He initially said no. Later, he finally agreed and I spent almost a year as his apprentice,” said Chum Rock (鸡偆) of DG City.

He’s not alone.

“At first I was also a dancer. When my parents realized that I could earn some money by dancing, they came to accept it. Later, I told them I was now a rapper. Because I already had a foundation, they also accepted this. My parents could see what I learned from all this, like how to face the difficulties and how to communicate with others. They understood the value,” said Young White (小白) of Nan San Men.

Still, even with a vision, complications can easily arise from a lack of nurturing social support.

“My parents don’t yet support me. Even a few days ago, my dad was still asking, ‘why don’t you look for a real job?’ Their thinking is quite traditional. I insist on continuing because I want to prove to myself and to let my parents know that I truly can do it. What they thought before was wrong,” said Fly Tiger (老虎), also of Nan San Men.

Whatever music you like and however you like to enjoy it, all agree that the everlasting creative impulse should be used for good and become a force of positivity wherever it goes.

“No matter what happens in the future. We will keep our principles and attitude. We are all locals and we want to do something useful for the city. Our contribution is letting more people know about this culture,” declared Fly Tiger.

Category Cover Stories