A practice of expression, individualism and a form of art; music and fashion are intrinsically linked and it’s a tale as long as time. Long-lasting fashion trends, fashion fads, cultural expression, youth subculture; all these things inspired by music. From Beatlemania, to glam rock and grunge, Europe has seen its fair share of music-influenced fashion trends in the past 100+ years. Question remains… What’s happening in the East?
Chinese music may lead you to think of age old folk songs or high-pitched karaoke ballads, but times are changing, and China’s underground music scene is now finally in full flow. Before Deng Xiaoping’s reforms in the late 1970s, western pop culture wasn’t exactly welcome in China. Culture was highly restricted, ruling out any kind of underground movement.
However, subsequent years of economic growth and political relaxation have resulted in a more diverse music culture. With continued efforts of China’s underground artists, the scene is flourishing, as is the style scene.
We now see a relaxed, effortless and androgynous dress style when it comes to raving, opposed to the previously conscious and formal aesthetic.
“With the continued efforts from China’s underground artists, the dance scene is stylistically flourishing.”
We only must quickly glance into the past to know that music and fashion are inherently linked. The punk movement, the sixties, the nineties, grunge, house,…. Where to begin?
Europe in 1992 was introduced to grunge and music bands like Pearl Jam, The Cranberries and Nirvana, all growing in popularity — as was their style. Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain made slouchy and loose cool, in a period where an amazonian body-conscious Super(model) silhouette was the desired look. Worn and torn, ripped jeans and layering; we have Cobain to thank for all of that. Inspiring the likes of Balenciaga, Gucci and even Kanye’s recent Yeezus collection — aka an obsession with oversized everything. The grunge aesthetic has been imitated again and again on the catwalk. The famous Marc Jacobs Perry Ellis grunge show in 1992 was modeled by the likes of Kate Moss and Naomi Campbell. It proved a collection that celebrated fashion’s response to an iconic decade and an iconic musical influence.
Yet, there is more. One of the greatest examples of when British music and fashion combine is the resurgence of grime music over the past three or four years. Grime has very much merged into the mainstream and the fashion world has taken notice. Take the Nike Air Max trainer which has become a kind of unofficial uniform for grime artists and the fan base. The catwalk has also become more streetwear friendly with the tracksuit now branded as an ‘acceptable’ menswear staple, all made trendy and modern thanks to grime. Grime artist Skepta is bringing back the tracksuit from its council estate roots and into high fashion as he took to the catwalk during London Fashion Week for Nasir Mazhar. There you have it, a prime example of how a new genre of music can influence fashion trends, both on and off the catwalk.
A new open-mindedness regarding music can be reflected in fashion, with a more relaxed, carefree raving style now embraced by China’s budding underground clubbing scene.
China’s Young Spinsters Are On The Rise
Back to China, we circle, and we’re not referring to the “leftover women” this time around! Out with the traditional piano or violin classes: A number of young Chinese students are now learning to spin their records at DJ school. China mega-source Sixth Tone recently crafted a topnotch report on this, showcasing just how many young Chinese DJs, as young as 16, are playing Shanghai’s No.1 underground dance venues.
Let’s take DJ Gouachi (Shi Jiayuan) for example: Schoolgirl by day, DJ by night. How very Batgirl. Her soulful rhythms and bass heavy beats show off some clear talent and promise, which has already been recognised by the industry. Shi told Sixth Tone, “When I first started DJing, my parents were strongly against it, however, they now see it as a job and have come around to the prospect.” It really is all about that bass. And a savoring of mixing technique.
The Gouachi stylebook is one of minimalism. She dons a short black bob with a lick of red lipstick, trainers met with oversized sweaters; all in the name of simple and practical fashion. This style MO is something we can also expect to see with her grooving fanbase and those getting into the red levels at her gigs. A new open-mindedness regarding music can be reflected in fashion, with a more relaxed, carefree raving style now embraced by China’s budding underground clubbing scene.
The carefreeness surrounding music hasn’t always been the case in China. Buying foreign music has only been legal in the country for the past ten years and the government still closely monitors the country’s music scene.
The Generation Gap
The generation gap in China between young people and their parents is perhaps bigger than in the West due to the radical social changes China has seen in the past 20 years. The open-mindedness surrounding music hasn’t always been the case in China. Buying foreign music has only been legal in the country for the past ten years and the government still closely monitors the country’s music scene. For young Chinese electronic DJs, finding success can be challenging when online sources such as Soundcloud, Instagram and Facebook are blocked, particularly in this social, digital society we now live in.
However, now parents, like DJ Gouachi’s, are giving their children the freedom to decide their own destiny, even if that be DJing until 5AM on the weekend. Furthermore, the younger generation in China seem to have a desire to be different and unique, welcoming Western influences with open arms — hence the move away from mainstream pop music and in with the new EDM, underground and house.
Raving Style: The A- And B-Sides
As for China’s global financial hub, Shanghai, there are two sides to the club scene: It appears to be either glitz or grit, no in-between.
A “show off” attitude pervades Shanghai’s ‘super clubbing’ culture. Garishly bright lights, loud Steve Aioki remixes and overpriced alcohol are three things you can expect at super clubs like MYST and LINX. This culture extends as far as fashion — with high stiletto-ed heels, bodycon dresses and suits — for both the men and women attending these venues. Dressing to impress is high on the agenda. What’s more, the aforementioned clubbing caves are not just Shanghai exclusive, they are now becoming commonplace throughout China, Beijing and Guangzhou are just three cities home to a plethora of these clubs.
However, on the other side and going far beyond these so-called super clubs, we find the likes of DADA and Elevator, packed to the rafters with expats and trendy Chinese hipsters. These clubs have a gritty, raw edge — like a nightclub from early 2000s EDM Walhalla Berlin that’s been dropped in the middle of China. The fashion here tends to be laid back: Trainers and t-shirts, a world away from the super club fashion. In fact, it’s so dark inside the clubs that usually what you’re wearing doesn’t even matter anymore. It all becomes about the music and people from diverse cultures and backgrounds coming together to enjoy it.
Perhaps the super clubs of Shanghai should feel nervous about the lively and booming underground scene quickly evolving on their doorstep. I smell competition!
What’s more, it’s safe to say china’s underground scene is experiencing a power surge in terms of festivals, Storm festival in Shanghai has been happening on stages since 2013 and continues to grow in terms of color and design. The 2017 Shanghai festival dancers and stilt walkers boasted “extra-terrestrial” costumes and festival goers are commonly encouraged to dress creatively too.
Most recently we saw the Yin Yang Great Wall Festival, where electronic music made it onto the set of one of the world’s most ancient wonders. Foreigners and Chinese alike traveled from far and wide and in pursuit of dance music and self-expression. It’s safe to say that the dance storm is brewing and spreading outside of Shanghai and its first-tier compadres, into locations such as Nanjing and Changsha. Most significantly, it will travel outside of Mainland China for the first time, in 2018, to Taipei and Sydney. Though these festivals are becoming heavily commercialized, they are making EDM and dance music more prevalent across the vast land that is the Middle Kingdom.
Summing up, then… Mainland China has evolved into a global, international country, as has the music. With new underground venues incessantly sprouting from first to third tier and young artists emerging, the sky’s the limit for EDM, dance and the overall underground scene music in China.
Perhaps China’s next greatest export will be its thriving underground music scene and the hip contemporary style collective that’s maturing along with it. Tomorrowland is today’s nation; from sub-bass to supernova!
Edited by Elsbeth van Paridon for Temper Magazine
Featured Image: BB Deng. Courtesy of Tianjin Expats
Copyright@Temper Magazine, 2018. All rights reserved
As a freelance journalist, she specializes in Chinese society and fashion, her fascination surrounding the East grew since living and working in a rural ex-fishing village on the outskirts of Shanghai.
Aspinall aims to capture a sense of the colourful and dynamic contemporary China, which continues to revolutionise and evolve.
Aspinall holds an English Literature degree from Sheffield University. She explored the literary canon, starting with old English and ending with the contemporary period, her area of speciality and research is post-war British social realism. While studying, she also on gained experience at the BBC, local publishing houses and copy edited the student newspaper.
Since moving to China, she has written regularly for Temper Magazine,The Shanghaiist and her personal blog. Her interests include gender fluidity, the modern representation of women, sustainability and the underground scene in China.