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The Missing Master: "China" in Zuoxiao Zuzhou's Music and Art

A discussion with Zuoxiao Zuzhou, a leading musician, composer, and activist of contemporary China.

April 4, 2013 6:00pm to 8:00pm

Michael Timmins, Cowboy Junkies

Zuoxiao Zuzhou, Musician, poet, activist

Center for Chinese Studies (CCS), Townsend Center for the Humanities

From Zuoxiao Zuzhou’s beginnings as an itinerant street vendor of cut-rate CDs and self-taught guitarist, he has developed a rich and distinctive musical idiom which draws playfully and with great passion on rock and roll, Chinese folk and operatic sounds, and electronic textures. His lyrics are complex, poetically ambiguous, sometimes scabrously funny, and full of heartbreakingly melancholic insights into the harsh and sometimes absurd social realities of post-socialist China. Zuoxiao Zuzhou’s prolific work as a musician and film composer (with 15 albums of original compositions to date) has also garnered a great deal of attention outside of China. He’s an electrifying performer, and has toured across China as well as in Europe.

He has also become a leading composer for independent Chinese films, working closely not only with Ai Weiwei, but also writing music for the most globally recognized film auteur of his generation, Jia Zhangke.

Zuoxiao Zuzhou’s work as a maverick artist and public figure has been multi-faceted. He was one of the founding members and leading figures in the “East Village” artists village of the 1990s — a Beijing based group of artists who fueled the later explosion of Chinese visual and performance art in the global marketplace. His first band, No, was a pivotal experiment in avant-garde rock music, and its influence is still felt in underground and alternative music circles in Beijing. When faced with rampant censorship and music piracy in his solo career, Zuoxiao took the production, product design, and marketing of his music into his own hands, revealing his talent as one of the best studio sound engineers in contemporary China, while also pioneering a controversial new direct business model that eliminated political interference (by removing state-run music companies from the equation) and copyright infringement (by offering his music free on-line). He is also a novelist and memoirist, whose two published books feature wildly creative accounts of the artistic life in a country hell-bent on development at any cost. Whether in his books or his songs or his graphic art, Zuoxiao Zuzhou pushes the envelope artistically and politically, maintaining a tough, humorous, unflinching and clear-eyed empathy for those who have been silenced and marginalized, despite the clear and present dangers of such a stance.

Zuoxiao Zuzhou is the greatest popular musician of his generation, a brave and thoughtful voice of dissent, and an artist of rare talent and integrity., 510-643-6321