Growing up in a traditionally conservative culture, many Asian kids (including myself) looked for a rebellious outlet. I turned to the stereotypical emo-teenage-angst phase. I listened to the basics like My Chemical Romance, Green Day, and Panic! At the Disco. I also wore black religiously as a way to reject anything my parents liked. I was not very successful—I called myself emo but my parents didn’t let me go all the way enough to let me wear intense eyeliner and spike chokers. Admittedly, it was a phase that did not last very long, but it was one of my most memorable ones. Even now, I find myself going back to listening to bands that bring me back to middle school days. So, if you were a former emo Asian, I propose to you some edgy Asian bands you absolutely need in your playlists. Without further ado, here are my recommendations to my veteran emo Asian folks from a former edge-lord.
Attic is a Bengali pop-punk band with a lot of influence from Western emo music. I think I found this band looking through articles to find hidden Asian band gems, and this got recommended. Attic has a lot more pop instrumentals than other bands that I found, but once you hear the tone of the lead singer, you can tell this band screams pop punk. For comparison, the lead vocal has that iconic nasal sound that reminds me of Green Day or Blink 182’s singers. Personally, this sounds like something my younger self would be more into. It has the traditional early 2010’s emo elements blended with modern pop aesthetics, which compliments each other very well. There are some people who have a burning distaste for pop punk, but I think that it is a genre that works well when executed properly, which Attic does. If you enjoy softer vocals, less screaming, Attic is definitely a band you need to check out to revisit your 2016 emo nostalgia.
2. Go Lim
If you live in a traditional Vietnamese household that listens to Paris By Night and cai luong, do not show this to your parents because they will roast you. Apparently, this type of genre isn’t very appealing to Vietnamese elders, which I learned the hard way. To my parents, Go Lim was noisy and had meaningless lyrics, but to me (a certified rebel) this band speaks to everything I enjoy in an artist. Go Lim is an empowering band that brought the post punk scene to Vietnam. My favorite song from them is ‘Cac Ban Dung Nghiem.’ It’s such a fun song, and the juxtaposition between the lyrics and arrangement of the song is absolutely genius. The song follows a story that reflects daily school life of kids having fun and getting yelled at by their teachers. When I heard it the first time, I fell in love with the artist and their album Gai Lang. Unfortunately, the lead vocal passed away a few years ago and the band split up, leaving listeners with only one album. But, Go Lim is a band worth looking into if you enjoy experimental and funky music. This one was definitely one of my favorites, and one that should be remembered for their work.
3. Dir en Grey
This is just a classic, and there is no way around this fact. They have been together for longer than I’ve been alive, and despite this, they are still releasing music. In my opinion, you rarely go wrong with Japanese rock, and Dir En Grey is a prime example of that. Dir En Grey is a Japanese visual kei death metal band that has an insane discography. I am in love with all of their tracks, including their old ones, which is surprising (I am very picky when it comes to committing to metal bands). I prefer their newer albums compared to their older ones, but all of their tracks are still amazing nonetheless. Their songs vary in intensity with some tracks like ‘Ranunculus’ having softer vocals, whereas ‘Hageshisa to, Kono Mune no Naka de Karamitsuita Shakunetsu no Yami’ is just pure noise, screaming, and death growls--and I love it. In general, if you enjoy heavy metal and intense bands, Dir En Grey would be the best place to start when exploring Asian metal artists. I think they are just the standard of Asian artists in rock from their music to their aesthetic.
4. An Empty City
This is your traditional metalcore band with a lot of bass boosts, screaming, yelling, and death growls. If you want aggressive, An Empty City would be one of your best bets. They are a metalcore band based in China, and I’m shocked that they are not as popular as they should be despite their undeniable talents. Death growls are very vocally straining, and the fact that the lead singer does this throughout the whole song in all of their tracks is extremely impressive to me. The instrumentals are just as strong as the vocals. In their song Monolith, the lead guitarist plays an insane riff that compliments the vocals and the drums. Overall, they deserve more hype and recognition for their work, but it would take a few more releases for me to be fully invested. Granted, they just recently began releasing studio tracks, but I hope in the near future, An Empty City is successful with their music.
This band I found while browsing my Spotify recommendations. Parvaaz is an Indian band which has a more alternative progressive discography with a tamer sound compared to other bands. Many times when you focus on the instrumentals, you can hear the rock influences in their music, especially in their older songs like ‘Beparwah’. The lead vocalist has a voice that is extremely unique, with a soft yet powerful tone. If you’ve watched the Korean show ‘Super Band’, the lead’s voice reminds me of Purple Rain’s lead Chae Bo Hoon. They both have soulful voices, and it really adds to their strong sound. Parvaaz is, again, a lot softer than the other bands that I recommended, but it is still a great band to consider listening to. If you have an appreciation for alternative rock or neo-folk, I think that Parvaaz would fit your music taste perfectly.
6. Rina Sawayama
Recently, I came across sludge metal while listening to random Spotify playlists, and met Rina Sawayama. I wanted to include a western Asian artist in my recommendations, plus I thought Rina should be mentioned at least once when talking about Asians in modern music in general. Rina is a Japanese-British artist that mostly focuses on the pop genre. I found her through her song STFU!, a nu metal song that blends pop and heavy metal. The way she transitions from ballad like vocals into aggressive sludge vocals was so surprising since not many artists do that. I especially love and look out for bands that experiment with different genres like Rina does. Most of Rina’s songs in general are a blend of pop with electronic music, but a select few of her songs incorporate nu metal elements into them, which is great if you prefer less intense songs. I would also mention the cinematic masterpiece the music video for STFU! was. It addresses Asian stereotyping and the condescending treatment towards Asian women, and is so amazing to see in mainstream work. Overall, Rina Sawayama is an absolute must to have in your playlist whether you enjoy rock or not She always has a song that fits anyone’s taste.
There is so much good music out there that people refuse to listen to because of the supposed ‘language barrier’. I will never stop telling people this: if you don't listen to songs outside of your native language, you are missing out because there is a whole other world of art out there. You don’t need to go through an emo phase to listen to emo music, just like you don’t need to understand a song to enjoy it. Western music is so dominant in international mainstream music, which is not inherently wrong. But, because of the saturated influence of western artists worldwide, this dilutes foreign artists and their presence in the music industry, both domestically and internationally. You are not entitled to purposely go out of your way to listen to artists for the sake of diversity, but it is definitely enriching to experience interpretations of genres from foreign artists.
One of my favorite resources to find new Asian artists is Unite Asia, which is a website dedicated to promoting rock bands from everywhere in Asia. My taste is constantly changing, and I am still looking for artists who experiment and produce good music. I encourage you to do the same, regardless of the popularity, genre, or language!
Author: Quynhnghi Tran
DeclarASIAN Blog Contributor