The titles that Haining Feng has received could hardly be more prestigious. She has been called the “pop ambassador of the People’s Republic”. In Western media, she is repeatedly presented as the “Blondie of China,” and she is even often referred to as the “Beijing’s Queen of Rock”. Feng herself, smiling modestly, on the other hand, hangs her rank a bit lower: “A few acquaintances told me that I have now achieved official ancestor status – but probably not for more than ten people. I guess that’s just what happens when you start playing music and manage to stick with it long enough.”
For two decades now, she has been a defining figure in the Chinese alternative scene. Born in Beijing and raised in the US, she was drawn back to the People’s Republic in the early 2000s when she was recruited by MTV China for a job as a host. There she encountered a generation of young Chinese whose subcultural currents had to make do without a relevant music scene, since rebellious genres like rock’n’roll were still on the censorship list until recently.
Beginnings at MTV China
In 2004, she founded the indie-pop band Ziyo and was promptly signed by Warner Music. Soon after, parallel to Ziyo, she formed a rock group, Pet Conspiracy, which also achieved a breakthrough and caused a sensation in the West on a European tour in 2008. Feng endures this double burden for a few years, but ultimately both bands have to break up for personal reasons. But ever since, she has never been able to keep her feet still for long. Feng immediately launches her next project, Nova Heart, in 2010, for which she is still in the spotlight as a singer and producer – and not, as was the case not long ago, as Helen Feng, but rather under her real name, Haining Feng. She called herself Helen when she was younger to be closer to her Western audience. Today, however, she feels that her name change was nothing more than a result of internalized racism that she was instilled with as a child.
Alongside her music career, she still finds the time to run the record label Fake Music Media. The motivation for this stems from the desire to become independent herself and to be able to support other bands in the Chinese-Western exchange. As if her organizational talent was not already sufficiently proven, she also manages something of a private sanctuary. An apartment in Berlin where artist friends such as the photographer Ren Hang, who died in 2017, writer Mian Mian or the music producer Rodion can retreat during important creative phases – “all in the spirit of Berlin, right”?
Musician, record label manager
When speaking, Haining Feng sets the same breakneck pace as her CV is colorful. In one breath, she contrasts her parents’ youth, exiled to Mongolia by Mao, with the burgeoning skate culture she encountered during her time at MTV, only to return to how her family more or less co-founded the Communist Party but was then cast out in the wake of the Cultural Revolution. She’s fed up with constantly being asked the same questions in the West about censorship and artistic freedom, but no doubt sees herself as a critical voice: “I’m not trying to poke the dragon, but like to give it a thorough massage now and then”. The next massage dates are scheduled for the summer, when she will once again electrify the stages of China with Nova Heart. Julius Schwarzwälder