Chinese Artist Ai Weiwei Releases a “Heavy Metal” Song & Video Recalling His Harsh Imprisonment

Burly Chi­nese artist and dis­si­dent Ai Wei­wei has nev­er lost his sense of humor, even when fac­ing harsh repres­sion from his gov­ern­ment. But while the idea of 55-year old Ai record­ing a heavy met­al record might seem like a stunt, the source mate­r­i­al for his first sin­gle, “Dum­b­ass” (above), is any­thing but fun­ny. The furi­ous­ly angry, exple­tive-filled song is inspired by Ai’s harsh treat­ment dur­ing his 81-day impris­on­ment in 2011. He’s call­ing the musi­cal project “a kind of self-ther­a­py” and will release six tracks on June 22—the sec­ond anniver­sary of his release—as an album called The Divine Com­e­dy.

Ai sings (or howls, growls, and bel­lows) in Chi­nese. As you can see from the grim images in the video above—with the artist re-enact­ing and re-imag­in­ing his expe­ri­ences in detention—the mem­o­ries of his incar­cer­a­tion are still raw and painful. While he’s called his music “heavy met­al,” The Guardian points out that “it’s not exact­ly Metal­li­ca” (unless you count that Lou Reed col­lab­o­ra­tion). Ai him­self says of his sound:

After I said it would be heavy met­al I ran back to check what heavy met­al would be like. Then I thought, oh my god, it’s quite dif­fer­ent…. So it’s Chi­nese heavy met­al, or maybe Caochang­di [where his stu­dio is based] heavy met­al.

Call it what you want: Chi­nese heavy met­al, prac­ti­cal joke, avant garde per­for­mance piece… it’s still like­ly to get Ai in even fur­ther trou­ble with Chi­nese author­i­ties. As he explained to the New York Times, how­ev­er, he “want­ed to do some­thing impos­si­ble…. I want­ed to show young peo­ple here we can all sing…. It’s our voice.”

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Who’s Afraid of Ai Wei­wei: A Short Doc­u­men­tary

Ai Weiwei’s Par­o­dy of ‘Gang­nam Style’

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Wash­ing­ton, DC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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  • Alexov says:

    Man (if I may sound so dat­ed and old), this Chi­nese heavy met­al music ain’t too bad. It’s actu­al­ly quite lis­ten­able. But the singing? I guess there is dis­si­dence in dis­so­nance; my ears just can’t cope with it. I am too used to singers who can hold a note, in key. I last­ed about a minute :)

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