Originally from Shandong, on China’s east coast, rock star Xie Tian Xiao 谢天笑 (aka XTX) studied Chinese opera as a child, but turned to rock at age 14, when he borrowed a guitar and taught himself to play.

A rebellious, ironic rock star at a time when China had few domestic models to look to, XTX got his start in Beijing in the mid-1990s, forming the grunge act Cold Blooded Animal 冷血动物 and releasing the band’s self-titled debut on underground rock label Scream Records in 2000. A 2002 tour of the US, during which Cold Blooded Animal became the first Mainland rock band to perform at SXSW, and two years living in the States, honed XTX’s vision. To his grunge anthems, XTX started adding guzheng (a classical stringed zither), plucked with glam-rock flair.

Brash stage tactics and winking song titles (Cold Blooded Animal’s “Last Night I Might Have I Already Died” and XTX’s “Who Was It Who Brought Me Here?”) have made him a staple headliner of Chinese summer music festivals. By 2008, he was performing as a solo artist, releasing Just One Desire (2008), The Last Man (2009), and Illusion (2013), and headlining Beijing’s Workers’ Gymnasium in 2013.