December 2009 Archives

Photos: Bang Bang Tang live @ Mao

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Bang Bang Tang are a Shanghai indie pop band who have strong folk and ballad influences. Their music is defined, in my opinion, by the formidable musical skill of the band and the strength of singer Xiao Bai's voice. 

Here's their Douban page.
And here's Jake talking about their video, and here's the video itself.

Photos by Kyle Fong and Rock Shanghai.

bbt xiao bai

bbt chen gong

Maybe Mars returns + January goodness

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Hard to believe it's almost a year since Splitworks brought us the Maybe Mars showcase as part of their Jue Festival. Here's what I wrote about it back then.

This time around it's at Mao Livehouse and features a more rock oriented line up with PK14, The Gar, 24 Hours and Rustic. Click on the flyer for a legible version and you'll note it's on Friday 22nd January. Here's the Douban event page.

Regular readers of the blog will not need reminding of how awesome this is going to be. The last time was a real event with great bands but the questionable acoustics at the Dream Factory deadened the enjoyment for me. Mao on the other hand is a world class, purpose made music venue. With a potential Expo shutdown on the way, this could be the event of the year already. 

Talking of cramming stuff in before the Expo, take a look at some of the shows coming up this January:

Sat 2nd
Zhong Chi, Sonnet, Coverpeople @ Mao
GuaiLi @ Yuyintang

Fri 8th 
Triple Smash, Forget and Forgive @ Yuyintang

Sat 9th
Tookoo, Bigger bang @ Yuyintang

Mon 10th 
Great Lake Swimmers @ Yuyintang

Fri 15th
Duck Fight Goose, Boys Climbing Ropes @ Yuyintang

Fri 22nd
Maybe Mars @ mao

Sat 23rd 
Metal/Hardcore @ Yuyintang including Suzhou's awesome Mo Xie

And don't forget, there are plently more shows than that going on each week in the district's smaller venues such as Harley's, Sus2, Logo and Anar ... not to mention regular venue shows at Live Bar up in Yangpu.

That's Interview sort-of out now

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Thumbnail image for Andy Best That's
I mentioned before that Nicky Almasy had interviewed me for an upcoming That's Shanghai feature on music in 2010.

So the feature has two versions, a less cut, rambling version which is most of the conversation and a punchy Q and A version that will appear in the print mag soon.

So, the longer version is now online ... right here.

It's always interesting to see all ends of the process. Anyone who has written for a mag or paper before, one that thinks of itself as professional and all that, will have notice the huge amount of butchering editing that goes on. In some cases errors need correcting and some adjustments are good, but I mean the wholesale cutting and all too obvious bursts of we're not going to talk about that.

Which is why I'm surprised that the bulk of the Expo comments are in, and some of them into the print edition too. Although Top Floor Circus had not had the song banned at that point.

Here's the odd thing. The Expo stuff is in but a mention of Soma is out. In the long version which you can go to at that link, I mention the Mushrooms. In this one it talks about them going back to their roots, without having gone anywhere else yet. That's because originally there was a few lines saying how they signed with Soma/Indietop and then stagnated etc, you all know the story by now. Then they go back to their roots.

So yeah, you never know. 

Cigarette Butt & Yuguo live @ Yuyintang

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yantou flyer
Christmas Day and it's off to Yuyintang to catch a Leonard Cohen-esque miserable band. Yes!

On the bill for Cigarette Butt's EP release tour:

Yu Guo 羽果 

Yu Guo were also performing as Cigarette Butt's backing band as they are essentially a duo. Both bands hail from Nan Chang City in Jiangxi. It is worth pointing out that Yu Guo currently have their entire Live In Shanghai 2009 Album on that page for free download.

Now. Cigarette Butt are an excellent deadpan, miserable folk-indie duo. They are best sampled when looking dead ahead and miserably singing This is the sunniest song. Go there now and listen to it, it's this one 最阳光的歌 Also note the hit count and and fans. The kids love this act.

Yu Guo opened with excellent sound that showcased Xie Hui's virtuoso vocal performance. They are a super professional band who rehearse full time and are managed by Zhang Haisheng of Yuyintang. They have recently been to Spain too, check out the nice photos. Tonight they played a shorter set of tracks from their first album Lost Paradise. The youngish, local audience were suitably entranced by Chun Xiao. Everyone's fave.

Cigarette Butt lived up to their sound live. Vocalist/guitarist Ah Bu 阿布  is a tall and formidable guy with real presence. He took centre stage and never smiled or betrayed any emotion other than annoyance and subtle misery. Fellow performer Wang Ranran 王冉冉 is petite and quirky, contrasting Ah Bu. Yuguo are a tight band and the music sounded good. I went away lamenting the lack of an industry (as usual). Yu Guo and Cigarette Butt are not exactly my style of music but listen to the songs at their pages - if there was a halfway functioning national music industry, like in Taiwan, both these bands would be massive and well loved.

Photos: Boojii

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Shanghai experimental band Boojii have recently released their first album on Modern Sky. Here's what Jake said. You can hear the track Detective M at their page here. I'm a big fan of 猫酱 too.

boojii two

boojii one

Christmas metal and anti-greetings

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chaos mind bw
I'm not really religious or anything and on top of that I also find the commercial aspect of Xmas annoying, so I'm going post about satanic heavy metal music on Christmas Eve.

And before we get there, after all that talk about the Expo and music, Adam Minter comes on Shanghaiist with possibly the most ignorant remarks on the subject ever written. It's number two on his list. 


I have often blogged about the Shanghai metal scene, most recently about the Hell United collective whose flagship act are Chaos Mind. Another favourite of mine are Fearless.

Chaos Mind now have seven quality tracks available at their Douban page. The news is that they have made a version of Scream available for free download. They also have this CD available about town (also called Scream). 

So go there now - here's the page - and check the MP3 player at the side of their page. The track you want to check out is Scream. I prefer the 4:33 version, but that's just me.

New Year gig bliss, new Mushrooms demo

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new year flyer
Christmas has come early. Like 359 days early. Next Christmas, yes.

With all the uncertainty about the Expo next year, now is the time to get in as many shows as you can. And Yuyintang give us The Mushrooms, Double Control Where and Forget And Forgive on New Year's Eve. The best live band in Shanghai supported by two of the heaviest rising stars. 

Yes, those are the two bands I just posted on.

To help matters, The Mushroom's have posted up another excellent demo at their page. It's their newer track wangzi 网子 and you should listen now right here. Regulars at the shows will recognise it straight away.

This is going to be the show. It will be packed and wild and a real night to remember. Although, it falls on a Thursday so who knows. Anyway, despite the Mushrooms shows being the best shows this year, they are still largely ignored by the large contingent of ex-pats who sometimes show up to pack out a gig. I have to be honest though. If you're the kind who would rather sit in a hip bar sneering at Emo, or if you put tacky bar promotions on New Year's Eve above independent bands and local culture, then yeah ... don't come. 

It's already going to be full up with people who care about music culture and who have shared so much on the scene this year.
double control where
Update: Hmmn, "Some just want everything" may be the newer demo. Doesn't change my take on them and the hits on the other track are good. But it may be an indicator that my brain is ageing like wine (turning to vinegar).

Ah, I'm am positively beaming at the thought of the looks on 80% of reader's faces when they listen to this demo. You see, it's normal for me. One of the defining moments of my late teens was seeing Kreator live.

So, me and Jake talked a bit on the podcast about a new trend among Shanghai bands. Young bands are taking emo and screamo and stretching it. The verses are thrashy to the point of speed metal and Carcass like gargling while the choruses bounce to the hooks of Chinese pop. Jake calls it extremo. It's a welcome one in the face for those who label Shanghai's scene too commercial.

Double Control Where are one of two of these bands that are about to breakthrough. Forget and Forgive are the other.

Please go to DCW's page and immediately play their new demo called Say Goodbye

Double Control Where have been playing a round of shows lately and this new demo tops it off. They supported the Mushrooms at Mao but seemed a little out of place, despite the Mushrooms being fans. They came into their own recently at the Emo Band Party 2. At that show they conceded the headlining slot to F.A.F. but the new demo shows me clearly who is out ahead now. Within the first few hours of being on their previously quiet Douban page, it has racked up nearly one thousand listens.

Douban band pages (音乐人) are still very much used only within the scene and its diehard audiences. It's important to understand that. It's only very recently that some bands have broken through a bit and lifted the indicators. Carsick Cars and PK14 have listens in the thousands. The Mushrooms are the first Shanghai indie band to break similar numbers. But for a completely new band with no release, label or history to get nearly a thousand listens off the bat is a strong indicator of buzz within the (small) scene. 

Did I tell you to listen to Say Goodbye?

Top Floor Circus gig banned cancelled

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OK. So if you've surfed in to this post or are here for the first time, here's how you can catch up on the story of Top Floor Circus, the Expo and The Man.

The final concern of the story was Top Floor Circus's Christmas show at Mao Live Shanghai. Check out the flyer.

The Man had also contacted Mao Livehouse and everyone was waiting to know one of two options. One, that the multi band show went ahead but with the post-Bjork large show regulations. That is, all the songs must be checked by The Man and Shanghai Welcomes You not be played. Two, the show be outright cancelled, i.e. censored/banned by The Man.

And the answer is ... drum roll please ... number two, cancelled.

Sonnet and friends live @ Yuyintang

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sorry pinkberry
Tonight gig was called 谁没有一个SORRY的昨天 which translates on the flyer to We all have a SORRY yesterday

The flyer features Edison Chen and some references to his scandal. Have a look.

So, yeah, better get this out of the way. You see "Sorry" the English word used in a Chinese sentence is a new slang word, apparently hot in Beijing now meaning some wild thing you did. It is also the name of Sonnet's new song which they debuted on the night - getting all this?

So, line up:


Apart from newcomers Venus this gig features all the bands signed to Lezi's new label. So let Jake tell you about that here

First on 21 Grams. Smooth and passive instrumental tracks that start quiet and layered, build to a crescendo and then come slowly down again. Textbook post-rock and if you like that sort of thing, you'd have loved their performance tonight. After that came Venus. Venus are an all girl band with attitude, joining Second and Black Luna. They came on all in matching styles, all black, tight and with a tinge of dominatrix. They are brand new but the crowd warmed up to them by the end. Despite the look and the guitar riff based songs, they were very pop. However, with the thought and effort they are putting in to being a band I'm sure they are going to do well down the line.

Next up was Pinkberry, the first band with a kind of air of expectation around them. I love the band and have followed them closely on the blog. But since changing their bassist and drummer they have not got the mojo back. Toni's Gibson Les Paul and ripping power chords should be bouncing you around the hall, but he was barely audible tonight. With a better sound live and with band members that live up to Xiao You's performance, they will be back strong. 

Joker are traditional blues and they stayed true to the tradition of asking the audience to stand through ten minute long jams that don't appear to go anywhere. And then Sonnet. Sonnet are a big band on the scene, the flagship band of Lezi's label and of this show. And this was a show after a smallish break to debut a new song. But it all felt very indifferent. Sonnet at their best are a punchy modern indie-pop band with tight dance beats and wit to match their slicing guitar chops. But the whole show tonight was on the quiet side (as in the actual volume of the PA).

Nothing to be SORRY about tomorrow.

Duck Fight Goose demos available

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Duck Fight Goose are the newest act from the Shanghai based Miniless collective. Jake calls them the Miniless Supergroup.

They share three members with Boojii and they are fronted by Miniless founder and Lava | Ox | Sea frontman Han Han. On their page the members are listed as Duck, Goose, Panda and Dragon.

Lately the band have been putting on a steady stream of shows and are already getting a good reputation. Their music is experimental but anchored by tight rhythms and  prog rock riffing.

So. Now up at their page are three demos. Although, they are basically rehearsal tapes but it will give you a chance to check out their style and hopefully whet your appetite for the next show. Don't forget: The universe will be saved by animals!!! 动物拯救世界!! 

Thoughts: indie rock

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Thumbnail image for low shoulder nikolaiYeah, but, I think it's really important to connect with our fans in shitty areas too.

Nikolai Wolf (Adam Brody) of Low Shoulder.

How did this start? Well I read something at Layabozi. This. And I wondered if I was one of those people who stopped following new bands once they were past a certain age. Could be as young as college graduation or whatever. Zack sez:

I'm sick of these old geezers telling me what music is, that today's music sucks, and that the mid-70s to mid-80s were when music was real. Especially when they probably haven't seen a live show in 20 years. Especially when they haven't listened fully to a recent song in the last 5, probably ... So don't lecture me about music anymore, please, or I will impale you with Neil Peart's drumstick. Thanks. Now let's get to the picks. Of MODERN music.
Of course, my blog gives me a pass clearly, but I felt a pang when I read this. I do keep up with music back home, despite having being away for the better part of ten years but mainly certain genres. I have to admit to having an impulsive distaste for the late nineties and noughties music phenomenon - the modern rock or modern indie band.

low shoulder sixteen
Let's be fair. The advent of the internet and Myspace Music et al saw an explosion in the sheer amount of bands you had access to. And modern rock is almost a medium as much as it is a genre. Sitting at home taking your pick of the MP3s eliminates a lot of the real world tribal/cultural aspect that used to go with it. That's one reason I respect Emo kids, they have the look and the group aspect. Anyway, it's harder to discern is what I'm getting at. How do you pick? Here it's fine, I just go city wide. Follow the bands I can see and meet.

As the noughties close I found that someone gets it. Diablo Cody, in fact. Which is odd because the actor representing her ideas is Adam Brody, who starred in The O.C. which was where I first heard a lot of modern indie bands and is the epitome of a lame TV drama with endless whiney indie tracks on its soundtrack. This is the thing, all these bands sound the same (so goes the cliche) but they are all trying to sound different. Trying too hard in fact. There's nothing worse than band who tries to make sure their music is subtle, complex, tonally interesting or whatever. Because trying to be meaningful or interesting, as opposed to just being yourself, is what leads to painful pretence. Like when Natalie Portman tells you to like The Shins in Garden State, a real band. Painful.

low shoulder sixLet's get back to our man Adam. Oh, by the way, I have a confession to make. Despite what I just said about The O.C. and it's soundtrack,  its theme song California by Phantom Planet is one of my favourite songs. Oops.

So the movie I'm getting to is Jennifer's Body, which is well good, never mind what you've heard. The eponymous character falls in with average-ish indie band Low Shoulder. Adam plays the singer Nikolai Wolf and he's f*cking amazing in the role too. So, turns out the band believe the only way to break through is to get in league with Satan. They sacrifice poor Jenn at the beginning of the movie and go on to massive fame and riches. Obviously something goes wrong with that or the movie would be over pretty quickly.

You'll have to watch the movie to get my train of thought but here's the lines from my favourite scene in the movie, when they kill Jennifer by the mysterious Devil's Kettle falls. The band are standing in a dark forest with a burning torch illuminating their faces. Jennifer is tied up on the ground and hysterical. Then there is this three way exchange between Nikolai, Jennifer and a nervous band member, Dirk. Nikolai starts us off:

Dirk, do you want to work at Moose Hoof Coffee for ever? I don't. Do you want to be a big loser, or, do you want to be rich. Like that guy from Maroon 5.

Maroon 5.

Ok, that's what I thought. Go and fetch me the ritual brother.

(takes out clean looking sheet of paper) 

That's it?

Yeah, I found it online. We come here tonight to sacrifice the body of ... what was your name again, Tiffany?

(sobbing) My name is Jennifer.

Super. We come here tonight to sacrifice the body of Jennifer from Devil's Kettle.

(sobbing, begging) Please don't do this, I'll do anything, I'll do anything.

low shoulder thriteen(takes breath, pauses) Do you know how hard it is to make it as an indie band these days? There's so many of us and we're all so cute and it's like if you don't get on Letterman or some retarded soundtrack you're screwed. Satan is our only hope. We're in league with the beast now and we have to make a really big impression on him. To do that we're going to have to butcher you. And bleed you, and then Dirk here is going to wear your face. (Turns to Dirk) Relax, I'm kidding about the face. The rest is going to happen though.

Dude, that is a hot murder weapon ....

It's a bowie knife.

Bowie! ... nice.

Photo: Narcissism

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So we recently had some year end articles and lists, but after that comes the predictions for the New Year. Oh, it never ends.

So, when you pick up That's Shanghai at the end of the month, the January issue will include a special music scene preview featuring 2010 predictions from me, Super Sophia (Yuyintang) and Alec Haavic (Jazz scene). Surprisingly, I saw that some Expo talk was kept in. Except that certain people's views on it, like their music, seem to be confined to an elevator-like space. Zing!

Ok, so there was a photo shoot too. Freud says that some narcissism is healthy. Honest.


Andy Best That's

Photo and upcoming article courtesy of Nicky Almasy.

The best show of 2009

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best four
Well, yes, there's always a bunch of lists and picks going up at the end of the year. 

This was my story of 2009

Where to start with shows. What a list to choose from. Blimey.

To be fair, I've always known what I'd write here since the day of the show itself. This was a show that transcended it's existence as merely a good show. It was the embodiment of all that was good and that worked in the scene this year. 

I give you ... drum roll please ... The Mushrooms play Yuyintang May 29th 2009.

Here was a band that was one of the hot prospects in the scene. But, after signing with Soma they had a major line up change and seemed to be losing the plot. Singer Pupu realized what was going on and the band re-united with their 0093 and Yuyintang roots. They got back to basics, practiced hard, and started to 'grass roots' organise via Douban. Over the summer they put on three themed shows at Yuyintang to connect with their new fans.

The second show exploded and they have never looked back. This show featured the wildest crowd YYT had seen for ages, band members reduced to tears and Pupu stage diving for the first time. What's more, this kind of show would usually only kick off when a big name Beijing band came to town but here were home grown heroes who had truly 'arrived'.

best two

best three

best one

Haibao will save us all from dissent

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lu chen tee
Updates: Shanghaiist runs the story and points out that even Ex-pat mags can't make a joke about Haibao.
Jake links this blog about the Vancouver Olympics, where all performing artists have to sign a deal forbidding them from saying anything negative about any of the sponsors or related issues.
Shanghai artist/outlet The Thing, made the T-shirt you can see in the pic. It's gone too.
So, Monday today and another 'chat over tea' with The Man for Top Floor Circus.

If you're not following this, here's the first post.

So, following on from Jake's post today, Shanghai Welcomes You is now off their page and the video has been harmonized from Youku. Not only is it banned from being performed but it must be removed from history too, yes, just like in Orwell's 1984.

In it's place is now an ironic saccharine pop song called Let me sing you a Top Floor Circus song.

There are further complications. As Jake wrote, the incident has led to Mao management being called up too. And, oh dear, guess what ... Mao don't have their own proper license. They basically sub-let the space from it's previous (and current) owner who used to have WTF Club in there. So we're waiting on that too.

This is just the start. Really, shame on anyone who continues to write complimentary/promotional stuff about the Expo and claims to support local culture.

End note, 0093 have now closed their doors as the management refit to cater to it's Expo friendly location. When it reopens, the 0093 crew fully expect raised rent and the search for a new place is on. Once this is confirmed, that's a major blow to the scene at the hands of gentrification.

AV Club's year in band names

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It's that time of year again. Readers of the blog may get the impression that I don't follow music outside of the China scene. But that's just the topic of the blog, not me personally.

My favourite end of year feature is the AV Club's band name round up.

This is one of the funniest lists you can read ... adopts serious voice ... because it's true. Although I still think 2007 can't be beat. These were real band names from that year:

Gay Witch Abortion
Happy Mother's Day, I Can't Read
The Asbestos Tampons
Statutory Grape
Slut Barf

Makes you think though, what China scene band names would make a list like that? Looking through my Douban band pages, I see that most band names seem quite normal or at least they suit the band. There are some odd ones but none as off the rails as the attention grabbing cries for help that come from the massively over saturated and competitive scenes back home.

We have the Retros for acronyms (Rebuilding the rights of statues) or PK14 (the public kingdom for teens).

Elephant Maker, Double Control Where and Banana Monkey are a bit random. What do you all think?

PZ64 @ Yuyintang

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pz64 yyt
This Thursday was New Faces night at Yuyintang as the Wednesday slot was used up by Folk singer extraordinaire  Zhang Qianqian.

The night was to be anchored by newish but together band PZ64. It features blog favourite A Luan on guitar. He used to drum for Pinkberry too. As it happened, all the other potential new bands made their excuses and PZ64 were the only band on the bill.

With Zhang Haisheng manning the desk personally and only the one band to check, the sound was surprisingly good and PZ64 played a tight set. It was a bit on the short side at five songs but the casual crowd of 50 or so seemed to genuinely like them. On their page they describe themselves as post-grunge pop emo. So, yeah, you'd better just listen to the demos.

Expo rising ... it begins

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heil haibao
Ok. let's get the main bit out of the way first:

Following the recent break out of a video of their Expo themed song Shanghai Doesn't Welcome You, Top Floor Circus have been brought in by the authorities for a 'talk'.

They have been told that they will not be allowed to 'discuss this topic' in public any more.  It is essentially a first warning but it basically translates into a performance ban. We're assuming the video will go too. People who want to check the sources of this story or verify it will have to mail me at the site mail as I'm reluctant to attach names to this. I'm sure you'll understand.

As for the band, drummer Xiao Ling confirms that if they get approval for their next show on Christmas Day, they will have to have the set list checked in advance and screened for subversive songs.

I've mentioned this on the blog before. Over here, large events lead to erosion of culture and rights. In fact, it happens all over the world at all of them. In Vancouver right now the police can enter and search your house if you are displaying an anti-Olympics sign under terrorism laws. No shit, look it up. Over here, the music scene was shut down for the period of the games and 0093 will have to move at the end of this year.

I don't know, I'm not feeling very coherent or calm right now, but it has to be said:

Everyone who lives here and doesn't have their head down the toilet knows the score. Anyone, writers, bloggers ... whoever ... that claim to support local arts and music or culture, anyone who claims to be in favour of general freedoms, should not be supporting the Expo. Or conversely, if you choose to promote that nationalist/corporate pile of shit, then you needn't talk about local culture any more. It stands for forced relocations, soaring house prices, greenwash, criminal waste of public funds and a roll back of local rights and freedom of expression.

Dongzi folk CD available online for DL

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I have previously moaned on the blog about the bizarre ex-pat expectations of Chinese rock and punk to contain some ethnic flavour in order to be 'real'. I've also moaned about some bands who do this just sounding like the world music genre.

However, if the genre is folk it's all good. Because, you know, folk is supposed to have that stuff in there. 

Then again, when I check out folk shows I'm not always that impressed and the recorded material doesn't seem to come over live. One performer I've seen who can really captivate the punters in that folk way is Dongzi. And now his excellent CD Shi Fang 十方 is available online.

You can go here to hear and download all the songs.

A good place to start is the very first track you see there. It's called Qiang Tou Cao 墙头草 which is a type of grass that bends in the wind. It's a metaphor for followers. Also, I'd love to introduce an artist in the north China hard folk style. Anyone like to recommend an artist in the comments?
bigger bang bw
Two of the best bands I have seen at Yuyintang are coming back for a joint show in January (9th) that should not be missed.

They are TooKoo and Bigger Bang. The gig is officially a TooKoo tour with Bigger Bang, who they share a member with, in support.

Here's the review of the TooKoo show from September 2008. And here's Jake's review of the more recent Bigger Bang show from September 2009.

TooKoo have recently uploaded some more songs to their Douban page which already has a good selection. Check it out here, Take Me Home is their hit. 

You can listen to Bigger Bang right here. Cry For Young and Down!Down!Down! are the anthems and all are available for free DL.

lu chen tee
I have to get something out of the way first. Recently, some sites and people who previously might have given you the impression that they are big Expo supporters, have started posting on the anti-Expo anthem of the underground Shanghai Welcomes You.

Let's establish a time line. When was the song first being performed by and enjoyed by people on the cultural scene who are painfully aware of the real ramifications of the Expo?

Yes, one year late, chaps and chapettes. Never mind there's still time to get some values and get off the Expo.

So. Another disclaimer. If you don't have a reasonable grasp on Mandarin and a bit of Shanghainese too, the song is going over your head.

And finally to the point of the post:

At their Douban page, Top Floor Circus have posted up a hilarious version of Shanghai Welcomes You. It is done in the style of a celebrity anthem where various stars take turns singing the lines. It's not that new and doesn't feature the newer, angrier, version Shanghai Doesn't Welcome You. Still ...

Go to the page here and check it out. It's near the bottom (上海欢迎你) and is the one with over 14000 hits as of today. 

Pepsi fiasco: Shanghai scene story of 2009

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It is fitting that I write this on the eve of Yuyintang's 5th anniversary. YYT is the community model of live music development that was always about the bands. It is the model that worked. Not a business model. Yuyintang simply asked, how can we get bands to play gigs and write music. Why? Because of those pesky humans and their desire to make culture and express themselves. Something that has been going on before the idea of mass marketing, fame or money from art.

As YYT and 0093 successfully triggered a larger scene and a stable downtown presence, the next questions started to be brought up by many people with a different mindset. How can we make money off this or do it full time? There were many aspects to this and many differing approaches and results. But it was all up in the air and there was a sense of mixed feelings and shakey steps. Without a mainstream industry to speak of and with a deeply conservative government that routinely practices censorship, some flirted with the idea of corporate and ad driven sponsorships. 

The bands had vague notions of conflict that had never been tested in reality and the champions of this new approach were, unsurprisingly, people from within the branding and ad industries. And then one day in stepped global giant Pepsico and lit the fuse that would blow up into the scene story of the year.

First came the announcement. The story broke over at China Music Radar and then at Shanghaiist

With a RMB1m prize purse (including cash, equipment, a national concert tour and recording time in LA), and "up to 5,000 concert auditions", Pepsi have made a commitment to the "real" Chinese underground music scene by announcing a new reality TV program to air over 7 months on the Zhejiang satellite network.
This was April 3rd 2009. I commented at Shanghaiist on the post and chose not to blog it directly.Why, I thought, would local rock and underground bands be interested in a talent show put on by a company that markets junk food to kids. CMR's post date of April 1st seemed more relevant to me.

Behind the scenes though, the regular bands of the scene, the better bands and the likes of Yuyintang had decided to give it a go and see. Soon they would all go to the judged 'audition' rounds. 

And then I largely forgot about it. But, this is not about me. is the site the scene uses to communicate. Sean Leow of Neocha called it BBS 2.0 but it's much more than that. It allows you to create separate feeds for friends, groups and band pages so you can easily follow the band uploads and news as it comes out in one stream. At the end of the first week of May, the regular Douban channels were hot with talk of the Pepsi comp. People were angry. Some kind of massive fallout had occurred at the filming and the major scene figures and bands were calling for a complete boycott of the show.

Here's how I broke the story:Pepsi / SMG TV bands show a predictable fiasco 

The lead statements on Douban came from Zhang Haisheng of Yuyintang and Pupu of The Mushrooms: Pupu's statement (Chinese language)

Helen Feng (Pet Conspiracy) added her experience at the Beijing event via China Music Radar: More big brand BS, and I quoted it in my follow up here: More Pepsi BoB BS

The bands and scene people had come face to face with naked, soulless corporate/branding culture. Having been seduced by the usual rhetoric about caring, culture and mutually beneficial arrangements, they were faced with uncaring and ignorant shills who were there to sell junk and expected the bands to simply tell their peers to buy. The musicians were treated with infuriating levels of disrespect and the whole set up was painfully amateur. 

From Helen:

Apart from the in your face branding that made us dizzy, we were also shocked by their serious lack of taste. In the back were a few skinny models in hot pants and a halter-tops also adorned with said logo stretched tight against none existent boobs selling the soda at the bar. Even the people working there had to have said logo painted on their face.

Having never done a battle of the bands before, said soda company had forgotten that unlike other talent contests, bands don't usually come with a back-up tape in hand so had allocated no time for stage changes. In between the bands, the MC (namely me) was suppose to interview the lead singer. This was a bit ridiculous as the lead singer was usually down on the floor plugging in equipment. When I expressed this to the sponsor, the responded by saying "well just tell them to hurry up."

Still with one minute allocated for stage changes, even the speediest of musicians could not get their equipment plugged in on-time. The head of said Soda company came charging backstage screaming at the staff saying things like "tell these kids if they don't get their equipment plugged in less then three minutes they will have points deducted from their total score."

markpepsi douchbagBut was this short lived anger or would it live on and turn into a new level of awareness around brands and branding. Well, it certainly was angry and one kickback was the minor scandal that followed involving the band Pinkberry.

A boycott was agreed by the quality Shanghai bands via Douban and one of the voices on the threads was Pinkberry guitarist Toni Yu. It came as a massive shock just a few weeks later when it turned out that the band had secretly stayed in the comp - and with all serious competition having pulled out, went on to win the whole round. A very mean-spirited Douban thread then went up in which the band were pilloried. 

Here is how Jake Newby reported the incident at Shanghaiist: Pinkberry and the Pepsi pullava 

In a way, the reaction to the Pepsi Fiasco set the tone for the breakout bands of the year in Shanghai. Bands such as the Mushrooms and Candy Shop, both regulars in various band competitions up until that point, went back to traditional indie scene organising. They put on their own shows, worked on the Douban communities and fans, improved their music and expanded their sets. It was this - and not comps or brand friendly management - that has led these bands to be local fan favourites and on the verge of bigger things. 

You might almost say they've done it in spite of 'help' from 'labels', who don't release records, gigs in malls and big sponsors like Pepsi. As we come up to 5 years of Yuyintang it is telling to see that the bands who are doing things are those who did their own groundwork. The story of 2009 is that the various attempts at brand cooperation and sponsorship simply didn't work. But the community based models did. Brands don't want to help bands, they want to help themselves. 

One amusing post script to the affair was the belated reaction of Pepsi themselves. Well maybe not Pepsi so to speak. 

During the Shanghai run of the show, Pepsi employed an intern called Jay Mark Caplan to run an English blog of the show. He only knew about the incident at all via scene regular and Pepsi comp stage manager Abe Deyo and his post comes on July 28th - nearly three months after the thing was done. In his post he dismisses the bands and calls out bloggers (linking my post) as jumping on the bandwagon.

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This page is an archive of entries from December 2009 listed from newest to oldest.

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