March 2010 Archives

The Mushrooms in Beijing

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mushrooms jue poster
One part of the Jue Festival was the launching of their crosstalk idea of showcasing bands from other cities. For me, I found it exciting that Shanghai's own The Mushrooms were going to Beijing.

So what did the pundits think of one of our best live acts? I found three reviews from the English language blogosphere.

First from Alex at the blog of the Beijing Gig Guide. Here's the review.

I really loved the band. Pupu is, of course, a big part of what makes their act amazing, but they work impeccably as a team. They definitely sounded like they'd been working together for the five years they've been around, offering up a tight set with lots of changes in mood. They're loud
Then we have a review at Beijing Noise. Read it here.

Enigmatic frontmen are rare in rock these days, yet Pupu excels, controlling the microphone and the crowd with ease
And here is the review from Beijing City Weekend magazine.

And while emo may evoke strong love/hate sentiments in many listeners, there is little question of Mushrooms utter mastery of the genre. They set the crowd alight with their first song, and left the audience similarly exhilarated with their final song, a rap-cover hybrid of 4 Non Blondes' classic: "What's Going On." In between, their well-structured set moved from heavier rocking numbers to slower, ballad-like territory. Lead singer Pupu is an electric performer: loose lipped and almost mime-like in his facial expressions, he spent the set jerking about violently, looking at times as if he was bawling, at others as if he was clowning around in class.
Good job guys. Reading through the reviews in full you get the impression that the gig was well attended for a band people in Beijing don't know and that despite scene cynicism and unfamiliarity The Mushroom's superior qualities were undeniable. And everyone was impressed with Pupu. That's not a surprise though.
date with the devil
Wow, a blast from the past - Harley's Bar. A great night but one a little bit spoiled by an unwanted aspect of gigs back in 2003-4.

Metal night tonight. The bands:

Broken Promises

First thing - Harley's have a new PA and when we arrived, in the middle of Six Shot's set, the sound was the best I've heard in months at any gig in Shanghai. The unbelievable clarity of the sound at good volumes made Six Shot's set even more awesome than usual. They are the kings of grind. A good turn out considering the 50 kuai ticket. It did include a drink though.

Next up were Lalaying who played the best set they've ever played. This was helped greatly by the sound quality at that point. The bassist was (again) inspiring with her metal get up and face mask. The night was going great ...

... and then out of the blue, at the end of their set, the Lalaying singer addresses the crowd and says (loose wording, but confirmed by native speaker) "remember the crimes against China by the Japanese in World War Two, we are true patriots." Groan.

Again, hello 2003-4. Hello, ugly nationalism/borderline racism/right-wing rock.

But next came Fearless. They wowed the crowd with their tight riffing, fast drums and virtuoso shredding. Then they ripped into their famous cover of The Trooper (if I need to tell you whose song that is, then you should burn in hades for all eternity) ... and ... the PA blew. It took a couple of fits and starts to get it back again and there could be any number of reasons but for me the real reason it blew was obvious - 

- Fearless were so metal and awesome that they blew their speakers with rock and roll -

Chaos Mind closed the night in style. The sound was still good but the perfection of before was lost after the accident. The highlight of the set was definitely frontman Sam Dust's performance. He rules. Harley's is still a great place to see a rock gig, but - and I won't go into details here - the staff and management are still very much themselves. So we'll see.

Note to other styles of music in Shanghai - the metal crowd have got their shit together and the bands are tight and professional. Some catching up may be required.

Bremen live @ 696

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Jake had earlier reported that the 696 Livehouse, formerly at Weihai Lu, had found a new location in Hong Kou district.

I decided to mission it tonight, accompanied by half of band Stegosaurus and my mate Steve. 

Firstly, it's very easy to get to. It's a five minute walk in a straight line from the Hong Kou Football Stadium metro station on line 3. Number 188 East Jiangwan Road is a kind of shopping/arts development called, unsurprisingly, 188 Dong Jiangwan Lu. The bar is just inside in block A.

This was a low key free opening night led by rockers Bremen. Opening for them was Firefighter. I'm not sure if there are two bands called Firefighter as the last time we saw a band called Firefighter they were a Mushroom's tribute band. This time they were a pop-punk three piece who played four short and sweet songs.

Bremen have added a guitarist and expanded their set since I last saw them. Despite a promising opening, they played mainly covers tonight. There was a funny moment where an empty coke bottle standing on our table had it's natural frequency level hit during a cover of T-Rex's 20th Century Boy. It danced about with a life of it's own. I have a video but I absent mindedly shot it sideways. 

The venue is small and basically a converted shop unit in a new development. However, it would be packed with more than sixty people and could be the scene of many an intimate cool show. Most likely it will be a training ground for younger bands. Check it out.

We got off the train by YYT in time to catch Yuguo's set, by the way. As usual, very professional but wouldn't be out of place entertaining on a cruise ship. So to speak. Full of local pop fans who all sang along. 
white eyes
Sensational Ta*wan underground rock band White Eyes are coming over, to Beijing only it seems though. So why am I posting this? They have set up a Douban page and it's starting to grab attention.

Go there right now and listen to the track No No No. It's amazing and if you like Bigger Bang you'll probably dig this.

They have a nuts live show which seems to inspire their fans in ways most bands would kill for. 

May I present article one for the prosecution, a (admittedly low quality) video of a festival appearance where the local fans (Taibei) just cant stop getting on the stage.

Saturday night four-way

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fearless mao mao
Please keep in mind that whenever we recommend a gig or talk about a show face off or whatever, there are always other shows on too. Yang Pu/Hong Kou (North East) has several bars/venues and a collective or two. Like Live Bar, 021 and ... err ... Live Bar.

So, this week is almost as action packed as the last but with no podcast to sum it up for you.

Yuguo play YYT on Friday but Saturday night, the 27th, has the big clash. Here it is:

Yuyintang: Caffeine (J-rock style) supported notably by Dragon Pizza. 

Mao Livehouse: Jue Festival presents Olafur Arnalds

Dream Factory: Rock Shanghai night including Joker, 5 Pointed Star and French band Inofis.

Harley's: Metal night with Chaos Mind, Six Shot and Fearless (pictured)

It's all a matter of taste of course with quite different styles on display at the different venues. But, well, errr ... Fearless at Harleys. Harley's is a cool basement bar with a proper area for rock bands to play, but there are reasons it's not used often both in front of and behind the scenes. I just like speed metal in the old school style.

Expo: my last word

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rev flyer
Well, the announcement of the gig pictured to your right marks also the beginning of the Expo. So it's time to stop speculating and to wait and see what happens. There could have been some greater action or concern perhaps, but most of our efforts to push this story (and that of Top Floor Circus) have been met with apathy or condescending excuses that side with the man

What am I talking about? Well that's what this post is for.

First, revisit the Top Floor Circus episode here. It is the most recent indicator/fact we have on this issue. Their ban has been extended to the end of the Expo.

So, here is the point. I hope I'm wrong about this, and if I am, I will be erring on the side of facts.

Since I have been here in 2001 the following happens. When there is an event of national significance, there comes a crackdown on the music and art scene. History and fact tells us that when the Expo comes, there will be closures and cancellations across the board - and the Expo has the longest duration of any event so far, potentially causing real long term damage to the scene.

Some recent examples. The fledgling 1234 Rock Festival (in Shanghai), organised by Frank Fen, was closed down by the police as it coincided with the NPC ... in Beijing. During the Olympics, the entire music scene (rock and indie) was closed by the police for the entire month. The most recent Modern Sky festival was told that all it's overseas acts (half the bill) couldn't play with 24 hours notice. Just this month Mao had their double night gig featuring Taiwan based band 1979 cancelled, again a clash with the NPC.

Some venues get tentative passes (Dream Factory) and, of course, Jazz doesn't bother anyone. But anyone who is honest with themselves knows that the standard practice is to have wide ranging clamp downs and almost always with just 24 hours notice. For the Beijing Olympics this included small businesses near the site and VISA entry across the country.We all know how it goes.

The only coherent reason given to me in support of saying it won't happen is that they surely can't do it because it goes on for 6 months. But isn't the treatment of Top Floor Circus a statement of intent? Loved on the underground scene, they barely registered with the general public. Yet, when the gov caught wind of their song making fun of the Expo, they are called in and banned from performance and have to disappear the song. Straight up totalitarian censorship in the Orwellian mold, not only is it not allowed, but it must be removed from history too.

This event is in bed with those people all the way. If you claim to love independent art and music, you shouldn't be giving it the time of day. But again, I'd love to be wrong. 

I can't really imagine a whole six months without bands playing at the mainstay rock and indie venues here. Venues will be probably be tentatively open but be continuously fucked with. One thing is certain, if the Expo goes ahead and there are no problems and it's business as usual - it will be a ten year first.

You, reader, can test it yourself. Assume the Expo is an open cultural celebration that goes hand in hand with the city of Shanghai. Put on a couple of local rock bands at Yuyintang during the main Expo period. Then print out flyers to promote it and go to the Expo site. Stand somewhere near the China pavilion and hand out flyers for the show all day long. Say you are promoting local culture to interested visitors to the city. See what happens. be sure to do it independently, not from an official stand. I know a good punk band you could book.

If you think you already know what will happen, tell me in the comments, and also say what you think about it.

So, anyway, lets all go down to YYT for the show, the day before the Expo site opens. Let's party like it's 1999 and if there's more gigs on in the following month - we can all be pleasantly surprised. 

Photos: Local King 3 @ Mao

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The last time I did this someone called me out in the comments. Keep in mind, the debate was always about the behaviour/ethics of photographers in live shows, not photographs themselves. But by all means bring it up in the comments if you have something to say on the subject. I'm all for keeping it alive.

And on to the Local King gig. Caught some snaps up on Douban, here are a couple. As before, note the to the side position and no use of flash.

local king candy shop

local king jordan

local king kk

little punk at mao

Local King 3 "Genohmang" @ Mao Livehouse

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local king
A lot to get through tonight. Local King 3 went down at Mao - for free - and featured five bands:

Bomb Shelter

Bomb Shelter are an AC-DC cover band and went on last so I wasn't around for them, sorry guys.

So, free. Yes, the place was full and jumping. Great. Although everyone's patience was tested when the doors didn't open until 20 minutes after the first band was supposed to be playing.

First on was Pinkberry. I wrote about them at the recent Yuyintang show and said they were coming back to their best. They were better again tonight and the song 'Live in Live' is becoming their signature song. They sounded good from down front and Xiao You is performing well, although she was sick tonight.

Candy Shop came on with their usual energy and were well received. Unfortunately, their set was broken up. They had to run an on stage promotion for the drink you see in the flyer there. Basically, couples had to get on stage and play charades to win free drinks. Alas, it all came apart when they brought up a couple and a non-Chinese girl had to guess the word 'Ge Noh Mang' from her friend's mime. That's Shanghainese slang for the people who crowd round accidents and fights. So that's like asking me and Jake to take Lebron James and Kevin Garnett in 2 on 2 b-ball. It dragged on and poor Candy Shop's set suffered. They made a good come back with their track 'Wo Men'.

Sonnet were next. They had complex video intros to their songs and all kinds of bridges and gimmicks. They presented themselves like super stars and even did their latest single We all have a sorry yesterday acapella with all the members up front. They had the bassist back in the line up, which was good and to be fair, the crowd seemed to be enjoying themselves. Personally, I like Sonnet when they play tight snappy tunes with dance rock beats. They closed out with their old show closer, a cover of YMCA.

At that point I'd been keeping my eye on the crowd. At free gigs that feature bands who attract young locals you see a lot of new people. I felt they were having a good time, but were apprehensive as they maybe didn't know what the standard was or what it was supposed to be like.

And then BCR came on and told them with authority.

This is no disrespect to the other bands, I like them all, but ... from the first strike of the guitar, Boys Climbing Ropes owned that stage and filled up the venue with their sounds and presence. They got everyone's attention and were a true headlining act. They rocked the place. They were loud, fast and tight, everyone knows the songs and those who didn't were all impressed. Little Punk's vocals were properly mic-ed up and crystal clear, it made so much difference. It reminded me of the Pet Conspiracy gig in that here was a band who properly owned that larger space. 

Can we now have a BCR headlining show at Mao please? Properly promoted, full up and on before midnight, preferably.

Oh sh*t, Corey Haim 1971-2010

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corey haim comic store
OK, I am about to spoil the shit out of the (vampire) movie The Lost Boys, in case you haven't seen it. Well it was out in 1987, so come on.

So. Reports are in that Canadian actor Corey Haim has passed away from a suspected drug overdose. This is not surprising given his public history of meds addiction. 

Everyone has people they associate with a certain time of their lives and for me teens = Corey Haim because of the movie The Lost Boys. That and he's just 18 months older than me.

It's funny - and this is going to be divisive for others around my age, not to mention film fans - because practically every other famous 80's American studio pic that people get misty eyed about seems terrible to me when I revisit it. The movies of John Hughes, who also passed lately, are awful on so many levels especially the ones I loved. I can't watch Ferris Bueller's Day Off without wanting to hurt someone. I want to brick the TV when I hear the down here, it's our time speech from The Goonies. Raiders of the Lost Ark is borderline racist and the action sequences often make no sense.

lost boys
But The Lost Boys holds up - because it is an outstanding piece of film making.

No ... really. Every set piece and every beat that a big movie like that should hit is nailed with extreme prejudice.

The setting is perfect, a seaside fairground town, seen mainly by night. The first 30 minutes are a relentless barrage of perfectly judged scenes. Perhaps one of the greatest first acts in commercial cinema.

Flying in over the night ocean.
The boys on the carousel at night.
The People Are Strange montage of the town and the freaks and geeks who populate it.
The rock concert at the beach at night.
The comic book store.
The motorbike race out to the cliffs.
Michael drinking the blood in the underground lair.
The you are one of us scene on the railway bridge.

Another thing it gets dead right (pardon the pun) is the use of horror. This is one of those movies in which the horror is second to the other genre elements. Like the monster to Frankenstein or the Zombies in the mainly comedy Shaun of the Dead. When it does bring in the horror - it does it 300%.

The big reveal is not that the boys are vampires, we know that. The surprise is that they show Michael "who you are" by revealing what kind of vampires they are - the kind with monster faces that rend the flesh from their victims, bite their skulls open, spray the scene with gore and then toss the bodies onto a pyre.

When David (Keifer Sutherland) walks up from that scene and says "you will never grow old and you will never die ... but you must feed" ... I'm telling you ... fuck bullshit movies like Twilight. The Lost Boys is an unabashed entertainment pic but other true vampire pics like, say, Interview With The Vampire, don't get close to moments like that one.

In the middle of it all was little Corey Haim. As Sam, Micheal's little brother and observer to his journey to and from the dark side, Corey is supposed to be a kind of comic relief. But he was so much more than that. And it made him a star.

Read around the net, the articles, the blogs and the comments. See how many times you read this one:

"Death by stereo!"

R.I.P., bud.

Big Qiang Diao @ Yuyintang

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Friday night at Yuyintang and an evening organised by newly formed label Zhu Lu He Feng. Here's the line up:


A mix of styles with the label being represented by Pinkberry and Sonnet. The label has been officially running for two months or thereabouts so it still has another twelve to get a CD out and beat it's nearest rivals. Unless you count the Miniless collective as a true label, that is. 

Yin opened the night. They are a student cover-band who play stuff like Greenday. After that was Manbanpai. They are the full line-up version of Hama. Hama is the singer from Second and this is her side project. They played well composed pop numbers with a folk/bluesy vein at a polite volume. They youngish local crowd especially liked the lead guitarist's soloing.

Next up were the more experienced acts from the label. Pinkberry turned it up a bit and ripped into their pop-punk set. It's pretty much the same set as their first run of shows but with backing from Yang Fu and Lezi from Sonnet. They had good energy and singer Xiao You regained some of her old form in the second half of the set. That left Sonnet to close the night. Sonnet play "post-pop" and pride themselves on being playful and clever. However, they have just lost their bass player and replaced him with samples tonight. With Yang Fu tied up with multiple duties they lost some of the movement and verve of the usual live show. 

Yuyintang seem to be struggling with their new sound desk at the moment and a feature of seven bands I saw in the past two days was muddy and overbearing bass. Let's hope they get it sorted in time for a huge run of amazing shows lined up for the next six weeks that includes Hedgehog and Reflector.

Reflector back in Shanghai

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Beijing based pop-punk band Reflector are coming back to Yuyintang on April 3rd. Here's the event page at Douban. Talking of Yuyintang you can see their complete March line up in poster form right here - you'll need to read Chinese to get most bands though.

Now, why am I making a point of posting this? 

This is why. Watch this video of the last time they played Yuyintang. They tore the place up and it was rammed. Believe me, stick with the vid and after the one minute point you'll start to see the throng of people going nuts. People love 'em. Great track too.

andy at mao shanghai
Jake wrote up the Maybe Mars gig at Mao this weekend and we also shared some thoughts about the scene on the podcast. As far I was concerned the subjects were done for a while.

And then Zack wrote up the show at Layabozi and got everything going again in my mind.

After noticing/being annoyed by the same stuff as us, Zack makes a good point at the end about expectations:

Finally, on to the continuing problems with MAO. I think they are suffering from an expectation problem, for which they are at least partially responsible. However, it must be said that we, as in Shanghai underground music fans, are also to blame. I for one know that I expected a lot from this venue when it was getting off the ground. We wanted it to be like Yuyintang with better sound and more capacity. Well, we got those things. We really did.
Well, it's true that you can't have expectations that are too high in an underground scene and this blog for one was happy in old YYT with a single room and a small fridge. But the fact of the matter is that the show on Saturday charged three times over the going rate for a show on the scene and Mao opened with lofty proclamations of a livehouse revolution.The sound has not been any better than Yuyintang, it is often worse. There's more but let's get on.

So, on the pod we talked about the scene punching over it's weight. Where did the demand for a larger venue come from? What's the history. The history, that includes ventures such as 4Live, came to a point when a combination of independent promoters started to get regular shows going at the Dream Factory. This included Yuyintang and Splitworks, also people like Abe Deyo, Brad Ferguson and Frank Fen. 

They had just started to creep over the break even line despite many problems and challenges when this happened: 

So, they pulled out again three months later having fucked it all up decided they weren't satisfied with the deal. And then, barely eight weeks after that, SOMA announced they were teaming up with Japanese investors to open an even bigger venue in Shanghai - Mao. This was highly questionable. The progress made at the Dream Factory had still not answered the question of whether the scene could sustain a larger venue at this point, and in this political climate. Even that progress had been set back by the actions of SOMA taking it over then pulling out again.

Soma then came out with re-assuring statements. This would be a livehouse revolution for Shanghai. They would move in their studio and focus on scene development and long term planning. They were aware of the issues and history and wanted us to know that it was not simply a vanity project or an elaborate face-saving plot. But then, after the initial oversight from the partners left them to it, everything has been run on a shoestring and skeleton staff. 

Here's the thing: everyone, me included, wants the venue to succeed, that's why we go there and buy tickets. So why are we so worked up about the shortcomings, especially in the opening stages?

Exactly because we DO want it to succeed and all the signs are pointing towards failure. We have just over three short weeks before the six month point, which is usually a make or break point one way or another. Talk to anyone who worked on 4live: the venue is not big enough to survive on one sell-out show a month. Talk to anyone who worked on 4live again: how do neither-big-nor-small venues with one big event a month get by during the middling/average attendance days - the bar. 

Would anyone like to comment on the bar at Mao?

On the opening day, an extremely nice guy from Mao Beijing told me that they floated the place on investment for two years until numbers went up. Let's hope the same support will be on display here.
guiali d22
Having seen Guai Li at the third Maybe Mars Shanghai showcase on Saturday night, I was inspired to pop back to their Douban page. They don't seem to pay much attention to it but I was happy to see the recent addition of a high quality recorded track there.

It's great and represents the band well so go there and listen now

In other news, Hedgehog are rolling back into town on the 18th supporting USA's The Thermals. That's at Yuyintang.

Were you a one time big fan of Bare Naked Ladies? Do you like indie rock that is funny and at the same time musically rewarding/infectious? Shanghai based rockers Stegosaurus? Are on the verge of finishing their first CD and bringing the genre back into style. Check out four demos at their page here.

Melodic death metal legends Fearless are still my favourite Shanghai metallers. They now have a label listed on their Douban page 17 studio so look out for additions to the two instrumental demos already there. Here's their new logo too.

OK, I'm done for now.

Photos: Maybe Mars @ Mao

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Saturday night was the third Maybe Mars showcase in Shanghai. The first one was a year ago in the Dream Factory, the second was just last month and you can read about the third right here courtesy of Jake.

Anyway, a mate of mine just put some of his show pics up on Douban so I thought i'd repost a couple here. They are of Guai Li and Carsick Cars.

guai li mao one

guai li mao two

guai li mao three

shou wang mao

shou wang mao two

new sign at yuyintang
Update: since writing this, the article name has been changed from mediocre bands to live bands. Check comments for details.

At the start of this I was quite happy to see a special article on Dingxi Road pop up on CNN Go's city page for Shanghai. Followers of the blog know all about the area for two reasons:

1) It runs down the middle of Shanghai's downtown music district. 

2) I'm always blabbing on about it.

See the sidebar for the F-via Ghetto page or check out these E-cities maps from my last post on it.

However, knowing it's the site of most gigs in town via places like Mao, Yuyintang Logo,  Anar and Sus2, I was a bit startled to see 'mediocre bands' in the title.

There is a special section on Yuyintang from which the idea of Chinese bands not being very good comes from. Now if you had been to Yuyintang "a few times a month" for the past year, you probably would have seen some newer bands who were not up to scratch, sure. But you also would have seen some amazing shows by great bands. Readers of the blog will know, and have been to, legendary shows there by The Mushrooms, Cold Fairyland, Carsick Cars, Bigger Bang, TooKoo, Boys Climbing Ropes, 24 Hours, Ourselves Beside Me, Hedgehog, Chaos Mind, Six Shot, Loudspeaker, Sonnet, The Miniless Collective, Hard Queen ... I'm just throwing names out here. There are many more.

Now, sure, we all have our own opinions and tastes, but why focus on that YYT section and then write 'mediocre bands' in the article title - essentially writing off all Chinese bands as the cream of them pass through the F-visa Ghetto. 

Well, the editor often writes the titles and makes that decision in mainstream journalism. So perhaps the editor is just clueless about the music scene here? But seriously CNN WTF! 

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