Mao history (the venue not the dude) and other blather

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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.

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Going back just a few years ago, Ark with its premium location in Xintiandi couldn't even stay open. I'm not Shanghai has changed enough to make things any different.

I went there a couple of times early on pre-sars.

The location, prices and model made it impossible for young local audiences to use the place.

I basically agree with you ...but it has definitely changed and improved - but just not enough to support Mao or mid scale shows. There's a lot of political issues there too.

In regards to the bar at Mao it's clear they just hired some guys off the street and told them to tend bar but didn't train them. I don't know how many times I have been there and seen a bartender talking on his mobile while 10 people are waiting to buy beer.

As to the sound, I was standing above the sound guys on Saturday night and when I looked down at the boards a couple of times through the night and some of the guys seem more interested in what CDs to play between bands and smoking then the sound. The lighting guy was quite active though, he looked as though he was playing a video game.


If Soma can iron out the above kinks it might survive. The DJ nights they run there should bring in enough bar revenue to help the venue survive so they can put on good live gigs.


I will leave this discussion to the neutral observers, but have to correct Micah on Ark. Ark was actually quite successful its first five years, when it was a rock venue. A friend in management at Xintiandi back then told me it was making more than any other tenant there for several years. After a hostile management takeover in 2005, though, turning it into a pop cover bar, it tanked - but still struggled along for three more years.

Ark had lots of problems, to be sure, but it was quite successful for a while, and lasted eight years - which is impressive by Shanghai nightlife standards.

Hi Lisa

I was around here from 2001 and aware of Ark. It may well have been a 'branded' rock club but it wasn't really one, as we know them. It may well have made some money in the nightlife sense I suppose but early shows at Harley's were far more significant, and affordable to 'the scene' and it's 2000's incarnation.

In 2005 , there was no kind of regular weekly rock crowd there to abandon the place when it went pop. If they did have a good regular crowd then it must have been a different crowd of people than those who go to .... all other shows. Probably the same people watching rock-ish cover bands at Star East over the way.

I don't think it was the same thing as starting a place like Mao or 4live, which is going to need better development of homegrown bands to get regular gigs - because of gov interference with the mainstream and mid scale touring.

Also, there should really be some Splitworks events there. They have been filling the Dream Factory with artists like Andrew Bird and Owl City and the place is sh*t.

Why not work with (not work against) proven and enthusiastic promoters to up the shows and numbers ... like Maybe Mars, the scene is not big enough to pinch each other's events after they built them up.

Hello, great site, where did you come up with the info in this summary? Im glad I found it though, I'll be checking back soon to see what other articles you have.

Hello Johnny,

The info is all just public knowledge. If you go to gigs every week or play in a band, you will have met everyone within a month or two. It's a smallish scene.

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This page contains a single entry by Andy Best published on March 3, 2010 7:37 PM.

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