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.

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Nice Andy. I just mailed you with these reviews then saw that you'd covered it already. You need to find more to do...

Anyway, it was pretty well attended - 215 tickets so probably just shy of 300 in the venue. Take it from me, that's a seriously good debut in a city that doesn't take kindly to outsiders.

It was really fun for us to do and fitting that one of China's best bands got to play one of China's best venues. It was pretty interesting hearing Pupu compare the 2 Mao's. Guess which one he was more complimentary about??

Great stuff, glad to see it went down well and that Pupu got the attention he deserves up there too. Congratulations to the band and to Splitworks for making it happen

Yeah, good job all round.

Now, which one was he more complimentary about ... let me think.

Discovered your blog here today, and it's an interesting read.
Dont know much about the Shanghai bands, I am more familiar with Beijing bands myself.

Anyhow, after reading all the very favourable posts about The Mushrooms I decided to check their music on Douban. Unfortunatly I was very dissapointed. This sounds like any mediocre band from a similar genre. Also it saddens me that this is described as emo, as I was having hopes up to actually hearing emo.
Well, that's what I get for having expectations I guess.
Nice blog nevertheless!

Hi Mark, thanks for commenting and the nice compliments too.

The Mushrooms are excellent live and their songs/lyrics/humor really plug into Shanghai audiences who react appropriately to music that's relevant to them. A lot of the lyrics are personal experiences of Pupu's and I think that the audiences at his shows identify with him a lot.

The Douban demos are rough demos but to be fair, I think they are a good representation of the overall style. Emo is used a lot to describe them but that's a wide term these days. They are just a modern rock band with a mainstream edge that owes a little to Chinese pop too.

Their success here reinforces the idea that music is good or bad depending it's context and community. We've long had our ideas about culture warped by global commercialization and fixations on genre criticism. Music has become a kind of consumer lifestyle choice or a talking point for social one-upmanship. But seeing the Mushrooms live in Shanghai reminds me of sub-culture and experience.

The demos really, really don't do them justice. See them live if you can.

This is the first time i have decided to speak out on any Chinese music blog but i had to as i totally agree with Mark on this one, after feverishly attending most gigs as i possibly could i now totally believe that the music scene in Shanghai is at best mediocre.
Far to regularly few people attend gigs i believe not because of "the Man" or lack of good promotion in the scene but simply because of the poor quality of music. At least of 50% of songs on Douban i can instantly identify as carbon copies of somebody else s track, most(not all) have little understanding of the highs and lows you need to produce in a live set to get the crowd going, some bands have a great opener then it all gets lost in a meld of repetition.

Most of the (important)bands in Shanghai that have been mentioned i have made the effort to seek out and watch on more than one occasion and yes there are faultless live performances which are a spectacle to see. Some do have something electric and own the stage, however on far too few occasions have i been in a taxi on the way home humming a tune that i got stuck in my head. But I'm not going to just complain about it, I'm going to fix it!

Hi 大巴士

Thanks for the comment. Firstly, please take into account my comment above this on the 'value' of music.

Then, here's another way to look at it.

You can't take the size of the city into account, it's a false indicator. All countries with music scene have primary scenes and satellite scenes. Here, Beijing is the primary scene with the festivals and the labels.

Shanghai is a smaller satellite scene. And it is held back by the man and a lack of industry that prevents 90% of bands from going full time with it.

Now think of any city which has a smaller scene and is far from the main music centre. Of all the bands playing there how many are shitty, how many are solid but not original and how many hit all the buttons and are 'great' ... and how many of them 'make it'.

I think Shanghai has an above average spread considering the logistics, especially if you look over the genres. You have bands like Yuguo, The Mushrooms and Cold Fairyland. You have the Miniless collective/experimental bands like DFG, Boojii, Lava Ox Sea, 8 Eye Spy and Muscle Snog. In punk you have Top Floor Circus, you have the metal scene too. We even have a strong avant guard scene led by Noishanghai. I could go on too.

The problem is that people judge the scene here with a set of prejudices and unreal expectations based on it being China.

... and let me say this to all of you ... regarding 'quality' or 'originality'

... in a scene built around sub-culture and community, self-indulgence is the greatest sin.

Hi again Andy!

I can understand your point of view, and also I know seeing a band live can change your perspective on them.

However I do not quite agree with the basis of context and community to judge wether music is good or bad.
I prefer to judge music by the music itself, not by outside factors. A good band is a good band, regardless of which city in the world they call home. Judging by this, many bands that I have heard and experienced live here in China goes directly in to mediocre or worse for me.
As in the case of The Mushrooms, like 大巴士 said, the songs seems like carbon copies from similar bands. At least the demos anyway.
This genre is already huge on a world-basis, and compared to other bands this did not measure up, in my opinion at least.

I am not critizing the Shanghai scene here, I believe it is no better here in Beijing, which you say is the "primary" scene. For example, two of Beijings most popular bands from the start, Joyside and Brain Failure. Brain Failure's stuff is such a shameless copy of Rancid that I did not believe my ears the first time I heard it. Joyside was, sorry to say, total crap in my humble opinion. The lead singer was constantly doing his best Johnny Thunders-impression in every way. Yet the audience here loved them. Take these two bands out of the scene in China, put them amongst other bands anywhere else and they would be called out instantly for copying other artists stuff. Nothing wrong with borrowing/inspiration from other bands, but it goes beyond that here. There are more examples, but no need to go on and on.

I might sound pretty negative when ranting about this, but music is a passion of mine, and I prefer to call it as I see it.
Anyway, thumbs up to you for supporting the local scene over there, that is always important!

Hey Mark

I don't think you can judge anything out of context, to be honest. Especially music.

Your point here seems to be that you accept that music is mature and there are always genres and influences that are similar in all bands but that you feel that the top bands here are just pure copies to which you can trace exact songs.

Let me throw out some current examples and ask you what they are carbon copies of. In the case of bands with a large catalog, i'll name songs too. I won't pick purposefully obtuse songs, just well known ones.

Lava|Ox|Sea "Physics"
The Subs "The Man"
PK14 "The 28th Shadow" or "Kuai"
Cold Fairyland "The Flood"
Yuguo "Chun Xiao"
AV Okubo "Breakwave"
Ourself Beside Me "Bird and Elephant"
Hedgehog "Toys and Children's Day."

Hi Andy,

I beg to differ that music can not be judged out of context, at least to the degree to of what we are discussing here. This is contemporary music, and I feel that comparing it to contemporary music across borders is not out of order.

I did not say that every song in the chinese scene is a carbon copy of other artist, thus I can not find a song to compare to your list of songs there. I quoted 大巴士 about carbon copies when mentioning The Mushrooms songs only. Perhaps I shouldn't have used that word, but my point remains that judging by their music on Douban I do not think they are nothing special, this has been done by countless other bands, only better in many cases. Worse too, to be fair. I am not here to badmouth the band, but like I mentioned earlier, that after reading about them I had high hopes, which got turned down.

For the record, two bands I find to be very solid here is on your list, namely The Subs and Hedgehog. Some of the others I haven't heard, but will check them out now. In the case of Ourselves Beside Me I find them to be terribly over-hyped, at least here in Beijing.

How about the bands I mentioned, some of the pioneers of the Beijing scene, Joyside and Brain Failure, what do you think about them? Do you think the copying they have done is within the limits of acceptable?

Hey Mark, thanks again for your comments I'm really happy that we have two differing points of view on here now for people to see. Really, thanks for taking the time to comment at length.

Every scene has good bands, average bands and undeveloped bands. I think what my examples show is that the majority of the better bands on the scene in China don't copy exactly in the way we were talking about. It s the exception, not the rule.

Joyside and Brain failure are also interesting examples RE my other idea about music in context. Joyside were a true phenomenon here despite - and I agree here - not doing anything spectacular in the genre muscially.

What made them such a hit was a sense of identity, the fans here were just relieved to the point of ecstasy to hear people from their generation, who were growing up through the mass fast-forward urbanization, just come out and say 'this is all a bunch of shit'. The band are inseparable from what they stand for and represent to local fans. They captured the idea of punk. This makes them a meaningful act.

This is the same of all great acts and bands - they are a total package that includes their culture and lifestyle.

Brain failure are different again. How many bands were inspired by Rancid and Operation Ivy, then basically played the same thing? So many. It's a tight community. What about The Distillers? It's not anything to do with being Chinese or in China, it's just a genre thing.

We want to talk about 'acceptable' or 'good' so for Brain Failure what indicators do we have? We have the CD Beijing to Boston. They are totally accepted by that music community, have toured the states and done a joint CD with Big D and the Kid's Table.

Again, within that community and sub-cultural group, they are following norms and succeeding on their own terms.

I think your judgement on these bands is too simplistic and abstract. Also, it's thin ice because of the Orientalist tradition to write of Asia as a place were people copy.

I don't think you're consciously doing that. But I also don't think your being fair to these bands.

Hi Andy,

This is shaping up into a nice little debate.

I have big respect for both the Subs and Hedgehog, I really like their music but I am going to limit my opinion to Shanghai bands only. I understand there is not a developed music industry in Shanghai but people have been making music in China for thousands of years, so just because you can't walk into a HMV and grab a copy of the latest overproduced pop/punk group doesn't mean to say that you cant pick up a guitar and write a great song or at least keep trying until you do.

I believe the various different communities of bands in Shanghai hinders them as much as helps them because they seem far to content being rock stars to their friends and friends of other bands. Every time you attend a gig there is far to many familiar faces in the crowd so I don't think they spend to much time self analysing about what they as a band can to to improve the quality of music and therefore increase the popularity of the scene in general. Lets take Sonnet as an example, they think that they are a walking re-incarnation of Jesus spirt when they walk on stage but in the 4/5 years they have been around have produced (to my ears) 1 good track and a couple of half decent ones. (sorry for singling out Sonnet, that one song i do love though, just wish you would do more of the same!)

I totally agree with you that Joyside were tapping into a feeling in the City, but are they the total package you speak of, yes their songs have cultural significance and they are part of the lifestyle but what about the music?

I too am not commenting just solely to be negative about the music scene in Shanghai and I AM a supporter and contributor of the scene, and I do have total respect for your blog(and I love the podcasts by the way). And I don't want to come across as a condescending expat who is judging other bands by my own guitars, drums and a 3 chord chorus yard stick. I do not expect bands to emulate western music at all, on the contrary I would like to hear something fresh, something Shanghainese.

I think judging music by your own musical taste is very simplistic, you just have to listen. This i think is the core problem of the Shanghai music scene, bands are too concerned with being part of the lifestyle and not focusing on the music.

Hey man

Thanks to you too for commenting at length. I feel we are all presenting points and adding/critiquing as opposed to arguing. It's all good stuff.

Hi again Andy,

This turned out to nice debate indeed, good and interesting.

I think we can agree on several things, but at the same time also have some different points of view here.
I would like to just present some last comments here regarding your last post for this time.
What you say about Joyside makes perfect sense, I think you are absolutely right about them connecting with audience and being a meaningful act. However, like 大巴士 said, are they really a complete package when the quality of the music is lacking?

In the case of Brain Failure, it's not the obvious Rancid-influence that got to me, as you say tons of band draws inspiration from Rancid and Operation Ivy. I have yet to hear the Beijing to Boston CD, but I have listened to their previous record, can't remember the name of it now. On record the vocalist is clearly imitating Tim Armstrongs vocal as best as he can. I've been to several of their shows, and his voice does not sound like this live. This is what I mean by claiming that they are copying too much. Wouldn't it be better to not try that hard to sound like your influences?
You mention The Distillers, great point. That's exactly the same.
Like I said earlier, I think it's fair to compare contemporary bands to eachother across borders, I never said it was only about being in China.

My opinion of the scene in Beijing is described spot on by 大巴士, when describing the Shanghai scene; "bands are too concerned with being part of the lifestyle and not focusing on the music." This does not apply for every single band here, but I think the scene in general is just as concerned about fashion and lifestyle, as about the music. This is probably not a problem that is specific for China either, I'm sure many places all over the world are the same, but it's still a setback for the scene here I think.

Thanks for the discussion, I will keep following your blog here, keep up the good work!

Hey Mark

Thanks again for all the comments.

I still want to underline what I think is the important part of indie music, the community and cultural part - although I see you point about Brain Failure.

If the technical side of the music becomes the driving force we are left with a gaping hole. Let me give you some (admittedly extreme) examples of artists who are technically brilliant at what they do and have massive 'success'.

Kenny G
Lady Gaga
Celine Dion

Now, if Joyside represent the other end of the spectrum, cultural relevance trumping over competence, then Joyside obviously are the 'better' group.

But then again, I'd rather be flayed with a cat-o-nine-tails than watch a show by those three I mention above.

Since they're playing tonight (opening for Unixxx at YYT) where do you put a band like Boys Climbing Ropes?

I happen to think they're as good as anything I've heard from Western Bands* - as I mentioned previously they don't get any bonus points for being in the Shanghai scene. I listen to their EPs as much as I listen to say, Superchunk (one of my all time favorite bands).

*Okay, they ARE a western band, but they're not from a scene like Washington, Chapel Hill or Silverlake.

Sure, they're not being super original, but who nowadays is? I think they have a great sound, a fantastic rhythm section - and the interplay between Little Punk and Jordan is very very compelling. They're the only "Chinese" band I send to my US friends and don't have to say "Here's a band I like in Shanghai - keep in mind the scene is still developing, etc etc." - I just say "this band kicks ass - give a listen"

Hi Andy

I totally agree with you that community and culture are crucial part of indie music, however we are discussing music. If you don't build on a solid base of good original material, doesn't matter how much propping up you do you will never be able to sustain or expand a community or have a significant cultural impact. You could also argue because of the widespread plagiarism of other peoples music, even at least part of the culture here itself is too an emulation.

I really don't think being technical has anything to do with it, musical is what i feel is missing

Nirvana. They made a career and classic songs out of re-arranging E, A, G, and C.

The Ramones. Simplistic to the point that if you wanted to be less technical you would have to just sit still in a room alone looking at a guitar.

Black Sabbath. Iron Man/Paranoid Most of their stuff is super simple due to Iomi's crippled right hand.

Led Zeppelin. Even though Jimmy Page is a God on the 6 string you have to admit most of Jimmy's greatest work is simplistic on a technical for guitar.

But all these made great Musical songs. and you can go into almost any genre and find great but simplistic songs, I'm not expecting a Chinese supergroup formed from the re-incarnations of Freddie Mercury, John Entwistle, and John Bonham all summoned up by fresh faced Richey Edwards to appear in Shanghai. I just think its about time these bands at least consider that they too might be stifling the scene and maybe next time when they are considering going shopping for a new screen printed T-shirt or a different coloured pair of Converse they will just sit down with the guitar and learn a new chord.

Lady Gaga. Successful yes but technical? Yer think? All i hear is a big R&B Kick N Snare that goes BOOM... CHA............BOOM... CHA.......BOOM...BOOM...CHA.........BOOM...CHA followed by somebody holding down an arpeggiator on a upmarket Casio keyboard.

As for BCR, you had to ask! Great performers but i find their new EP a little boring to be honest, songs too long, too repetitive, predictable, weak vocals (Jordan is trying too hard to get a gritty sound that as far as i can tell doesn't suit his voice)and far too often you are treated to epic 1:30 intros. On a more positive note, although not at all my cup of tea FAF, i think these guys will be the ones to look out for

I can't believe I'm going to defend Lady Gaga, but here goes. I think she's actually in her own way brilliant - she's a classically trained musician - but has dumbed down her vocals, beats and just gone with an entirely hook based catalog and has become incrediably successful within her chosen genre.

While mainstream pop isn't really (usually) my cup of tea - there is something there in terms of talent to write a good hook, have attractive vocals and - okay a simplistic beat. Writing great pop music isn't easy - creating a great pop song isn't easy. And I'm not too snooty to say I don't love the very best pop songs.

And I'll have to agree to disagree about the new BCR EP. It's on my iPhone rotation just as much as any other band I listen to lately.

@ T

BCR's new CD is excellent and their live show is really good now.

Life Knife is a superb song.


I think now you're broaching the idea of asia=plagiarism ... which is a stereotype. I agree that Gaga is pants. That's obviously part of the point. The scene here is held back by a forced lack of exposure and arbitrary governance and it is a massive factor. People who've worked within the scene all know it.

However, there are experienced promoters here, not least people like YYT's Zhang Haisheng and also Brad Ferguson who echo some of your points when they point to a lack of bands who can sustain a full hour of playing at the same quality like a true headliner. But I still say that's hard with a small scene that has no outlets and so people have to stay part-time.

Still, you need to go back to my list of examples up there and you'll see that the better bands here are not copycats and have real quality.

It's this comment.

Anyway, it's time to put your cards up on the table: I have used specific examples to back my case in the comment linked there. It's time for you to either disprove it by adding the songs you feel they are copies of. That s copies to the point of being plagiarism.

It's only a few and from the most well known artists.

Anyway, it's been a great talk. New post coming soon.

How about Huey Lewis and the News' "I Want a New Drug" and Ray Parker Jr's. "Ghostbusters"?


Do you mean Love is the Drug by Roxy music, or were you talking about the Kylie cover?

Sorry about the comment about Lady G, it was all said in jest. I have a very dry sense of humor and if I'm completely honest I know absolutely sweet nothing about music her only what little bits I've heard on the radio. So I'm not in a position to pass judgment, i know she writes lots of stuff for other artists, i have no doubt that she is very talented. I respect people have different taste and i have no doubt that BCR are a quality band but you did ask for my opinion and they just dont do it for me.

Banana Monkey-Forget Again Take me out/Franz Ferdinand

Rustic - 现代爱情(母带未处理)- God save the Queen/Sex Pistols
Wild side - Too young to fall in love/Motley Crew

反光镜 - 还我蔚蓝 Green Day/some generic pop punk song that the name escapes me at present
- 果儿 Parklife/Blur

MAGIC BUS 魔力大巴 Girl in the dirty shirt/oasis this track is just a blatant combination of two oasis tracks but the name of the second on escapes me

惘闻 -←M→(新专辑作品抢先试听)Masterplan/oasis

Just after 10mins quick browsing on Douban.

However I accept that copying is a secondary problem to musical quality.

Nuff said

As per my previous comment posted on 2nd April at 4:30pm. It seems that you have decided to censor my comments with regards to previous posts and my chance as you say to lay my cards on the table. Kind of ironic don't you think?

Some of my comments might seem direct, but I am a realist and embracing the Shanghai music community in some hippy-like hug of unrelenting positives will in the end serve little purpose. I would expect people to be honest and critical of any work that I do too, after all if I just receive a pat on the back every time I produce something how can I improve upon what I am doing? I am aware this will not get posted and that my comments are not welcome here, so I will refrain from posting anything on this blog in the future, Sorry if I have offended.

@大巴士: Maybe your post has not been censored but got lost in the spam folder (happened to me several times here). Did you include any outside url in your post?

@Andy: Can you check if you got anything in SPAM? Some of my recent comments also got lost in the black hole of canned ham...

Hmmn. 大巴士

I've not censored any comments. Do you mean a whole comment didn't get on? That could be a spam filter, but I certainly haven't edited any comments.

Due to massive amounts of spam, all curse words will render a comment dead before it arrives. Let me have a look.

I am happy with all your comments. I just don't agree with them. I'm sure, well, I know, that most people who read this blog would be more inclined to take your side of this one.

Ok 大巴士

Found it, a keyword sent it into my black hole of 100 spam comments a day. But now you will see it above.

Sorry Andy! I must apologise for accusing you of being in bed with 'the man'

Have followed the discussion a long time without saying something, but in general I have to agree to 大巴士 that most bands in China are basically covering their favorite genre's bands in one way or the other.

Having said that, most bands in Germany do the same, as propably all over the world. Thing is however I dont particularly like Oasis or the other bands they cover, but I like the Chinese bands interpretation of their songs (well, for some bands).

There are however also some originals in the scene, and those I treasure by heart:

Cold Fairyland - never have heard anything as that before

Voodoo Kungfu - the lords of the underworld!!!

Soundtoy - with their song "Hero" (at least that was the name I was told the song is called, when I heard it in 2004)

well... there had been others, which I don't recall at present.

I love bands such as The Reason, Tookoo, Alt Senior, Suffocated, Ritual Day, Another kind of light, Hollow, Ego Fall, Maya, etc. because of their energy, their own raw interpretation of what they think good music is.

And with all the music being played in this world in the last 40 years its pretty difficult to come up with something really really new that not in some kind of way is already present in the music of Bach, Beethoven, Mozart, Oasis, The Beatles or Metallica...

I mean, look at punk. How many possible songs are still to be played with three chords, a bottle of beer and wasted fans in front of you??? Fact is, I don't care, cause if I feel that I like that particular music song that I hear at the moment, well, then i go for it. If the Ramones or Exploited or Sex Pistols have sung a similar song before, well I have not seen them live, have not felt their energy, cause they are too old for me right now, so I definitely will not like them as much...

For me, the underground is the raw energy associated with the music.

@Andy: wouldn't that be a super post for the pod ...

@ 大巴士

Not at all. If you think something is wrong like that - it is fair to ask me about it. Please do.

@ Max

Thanks for the long comment.

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This page contains a single entry by Andy Best published on March 29, 2010 1:17 AM.

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