Photo from the Douban photo event/meme 普通青年VS文艺青年VS二逼青年 where a three part vert aligned photo shows 普通青年 (normal youth) 文艺青年 (creative youth) and 二逼青年 (lit. stupid c*nt youth, my scouse translation: dickhead youth) from top to bottom. See whole gallery here (1000s of them)
This is a long one, please follow after the jump.
A couple of months back a one line update quietly made its way onto the Douban page of Shanghai pop-punk band Little Nature
From 4th July 2011 Little Nature will cease activities
So, they split up. Which doesn't come as a surprise as two of the original three members had already turned up in other bands lately.
Little Nature started out at the beginning of 2008 as a young student three piece playing pop-punk tunes of their own making with the traditional power trio line up of bass, guitar and drums. They were A-bao (阿爆) on Bass and lead vocals, San Gui (叁鬼) on guitar and Xiao Zhong (小钟) on drums.
They found their own way into the underground scene and went from practicing at 0093 to being asked to play the 0093 showcase shows at Yuyintang. That is where I first saw them. I first wrote about them after they played with The Drop Kicks and Boys Climbing Ropes on March 30th 2008.
They stood out. Despite their youth and lack of experience, they played a tight show. Their songs had energy and punch, the timing was tight, there were hooks and breaks that excited the crowd and the guys themselves had genuine energy on stage. Xiao Zhong was a confident drummer and guitarist San Gui had swagger and played error free. You could tell from the crowd that they directly appealed to the local audience too. The musical style, their look and sense of humour all gelled with the young rock fans who came to the shows. What I was seeing was a band that had a dynamic together, a real band. Now they just needed to stick together and improve the set and grow.
Of course. At that time the festival circuit had not materialized and there wasn't (and still isn't) a regular music industry to aim for. So, the band hitched their star to the Jiao Ban collective that included The Mushrooms and Momo. The bands had become friends playing regular spots at Bar 288 and returned triumphantly to Yuyintang for Jiao Ban One. On the same night, at the end of the show, all three got signed to Soma Art Management's fledgling music label Indietop. It was July 13th 2008:
All three bands then disappeared from the regular scene in preparation for the public unveiling of the Indietop label. This was to be done at a live event held at the Dream Factory venue in Jing'an. The show was to feature the new bands and also some guest artists. Mainstream star and talent show refugee Wang Xiao Kun would headline. An Indietop compilation CD was going to be available. The show went down on December 6th 2008. The band was at about a year of active duty and was making their signed debut on the underground scene's then biggest venue.
The band came out with an extra guitarist and none of the punch they had previously shown. They did have a set of new hair cuts and promotional pictures. It was the theme of the night. The CD was full of tracks from other scene bands not on the label and a couple of demos. None of the acts had done any serious recording. It was disappointing. The label had removed the things that made them a good band. On December 28th, three weeks later, the three bands made their last hurrah at Yuyintang with the Jiao Ban Two
show. It was fine but a pale shadow of the original event and then they all retreated into a Soma event only existence.
I notice it includes a throwaway observation that foreshadows things to come quite accurately.
If you talk to various people on the subject you'll find that even the established Beijing labels require the bands to foot most of the bill in return for services of questionable quality.
Flash forward in time. Nine underwhelming months later the band had not put out a single recording. I caught them at a SOMA event and noted they also hadn't done anything to their set either. It was just a watered down version of the old, short, set. When I inquired, the ominous words commercial appearance were often mentioned. Then, after a disastrous attempt to take over the Dream factory, SOMA struck a deal to open the Shanghai branch of Mao Livehouse. The opening night was set for September 28th 2009. In the run up to the opening, Jake and I were invited to meet the SOMA staff for a look at the new space.
It seems that the net talk and gossip had been getting through to SOMA people and that they thought it was worth a response. We all sat down on the Beca patio across from the venue by Shanghai Sculpture Space and Lezi, Li Pang, Lao Yao and Lisa Movius graciously took us through some of what the bands had been up to in the previous months. This was an unexpected gift and we were quite excited. For Little Nature there was no new material or recordings. We saw a professional looking music video for one of the existing tracks. I've since not seen it in public. Once Mao was up and running, I did notice that the boys from the band were working there in backstage roles.
It was becoming clear that the deal for Little Nature was that of the modern artist management agency and not that of a label. And, that involvement with the former prevented other activities like releasing an album (not directly profitable on the underground scene). And so it went on until the first sign of breaking ranks. After testing the non-Soma water at the February 12th 2010 Chinese New Year show at Yuyintang, Little Nature played the two Revitalize Shanghai Rock shows organised by Pu Pu the frontman of The Mushrooms.
Revitalize Shanghai Rock One
Ironically, Little Nature had become completely stagnant by this time and if anything, the show was set to revitalize themselves. The shows were successful and attracted a lot of their original fans. But, where The Mushrooms made a complete break, took matters into their own hands
and ended up with another deal, Little Nature and Momo stayed on with Soma. As it turned out, to the bitter end. The chance had passed.
The first sign came when drummer Xiao Zhong quit the band in 2011 and turned up in new act Monkey Shines. He went back to high energy drumming and catchy rock songs. This time with an emo edge. Meanwhile, the Little Nature Douban page was still active and with respectable numbers, despite the band never releasing anything and being limited to in-house events and commercial appearances. Then one day I saw A-bao in a new band called Color 4. I checked the Little Nature page and saw the announcement that they'd 'ceased activities.' A fitting phrase for the ending of a commercial venture. But not for three young lads who burst onto a vibrant music scene and excited local fans so much. It was July 2011 and over three years had elapsed since they played with BCR, outside of the 0093 shows where they got their break.
Not long after that, I had my own random run in with the new wave of artist management companies cropping up in the decidedly uncommercial underground scene. Back in February 2010 me and some other people had put together an awareness show for PETA
at Yuyintang with Candy Shop and FAF playing. We did a PETA style promotional photo in our underwear and the show was full. Encouraged by the success we decided to do a second one in 2011. We were working with Shanghai band Miss Panda. We had completed an excellent racy photo shoot with the girls and the show date was booked at Yuyintang. Peta were mailing the materials. The whole process was volunteer and non-profit.
Then, at that exact point, Miss Panda signed with a new artist management company / label called Ako Studio. Within the week, the company contacted me. Their first order of business was to demand up front that I take down the PETA photos from the web and add their company logo to them. Then they told me the band were only available for commercial appearances at a rate of 3000 rmb per song. I calmly reminded them that the event was organized and agreed to prior to the band joining their company and that we would not consider their demands. We tried to discuss it further. The studio then told me they accepted 'my point of view' but then had the band withdraw on a flimsy excuse a week later, sinking the event. Since then I kept my ears open for info on this company and discovered that their 'deal' involves their bands having to pay 50% of all services like photo shoots and recording sessions but the company taking 80% of all earnings.
I can't help but think that without the 'help' of artist management companies, Little Nature would have been alongside The Mushrooms playing a full set of developed material to 1000 fans in Mao having recorded their first true album.