D22 Closing: Full Interview with founder Michael Pettis

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Update: The last show will, in fact, be on the 13th and feature Shanghai's Moon Tyrant, among others.

So, yeah, the rumours are true, the iconic Beijing club D22 is closing. 

The Beijing music scene has many groups, venues and communities, each with their own styles. D22 was the club that Maybe Mars, the label, was built around. 

The group will be opening another venue and the label will continue to scout new talent and do what they do better than anyone else in the China scene - get a diverse crop of releases out there on a regular basis.

Before we get to the full text of the interview I want to throw in my own two cents: the whole China scene is still officially underground with no real industry and many obstacles in its way. Everything we do, we do ourselves. Anyone who puts on shows, who helps bands put out music and who creates something deserves basic respect. To those who want to attack or hate based on personal music tastes and petty spite - you're not helping.

1) So it's official now D22, the venue, is closing. When are the last shows, and can you talk about what happened?
I think the last show will be January 10. We had originally planned to close April 1, on our sixth anniversary, but the owners of the space wanted us to spend a large amount of money to fix up certain things, and we decided it wasn't worth it. This year, as you probably know, is not a year in which anyone wants something embarrassing to happen. 
2) Will you try again with a venue?
Yes, in fact that is why we decided to close. Around the time of our fifth anniversary week last March it seemed to me that the Beijing scene had changed so much in the past several years that we could to do something very different that might be more useful to the music scenes we are most interested in. That decision, funnily enough, was actually confirmed for me in the past few weeks, when people lined up for hours in freezing weather to make sure they could get into the club to see the bands. Its great that local fans are so excited about the music that they will line up like that, but when the club is full I really don't like being there and I feel we can't really do the kinds of things we want to do. It's a very different atmosphere from what we like.

Since August we've been checking out other potential performance spaces and we recently found one with which we are pretty happy. I hope in the next month or so we can finalize things, although I guess you shouldn't count on anything until it is done, and even in the best of cases we are unlikely to open before late spring or early summer.

3) What will happen to the Generation 6 and Zoomin Nights in the immediate future?
Actually Zoomin' and related shows organized by people like Li Qing will be at the heart of the new space. We will still work with other bands and musicians, but we want to be much more focused on a smaller group of young musicians and composers, as well as on people doing things in other media. My favorite days of D22 are still our first year when audiences were small, and consisted mostly of musicians and music-related people, and the expats on the West side of Beijing knew nothing about our club except that it was far away and "cliquish". D22 subsequently became too big and well known for us to recreate that sense, except on Zoomin' nights, and we are hoping a new place will be more accommodating.

4) Matthew Niederhauser brought his famous collection of D22 'red wall' shots to Shanghai for his book launch once. I was there and watched the slide show of his work. What struck me was the diversity and there were Shanghai bands and Beijing bands from labels like Modern Sky. Do you have a favorite shot from the book?
When we first started we were pretty concentrated on the No Beijing crowd - Carsick Cars, Queensea, Gar, Snapline, White, and their peers - but that scene grew so big so quickly that we found ourselves supporting a lot of different types of music. Around three years ago we also decided to be more aggressive about introducing the most interesting out-of-town stuff to Beijing audiences, and in fact many of our favorite non-Beijing bands have only ever played D22 when they come to town. I guess we always really did pride ourselves on being the place where all the musicians went to test themselves, so nearly every Beijing band or musician under the age of thirty, and many older, used to hang out and perform there, which is why it was so easy for Matt to catch everybody against the red wall in the musicians' room As for a favorite picture, I don't really have one - too many of those pictures are already "iconic" and any one could be the best. I suspect that twenty or thirty years from now when people think of Beijing music in the first decade of the century it will be Matt's red photos and Cult Youth's posters (and maybe our bathrooms) that everyone will remember as the visual component of the scene.

5) And which non-Maybe Mars band, that has played D22, were you most impressed with? Feel free to mention more than one if you think it's fair.
Well that would easily be the New York Dolls, but I don't suppose that is what you meant. It's hard to say what the best local band was because many of my favorite non-Maybe Mars bands, like Cradle Death for example, are going to end up anyway on the label, but I guess I can legitimately mention Hedgehog, who are on Modern Sky.

They started performing at the same time as the rest of the No Beijing crowd, some time in early 2005, but they were never able to do the big clubs for some reason and no one seemed to have heard of them until one March in early 2007, I think, on a Wednesday, they turned up at D22 and in front of a small audience played one of the most blistering, crazed, sets I have ever seen, with Zoe slamming constantly into the walls without once flubbing a note on his guitar. I was amazed during the whole set, and I remember Nevin looked pretty shocked too. We immediately began booking weekend shows for them with better-known bands at D22 and at Yugong Yishan, where we have a very close relationship, and within three or four months everyone in Beijing knew them. I guess I should also mention Second-Hand Rose and Hang on the Box as great Beijing bands that played D22 and were never on our label

There were many other cool non-Maybe Mars bands, but since you're a Shanghai website (and by the way why does Beijing have such crappy English-language music websites compared to the many good ones in Shanghai?), I should add that a couple of weeks ago Boys Climbing Ropes played at the club, and I was blown away by their show. They really sounded great and put on a wild set. On a very different note I am also pleased to say that every show Torturing Nurse ever did in Beijing was, I believe, in D22, and their first show was really cool, with a room full of people responding to the band by screaming along.

6) It's tempting to go all out nostalgia here, but Maybe Mars isn't going away, just the venue, right?
No, Maybe Mars is still growing and we have a whole slate of releases already planned for 2012 - something like fourteen, I think. What we really need are more good people we can hire to handle the workload.

7) When Shanghai's Yuyintang was threatened with closure in the run up to the Expo, Pupu of The Mushrooms famously wrote, "No Yuyintang, No scene." It struck a massive chord here. Of course, Beijing is bigger and has more than one community. But, can you talk about the meaning of, or importance of having the physical venue as part of your greater activities. This seems obvious but we live in the age of the internet and its casual commentary and I think it bears talking about.
We're getting some of that nostalgia already but I think it is overdone. D22 was very important for us because it allowed us to get close to musicians early who we thought might have talent. Having the club, and not worrying too much about losing money, or whether there was an audience yet, allowed us to keep programming the people we liked until they developed their sound, and also allowed established musicians to try more experimental and risky things in a comfortable environment.

We were also able to help new musicians by giving them good slots with better-known bands, by making introductions to other musicians, and so on. This I think really helped speed up the development of the Beijing scene. I think our closing will initially slow down the rate at which new musicians and bands emerge in Beijing, but other clubs will just be forced to do more developing themselves and rely less on us. And of course in our new space we will be able to be much more aggressive about the music we support.

8) D22 was in Wudaokou. Why did you choose this area for the club?
This is the main university area of Beijing, and although it is a terrible place in which to make money, we were able to get large student audiences even if we had to let them in free and give them the occasional free beer. I always felt that as long as underground Chinese music did not have the support of Chinese college students, it couldn't really develop into something major.

9) Finally, is there anyone you'd like to thank or mention that was involved in D22, that probably us down here in Shanghai know nothing about? The behind the scenes crew.
So many people have helped out, and of course Charles Saliba, Yang Yang, and Yu Shin, who took turns as our three managers, and Nevin Domer and Josh Feola, who programmed much of the music, were key, but there are two others I would especially point out because of their importance to what we wanted to do.

The first is Zhu Wenbo, a shy, slightly forbidding guy with great music taste and tremendous respect from Beijing's experimental musicians, who in two years built the Zoomin' nights on Tuesday to what is easily my favorite night of the week. This is the closest we could get to the feel of D22's first year, when the audiences were small but fanatically devoted to music and when it seemed that everyone in the audience was collaborating on some project or the other with someone else. In the last year Tuesday night's started drawing much larger audiences - sometimes even 80 to 100 people - but it never lost that feeling of something really important and secretive happening.

The other guy is Bei Bei, who programmed our Wednesday university nights, and was able - I don't know how - to cram the place nearly every Wednesday with local students, usually outdrawing our weekend nights. I can't say all the bands that played Wednesday nights were great, but we discovered a lot of talent during those shows, and more importantly a lot of Chinese students learned to hang out in music clubs because of those shows. In fact it was that scene that encouraged Dominic Johnson-Hill at Plastered to sponsor the blowout night in Yugong Yishan two years ago when several of the Wednesday night bands competed to perform with PK14 and Carsick Cars (Graceless, Rustic and Birdstriking were the winners

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This page contains a single entry by Andy Best published on January 4, 2012 4:32 PM.

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