The Fuck City Weekend show @ Harley's Bar

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Pic from Rachel Gouk: click for larger

I warn you right now, this is going to be a long one covering the show, the bands and all the issues: pre-show and post.

There is a good chance that you have come to this post with no idea what it's going on about. So let's start there. City Weekend Shanghai is an English language magazine based in Shanghai. It is a professional glossy rag done by giant corp Ringier and among its listings and full-page ads for serviced apartments there is writing about entertainment and culture. After a number of incidents and issues, some people on the music scene decided to do a kind of protest show and give all the money to charity. 

Here are a couple of related posts:

And the City Weekend SH Uffie review debacle where a staffer posted a generic review without actually going - and got caught after the gig collapsed in controversy.

And on we go ... to the Fuck Cancer, Fuck City Weekend Shanghai show.
If a bunch of punk, independent or underground bands did a show based around an issue or had a pop at a vapid media empire like Ringier 'back home' no one would bat an eyelid. It's considered a normal part of culture, among art and music scenes. Ringier are such an obvious target too. The mag is practically a pantomime villain; with its aloof tone, wow! hype-y-lingo, slighty-too-forced sincerity, its commitment to luxury lifestyles despite the environment going down the toilet, and its obvious deference of values to corporate culture. I knew about the show and all the behind the scenes events from the start but what really persuaded me to fly the flag was the clarity and importance of the points outlined in the manifesto, as articulated by Brian Offenther and Ivan Belcic. I have been writing about these issues and more at the blog since the start.

Of course, the implication there is that eyelids were batted, although by a handful of ex-pats with one or both feet in that world. Early critics pointed out that organiser Brian Offenther, henceforth referred to as B.O., had been rejected by the mag for the token music column The Beat, suggesting the event was fueled by sour grapes. It is a fact that B.O. was rejected by them for the column, a story in itself, but the shot was way off. There was a very personal event that set the gears in motion but it involved Xiao Xin Yi Yi frontman Mike Herd. CW had set up a video magazine on their website called CW TV and they had put out feelers asking if people wanted to be featured in their 'cultural program.' After a couple of meetings, the producers dropped a 50 000 RMB price tag on Mike and revealed it was basically a paid ad service of a kind. Mike ranted about it at the band's next live show and then received an e-mail from CW editor Geoff Ng referring to 'an incident' and asking for 'a meeting.' 

This got everyone talking and relating their own experiences. It galvanised a part of the community and put the show into action. Mike's story kicked it off and Ivan and B.O. were on board. We (me too) later met CW managing-editor Lee Mack to talk over all the issues. The CW TV incident was taken very seriously and it was revealed that a further video was done for free and the 50 000 charge was arbitrary and unknown to management. Meanwhile I was interested to see that some scene people were annoyed by the whole thing. The manifesto had very clear points to keep it away from the personal incidents and yet none of the detractors was engaging them at all. It had the stink of 'bad form' about it. Boats were being rocked, relationships were being strained ... and the points were getting out there. The show would go on. And yet, the pressure kept rising all the way up to the show start. Suddenly, people started to drop out. Some coincidental but others directly stating their change of heart about the event. 

I should disclose, for honesty and as a good example, that my own band Astrofuck were unable to play the show because of direct pressure. A band member of ours was doing a high profile event with his main project (his main source of income) near the time and the promoter pressured him not to get involved. It worked. If the show really was petulant and needless, and if the issues were inconsequential, then why were some people so clearly rattled by it and others even 'officially' distancing themselves from the show. If it was a storm in the ex-pat tea cup, it was an interesting one.

The venue for the night of the 24th May 2013 was Harley's Bar on Nan Dan Road. It used to be the centre of activity for the downtown scene before Yuyintang got its own place but died away after a long line of disputes with the owner. I felt strong pangs of nostalgia when I walked in but part of the cool dive area had been replaced with brightly lit pro-fussball tables. I should mention though that the fussball people were all really nice, not to mention ridiculously good at the game. The band area was exactly the same, a cool back room and stage good for about 70 or so people. 

The main bands for the night ended up as such:

Hu Jia Hu Wei opened the night with their manic post-hardcore chops and energy. Recently added bassist Tim, who is universally respected as a cerebral and courteous gent, slotted right in. And by the time they finished their set, the bar was bustling and it was clear the event would be a success. The audience were a good mix of local and international overall and before leaving the stage, Xiao Zhong told us all he'd pay for photocopying if we started our own mag ... and, playfully, that he'd be glad to stop getting all the Facebook updates from the event page. Because only Xiao Zhong could look at an audience of mainly people living in one of the most authoritarian countries in the world, with a barely developed scene, who between them had started bands, promoted shows, wrote blogs, put out albums, raised money for charity, toured second tier cities, supported others' gigs week in week out, drawn flyers, gone into music despite alienating their own local families, all self-motivated and with no hope of financial reward - and tell them they should do more ... and that what they did do annoyed him ... at an event they'd all put on by themselves - in a venue he'd urged people to use. Awesome start, I thought. 

Threshold of Forest is Todd St. Amand's solo project that involves cello, rapping, beats and loops. He was a little hamstrung by technical issues and the sound being quiet generally but his creativity and wit won over most people there in the end. Take time to check out the soundcloud page.

Then came all the announcements and speeches. To be totally honest, including a couple of short stand-up sets, this part strained the attention of the now full room. But it ended with the special announcement: following our meeting with Lee Mack, and a lack of viable response from the team involved - CW TV had been shut down for now. So there you go - direct action works.

Xiao Xin Yi Yi played a set of punk rock to the now expectant crowd. They ended on their now infamous Proclaimers cover with drunken friend Kenny donning the kilt and pouring scotch into the mouths of anyone who would have some. Marquee 7 are a local Chinese band that includes lead guitarist Jake, also of Joker, and new to the scene vocalist Sharon, or Cee or Jasmine. She has a few English names. They play somewhere between classic rock and grunge, with a few folk influences thrown in. They opened with a new track that got everyone's attention. Cee looks the goth part and sings superbly, and Jake is quite the guitar hero himself, firing up the crowd with his leads. Job well done.

It was at this point that I had to abandon ship. Sorry, Dirt Eater. The event had been fun and money had been made for charity. It was the right balance of taking the issues seriously, but not being dour or ego-driven. It was a good rock show. 

So now I've had some time to think it over and relax a bit. 

Those four points on the manifesto are very important and insightful. They can be widely applied. The show was put into action proper by Mike's experience with CW TV. It led to a meeting with the managing-editor who was patient and took it seriously. Then CW TV was put on hiatus. It worked. The show itself was fun, a lot was learned and the money was given to charity. A wider debate was provoked and some true colors were revealed. It was a success on all fronts. 

It made me think about about links with all the mags and ex-pat sites. Xiao Zhong is right about just bypassing them, and via our blogs, Weibo and Douban, we already do/can. I think it has become part of the shift since the Ex*o. Many promoters now go for ex-pat rag and site listings and articles and get medium sized to large size audiences of ex-pats and friends. What you may call the party crowd. But bands like The Mushrooms, Banana Monkey and Top Floor Circus used to get better results, bigger turnouts and proper fans by direct contact and sustained building. With the pressure on from 'the man' lately too, surely it's better to go back that way all round? Something to think about: many local bands here have achieved deals and sell out shows without, and in spite of, party ppl, visible ads and the ad/PR groups. 

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This page contains a single entry by Andy Best published on May 29, 2013 1:30 AM.

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