shanghai music scene: April 2010 Archives
Quick post here. By now we all know about the influx of international acts (thanks to the scene not the Expo) with big names playing YYT like Xiu Xiu on Sunday and Exile Parade on Wednesday. I also covered Alpine Decline's back door gig in Shanghai.
Well, here's the next one for fans of noise, noise rock and experimental. Barcelona's Cocodriles head a great line up at the 696 galleries. Don't get confused. It's not the livehouse known as 696 who were formerly based at the 696 Weihai Lu complex - it's actually in the galleries.
Here's the Cocodriles page at Myspace
Click on the flyer for full size.
H/T to G via Douban
I'm running out of stock photos of Yuyintang so here's a blast from the past.
So, Shanghai Daily has run a story on the closures now, completely off its own back and with staff writers. Online annoyance has obviously reached the mainstream. They refer to The Shelter, Yuyintang and even quote user comments on Smart Shanghai.
From the Daily:
The Shelter, one of the city's most well-known bars in Changning District's Xinfu Road, was reported to be closed indefinitely over the weekend. "We were told to close over safety concerns," Gary Wang, owner of The Shelter, said yesterday. He was told it was an Expo issue and "we should be cooperative." Officials with the Shanghai Industrial and Commercial Administrative Bureau said they were investigating illegal facilities as many pubs in the city were unlicensed. Wang said he did not know the exact reason for the closure as all relevant paperwork was in order and the bar was not too noisy at night. "We've been operating the bar for two years and I don't think that would be possible if we had been illegal," he said.As Brad pointed out in the last article, the paper seems to see no problem with printing a glaring contradiction, in this case Wang's papers being in order, and an official counterpoint that does nothing to address it.
I guess it's pretty obvious that venues seen as culturally independent or potentially subversive get shaken down during 'sensitive times' and that's all there is to it.
I was just reading the Shanghai art blog Shanghai Eye for other reasons when I saw a music related link there. So H/T to Chris at Shanghai Eye and
The Guardian Unlimited music blog posted about the NoiShanghai collective and band Torturing Nurse. They refer to the infamous torturing Torturing Nurse show and even go as far to quote an interview conducted for SH magazine by our very own Jake Newby.
Yet perhaps the best proof that the Chinese underground is still keeping it weird is Junkyy's rejection of alt-god Thurston Moore in 2008. Moore's still the go-to man for the "indie rock seal of approval", yet when he sang Torturing Nurse's praises following Sonic Youth's trip to China, this one-man whirlwind wasn't impressed. "I don't like him or his band. They are too rock'n'roll. I don't care if he's a fan. What we do is totally different," Junkky said in an interview with SH Magazine. Which pretty much sums up the project's entire ethos: "We don't care if you like us." Listen at your peril.Here's the full article at the Guardian Unlimited music blog.
Despite hundreds of you reading no one commented. I wrote that I was surprised it made it in at all with a couple of reservations - and then scene veteran Brad Ferguson came in with the smack down to bring us back down to earth.
He points out the hypocrisy of the claims; Yuyintang dangerous and overcrowded, while the Expo is exactly that at only half capacity. Test days almost led to riots. He also points out the basic falsehood; Yuyintang had 50 people inside when they closed it, and they even quote 100 as the limit in the same article.
Read the article here and now here's Brad's comments:
I know I shouldn't expect actual journalism from that propaganda rag, but that article is terrible. At least they use softer paper than China Daily...and the print doesn't smudge my ass cheeks. "But now it's more difficult; officials are much stricter about artists, foreign especially, having the proper visas, and all the venues must have the required licenses, too." Implication: China used to be the Wild West, but now there's Rule of Law. "Yuyintang was temporarily closed by authorities in 2007 for failing to have the permit needed for a show by the Beijing-based band Brain Failure." Implication: This raid was superficially similar to the shutdown of the previous incarnation (Longcao Lu) of Yuyintang three years ago, so they are likely at fault this time, too. Does Yuyintang currently have the "required licenses" and "proper permits"? I guess the "relevant department" couldn't be reached for comment. "officials told the roughly 50 patrons that they were pulling the plug on the music due to capacity issues." "They told me that the bar could not hold more than 100 people during the Expo because it's too small." There were roughly 50 patrons, which is about half the 100 people the officials say the place can hold. Did the reporter think to ask why, if both statements are true, did the they actually shut the place down? "They just said they were concerned that the venue would become overcrowded and unsafe." That doesn't sound like a very good reason. Putting aside the irony that on the same day, the Expo grounds were overcrowded and chaotic, and that the subways are dangerously overcrowded every morning and evening, and that every tourist attraction in Shanghai is overcrowded...the commerce officials didn't say, "Don't let any more people in," or "Ten people have to leave for this place to be safe." They went in, demanded identification from patrons of the bar, and confiscated equipment essential to the operation of the bar. If Yuyintang didn't have the correct permits, why weren't they cited?
If the place was overcrowded, why did the officials confiscate equipment? Do officials from the Shanghai Administration of Industry and Commerce have the authority to demand identification? Do officials from the Shanghai Administration of Industry and Commerce have the authority to confiscate private property? I'm not a scholar of Chinese law (if there is such a thing), and I don't know all the facts of this case (how could I, given such shoddy reporting?) but it seems that the Shanghai Administration of Industry and Commerce acted illegally. If the government is now requiring businesses to obtain proper permits and licenses and adhere to the law, then at the very least, the government branch in charge of enforcing those laws should be held to the same standard.
As you've been following already ...
... and now, the story makes the Global Times, China's international English language paper.
While it may seem tempered compared to our posts or whatever, it's a massive step for them to print this at all. Thanks must go to Mike for the spark and to writers Jon DeHart and Mao Jiayu for the piece.
The city's most iconic spot for live underground music in Changning district remained shut last night for the fourth day after officials barged in suddenly on Friday evening, shutting down the popular entertainment venue that has been giving artists a voice in the city for the past six years.Yes. In the Global Times. So come on. Let's have some more.
OK. So there's this hot new Brit rock band called Exile Parade coming to Shanghai and I'm going to do a special plug for them as they come from the North West of England (see map).
See the part named Merseyside? Yup, that's where I'm from ... and yes, everyone from there talks as much as I do. No seriously, ask a British friend. The correct way to express your displeasure with said talking habit is to refer to me as a scouse twat. But, don't, or I'll twat yer, yer prick.
So yeah, Exile Parade.
They probably don't need my help for this gig, they have brought the heat to Douban and are all over the main sites. If you Google them you'll find they are recommended by some of the elder statesmen of the genre too.
Yuyintang Event Details (May 5th)
BUT. Hotpot music are doing the show and have booked a Wednesday night and are charging 120 rmb. That is usually the kiss of death at YYT right there as we saw recently with The Thermals.
So here I am to say that this will obviously be worth it. Exile Parade are exactly the kind of quality band that you f*ckers are moaning you can't see here. And now they're here - so go. or I'll lamp you one. I'm going to belt ya anyway for not realising that we have quality bands in Shanghai to start with, by the way.
Amid all the Expo hype on one side and Expo smack downs on the other, Dan Shapiro has manged to bring the basic principles of journalism to bear on a much quoted myth.
But first a reminder. Dan is a Shanghai scene veteran and plays a mean guitar himself his latest band is The Fever Machine - so check them out here.
In his latest print column Dan does what no one else has thought to do yet. He moves away from the effect on the existing local scene and looks at the claim that the Expo will benefit culture because it showcases the best from around the world - and he follows through and questions it.
The results are not surprising, the claim is rubbish. His observations are acute. He contacted as many pavilion reps as he could from countries with great music scenes and asked them for their line ups at the Expo. Here's a quote:
Rather than inviting the likes of Them Crooked Vultures, The Raveonettes, The Hives, HIM, Turbonegro and Rush to Shanghai, pavilion organizers have settled for a rather dull program of events, ignoring their obvious political guanxi and ability to book cutting-edge artists, instead blandly appeasing local censors. Beginning with the country that invented rock 'n roll, punk and country, the U.S. has decided to abandon its musical roots, opting for a number of choirs and orchestras to represent the land of Chuck Berry, CBGB and the Grand Ole Opry. The U.S. State Department is hosting Herbie Hancock on May 13 and Ozomatli on May 20, but it's still unclear whether Herbie will play "Rockit" or if Ozo will take it to the streets.Exactly. In fact, as many people are now pointing out, there has been a recent influx of great international acts - playing local venues by themselves or as offshoots of domestic festival dates. Many of them are still to play. The fact of the matter is that the Expo is an annoying business and PR event and that organizers on the local scenes are already doing a much better job at putting on cultural events without any funding or extra motivation.
Scene 1 Expo 0
This was a good moment. That's all I have to say. This band are worth the hype. I was there up front, as should you have been.
OK. So by now you should have read the news that Yuyintang was visited by the man on Friday.
Summary: it's Expo time. They took the desk and tills. We'll know what's happening on Monday (gov office hours begin).
Me and Jake have pushed this story about the Expo and the history of scene closures, and the Top Floor Circus thing, in the hope it would be properly picked up and get enough attention to maybe make a difference. But how many people, writers and outlets from local to international really went for it and gave it a go or pushed it on their contacts even ... err .... yup, no one. We'll just have to hope for good news this week.
So, I went over to YYT anyway, having heard they'd be open as bar and that Pinkberry would be around to meet people who showed up unaware that all shows were off for the weekend. That atmosphere was subdued but relaxed, even when the police - surprisingly the kind of city federal/special cops with proper gear and in shape etc - did another swing-by to check. The place was sufficiently dead at that point to satisfy them.
Pinkberry later took the stage for a quick cheeky four songs using the old desk and gave out their new EP. This was greatly appreciated by the few people who had made it over. The EP, by the way, is well made and at time of writing is available for listen in its entirety on their page here.
In other news, Alpine Decline's Live Bar show the same night went really well.
I was going to do a whole ranty post about the Expo thing but I've had my last word and what's the point. If something like the Top Floor Circus thing happened in our home countries, it would be an outrage and yet most people we sent it to didn't even reply to mails.
Peaches was on at Mao, Wu Ji was on at YYT and no one knew how the weekend was going to turn out after an Expo related police visit to Logo last week.
I went up to 696 to see Alpine Decline.
OK, 696 are new but they have a cool L.A. band fall into their lap (they are on vacation but as a two piece could do some quick shows) and the venue doesn't mange to get anyone in. And they are useless at doing the sound. 696 - epic fail. Come on.
So, anyway. There were a small group of us who did make it. First on was an upcoming Shanghai based two-piece called Pairs. They feature drummer/singer Rhys and local guitarist 'F'. They were cool playing a mix of fast punk, dreamy indie chops and Shou Wang-esque strumming. Good job.
Alpine Decline got a bum deal out of the sound as they put a lot of effort into the nuances. The guitar sound was much like the tracks on their page, by turns echo-drenched and haunting and with real edge on the distortion. The first thing I thought was that they were exactly the kind of band Splitworks would have on at a Jue Festival. Hopefully they got a better deal up at Live Bar on Saturday. The standout track was The Pilgrim Got Drunk which showcased a full range of Jonathon's guitar licks.
One more weekend then hols, hooray! I work weekends you see.
So, Jake is starting to do more previews at his blog so you should be checking that out. But here is my thing.
On Friday electro superstar Peaches is in town playing Mao. But - I like rock and guitars so I'm going to see the other international act in town that night - L.A.'s Alpine Decline.
The show is at 696 in Hong Kou district and only costs 30 rmb. And they rule. Go to the event page here, even if your Chinese is not up to scratch, and you can see the location via the embedded Google map. Friday night, 9.30. It's just 5 mins walk from the Line 3 station Hongkou Football Stadium, along the same road. Go.
Then on Saturday it's the Pinkberry EP release at Yuyintang. This is essentially a Zhu Lu He Feng event featuring three of the newly formed label's bands. The others are Joker and Sonnet. Indie pop act Man Ban Pai support. This will be a lively busy night with strong local representation.
See you all out there and remember ... agonizing over Friday night? ... disco still sucks!
Adam at Luwan Rock has just blogged about the latest online meeting of rock and geekdom Brad's Lab.
I think it's only fair for me to plug Brad's new site as I'm constantly harassing him about all kinds of stuff.
Brad Ferguson has been around the Shanghai music scene for years and is known to most as a promoter. But, he has a secret weapon - he can build all kinds of things from scratch including effects pedals, amps and whole guitars.
Brad has a workshop in the same place as Juju Studios, in the F-Ghetto, and is now doing his custom design and repair work professionally. I've had guitars fixed up there and Brad is building me a delay pedal as we speak. He's fast becoming the go-to guy for all things custom in the music scene. So go.
Good weekend, one which Jake did the writing up of, check it out as always here.
We also have some stories of cancellations and closures. However they are for very different reasons so we have to be careful.
Firstly, Beijing Mao has been shut down. This was done by the fire department but it's important to keep in mind that the Olympic closures - unambiguously because of the Olympics and for the exact duration of them only - were also mainly done under the pretense of fire regulations. You can read the story here:
Next up, Yuyintang have been ordered to close on Wednesday. This is directly because of an official day of mourning for the earthquake in Qinghai. This happened during the 2008 quake also for three days.
Finally, Logo Bar here in Shanghai. Logo (confirmed) and also Anar Bar (haven't confirmed with a second source) on Xingfu Lu were visited by the police on Friday and told to cancel live music shows. They were told directly that the reason was because of the Expo.
Logo were forced to take down posters for the planned show on Sunday featuring Cassette, Pinkberry and Stegosaurus? and then all flyers were confiscated too. This was the first Expo related police raid, if you don't count the Top Floor Circus story. The bands kept a low profile then put the show on anyway at a much later time (11.00). I was there.
So, yeah, don't get confused by the unrelated events but we HAVE seen the first police visits to the music scene in relation to the Expo. It begins.
Me and Jake are huge fans of Shanghai's experimental rock scene which includes the Shanghai based Miniless collective among others. The genre and people involved in it have produced some of the best albums of recent times here including Muscle Snog's Mind Shop, Boojii's Reserved and our CD of 2009 Lava|Ox|Sea's Next Episode.
Now it's time for far away readers of the blog to rejoice because two of Shanghai's best bands in that genre are hitting the road. Duck Fight Goose and Boojii will tour every other week across the next two months.
Here's the dates:
Thu May 6 - Nanjing, Castle Bar
Fri May 14 - Beijing, D22
Sat May 15 - Beijing, Mako
Fri May 28 - Chengdu, Little Bar
Sat June 12 - Beijing, Mao
Sat June 26 - Wuhan, Vox
Sun June 27 - Changsha, Freedom House
If you want to make the guys feel at home show up at Boojii wearing rabbit masks.
Lately, a bunch of overseas acts have been readying the cannons and sailing over to attack Shanghai. A few have been in touch via the blog too, all nice people. Puressence are at Mao and appear to be a very big deal. Exile Parade, also from the UK's north-west (like me) will do Yuyintang on May 5th.
The act that most appeals to my tastes though is L.A. two piece Alpine Decline. They are Pauline Mu and Jonathan Zeitlin, both formerly of Mezzanine Owls.
Here is their demos for China page
They have gone commando and will play Live Bar and 696, contacting both venues directly themselves. They will also turn up and just use available equipment. They hail from the L.A. scene, their previous band was described as having "A haunting Jesus and the Mary Chain rattle" and they are playing in 696. AND ... it's the same night as Peaches at Mao.
That Mao Shanghai story. Well, that could be referring to all kinds of things. But this time around I mean this:
China Music Radar - Mao Live to be knocked down
So, the biggest open secret in the scene has gone on record for the first time over at CMR. For a few weeks now the story has been going about, Mao Shanghai will be bulldozed to make way for a new development. Well, I've got a statement from the Mao folks, but first, the basic idea.
Most people know that plot as Redtown, but Redtown is one of a few developments inside a piece of land called 新十刚, an abbreviation for New Number Ten Steel Works. For a while it was mainly abandoned and the only functioning part was the Hong Qiao Flower Market. However, bit by bit it has been renovated or rebuilt until the small strip with Mao Live on it was the only untouched part, stranded in the middle. Mao moved in to that strip on a sub-letting type deal but recently the rumour has been knocking around that the obvious was going to happen.
Think of it as one of those downtown islands of old houses. You could open a business there on the cheap, but everyone knows it's going to go.
So, I've spoke directly with Lisa Movius (English PR) and Lezi (manager) from Mao. The story got started when the landlord mentioned that ideas for renovation were on the move and recently he has given them "an eight month advance "maybe" warning".
SOMA/Mao boss Li Pang says that Mao will continue as a Live House either way and that the result of this would be a move, not a closure, with eight months giving them plenty of time to find a new location. Here's the quote:
Mao is a concept and a commitment as much as a physical venue, and physical venues are replaceable. Mao might eventually move, but it's not going anywhere.
So there you have it. There are many other issues and stories around this, of course. You can find them all linked at the CMR post. As usual, pay attention to the actual events as they happen.
Shanghai based band Stegosaurus? have just put out their first indie CD here in the city. I have one.
It's first important to note than when a band here puts out a CD completely off their own back and funding, it's a massive achievement and should be supported. On which note, there is a release party coming up at YYT.
Yes. That's this Saturday and yes, that's Boys Climbing Ropes on the bill too.
The band play straight rock with entertaining lyrics and big concepts. Combined with their great harmonized vocals they are like Bare Naked Ladies but honest and without the smugness. You can hear tracks from the CD at this page. Dance With Me even features Xiao Bai from Bang Bang Tang.
My favorite track, and a good 'un live is Batman. Which reminds me. After the Reflector gig at YYT they were playing this CD loud over the system and it sounded great. So we should probably take time to credit the producer Adam Gaensler. You can contact him through his very geeky music blog Luwan Rock. Good job all round.
Beijing based experimental rockers Ourself Beside Me have started back into the action.
They burst into everyone's consciousness with their amazing eponymous CD on Maybe Mars whose standout track was Sunday Girl. Since then they have split opinions at their shows. You have drooling fanboys like me who are in awe of their effortless cool and harsh but dreamy songs. And you have people thoroughly repulsed by their near total dismissal of the audience, both on stage where they play facing each other and in the material where very little concession is given to the listener.
After breaking a spell of inaction with appearances at recent Maybe Mars showcases they have now started working again. Their Douban page now features three new demos, all loose-ish jams and a gallery of conceptual artwork.
Here's the page, I recommend going in at Qita 2
Update: It occurred to me just now that YYT's Zhang Haisheng told me recently of his plan to change the band room into a bar room. Maybe that was the case on Friday? The general point below still stands though.
Friday night at Yuyintang and indie-pop act Bang Bang Tang were putting on their own show called Rock My Own Zen. Here was the line up:
Bang Bang Tang 棒棒糖
The night was pushed hard on Douban and the turn out was great. Bang Bang Tang now have a good number of genuine fans and the atmosphere was good on the night. They even went to the trouble of printing flashy tickets.
Ann are are self-styled Brit-pop band that lean towards the longer atmospheric tracks. They started out with regular sounding pop songs and then moved into the longer instrumentals, even utilizing a flute. The Rake were similar in style but leaning more towards compacted tunes.
Bang Bang Tang came on with a bang. Singer Xiao Bai is a real star these days. She has great talent and the band's style revolves around her powerful voice and impressive range. The music is indie-pop with a hint of virtuoso musicianship for good measure. The crowd were here for them and they were well received.
Ultimately though, the show fell way short of its potential. The band have built up a set and a following. They promoted their own headlining event and put effort into the flyers and tickets, succeeding to fill the venue. Bit like the Mushrooms did last year. After a strong start it petered out due to woeful mismanagement of details. The support bands were both newish bands and there was too long a stretch of average show, it undermined the night as a whole.
Xiao Bai is the star attraction but the lighting guy kept turning off the front lighting, often for whole songs, leaving her in darkness. The sound, as usual lately, was messy and forever changing - often dropping her voice right out for whole songs. In moments were we could clearly see and hear her, the audience were captivated.
There was no stage management at all. The band room was just like another bar room, full of random people and smoke, the side stage door was open and unmanned and full of people too. This was a show with breaks and changes and planning, poor Xiao Bai came off stage for such moments and had to just stand in the general bar area, flustered and mobbed. This led to planned moments, such as guest appearances, becoming slowly executed and overlong. It killed the energy and momentum. And the general attitude to this aspect destroyed the mystique and impact of the performance (which was definitely able to be there).
This night should have been a big turning point for BBT and a legendary show but it ended up being a bit of a struggle. Another thought. I don't want YYT to have bouncers or bad tempered rules, so maybe we should all show the bands some more respect and give them space. Just saying. It's becoming a mess of unpaying guests, backstage hangers on and camera enthusiasts. When you operate on a community or friendly open level, then we all have to be responsible, right?
Believe me, Bang Bang Tang deserve our respect and support.
Update: while the song is among their newly recorded material, Lezi from the label tells me it won't be on the EP.
h/t to Terence Lau
Just one post ago I mentioned Pinkberry's upcoming EP release at Yuyintang. Now they have posted the first new original track from the CD at Douban.
Find it here: Maradona
I would love to talk about the big production and catchy hook and all that, it's very professional ... but alas, Pinkberry have found my weak spot: football.
The song opens up with the line "Maradona was a stoner" and goes on to mention stuff like the hand of god and the fact he wore number ten. In fact the chorus is I am number one, but I wear number ten. It even references his time at Napoli. So, basically, I am going to like this song no matter what. They should push it internationally because a song that celebrates Maradona has already won over, like, 70% of the world's population.
Although, you know what this means ...
Now I'm going to have to write a song in reply called Pele. I don't think the lyrics will be as catchy though ...errr ...Pele wasn't a stoner, didn't ever handball or dive, he just played very well and then was kicked to bits by angry defenders. Hmmmnn. Not quite the same.
He formed a label, singed four bands and has got their first release coming out within three months or so of starting. Sign bands - release music. It proves we should all 学韩涵 (learn from Miniless).
So first out of the gate is Pinkberry. They have a CD coming out called Go! Boom! and the release party at Yuyintang has been announced. They have a new track available at their page which is a Chinese language version of their song Live In Live, now titled 我听到天使的声音 (I heard the sound of an angel). The track has big flashy production and a retooled sound.
Listen to it here at their Douban page. Although all the old demos are gone now and the other track is singer Xiao You guesting on a Tim Wu hip-hop song.
The event is at Yuyintang on Saturday 24th of this month. Check the flyer and details here via Douban. Other bands playing are Sonnet, Joker and Manbanpai so expect a busy night with mostly local fans. And me and Jake.
End note: Blimey we have been following this band since this show. And now they have a CD coming out on a scene label. Good job guys.
Update: Yeah, it's April fool's day. I made it pretty obvious with the rickroll at the end. Have fun everyone.
If you read the local rags on a regular basis you may know that all kinds of test-run events and kinds of Expo soft openings are starting up this week as organizers run around at the last minute trying to make everything work. There are also all kinds of videos and Expo related channels springing up and in need of constant filling.
Among the press feeding frenzy comes this incredible statement from a unnamed official, apparently a member of mayor Han Zhong's inner office.
The statement lays out a proposed section in the China pavilion to be called "Shanghai Youth Culture is Adamant" which will showcase local artists and bands. No word yet on if this means venues will stay open or if this is intended to replace non-official acts during the Expo period. But surely it's a massive step. Incredibly they mention a band by name, The Mushrooms. Perhaps they heard of the Jue crosstalk event lately? Either way, could it be that Shanghai local pride is strong enough to trump even central policy?
Check it out: audio clip/interview on Youku