Results tagged “shanghai music scene” from Andy Best

One year off, ten years on

subs old days
Pictured: Kang Mao and Zhu Lei playing with Subs around 2005

This month marks a year off for this blog. During which time I've done some thinking. It is also late 2014, making it about ten years since the Shanghai music scene, the band scene, got going properly in the downtown area. 

Just to throw in all the info, I've been here continuously from 2001 and hanging around the band scene since about 2003. I just didn't start writing about it until the spring of 2008. 

What prompted me to write about this was a recent quote from Dostav Dixit of Splitworks, who used to run Vox in Wuhan for a time. He mentioned that 2004-2007 is starting to emerge as a kind of golden time for China bands. I started to think about if there was any real difference in amount and quality of local bands with local members. Then I realised there wasn't ... and that this simple fact was very revealing. There should be a difference: there should be a lot more now. 

After that golden age was cemented, by very simple things such as the existence of venues and rehearsal spaces that were affordable/viable for locals without tons of money, we came to the dubious period of 2007-2009. Actually, the scene went on much the same at first, but the roots of 2009 were appearing in 2007. Across this time, the following things started to come into play:

Involvement of brands and ad agencies
Brand/mall/corporate shows and festivals as a model
Bringing over more foreign touring acts
Large and sudden influx of ex-pats, audience or otherwise

All of these came with issues and impacts. In a smaller scene, it was immediately apparent that their activities were not adding to the scene but replacing things in the scene. What's interesting though, in the case of the first three areas I mention, the people involved went out of their way to claim that their activities would help local bands and the scene develop - and they argued that this was a sincere part of their intentions. I could go on and give examples but it's all moot now ...

Dan Shapiro asks the right questions

andy dan xiao punk
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

Ourself Beside Me Douban updates

obm concept art
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

Here are some previous blog articles about them.

Pepsi fiasco: Shanghai scene story of 2009

It is fitting that I write this on the eve of Yuyintang's 5th anniversary. YYT is the community model of live music development that was always about the bands. It is the model that worked. Not a business model. Yuyintang simply asked, how can we get bands to play gigs and write music. Why? Because of those pesky humans and their desire to make culture and express themselves. Something that has been going on before the idea of mass marketing, fame or money from art.

As YYT and 0093 successfully triggered a larger scene and a stable downtown presence, the next questions started to be brought up by many people with a different mindset. How can we make money off this or do it full time? There were many aspects to this and many differing approaches and results. But it was all up in the air and there was a sense of mixed feelings and shakey steps. Without a mainstream industry to speak of and with a deeply conservative government that routinely practices censorship, some flirted with the idea of corporate and ad driven sponsorships. 

The bands had vague notions of conflict that had never been tested in reality and the champions of this new approach were, unsurprisingly, people from within the branding and ad industries. And then one day in stepped global giant Pepsico and lit the fuse that would blow up into the scene story of the year.

First came the announcement. The story broke over at China Music Radar and then at Shanghaiist

With a RMB1m prize purse (including cash, equipment, a national concert tour and recording time in LA), and "up to 5,000 concert auditions", Pepsi have made a commitment to the "real" Chinese underground music scene by announcing a new reality TV program to air over 7 months on the Zhejiang satellite network.
This was April 3rd 2009. I commented at Shanghaiist on the post and chose not to blog it directly.Why, I thought, would local rock and underground bands be interested in a talent show put on by a company that markets junk food to kids. CMR's post date of April 1st seemed more relevant to me.

Behind the scenes though, the regular bands of the scene, the better bands and the likes of Yuyintang had decided to give it a go and see. Soon they would all go to the judged 'audition' rounds. 

And then I largely forgot about it. But, this is not about me. is the site the scene uses to communicate. Sean Leow of Neocha called it BBS 2.0 but it's much more than that. It allows you to create separate feeds for friends, groups and band pages so you can easily follow the band uploads and news as it comes out in one stream. At the end of the first week of May, the regular Douban channels were hot with talk of the Pepsi comp. People were angry. Some kind of massive fallout had occurred at the filming and the major scene figures and bands were calling for a complete boycott of the show.

Here's how I broke the story:Pepsi / SMG TV bands show a predictable fiasco 

The lead statements on Douban came from Zhang Haisheng of Yuyintang and Pupu of The Mushrooms: Pupu's statement (Chinese language)

Helen Feng (Pet Conspiracy) added her experience at the Beijing event via China Music Radar: More big brand BS, and I quoted it in my follow up here: More Pepsi BoB BS

The bands and scene people had come face to face with naked, soulless corporate/branding culture. Having been seduced by the usual rhetoric about caring, culture and mutually beneficial arrangements, they were faced with uncaring and ignorant shills who were there to sell junk and expected the bands to simply tell their peers to buy. The musicians were treated with infuriating levels of disrespect and the whole set up was painfully amateur. 

From Helen:

Apart from the in your face branding that made us dizzy, we were also shocked by their serious lack of taste. In the back were a few skinny models in hot pants and a halter-tops also adorned with said logo stretched tight against none existent boobs selling the soda at the bar. Even the people working there had to have said logo painted on their face.

Having never done a battle of the bands before, said soda company had forgotten that unlike other talent contests, bands don't usually come with a back-up tape in hand so had allocated no time for stage changes. In between the bands, the MC (namely me) was suppose to interview the lead singer. This was a bit ridiculous as the lead singer was usually down on the floor plugging in equipment. When I expressed this to the sponsor, the responded by saying "well just tell them to hurry up."

Still with one minute allocated for stage changes, even the speediest of musicians could not get their equipment plugged in on-time. The head of said Soda company came charging backstage screaming at the staff saying things like "tell these kids if they don't get their equipment plugged in less then three minutes they will have points deducted from their total score."

markpepsi douchbagBut was this short lived anger or would it live on and turn into a new level of awareness around brands and branding. Well, it certainly was angry and one kickback was the minor scandal that followed involving the band Pinkberry.

A boycott was agreed by the quality Shanghai bands via Douban and one of the voices on the threads was Pinkberry guitarist Toni Yu. It came as a massive shock just a few weeks later when it turned out that the band had secretly stayed in the comp - and with all serious competition having pulled out, went on to win the whole round. A very mean-spirited Douban thread then went up in which the band were pilloried. 

Here is how Jake Newby reported the incident at Shanghaiist: Pinkberry and the Pepsi pullava 

In a way, the reaction to the Pepsi Fiasco set the tone for the breakout bands of the year in Shanghai. Bands such as the Mushrooms and Candy Shop, both regulars in various band competitions up until that point, went back to traditional indie scene organising. They put on their own shows, worked on the Douban communities and fans, improved their music and expanded their sets. It was this - and not comps or brand friendly management - that has led these bands to be local fan favourites and on the verge of bigger things. 

You might almost say they've done it in spite of 'help' from 'labels', who don't release records, gigs in malls and big sponsors like Pepsi. As we come up to 5 years of Yuyintang it is telling to see that the bands who are doing things are those who did their own groundwork. The story of 2009 is that the various attempts at brand cooperation and sponsorship simply didn't work. But the community based models did. Brands don't want to help bands, they want to help themselves. 

One amusing post script to the affair was the belated reaction of Pepsi themselves. Well maybe not Pepsi so to speak. 

During the Shanghai run of the show, Pepsi employed an intern called Jay Mark Caplan to run an English blog of the show. He only knew about the incident at all via scene regular and Pepsi comp stage manager Abe Deyo and his post comes on July 28th - nearly three months after the thing was done. In his post he dismisses the bands and calls out bloggers (linking my post) as jumping on the bandwagon.

Talk time: political punk?

Clean everything
In a recent post, Elaine Chow at Shanghaiist linked an AFP story that called out Chinese rock as being toothless because it wasn't political.

I felt the article was shallow and had a number of conceits and dodgy premises. It held China to standards not present in The West and falsely imagined a past where China had an independent scene that was political motivated.

My post is buried now but there have been some thoughtful comments which I would like to re-present here. Thanks to those who contributed.

The discussion comes after the jump ... enjoy.

Shanghai Music Scene


Thumbnail image for mushrooms at yytAs you may have noticed, most of the posts here fall into the category Shanghai Music Scene. Here's a brief explanation.

I live in Shanghai. I have lived here since 2001. That's about the same time as the scene in its current incarnation has been around. I like music.

We have a cool small scene where people are in it for the love and not the money (there's no choice). This blog is a journal of what I'm doing or reading. It doesn't represent the scene as a whole but I feel it gives readers a good look into what's going on and which bands are around.

When I say music scene I mean people who are forming bands and writing their own songs doing stuff like rock, indie pop, punk ... you get the picture. You won't find DJs or Jazz or whatever here. 


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