"A Chinese indie takeover of the world is imminent"

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Carsick-Cars-001.jpgAt least that's what Mick Jagger believes. Mick Jagger, university student in Shanghai incidentally, not Mick Jagger, frontman of The Rolling Stones. Mick makes his bold statement in the most recent column from Alex Hoban on The Guardian who writes mostly about the Japanese music scene (a massive thank you to Suzy for flagging this up for me). The other week when PK14 and Carsick Cars hit the Dream Factory with These Are Powers, Hoban was there and his Turning Japanese column has therefore turned Chinese for the week.

Before going any further, check out his article here: 'Turning Japanese heads to China: The Shanghai scene'. You might also want to have look at my review of the same night here.

When I saw the title, my first thought was how refreshing it was to have someone in a Western newspaper write about the Shanghai scene instead of the Bejing one. When international newspapers cover the Chinese music scene, they invariably talk exclusively about the capital and often just about Carsick Cars - other cities don't get a look in.

Alas, before you even get to the text in Hoban's piece on the Shanghai scene, there's a big photo of... Carsick Cars. By the second paragraph it becomes clear that they, together with PK14, are the focus of the piece. That's Carsick Cars from Beijing and PK14, once of Nanjing but now essentially part of the capital's scene too. Oh.
Nevertheless, Hoban compares Shanghai's atmosphere favourably with that of gigs in other Asian countries and his comments echo what some of the Chinese bands say about the difference between crowds in Beijing and Shanghai too - that here the atmosphere is a lot more "potent" whereas up north, perhaps spoilt by a slightly more developed scene, fans take a while to warm up.

He then goes on to make an even more favourable comparison between Shanghai and Beijing, albeit through the words of Mick Jagger, and argues that "Shanghai acts as a litmus test for emerging trends in China":
"Jagger tells me a band have to be deemed worthy in Shanghai before they're allowed to try and impress tastemakers in Beijing. Shanghai bands like Circus from the Top Floor and Cold Fairyland have already carved their names into the tablets of China's brief rock history, with new acts like Boys Climb Ropes hoping to follow suit."
I think Jagger might find a fair few people in Beijing who would disagree with that statement. In fact, there's a fair few in Shanghai who, if they're honest, would disagree. Perhaps Jagger was Shanghainese and his comments were influenced by local pride, but I don't think many people would tell you honestly that bands can only be successful in Beijing once they've been accepted here. Far from it.

I like Carsick Cars and if coverage of them in the Western press brings more people to Chinese bands in general then great. Likewise, Hoban's pieces generally offer an interesting look into music culture in Japan. But, apart from token mentions to "Circus from the Top Floor" (which is a fair translation of the Chinese name, but not the English name preferred by the band), Cold Fairyland and Boys Climb(ing) Ropes, this isn't really about the Shanghai scene unfortunately. Maybe next time Hoban comes over, he can come and watch some Shanghai bands and then see whether he thinks that "local talent outshines western bands to such an extent it suggests the Chinese indie-rock revolution is imminent".

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Some people are having a few problems commenting at the moment. Sorry about that, I'm not sure what the problem is, but am looking into it. I promise I'm not harmonising you - all comments are welcome.

In the meantime, I've received a comment via e-mail instead and, with their permission, I'm pasting it here.

From Lisa Movius:

That is rather a one-note article, and it missed a few relevant points for its "Turning Japanese" theme. One, Zhijiang is modeled after, and had the same designer as, the Japanese-owned Ark Live House - which was named after L'Arc-En-Ciel and was the focal point of the Shanghai scene for five years.

Second, partly drawing inspiration from the old Ark, Zhijiang's current management Soma is working with Japanese investors to launch a new space here, and part of the business plan includes bringing lots of Japanese bands to Shanghai, and sending Shanghainese bands to Japan. (Point of clarification: this is NOT a branch of Beijing's Mao; it is totally independent. The connection is that some of their respective investors overlap.)

Shanghai has a strong affection for, and is largely influenced by, the Japanese rock scene. I know some of some anecdotal reasons - the early popularity of L'Arc-En-Ciel and LunaSea, the sizeable presence of Japanese students and expats in Shanghainese bands since the early 1990s - but that to me does not adequately explain the extent of the affinity.

A new comment from Lisa:

Oops: new word from Soma is that they will in fact be opening Mao Live House Shanghai - and quite soon. While it will be a subsidiary of the Japanese investor, and not of the Beijing locale, it sounds like the Shanghai and Beijing Maos will be quite closely affiliated, with a coordinated line-up. Which hopefully will mean that our Shanghai bands will get more chances to play in Beijing and Japan.

Mao Live Shanghai is now slated to open on 18 September with a concert by Hong Kong's My Little Airport.

Mao Shanghai's space can hold 800-1000 people and is on Huaihai Xi Lu, adjacent to Red Town. Zhijiang Dream Factory will, after this month, return to New Factories' management. I forgot to ask what will happen with all the sound equipment Soma installed at Zhijiang, but presume they're taking it with them to the new venue.

We'll have some bloggers and press in to sneak-peak the new venue next weekend or so, so more then.

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