"Has the era of consumer rock arrived?"

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TimeOutmusic.jpgThere's a few things that have caught my eye in the press recently regarding the Shanghai music scene so I want to do a little round up here. Dan Shapiro recently put up a great overview of where to go for your English-language coverage of the scene (he also said some very nice things about this blog, thanks Dan), but the things that I'm going to write about below all come from the Chinese-language press.

One is from Time Out Shanghai about band contests, one is a piece on Top Floor Circus by a swanky upmarket lifestyle magazine and the third is an appearance from the Curry Soap and 8 Eye Spy in XMusic. Unfortunately, I can only link to the Top Floor Circus piece as the others don't appear to be online, but I'll try and give you an idea of the content anyway.

The title of this post is lifted from the headline of Time Out's main music feature for the current issue (the one with the luggage tag on the front cover). My first thought was 'no' followed by 'and what's consumer rock anyway?' If I tell you that this headline is surrounded by photos from a certain soft drink-sponsored battle of the bands, you might get an idea (see the picture above).

The angle of the article is basically a face-off between the aforementioned band contest and the Global Battle of the Bands, as both have their "finals" taking place in Shanghai soon. This is kind of misleading as there aren't any qualifying rounds for the GBOB in Shanghai, but whatever. Despite this premise and most of the article focusing on these two competitions, there's actually some fairly well-reasoned comments in the introduction.
After talking about the general populace's perceptions of rock music in China ("long hair, tattoos, violence, noise") and the "unforgettable" concert held by Tang Dynasty and Mo Yan San Jie in Hong Kong in 1994, the writer argues that
"It's not that China doesn't have any bands today, it's just that it's hard to think that TV will broadcast a live Carsick Cars concert."
After wondering whether Pepsi and GBOB can really bring genuine rock music to the masses, the writer states
"my real fear is that people who don't really know much about rock music will turn on the TV, see some pop bands singing 'Xin Tai Ruan' [Too Soft Heart] and think 'this is rock music'"
Unfortunately, the most interesting bit of the article stops there and the arguments aren't really followed through or elaborated upon, except for one final sentence. Just before launching into a comparison of the merits of each band contest, the writer rounds off the introduction with the words, "consumer rock, China isn't ready yet."

Funnily enough, this touches upon a conversation I had with Andy Best and Steve Manners yesterday (before I'd seen this article), the gist of which was, in the Time Out piece's words, China isn't ready yet. If you're talking about a mainstream rock scene, you need an infrastructure to support it. As China Music Radar rightly pointed out in their analysis of the Pepsi contest, "the most effective way to hit the masses is TV" (though I'd add the internet in there too) and, as the Time Out article points out, you ain't going to see Carsick Cars performing live on CCTV any time soon. Add in a certain someone celebrating their 60th birthday this year who isn't all that into rock 'n' roll and the chances of this kind of music really entering the national consciousness any time soon seem slim. There was a bit of coverage in some papers for the InMusic Festival, but whether that really aided the scene is debatable, as Kang Mao argued.

A popular rock scene with proper coverage on TV and in the mainstream press might happen one day, but we're not there yet. In the meantime, localised underground livehouses form the core of the rock music scene in China and it's based more on the music than on consumerism. Of course, these places want to make money, but look at Yuyintang and its community ethic - it's no surprise that it's the centre of the scene in Shanghai. And even then if you get 300 people in there it's packed and that's in a city of close to 19 million.

Also in the press are Top Floor Circus whose recent performance up at Daning has been written about by high life magazine The Bund. It's an interesting choice from a magazine whose cover is usually graced by some of the biggest celebrities in the world (this month's cover stars are Tony and Cherie Blair... maybe that's a bad example) and caters to the country's nouveau riche. The article is called "Top Floor Circus: Shanghai's 'underwear'" and you can read the text here (in Chinese). I'm not going to lie to you, I've never bought a copy of The Bund (I don't think they'll be too cut up by this revelation, I'm hardly their target audience) so I'm not sure if this article is in the actual magazine or not, but I thought the fact that they're giving the band coverage at all was interesting. Still not "consumer rock", but interesting.

Of course, it's not particularly unusual to find non-music media writing about Top Floor Circus. If the mainstream Chinese media decide to do something on Shanghai bands, it's invariably them or Cold Fairyland. Nevertheless, I thought it was kind of interesting to see a magazine aimed at the Prada-wearing, sports car-driving section of society covering a band like Top Floor Circus. Although they don't go into quite as much detail as they could, the article is pretty forthright given the publication within which it appears. Here's a short translation of one section:

"In recent years, Top Floor Circus' performances have brought them quite a following, but have also caused some controversy. Their song lyrics and concerts have been talked about in various circles. Lu Chen has never been afraid to overstep performance boundaries, apart from licking each others' armpits and exposing his body, he once even ripped off his pants and stuck his arse in the audience's face."
Alright, so they could have gone further, but just remember where this quote is coming from. I quite like the idea of a newly minted, man-purse clutching Mercedes driver flicking through adverts for ridiculously expensive jewellery and aftershave and landing on that paragraph.
currysoapxmusic.jpgFinally, at the end of the piece on Muscle Snog that I put up last week, I mentioned that Vivien has her own solo project called the Curry Soap and that it's really good. I picked out Little Northern Europe as a good starting point. It's a track that Vivien put together with Muscle Snog drummer Zhong Ke and is one of my favourites from the Curry Soap. Well, that's the track that Chinese music magazine 通俗歌曲 (XMusic) has put on a CD out with their latest issue. The CD also features a track from Miniless' 8 Eye Spy. The text that you can see in the picture here (from Vivien's blog) isn't online unfortunately so I can't link to it I'm afraid.

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I was at the Top Floor Circus gig myself, i wonder what the Bund made of them giving their all in bermuda shirts and shorts out in the pissing rain? I had fun at least.

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