Battling flack over battle of the bands... still

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harryhui.jpgUPDATE, Sep 17: In addition to K.E. and Five Pence, it now seems that October Capricorn (picture below) and Anchor have withdrawn from the GBOB. Sam Dust of YYT has stated that October Capricorn will not be taking part while Anchor's drummer has explained, "after we said we'd enter we discovered that we had to pay to take part. Originally we were just going to play and hadn't realised we had to pay a fee. We're no longer participating in this competition."


Anyone who's suffering from Battle of the Bands fatigue out there, I feel your pain. And yet, here I am, stealing Elaine's headline and taking up more space on the interwebs about them. I know, I'm part of the problem.

So why bring these competitions up again? A couple of reasons: first, Dan Shapiro has offered "Another Look at that Pepsi Battle of the Bands" over on his blog at CityWeekend (go read it here); second, the Global Battle of the Bands that I mentioned before here, has been taking a bit of stick on Douban of late.

Dan makes some interesting points in his piece and argues that the exposure the bands receive is far greater than that for bands who remain underground and gig at mid-sized venues. He admits that the sticking point is the sacrifices a band may have to make in terms of their artistic vision, but argues that sticking with an indie label doesn't mean you get a carte blanche artistically either:

"Of course, mainstream labels may limit artistic control; singing with an indie label should ensure your band receives complete creative license. But wait, in Shanghai, singing with a local label means you may have to change your sound, your style, your hair (Little Nature) and even your band name (MOMO / Happy Strings), in order to fit the target demographic."
This is a fair point in regard to Soma - they have changed the artists they've taken on board. Andy wrote a while back about the changes to Momo's appearance and when I interviewed lead singer Ding Jia nearly a year ago I asked her about why the band had changed their sound so dramatically and she simply said "because we signed with the label." She didn't bat an eyelid.
The problem of course is that, as Andy has now pointed out in the comments on Dan's piece, Soma aren't really the best example here. They've hardly been a trail-blazing indie label so far to be honest. If you compare it to someone like Miniless who have steadily built the profiles of their bands and have been regularly putting out records through a community ethic and by allowing bands to express themselves however they want, Soma doesn't scrub up too good.

But then ultimately, my feeling on this is that you're talking about two different things here. Dan (and Abe before him) are right: if you want to get popularity and fame regardless of what kind of music you're playing or what you look like etc, Pepsi's thing is perfect. The exposure is huge and the fact that Pepsi are behind it all means that they'll be pushing your image all over the place. But it'll be your image the way they want it to be and it'll be an image that Chinese authorities can stomach on prime-time TV. So if you want to maintain your artistic integrity then maybe, just maybe, taking part in a soft-drink sponsored competition on prime-time Chinese TV isn't the way to go about it. What do you really expect?

So what about the Global Battle of the Bands then? Well, the comments on Douban started out as a few people moaning about having to pay for entry to see a few bands play a couple of songs each, especially as the entry fee is the same as the sign-up fee for the bands. Someone then threw in that they thought this was shanzhai event and that people should be wary of it.

Lu, who works at Yuyintang, has sprung to the event's defense. First, he admits that he doesn't quite agree with charging a door fee, but that by buying a ticket, friends of the band can come and support the bands as the crowd gets to vote. This is what happened last year - Dovetail Joints' friends were in far greater attendance than friends of the other bands (probably not helped by it being in the Melting Pot) and it helped them swing the vote.

I don't get where the shanzhai comment comes from, but I do wonder if people who had their fingers burnt with the Pepsi band contest, rightly or wrongly, are now wary of participating in the GBOB. Anyway, here are the bands who have signed up (as of Saturday) according to Lu:

octobercapricorn.jpg 五便士 (Five Pence)
 膨胀螺丝 (Anchor)
 Alec Haavik Friction Seven 
 Lucius Clark
 Monroe Stahr
 October Capricorn(十月魔蝎)
 Picasso Smiling
 Stegosaurus

He also included K.E. on that list, but a member of the band has posted on the thread to say they've withdrawn (it's probably related to the fact they're looking for a drummer at the moment).  

There's a few foreigner bands in there (plus October Capricorn who I thought were from Hangzhou, but I could be wrong) and there have been a couple of comments about bands made up of foreigners based in Shanghai representing China. Last year, Dovetail Joints, a band made up of Westerners, went on to represent the mainland (they won the Shanghai round of the competition, the only mainland event last year) in Hong Kong.  

There's still a couple of weeks to go until the competition and bands can still sign up for the Shanghai round so maybe some more Shanghainese bands will be added to that list above but, ultimately, if a band is gigging regularly in a city and contributing to the scene there, why shouldn't they be considered representative of that city? Lu puts it better than me: "Shanghai is an international city - foreigners, people from outside of Shanghai, Shanghainese, their lives are here and they're all a part of Shanghai."

Oh, in case you're wondering, the photos are of Harry Hui at the Pepsi finals (where's Jarvis Cocker when you need him eh?) and October Capricorn rocking out that I stole from here and here respectively.

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Great post.

Comments coming soon, just off out.

I just realised that there's basically nothing to say that hasn't been said already.

Without meaning to potentially hijack the thread here, I was just at the Joyside screening thing. At its busiest point there were nine punters there, three of which were my and my party, so to speak. Zhang Haisheng and K were at the bar for the first half too.

The documentary was both shit and intriguing at the same time.

It follows the band on a tour of China but without any kind of scene, structure or interviews at all. It is just a continuous stream of chronologically ordered snippets of the in-between moments.

There was about a minute of music footage to every twenty minutes of behind the scenes.

What the film ended up showing quite accurately, and accidentally, was how China life is for 90% of it's people, towns and cities who are not wealthy and in Shanghai. Mundane, bland and uninspiring.

Apart from the lively Hong Kong bits, we saw endless footage of bland concrete hotel rooms and apartments. Streets that could have been cloned. Smoggy views from the train of dirty light industrial blocks and overhead cables. Night time shots that were almost completely dark, punctuated with uninspired snippets of dull conversation.

And all of that was quite unintentional. Maybe all the true Joyside fans have gone up to Beijing for the farewell gig? Who knows.

That's interesting. Your comments remind me a bit of that PK14 documentary that came out a couple of years back, although at least that had interviews and a bit of a structure to it. To be fair, I think their portrayal of the blandness of city-hopping for a band was intentional in that case.

you still seem bitter that the dovetails won the GBOB shanghai last year, jake. of course my perspective from the stage is unreliable, but then again, so is yours as an unashamed fan of crazy mushroom. i think we played better on the night, you may disagree.
but then there's the fan thing. if it was known that the audience vote counted towards the winner's points, why is it a problem that we asked our friends to come down and support us? the other bands could have done the same - we only brought about 10-15 people.

Hi Gunsella

I think it's clear in this article that the two mentions of Dovetail Joints and the GBOB are there to contextualise the preceding comments. First Lu's and then to give an idea why the Douban posters (not Jake) thought it was an issue.

As for me personally, I don't see musicians as being in competition with each other and find BOB events odd and demeaning. I find it a bit dissapointing that bands such as the Mushrooms, who I like a lot and who appear to have their own style and integrity, enter comps.

One positive is that the whole 'Pepsi Incident' has provoked a lot more thought and awareness of these issues. I think that post-Pepsi, bands who enter comps are transparently and consciously saying that they are in it for the pop-fame and money. Which is their choice, of course, and good luck to them.

I'm not bitter about Dovetail Joints winning last year at all, sorry if it comes across that way.

In fact, the point I was trying to make about foreigners representing Shanghai was partly in defense of you guys. As a judge on last year's competition, I was allowed to rate all of the bands and I scored the Dovetail Joints very highly because, as you say, they gave a great performance on the night.

You're quite right, you should have got your friends to come down and vote. When I say it helped swing the vote, I'm not suggesting that you fixed the result or something by having your friends there, I'm just saying that the other bands should have done the same and that maybe it being in the Melting Pot put them off. I was basically trying to make the point that having people there who support the band can make a difference and that, though people might moan about the door charge, they should still come down and engage in the voting if they want to support the bands.

thanks for your props, jake.

and i appreciate your explanation about the crowd influence on the vote. i agree that it's worth paying the door charge to have your say in the winner.

i think poor marketing last year kept most people in shanghai from knowing about the event, but i don't think it's right to suggest that it "being in the Melting Pot" put fans/friends from coming. in that it was at the melting pot, it seems that mostly melting pot bands entered - again, i blame poor marketing. don't forget that the mushrooms, lan cao and momo (as well as the dovetail joints) have all been regulars at the melting pot for a long time, sometimes even drawing large crowds.

i honestly wonder why the other bands didn't do the same as us - their people are/were no strangers to the melting pot and i think there was a free beer with the door charge.

andy, i think at least one reason to enter band competitions is simply the prizes. 200000 kuai for the pepsi comp? yes, please.

speaking of sweet soft drink cross-promotion, i've done some pepsing myself over at luwanrock.

Thanks Gunsella. I saw your Pepsi post earlier - do you reckon the band has to use that Pepsi stratocaster at every gig they play now?!

Looks like Five Pence have withdrawn from the GBOB now too...

Same old controversies, just the names of the bands and the sponsors change...

I don't have an opinion on all this, but I'm curious how y'all feel that the Maxell competition figures in. It feels somehow different, and has been instrumental in the emergence of almost all of the young bands we talk about now. But I don't know much about it otherwise.

Hi Lisa/Gunsella/Jake

I think I'm just a bit outdated and perhaps suffer from some kind of mental illness version of being stubborn or having principals.

My life is just a huge string of turning down opportunities to get good money because of values or sometimes just in favour of doing something I enjoy more.

I could list up several jaw-dropping examples but it would probably just come off as being high and mighty. I'm sure I come off that way already but I don't mind, because it's true.

Jake has had recent personal experience of one involving me, writing and a bonafide deal with an agent championing some work to Random House, New York.

I've also been in working bands before, but they were all Punk or Metal and we'd rather have killed ourselves than embarrass ourselves on a TV battle of the bands comp. The same would have gone for the Maxell comp.

For me, being in those bands was the rejection of mainstream commercial culture and thinking, resulting from being repulsed by it. I'm coming back to those values again.

Punk or metal or whatever was not just musicians choosing styles like colours off the palette. And it wasn't a consumer lifestyle choice etc. It was more than that. There's a lot of debate online at the moment in large papers and mags as to if that even exists any more. I know it does back in Liverpool, but here? It does a bit. It does when anybody takes a stand.

The interesting thing about the 'Pepsi Incident' is that a bunch of bands were confronted with some realities and then suddenly realised that they did, in fact, have some feelings and principals lurking inside. Then the first real debate about it happened. I believe it hasn't been worked through yet but it was a good start.

I just think it's a good thing that people are thinking about it at all. Thinking is always good. Talking and throwing ideas around is always good.

On the other hand, working for Pepsi while taking shots at other people's integrity = ridiculous to anyone with a basic grasp of logic.

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