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.
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:
五便士 (Five Pence)
Alec Haavik Friction Seven
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.