"This is a change in the overall environment [of local rock music]."Sure, he might be hyping the release a bit, but it makes for an interesting contrast with another local music piece that has gone up recently over on CNNGo. This second piece is by Soma PR Director and Shanghai-based writer Lisa Movius, who regular readers will know well too. It's essentially a preview for last Friday's official opening of Mao and in it, Lisa talks to late-'90s band Crystal Butterfly about changes on the scene. Read the full article here. Here's a quote:
'"There are more people, and slightly better venues, but really not much else has changed aside from that in terms of Shanghai rock," says scene veteran and Crystal Butterfly (Shuijingdie) guitarist Wang Wenwei'In talking about the pressures of work and how bands still struggle, Wang may have a point, but are the band the best people to comment on the current state of music in Shanghai? I'm not sure I've ever seen a member of the band at a gig where they weren't performing. Having hardly played themselves in the past few years, do they really understand what is going on in Shanghai today? Do they deserve to be held up as a leading light on the Shanghai scene?
"I, of course, am biased: I used to date and currently work at Soma Records and Mao Livehouse Shanghai with their singer, used to share a flat with Wang, and am good friends with and grew up with all of the guys in the group."CNN clearly don't seem to mind such a bias. The trouble, for anyone reading the article, is that it doesn't really represent what is going on in Shanghai at the moment. Times have changed, Crystal Butterfly haven't. Even if, for some, they are "the best band that Shanghai -- if not all of China -- has ever produced", to many of the people involved in the scene today, they are largely irrelevant. I was a bit surprised when I bumped into one of the scene's pre-emminent and most well-respected guitarists at the gig on Friday and he told me "I'm just here to see Crystal Butterfly", but his comments the following night were telling. "They hadn't changed. Their look, their music - it was still in the '90s. They haven't moved on."
There were many people who were at Mao on Friday to see Crystal Butterfly. Some of them may have been die-hard fans, but I also think there were a significant number there out of curiosity. I too was there to see how the band would have adapted to the current climate ten years on from their formation, how much they would have taken on board from what is currently going on in the scene. But a decade later, they remain tied to the '90s.
To hold them aloft as leaders of the scene and as Shanghai idols, therefore seems wrong. No band should be allowed to survive on former glories, especially if they have done little to support the current scene. Not only can I not recall seeing any members of the band at a gig, but (and this is much worse) frontman Li Pang - through his management of Soma - has been involved in holding back the development of several bands who a year and a half ago were amongst the most promising on the scene.
Having signed Momo, Little Nature and The Mushrooms in the wake of the Jiaoban nights, Soma turned them pop before effectively silencing them all. They've produced a cartoon for Momo and now put them on every other week at Mao, but there's no album. Little Nature have a record good to go apparently, though there's still no date set, and 18 months on the buzz surrounding them has gone. The Mushrooms, arguably the band with the most crossover potential of the three, have managed to return to their position as one of the most followed bands on the scene now, but they've done that through organising themselves and have achieved success in the past year despite, not because, of Soma.
On Friday, I heard several people asking who the band on stage was when The Mushrooms were playing. They have a solid set of material and have done for over a year. Why is there no CD? All Soma needed to do was give the band some studio time and allow them to record some decent versions of their existing tracks, then put it out as a CD. That could have been done in a couple of months at most. Instead, 18 months on from them signing with Soma, the label has done precisely nothing for the development of the band. In fact, they've held them back.
So should such people be revered as leaders of the Shanghai scene? Are they really in touch with what is going on now? Are they supporting and helping the bands that are coming through at the moment? If, as Wang says in Lisa's piece, "we're all in this together", shouldn't they be coming to gigs and seeing the bands who are representative of Shanghai today? Despite holding back some bands and failing to come and watch the others, Lisa says that Crystal Butterfly are "still the go to band for a comment on the landscape of today's rock scene in Shanghai." Really? On what basis? Because they released a CD five years ago?
Jiang Shaoqing and Wang Tiantian at 0093, on the other hand, have helped bring a number of bands through and supported their development - not only through the rehearsal space, but by helping them get on stage at venues like Yuyintang. These guys care about, and are deeply involved in, the current scene in Shanghai.
Given that there will be a door charge for Saturday's 0093/Rock Shanghai CD release at Mao, I doubt the place will be as busy as the Crystal Butterfly-headlined free opening party. But as to which event is more important, and bears more relevance, to the scene, there should really be no doubt.