Generation gap

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lipang.jpgNext Saturday at Mao is the 0093/Rock Shanghai CD release party. Top Floor Circus are going to be headlining, Bang Bang Tang will be making their comeback and Pinkberry will be there debuting their new music video that night. But more importantly, it's something of a milestone for the scene and especially for 0093. Dan Shapiro, over at The Beat, has labelled the release "the definitive moment for local rock in 2009." Read Dan's piece in full here. One quote that stands out, is Jiang Shaoqing, 0093 founder, on what the CD means to him:

"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?

The piece carried by CNN is basically an ode to the band, who Lisa says "combine that tricky trifecta of originality, 'listenability' and sheer stage presence oomph". Lisa does make a full disclosure of why she feels so strongly about Crystal Butterfly incidentally:

"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.

crystalbutterfly.jpgTo 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.

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sorry,i just have to comment again. I am so amused how she just had to write in that she dated the guy and was very friendly with the band in the good old days. and right there is a photo of the guy with open jacket. anything music related?

Evans - disclosing any personal and/or professional connection to one's topic and sources is obligatory; it would be unprofessional and dishonest otherwise. If that is done, though, it's considered journalistically acceptable to write about those connections, although different publications and sites have different positions about that. CNNGo is very bloggy and personal in style, and much of its content has an "inside" angle. (And the shirtless photo was Jake's selection, not mine or CNNGo's - hmm... ;)

Anyhow, Jake, you raise a lot of good points but I think two of your basic premises are flawed. One, just because you give someone *a* platform doesn't assert that they are *THE* only platform. Every band, musician, figure from every generation has their perspective and opinions, and should be heard. Your piece seems to suggest that only the particular bands or people you like deserve to be profiled (which I am sure is not what you meant). Moreover, band profiles are never good snapshots of the scene as a whole – just that band's observations and perspectives.

Obviously, the band members' opinions are just that, and are delineated as such - as are my own. As for Crystal Butterfly's influence - that is fact. They *were* influential: their fingerprints are all over the current figures and institutions that you and I rightly celebrate, including those you cite in this essay. But of course those figures and institutions have grown up and moved on to become even more influential than CB are. No one says they *ARE* leaders, but certainly they were. The same would go for discussing Ah Wen or Zhou Zifeng or even Zhang Xing here, or Tang Chao or Cui Jian in Beijing.

Also, why fault a band for sticking to their old style? While it is good to evolve musically, why should bands hop on the latest musical trends (which often itself recycles old styles) rather than sticking to what they love and are good at?

The second premise I contest is that there is a generation gap. There have been and remain some real rivalries: up until 2002 there was a silly battle between what I call the Pop versus Punk Pies (ie Pai, style), and some continue between different personalities. There are different if mostly overlapping segments of ShRock focusing around different personalities, bands and venues - but they are not generational , nor are they really rivalries.

I see no contradiction between Wang Wenwei's and Jiang Shaoqing's comments. Wang observed that venues are bigger and better, but the models are the same. Mao is a bigger, better Ark, which was a bigger, better U-Like. Yuyintang and 0093 are, in different ways, bigger, better versions of Gua’er, which itself was a reinvention of the Tribesman plus Red Wing Music. Bands are becoming more numerous and in many cases more professional, but face the exact same social and economic pressures.

We can celebrate that we have a better wheel, but it holds the scene back if we're constantly reinventing the wheel.

Hi Lisa

Headlining your own opening and dishonestly thanking yourself for it is a bit much I think. I was quite shocked at the audacity of it.

The thing that disappointed my about the CNNgo piece was the quotes about rock being more of a culture to CB in the old days but that bands today are more commercial or think of it as entertainment.

0093 and YYT are true community centres and there are plenty of groups who loves the life. Also, SOMA are very commercial even looking at gigs in shopping malls - so it comes across as too odd to me, saying one thing and doing another.

I'm so excited about how Mao is going I have been to all the key shows and supported you guys all of the way. But you can't do what SOMA has been doing with their bands then disparage people for not being rock enough. It's disappointing to hear.

Hey Andy - Ah, that. That was weird. I think it was Pangpang's bad attempt at humor, sigh.

Pangpang never suggested that "rock [was] more of a culture to CB in the old days but that bands today are more commercial or think of it as entertainment".
What he said was, “The motivation has changed, for us an album was all we could do. Plus the environment: there are more fans and they are more natural, viewing rock as normal entertainment … bands now are more relaxed in their attitude and towards music, more open-minded.”

The entertainment comment was about fans, not bands - and meaning it positively. Fans are now more normal kids who enjoy music, which is healthy and normal, and less predominantly the slightly creepily obsessive fenqing of yesteryear. Now all sorts of people are discovering and enjoying rock, which is why more venues and bands can survive. There was no mention of commercialism, and certainly no disparaging of bands today - relaxed and open-minded were compliments.

Thanks for coming on and commenting Lisa, there's some interesting points. And yeah, my choice on the photo.

"Just because you give someone *a* platform doesn't assert that they are *THE* only platform. Every band, musician, figure from every generation has their perspective and opinions, and should be heard."

Absolutely. You're right, I wasn't trying to say that only bands I like should be profiled - far from it. However, you did say that they "are still the go to band on the landscape of today's rock scene in Shanghai" as if they somehow understand it better, and know more about it, than anyone else. I'm not saying they don't deserve to share their views, but to imply that they know more than other bands/institutions out there doesn't sit so well with their minimal involvement with the scene and Soma's holding back of the Jiaoban bands.

Maybe generation gap is a misleading title. I'm not being ageist. Maybe it's more of an ideas gap. I just felt like the idea conveyed in the article was that CB were somehow more edgy and more "rock" than the current crop of bands, but this was in contrast to what they/Soma were actually doing in practice - turning the bands they signed pop. I think some of it may have come from your comment on Andy's blog as well, which I admittedly didn't quote above, but where you say, "I was talking to Pangpang (for an article on CNNGo - shameless plug) about how the scene has changed, and his observation was that fans (and bands) now see rock as another form of entertainment. For him, for all of us back in the Jurassic times, rock was a passion, an alternative lifestyle, a feeble screech against the status quo. It was never political, but it was a socioeconomic rebellion. Rock in China, environmentalism alike - are now normal and increasingly mainstream. Overall, it's a good thing. Yet something is lost with that."

Perhaps Pang Pang's thank you comment was a joke and I misinterpreted it. Even for me as a Brit, that was incredibly dry and dead pan. I've been to several shows at Mao now too and it's a fantastic venue and I'm excited about what it could mean as well but, taking that comment seriously, I felt it was a bit much to say the least.

I've nothing against CB or their music, which is fine. They are simply not the 'go-to' band for Shanghai rock and the new scene and bands that sprung up after SARS is not just a little bit removed from the 90's. It's completely different.

There was nothing in Yang Pu that compared to what YYT and 0093 have done over the past few years. It's simply not the same.

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