What am I talking about? Yuyintang has been shut down.
When the police tried to shut the LOgO show down last weekend, stating "the Expo" as the reason, I tried to stay positive and believe that it was due to the complaints of local residents, rather than actually for the Expo. But with the YYT raid last night, half an hour after the start time of the gig, things have been stepped up a notch. It now looks increasingly like the police are doing an area each weekend and shutting things down. Why would you want an interesting and vibrant music scene going on during the Expo, eh?
It's interesting the kind of gigs that the authorities are focusing on. One was a Sunday night show, though the attempted raid came a few days before. The other was a low-key folk show. Peaches at MAO singing 'Shake Yer Dix' and 'Fuck the Pain Away' is clearly harmonious enough to be allowed. A Beijing band playing indie-rock or a local folk artist? Let's shut it down! Clearly, dealing with a handful of annoyed locals is a lot easier than trying to placate 600 drunk and angry white people. It's also less likely to get attention in the press.
'Police ban Peaches in Shanghai' headlines are more likely to make waves in the run up to Expo than a story about a Chinese guy who plays folk songs having his gig shut down. But Yuyintang is massively important to the local music scene here and anyone who cares even a little about music in this city needs to make a fuss about it now.
There were warning shots. Top Floor Circus' ban at the end of last year should have been a wake up call. Instead, little attention was given to it. A few local sites ran posts on the 'Shanghai Doesn't Welcome You' performance at MAO, but few covered the subsequent performance ban of the band or the censorship and deletion of the song and the confiscation of the associated merchandise. Aside from a journalist from Radio France International, who ran a story on TFC's song and their subsequent ban, media coverage of the incident and its implications for the Expo period was non-existent.
I have to admit, although my cynicism about the event itself has remained (the Oil Pavilion at an event whose theme is sustainability is surely a joke?), I was starting to be cautiously optimistic about the impact it would have on local underground music venues and bands. Disruption appeared to be limited, especially given that things were shut down around a month in advance of the Olympics, and the raids we were all fearing hadn't materialised. Top Floor Circus were still banned, but they were apparently able to perform outside of Shanghai. Despite initial suggestions (from the venue themselves) that Yuyintang would be forced to close or to schedule instrumental jazz shows during the Expo period, they seemed to be operating as normal and had some great gigs lined up for May. There were some really good music events planned at other venues around town too.
I should have known better. With a week to go until it opens, this is a clear sign of intent from the authorities for the Expo period. When LOgO were paid a visit a couple of days before the Cassette show, fliers and posters were taken away and they were told the gig couldn't take place. The bands and the venue decided to go ahead anyway. Naturally the turn out was low, but the bands started a bit later and played a great show.
This time round, the authorities have gone further - not only raiding a show as an act is preparing to take the stage and telling the audience to go home, but then removing equipment essential to the operation of the venue. No one really knows where this leaves Yuyintang. It's not clear how they get the equipment back or even if they are able to. If they can get it back, what are the implications for their May schedule and what are the ramifications for other music venues around town?
There's a lack of clarity at the moment, as is often the case with these things in China - no official reasons or notices are really given, appeal processes are tricky to negotiate if they exist at all. But it doesn't look good.
Despite it's monolithic appearance and frequent indifference to public opinion, the government has shown that it can be surprisingly sensitive to negative media coverage or outcry over certain issues, especially if it might deflect attention from their carefully stage-managed showpiece events. The closure of Yuyintang, combined with the censorship of Top Floor Circus, the LOgO raid and even the closure of 0093, surely adds up to a story? It's time that there was a proper outcry about this - hopefully if there is a big enough backlash, Yuyintang will get their equipment back and be allowed to operate as normal so that we can enjoy the local music scene as it should be.
Picture by B6