The CLUAS Archive: 1998 - 2011

Entries for 'Mark Godfrey'

03

One of the joys of traveling in China is that you can pick up CDs and DVDs you won’t get in the capital. Like yesterday evening, on Kunming’s Wen Lin Jie shopping/café area I found a treasure trove of recent releases, including the Kaiser Chief’s latest for RMB10, about a euro. The packaging varies between provinces too. This place had some of the neatest packaging, CD cases in paper casing with nice rounded corners. There’s the mystery of the yellow sticker on CDs. Does that mean they’re the real deal, licensed imports? Technically yes.

So why the different packaging? 

A pleasant high-altitude city in the country’s southwest, not far from the Burmese border, Kunming has a thriving backpacker culture and plenty of cafes for travelers who’ve just buses or flown up from southeast Asia. Fakes CDs abound in Vietnam but tend to be poorly packaged by comparison, using paper photo copies of the original sleeves.

There are certifiably real CDs in the shop. Not as nicely packaged as the other albums, there’s Guns N Roses’ Appetite For Destruction and Coldplay’s Rush Of Blood to the head. Many other, mostly pop and lite classics (Cliff Richard is in that section) come with a “Special For China” label applied.

The choice of real albums in Chinese book store chain, Xinhua, is always curious: a lot of Sting, some Tori Amos, Roxette, and always some U2 – curiously prevalent is the lackluster seller Pop.

 


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02

The things you have to do to get a name in China. Like playing a half hour set to Communist Party cadres in a cinema in Wangjing, an industrial zone on Beijing’s northeast outskirts. "We were cultural envoys," explains Owen Hopkin, drummer of British band The Crimea, who caught up with Beijing Beat in a Beijing tea house recently. "The inititiave was taken by the British Council and our local label, Jingwen. The translator didn’t translate very well and the band got shunted around between bemused officials for photos, handshakes and “how’s your plectrum” before they boarded and bus for the hour long ride back up to a hotel miles away in Haidian district.

London-based The Crimea picked up the invitation after Hopkin came out to Beijing in September 2006 with the British-based Association of Independent Music and the Department of Trade & Industry. A wiry and wily drummer, Hopkin isn’t short of good ideas, or a knack for doing things the Chinese way. He had the Crimea draw up a Communist-style five year plan to world domination. It didn’t involve a big record deal or conquering America: Rather, free downloads of the group’s second album, and going to China. “If we can be big in China it can be Beatlemania on a scale not even the Beatles experienced!”

So far the 5 year plan seems to be running politburo-smooth. The band’s second album Secrets of the Witching Hour scored 11,000 downloads in two days when posted on the band’s website. “You don’t make much money selling physical CDs any more,” explains Hopkin. “The cash comes from merchandising and publishing and live concerts. We have to get it out to those who wouldn’t normally buy the Crimea.”
 
The PR value of the stunt may be convincing those punters. Britain’s music press and trend-setting radio shows played the songs for the novelty - it helped that the Crimea is also talented. The Crimea began life as The Crocketts, signing to a UK major label, V2, in 1998 with which the group recorded two albums.  In 2001 Hopkin and singer Davey MacManus formed The Crimea, which they compare to their former band in an early press release: "if the Crocketts were four cavemen banging stones together, [then] this is the sound of four Tchaikovskys banging Kylie Minogue".
   
Chinese music impresarios liked the sound when Hopkin came over last September with a satchel of CDs and tramped all over Beijing handing them out. “I met as many industry people as he could get around to. “I handed over a lot of CDs and met with MIDI and the Beijing Pop Festival and with ring tones people.”
 
The organizers of the MIDI Festival, Beijing’s annual left-field rock festival put them on the main stage. “We were sandwiched between two heavy metal bands. It was really chilled out.” Always sensitive to the PR value of a trip to the world’s most populous nation, Hopkin, himself a sometimes contributor to Britain’s Kerrang! magazine, convinced a rock writer from British daily The Independent to come along to document a Crimean MIDI set and a week gigging Beijing during the annual socialist-style May holiday in the Chinese capital.
 
 “There were no toilets backstage and only four toilets on the whole site! You had to find different ways of peeing before you go on stage.” The crowd made up for the lousy sanitation: they were “going apeshit” during the band’s set. Though the band didn’t pick up a fee, they commend the hospitality and stage hands supplied by the organizers, a European-funded modern music school of the same name, which runs the festival on a shoestring budget. Denmark’s Ministry of Culture helped with the stage. “There were good stage and sound managers. There were a lot of Danes helping out.”
 
Just as well money wasn’t a priority for the Crimea’s China tour. Aside from the Midi main stage, the Crimea played five other shows, during six days in China. The EUR15 they got from the New Get Lucky Bar was enough to pay for the taxis home after the show. Mao Live was more generous: EUR80 – split between the five of them. A typical bar gig in UK yields the group GBP500 while a recent club show for Carling beer was worth GBP5,000 to the band. “After a week here you realize quickly that it’s not the country for making a quick buck in as a rock band.”
 
Venues in China are very small by UK standards, says Hopkins. Whereas the band fits nicely into the Barfly’s chain – capacity 150 – China has cramped bars and karaoke parlours. Recently opened Mao Live was about right: it fits 150. The Stone Boat gig was to “expats” and not what the band flew out for. The coziest venue in the city, 2 Kollegas, worked best. “You get the impression it’s the wild west, but not really.”
 
And what of the local talent? There’s “pockets,” says Hopkins. "[Joy Division-like] Retros are very good. Tongue is very good, so was PK14. You come out as a western artist thinking you know the score. But come out here and there’s good local musicans playing conventional western style. We wouldn’t have the first idea how to play Chinese musical styles. Right now they’re not creating so much as copying, but that will develop." As for The Crimea singing in Chinese. “Well, singing in Welsh might be a problem!”
 
Seven shows in six days was a lot, even for this group, which, in five years together has toured with the likes of Stereophonics and Snow Patrol. “We came out prepared for the worst and expecting the best and went home exhausted.” Aside from cramped venues and lousy pay, language was a barrier.  “The whole equipment thing was very stressful, having to lug cases around town in taxis with hardly a word of Chinese between us.”

The Crimea hopes to be back for the Beijing Pop Festival 2007. “It’s important to come out here because at the moment they don’t distinguish between the Crimea and the White Stripes. Rock is a niche.” It’s not like the band is unknown in China. The band’s first album has already been bootlegged here whileSecrets of the Witching Hour came out in June through a subsidiary of state-run record distributor/label Jingwen.  Big as the Beatles, in China? “It’s definitely a punt.”

 


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27

"When we started out we wanted to be the Clash, we wanted to be an international band, not a Chinese band or a UK band." Joe Strummer is an icon to Xiao Rong, lead singer and guitarist with Brain Failure. His trademark leopard-spot haircut features in the artwork of the band's latest album, Coming Down to Beijing. The CD "may be our London Calling," says Xiao Rong. 

Brain Failure started with the Eagles. “I was 15, both my parents were working so my father sent me to guitar class. We learnt Eagles and folk songs. Then I started listening to [Chinese rock pioneers] Cui Jian and Tang Dynasty and Hei Bao.” Away from guitar class Xiao Rong was developing a preference for punk. “It’s easy and straightforward to play, at that time you are no one and you probably don’t have a lot. You can feel very full personally. If you go towards heavy metal it’s very serious and macho. I wanted a bit of humour.”

He found it in Green Day, Nirvana, The Clash and the Sex Pistols. “When I Come Around” by Green Day was the first punk song he learned to play on guitar. But when Xiao Rong started a high school band the group played Sonic Youth covers. Out of school and into Brain Failure, Xiao started writing in English after the band’s first album. In the mid 1990s punk in China was a real novelty pounced and Brain Failure found themselves in Time magazine.  “Foreign journalists were coming to us and asking us ‘oh you have punk rock in China?’”

Seeing talent perhaps, a German journalist advised the band they could take their music beyond China if they performed in English. “The idea is to make music international." And the writing process? “We won’t go really deep, we just want something that is cool. If people enjoy it that’s enough. We didn’t grow up in California so we won’t use smart English."

After two years playing around China a friend working at Jingwen, a large state-owned distribution company, landed the band a deal. “But they were lazy on promoting the album.” Three years later, in 2002, he wanted to do another album but I said ‘hey you can’t give us sales figures or give us money regularly and you have no plan to promote the album.’ He wanted to make a deal that would give him control of copyright.”

By lucky coincidence the A&R manager of Japan-based punk label Bad News happened to be in town when Xiao Rong was having his row with Jingwen. On seeing the band play he offered a deal. ‘Wow you guys are as good as when I saw Bob Marley play’ Xiao Rong remembers and cherishes the rather bizarre comparison. A USA tour and a recording session in Tokyo ensued. “Even though I had no money in the hand from them I agreed for the chance to go outside of China with the band.”

Bad News landed Brain Failure a 2003 date at legendary industry showcase South By Southwest (SXSW) in Austin, flying the group out with a couple of Japanese bands. The band played US rock showcase CMJ in 2004. But Xiao Rong was disappointed that many of the fans were coming expecting a Peking opera. "...They were coming to show expecting Chinese traditional, I wanted real punk fans." So he contacted the Dropkick Murphys. A New York show was followed by a next-morning run to California to play with the Pogues-sounding Celtic rockers.

Brain Failure spent the summer of 2006 opening for Dropkick Murphys' 20 show US tour. Dropkick frontman Casey liked the band's sound so much he offered to produce their next album. It was after September 11 and the new album, coming out in the US before it hit China, was titled American Dream. “It meant we are Chinese and we look at USA and we still want them to have an American dream, not just the car and house. If we are Chinese and go to USA we want to see the Elvis generation, the real steak hash burger and Coca Cola bottles."

Touring in the USA is not like touring in China. "In America you will take a van and trailer, in China we take our guitars and get on a train. You have to be a car owner in the USA. We spent US$100 a day on gas when touring. To pay the bills the band supplemented their pay by selling as many t-shirts as possible at shows. The crowds loved them. And Brain Failure learnt a lot. “We learned to keep our performance tight, you have to live like a musician. Biggest point is there to play music, not to hang out. If you party too hard you can’t play well."

The band played in front of 20,000 at the Palm Spring punk festival in Japan. Back in Beijing their regular haunt Mao Live is 400 capacity - they have also played Star Live, which fits 800. Graphic designer and band friend Li Chi opened Mao Live in Beijing's old quarter after a trip to Japan courtesy of Bad News to see how venues there are managed. “A live house rather than another Get Lucky or 13 Club.” The club rents the venue at a set price rather than negotiating door deals. The theory being that bands will improve their music and stage show to guarantee a crowd.

Xiao Rong reckons the reason Chinese fans are unwilling to pay for tickets and merchandise is not so much down to saving money as being cheesed off by the paucity of local acts. "Many Chinese musicians don’t know how to communicate with the audience. Entertainment has to be attractive." Sponsorships have lately helped to bring in foreign acts - Bacardi brought over Maximo Park and the Infadels. But if they want to support quality local acts Chinese punters "have to appreciate that the show will cost more than a bowl of noodles." A new album is set for the end of 2007 and the band will be back on the road in the USA in 2008. They’ve looked at touring Europe “but we’re pretty busy now in China.” The European scene suits better than Asia. “You need to fly everywhere, whereas in Europe you just need to buy a return ticket.”

Oh, and the haircut? The Offspring's guitarist Noodle gave him the idea. "And my wife is a hairdresser knew there was a hairdressers convention that needed models so they kind of played around with it. I like the effect."

 

  
 
 
 


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23

Lonely China Day was back in action last night at 2 Kollegas, the curiously named but cosy little bar in a park better known for its drive-in cinema in Beijing's northerly Chaoyang district. The band passed up on a tour of Israel in April because the band broke up. "They were pissed," says Matt Kagler, boss of Tag Team Records which signed the band in 2005. Two band members who unexpectedly quit the band in April are being replaced. The band has a new drummer.

The band played its music to an eye catching screen backdrop featuring graphics laid over footage of Beijing. The film was shot and edited by a young filmmaker and band fan who makes documentaries at Chinese Central TV (CCTV). The whole effect was reminiscent of a Primal Scream live experience, and Lonely China Day likes to fiddle plenty of electronic content into its guitar-driven tunes. Even though the film has been stripped down to squiggly primary colours the cranes and stop-start traffic jams (and terrible driving) of mini-vans make it obvious this is Beijing.

Lonely China Day has made its name for snazzy graphic design and artwork in its shows and album releases. Last night band handlers were selling t-shirts at the door, also designed by the band. "They're arty guys,"  Kagler explained over beers at 2 Kollegas. During the band's tour of USA this spring LCD made such a big impression on New York Times critic Jon Pareles that he has since written five articles on the band and its label, says Kagler. He plans on doing a lengthy feature on the group in August for the NYT's glossy weekend magazine. Good timing, considering the band is releasing its new album in the US in July.


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22


Ten years on the seminal film about Beijing’s counter cultural scene seems dated, but its star, Cui Jian, still deserve credit for sticking with his music when times were tough. Nearly no one showed up at the Cherry Lane recently for a showing of Beijing Bastards, the film made in 1993 by Zhang Yuan and only recently legalized in mainland China.

The film centres around the lives of a group of Beijing malcontents, zeroing in on 20-something Karzi, a moody malcontent who tries to get his pregnant girlfriend to give him another chance. A half-dozen other characters include Cui Jian, who plays himself and contributes a moody score. The story line also includes his band being shuffled around like ducks between rehearsal rooms: locals don’t like, or understand, the din.

Today’s Beijing is unrecogniseable in the film: no traffic jams, no foreign business people/slackers, no Starbucks.  The Cherry Lane screening was interrupted by several of the mobile phone tones ubiquitous on today’s streets. There’s a lot more wealth in China, and some more rock n roll, but most youths have given up protest songs for the urban dream of apartment and car, more achievable than ever in go-getting modern China.

The Cherry Lane is an old Peking Opera house used as a non-profit artnouse film house on the weekends. Beijing Bastards has never been shown in a mainstream cinema in China.


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14

Heard with increasing frequency on Chinese radio, a soft-voiced female singer doing a version of the song written by Jimmy McCarthy and popularised by Christy Moore. She's kept the Ride On, see you" part, but the rest is sung in Mandarin. There's even some people on the bus humming it. Expect it to be heard accross the nation this summer on Chinese ringtones.

More details of the singer and the translation later.

 


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03

The Infadels were the latest of the upcoming British acts flown in from London for the Bacardi Sino Sessions, the series of concerts in Beijing and Shanghai promoting the American rum with the bat logo. When we arrived at the Star Live (the 1,000-capacity venue which hosted Sonic Youth last month) for the latest installment in series support act Kela Kela, also from London, was winding down its beat-boxy set. Unfortunately much of the between-sets exodus didn’t return and the Infadels played dancey, full-hearted tunes like Love Like Semtex and Stories From the Bar to a half-empty, but lively, house. Their set and sound justified the comparisons with fellow disco rockers Primal Scream.

Overseeing the evening was Nathaniel Davis, one of the partners in China-based promotions company Spli-t. The affable American, who handpicked the London-based Infadels for the trip to China, is getting a reputation for professionalism, particularly since a well-run Sonic Youth tour. The Bacardi Sessions is one of two drinks-sponsored music events Davis has managed, the other being a Chivas DJ tour of China’s clubs. This diehard U2 fan has been spending Bacardi’s money well - he hired Beijing’s best sound-man, another relocated American music professional, Jamie Welton, to oversee sonic quality of the Infadels show. Good sound is often a rarity at Beijing gigs, hence Welton is routinely called on by major visiting acts coming to Beijing and Shanghai.

The Infadels came running on to crash into a solid set of their synth pop rock. The band was up for it so more shame the punters didn’t show. A half capacity crowd split 60-40 in expats compared to locals. That’s disappointing, considering Bacardi Sino Sessions are all about getting more Chinese to drink Bacardi. There were no queues at the numerous bars at the Star Live – punters exchanged RMB20 coupons for Bacardi-only drinks. RMB20 was a good deal for a Bacardi Breezer or the ironically named Cuba Libre – named no doubt for the flack Bacardi got for calling its rum Cuban – the company abandoned the island for America some time ago. 

Downstairs however, in the huge Tango nite-club, Bacardi seemed to be shifting a lot of volume. Throughout the building, glass display cases of Bacardi bottles, spot lit and set in copious amounts of red velvet carpet were making the point. A Porsche, a couple of mini-Coopers and plenty of BMWs by the door suggested there’s plenty of money about – so the RMB120 ticket price for the Infadels show would have been inconsequential - but the well flaunted money kicking about is apparently for venues like Tango, which play a mix of international and Mando pop hits while showy patrons alternate between the dance floor and sets of tables laden with drink and cigarettes. That’s a night out for Chinese, followed by afters at Jindingxuan, the 24-hour dim sum restaurant next door. Rock, even with cheap rum, is still a minority taste in the People’s Republic.


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28

The music business has been truly stirred and shaken, and nowhere more so than China, where a handful of state sector of labels are having to co-exist with international majors who have snapped up most of the bankable stars. But everyone is being screwed by piracy. Now, into the gap has stepped Access China Media Solutions, a Chinese company specializing in developing music and gaming technology for mobile phone. Formed as a joint venture between Japan-based software developer Access Co., Ltd., and Seattle-headquartered Melodeo, Inc, in early 2006, the company develops technologies and solutions designed to enable the secure delivery of music and video for the Web and mobile phone.

 Melodeo’s success at delivering music content to mobile users in the US, and its credibility in the music world – the company’s Senior Director of Media Content is Dave Dederer, founding member of rock band The Presidents of the United States of America - probably helped Access China to land an unspecified injection of cash lately from both Sony BMG and Warner. The deal means Access China Media Solutions builds a “platform” of secure technology through which the labels can sell their music downloads to PC and mobile phone users in China.

So Chinese music fans get a more cool, user friendly experience that other providers don’t offer. And music companies get “a secure, economically viable way to distribute their content in China and throughout the world,” as the press releases announcing the deal suggests they’ve been desperately seeking. “Piracy of both physical CDs and online digital music has made these efforts difficult over the past decade.” No surprise there.

Mobile phone networks are, goes the logic, more secure, and have a built-in payment system – you pay for your downloads in your monthly phone bill. Approached yesterday at a technology conference in Beijing Wayne Zhang, the bespectacled, quietly spoken CEO of Access China Media Solutions said the team-up will unleash a “new wave” in the world wide music business. “Together we have the content, proven technologies, and network operators' support to ensure that wireless customers can get their music and multimedia entertainment content the way they want it, whenever and wherever.”

Yet for all Zhang’s promise of nourishing “a vibrant, legitimate digital music business in China” and helping “…recording artists and songwriters by ensuring that they are properly compensated for their work,” the new Access deal seems to be mostly about building the advantage of the global players in China. Both of the big labels are already licensing music to web portals and mobile content providers in China.  

Sony BMG has said in a few thousand interviews and announcements that it’s “excited” about the market for distributing its international and Mandarin repertoire on mobile phones in China. The first of the major labels to open a Chinese representative office (in 2000) Warner was also the first to strike a deal with a Chinese mobile operator to distribute its whole catalogue – it struck an agreement with China Mobile in 2006.

Given Access and Melodeo’s software know how and the vast content banks of the two labels, the deal could be the key to the regional music market. China after all boasts the world’s largest mobile subscription base – almost 500 million users. Delivering digital music and entertainment safely and making money hasn’t always been easy though. While the country boasts nearly 500 million mobile subscribers it’s been a real headache to get everyone onboard: the operators China Mobile and second player China Unicom are often greedy about their slice of the fee from each play. Most mobile phones are made in China but handset and device manufacturers have proven stubborn and slow on innovating since low cost phones sell fastest (and are easiest to make) in China. Content providers, application developers and artists meanwhile have all got their own issues over slices from the pie. Content providers have been accused of ganging up to force lower prices on to labels and musicians.

Using a strategy that we’ve seen here before – China as a “potentially huge market” and a cheap testing ground (talent and business costs are cheap here but consumers’ incomes smaller) - if the arrangement is successful here it could be rolled out to other territories. But success is a big ‘if’ in China, where concepts like copyright and intellectual property remain foreign to many. Sony BMG and Warner will no doubt also be talking to the dozens of websites offering downloads for free and the thousands of Beijing shops jammed with bootleg CDs and DVDs will first have their say.


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28

In other ways China is increasingly plugging into the worldwide concert network.  

The seven-continent Live Earth concert series which begins in Sydney, Australia, will hit Shanghai as well as Tokyo before going on to South Africa – count the carbon footprint of all those jet-flying tour crews. Part of a campaign led by the Al Gore-connected

Alliance for Climate Protection and other NGOs. Gore is a “Partner” of the Live Earth concert, language which makes the whole venture sound suspiciously like a corporate convention. Here’s more corporate speak: “Live Earth is being produced globally by Control Room, the firm led by Kevin Wall which has “produced and distributed” more than 60 concerts since its founding in 2005 featuring Beyonce, Madonna, Green Day and the Rolling Stones, among others. Is this Control Room’s way of dipping its toe into the China market? Interestingly, there’s a law in China which forbids artists performing on benefit gigs from getting paid. So while Al Gore’s connections may facilitate the mountain of licenses you need for a gig like this in China it’s going to be very interesting to see if and how the concert will make any money here. Considering that the currently very hot Linkin Park are scheduled to play, there will have to be money involved. The band has long had ambitions to play China, where it has a sizeable following, but will Live Earth be a repeat of the Great Wall concert a few year ago, at which ever-hot Alicia Keys and Cyndi Lauper played a disastrously under-attended and badly organized show in a stunning location? The money was supposed to come from the TV rights but quality issues mean that never got aired, and several lawsuits are apparently winding their way through US courts over fees and broken promises. I remember the Great Wall concert as much for catching the last acts sitting in one of the empty VIP armchairs up front - they emptied of invited Communist Party bigwigs and Army brass as the night wore on and got colder – so we wrapped up in the blankets provided and rued our paying 40 euros for the tickets when we could have picked up one of hundreds at the gate for about 5 euros. Tread carefully, Live Earth…


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26


 A Monday night and an RMB350 ticket price to a rock concert in a club over a karaoke bar, next door to a dim sum restaurant. The taxi driver knew the dim sum restaurant – that’s how I found the club. Rushing to get there early, expecting big traffic jams – it’s Sonic Youth – you get a jolt on remembering hey, this is China and no more than one percent of this city of 17 million know who or what Sonic Youth are or that they’re playing in China’s capital tonight.

For those in the know, inside the Star Live, it was an it-event. Local godfather of yaogun (rock n roll) Cui Jian arrived wearing trademark red star baseball cap and army fatigues with a gaggle of wrinkling maybe groupies (his early 1990s period?) in tow. Like many of the local musicians he was in the house to see what he can learn. Down on the stage there were glitches, like when a blonde, catty looking Kim Gordon was left swearing after the mike failed to work for half her first song. She recovered and danced and demanded attention like a grunge goddess should.

"We've waited a long time for this," said shaggy haired guitarist Thurston Moore by way of greeting. He’s surely one of the few rock stars who changes his guitar but not the strap – the man is too tall. A lot of the pre-concert banter among the foreign fans was worries the group would go all experimental on Beijing and send everyone home. They didn’t. After opening with Candle from Daydream Nation and then followed it with another crowd pleaser, Incinerate. For much of the rest of the way it was mostly the best of the rest of the band’s long career, including plenty more from well received Daydream Nation album. To signal their approval the crowd dispatched a pair of long johns, of the kind beloved of most Chinese men, to the stage. There was plenty of applause and a couple of crowd surfs when Thurston got back to the mike for more head-bopping stuff. Like Teenage Riot for the first encore.

The band dedicated Kool Thing to "our friends Carsick Cars," adding, "sorry you couldn't perform." Local support act Carsick Cars had mysteriously been blocked from playing. Ministry of Culture’s orders, said the doorman when we asked on arrival at the venue. Others whispered it was something to do with Sonic Youth – not Carsick Cars – having played the Free Tibet concerts. A youthful love-them-or-hate them group of Beijingers, Carsick Cars even got a mention in the state press, as the locals lucky enough to play for superstars Sonic Youth, which made the late ban an even ruder surprise for the group, which learned their trade off bootleg Sonic Youth albums in Beijing school dorms.

Those in situ for the 8pm Carsick Cars slot were left waiting till 9.30pm, when Sonic Youth took the stage. Noone had thought to put a poster up on the door or to send a someone out with a bullhorn – a common sight at Chinese tourist sites and train stations. It was one of those elephant-in-the-corner moments when the powers that be in China put their foot down and no one wants to talk about it. It’s probably also down to the lousy service and lack of customer awareness that characterizes a lot of restaurants here.

Anyway, the lack of an opening act left time to buy beer and the red t-shirts with a masked Asian-looking nurse’s face which were produced by the concert’s local production company Split-T. Left overs from the band’s Nurse tour, said someone in the know. A steal for foreigners at RMB100 (ten euros) but you’ll get three tshirts in some of Beijing’s markets for that.

All the musicians present, like Xiao Rong from punks Brain Failure, were delighted that Sonic Youth were in Beijing. But most were all agreed the band wouldn’t be making any money off the dates. “Flight cases,” says Xiao Rong. Brain Failure travel take their guitars as carry on luggage and borrow amps and drums when they tour. Sonic Youth and NOFX, which played Beijing shortly before, carry a few trailer loads of gear wherever they fly. Payable if you have a string of dates in 5,000 – 10,000 capacity venues, but not in China where the clubs the band played fit no more than 2,000 people.  

Still, this was probably the first time Beijing has filled a decent venue for a decent international rock act. Suede played a third-filled Chaoyang Gymnasium in 2003 and the following year Deep Purple were giving away tickets outside another fairly ill-suited venue -the Worker's Gymnasium - for their loss-making show. The Rolling Stones and James Brown in the past year played money-mad Shanghai, to 90 percent expat turn-outs.

Despite some local press and blogs calling the crowd at 80 percent Chinese, the Sonic Youth Beijing show was more like 60 percent foreign, 40 percent local. The security took tickets and then employed elaborate infra-red torches to check people back in after a trip to the toilet.

What it all means is hard to tell. Consider that a full day’s music at Beijing’s Midi experimental music festival (of which more anon) costs RMB50, the show was more a came-and-be seen moment rather than a came-and-conquered-China event. It was a great show, but my favourite memory is of local lecturer and music guru Michael Petis – he runs the D-22 club and hired Sonic Youth as a house band for a club in New York in the 1980s – waiting outside with a spare ticket to pass on to one of the many Chinese musicians who couldn’t afford the ticket price.


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Nuggets from our archive

2005Michael Jackson: demon or demonised? Or both?, written by Aidan Curran. Four years on this is still a great read, especially in the light of his recent death. Indeed the day after Michael Jackson died the CLUAS website saw an immediate surge of traffic as thousands visited CLUAS.com to read this very article.