The CLUAS Archive: 1998 - 2011

Beijing Beat

07

Beijing indie specialists Pilot Records will bring Sub 41 and progressive metallers Symphony X to China in 2009. The label's own charges AK47 and Reflector put in some great shows in the second half of this year, says label founder Zeng Yu. So too his hard-rocking signees Honeygun. Sub 41 will travel to Beijing in April. “We won’t make money but it will be a wonderful chance to draw more and more Chinese to rock music,” says Zeng, his usual likeable and proselytizing self. Pilot is bringing in the big guns because they want to have maximum impact on first-time concert goers. 


More ...

[Read more...]

Posted in: Blogs, Beijing Beat
Actions: E-mail | Permalink |
07

Things have been going well over at MOSH.cn -the rock-oriented social networking site went from 200,000 to 400,000 members in six months. We’re getting 500 new members a day, the website's friendly content director Mr Wang told me the other day. The firm behind te site, essentially the hobby of a group of Chinese financial veterans, has tweaking features of the site, like user privacy, but Mosh seems to be abandoning the student rock fans it vowed to serve. That the site’s target is “white collar professionals” is clear from the frequency and comfort with which he uses the term during our latest chat. Rather than link up local alternative music fans, the site now wants to become a ‘platform for young people.” Sounds familiar. Also, users can also “sort their friends into groups.”

So how is that any different from Facebook and its many Chinese clones? Well, there’s a forum, that allows users to connect and comment on concerts and exhibitions they’ve seen or have calendar-ed. The biggest traffic on the site recently was drummed by the 10th anniversary of the Goethe Institute – lots of local professionals go there to learn German, still perceived to be a useful tongue, given the supremacy of German brands like Volkswagen over local competition. The Goethe has courted locals by flying in German bands like Massive Tone. Mosh is as secretive as ever about how they make money: “some from tickets sales and some from advertising” is the best the Mosh man Mr Wang would offer. Another hint at where Mosh's priorities lie: the middle class-targetted advertising for cars and consumer goods on the site. The site sells tickets for concerts and discounts tickets for certain venues, like the Star Live. Mosh personnel hand out the site's distinctively colourful "We Mosh!" stickers at gigs which it co-promotes.


More ...

[Read more...]

Posted in: Blogs, Beijing Beat
Actions: E-mail | Permalink |
01

 

Well done to Kylie Minogue for filling the part of the Worker’s Gymnasium she was allowed to fill: the unfortunate positioning of the stage meant there were two large chunks of seats off limits to the crowd. Why couldn’t she have set up an in-the-round stage? It would have perfectly suited this old socialist amphitheatre, its outer façade encrusted with the figures of heroic athletes. This was a lovely venue for the Olympic boxing events in August, but it hasn't been getting great reviews as a music venue - judging by the complaints of Kanye West fans who were here to see their man perform a few weeks ago.
 
Curious about who and how many showed up, I had decided that RMB60 – six euros – was all I was willing to burn on a ticket for Kylie. After circling the main gate a few times and many offers a tout bad-humouredly handed over his RMB1,300 ticket for my price. There were plenty of touts with tickets outside but it’s always thus: VIP tickets handed out for free by organizers to local bigshots and police. That’s why there was a atmosphere-less, all-seated VIP section plonked in front of the stage, helping to kill the buzz the Kylie’s in definitely capable of creating. A good turnout – the vast majority of whom were local – indeed, but there was a lot of uniniterested police and old men sitting beside me in a so-called VIP seat. I’d love to know how much box office money Kylie had going home with her.  
 
The choice of venue was unfortunate because apart from lashings of stiff-backed police and silly all-seated-crowd rule, the stadiums heavy lighting doesn’t suit a show like this. It was way too bright in there! That suited last time I was here, to see Ireland’s Olympian boxers in action: the place was packed and the atmosphere electric. On leaving, past the merchandising stalls with RMB100 t-shirts and RMB80 posters (copies were selling outside for RMB20) It was interesting to see how dog-eared the Olympic venues are starting to look, only a few months after the Games. Indifferent maintenance has allowed lots of scratches and dents to appear. Strangely there’s no commemorative plaque to remind concert goers of what happened here in the summer of 2008. I felt the same about the velodrome way out in Laoshan when I went there a few weeks ago for an equestrian convention.

 


More ...

[Read more...]

Posted in: Blogs, Beijing Beat
Actions: E-mail | Permalink |
01

 

China has made music accessible by making stereos, MP3 players and amps cheaply for global brands. It's done the same for musical instruments. Several But now the music may be about to die away. The past three months have seen the demise of a lot of Chinese firms making audio equipment and electronics which the Western world no longer wants to buy. The Chinese manufacturers never made a fortune because they'd licensed the technology from western firms or were doing Original Enterprise Manufacturing (OEM), business jargon for making something for a customer which then sticks their own logo on it. 

Factory boss Mr Tang (he prefers not to give his full name), says his Hongshang International Industrial Co says sales of his MP3 and MP4 players have dropped 30%. HongShang relies on exports for 80% of business. One consolidation is that prices are not affected. It’d be impossible for prices to come down more says Tang: his 2.4 inch-screen Mp3 players are among the cheapest on the market.  The crisis has delayed his plans to shift away from doing OEM for American brands like Emerson and Element, to making Mp3s under his own company name. “The risk is too much, we’d have to invest a lot of money in marketing which we don’t have right now.”

One of China's top makers of CDs, Ke Lan Digital Corporation hasn’t been badly burnt - yet - because it sells its CDs in the Middle East and South Asia. Sales director Ms Peng says the firm is more worried about falling CD prices. A CD cost RMB0.7 in January but sells for RMB0.5 "at most" now. That’s because of a flood of factories into the business, and the ongoing stampede from CDs to Internet downloads. The firm exports 50% of output but will look increasingly to domestic sales, says Peng.

A lot of local firms which started making cheap transistor radios have moved on to higher-value products. But not everyone who’s moved upmarket has stayed above water. Sales are down by almost 30% but prices are up 10% says Mr Yuan Ling from Yi Da Shi Electronics in Shenzhen. He says the hi-fi maker has held steady because exports to Europe, which account for 98% of output, are too high value for the competition hence the firm has been able to hold onto comparatively high prices: up to US$150 for a hi-fi. The firm will begin to target the domestic market in 2009, Yuan Ling tells Beijing Beat, because he sees untapped potential in China's growing middle class.

These are three firms that have survived, but for how long? That will probably depend on how long any global recession lasts. But spare a thought for these companies, they've made it cheaper for the rest of us to listen to, and play, music.

 


More ...

[Read more...]

Posted in: Blogs, Beijing Beat
Actions: E-mail | Permalink |
25

I meant to put this up before now, one of the sharper observations by ever-sharp China observing research group Access Asia in one of their recent weekly newsletters. If you think the Western world suffers from materialism, see what marketing executives are doing to China, creating a day for the country’s singles (men, mostly): on November 11 China's single men can give each other cards says Access Asia: 

“To compete with the glutinous and embarrassing mess that is Valentine's Day, Chinese youth now has Bachelor's Day. This is the day when all China's sad men, who can't get a girlfriend because the gender split is so skewed, or because they simply don't consume in the prescribed way shown in the adverts, will get to do whatever bachelors do when they are feeling a bit lonely. A possible marketing opportunity for the disposable paper products manufacturers, perhaps?

Chosen to be on this day because four "1s" represents singledom (apparently), it is unlikely to be made an official holiday, as with Valentine's Day, but it will probably develop into a marketing opportunity for someone. Hallmark cards will no doubt find ways to get Mr. Nofriends to buy himself a card celebrating his solitude, whilst we suspect the fast-fat industry will see potential in promotions of special sad-singleton meals, to help these lonely hearts get fatter, spottier and even further removed from a position of attracting a mate.”

I know plenty who fit into the above sad-but-true description, the kind of people who rather talk on msn than taking a call. Most are Internet introverts who spend their spare (and some working) time in the virtual world. No wonder they're single. China’s massive Internet usage rates (though still low as a % of population, compared to the US) are often used touted as proof of the country’s economic development – and constantly cited in the powerpoint presentations of people who run e-commerce sites or who want to sell something on one of them. Trouble is, in 99% of the times I’ve visited an Internet café in China 99% of the users were playing computer games, or using chat programmes.

China's social life is shifting online. Of a group of 20 locals, of all ages, who I teach English to on Saturdays only two know their next door neighbours. Another friend who edits copy at 6,000-staff China Radio International out in Babaoshan, says that workers, once they’ve eaten, come back from their dorms (it’s common in many state-run organizations to live in the compounds) and go online till it’s time to sleep. Evading boredom maybe, but how the hell do they meet a partner? Welcome to ever more individualistic China. Marketing executives ought to be happy, they’ve been long enough convincing locals to be individual and consume to be happy. Belated happy Single’s Day.  

 


More ...

[Read more...]

Posted in: Blogs, Beijing Beat
Actions: E-mail | Permalink |
24
One of the albums I’m most enjoying listening to is Drinking Alone, the debut CD from Beijing blues band Black Cat Bone. I like the signature track, having found it on the band’s MySpace site, as it’s belted out by an Irishman in Beijing, Des McGarry, who looks and sounds the part of seasoned blues man. Wrapped in some of the smartest artwork you’ll find on any Christmas market, the album met the press on Saturday night at the Yugong Yishan club. The band commandeered and loaded onto a local tri-cart for a rollick through Beijing’s alleyways for the black and white artwork photos. We'll hear more from Des on Beijing Beat in the coming days. I'm particularly curious to hear where the band will distribute this album, since Beijing's thousands of CD shops sell mostly pirated pop and junked stock clearences from the European CD shops.
 


More ...

[Read more...]

Posted in: Blogs, Beijing Beat
Actions: E-mail | Permalink |
18
 
Beijing Beat is back after some time on the road, out of China. Before we go into the bars, bootlegs and Chinese CDs that we usually write about, here's something more important: if anyone's got instruments they don't need Beijing Beat knows some Chinese kids who'd be delighted to play them. The Dandelion School was set up in 2005 with a mission of “Access to quality education for migrant children.” The inspiration behind the school, Chinese-American artist Lily Yeh is keen that the kids can indulge their artistic as well as their academic talents, hence the Dandelion seeks (new and used) musical instruments and art supplies. The dandelion is located in Shou Bao Zhuang village in Daxing village, the industrial-heavy suburb of Beijing that’s home to a lot of the migrant workers who’ve built the city’s new skyscrapers, stadiums and subways. Because of China’s registration system children accompanying their parents to Beijing are not allowed access to city schools. So, if you’ve got some sounds you don’t need, or you’ve given up guitar, now you know of a home for your old instruments. Contact us (just hit Comment) if you want to help.

More ...

[Read more...]

Posted in: Blogs, Beijing Beat
Actions: E-mail | Permalink |
13

 

 

I'm sick of having to walk out into the traffic on any traffic-clogged Beijing street. That's because the city's footpaths are now for cars. Yes, the country's middle class, rushing out to buy four wheels (bicycles are for losers) without thinking about where to park them. Hence walking home recently I had a couple park their new silver saloon right in front of me, on the footpath I was using. When I'm cycling they take the bike lane (not enough lanes in the typical four-lane Beijing artery). It's all down to marketing and a stupid middle class vulnerability to consumption/marketing, while those of us who don't drive choke in their smoke. Few people have put it better than those market analysts at Access Asia, who email out a pithy weekly review of what's topical and what's hot and what's not in China's consumer and media markets.


The Resistible Rise of the Deadly Steel Box
Yes, we mean cars. Those annoying things that pollute and destroy the earth, kill both their owners and innocent people in large numbers and have contributed more to the destruction of any sense of civilised public manners in Chinese cities than any other single factor (the principle of "I've got a steel box on wheels, so I always get right of way" is now universal it seems). The adverse effects on life that the car has brought are legion in cities where planners have rolled over and accepted the car as king. In Beijing, vastly wide Pyongyang-like boulevards are devoted to the car, while old ladies scramble to cross the road in time as the planners have elevated traffic flow (or lack of) above pedestrians. In Shanghai, the principle of parking anywhere and blocking the pavements is accepted as more old ladies are forced to flee before the green man turns red rather too quickly. Uncivilised, community-destroying, asthma-inducing and depressing.
 
So, good news then that car sales have tanked. Excellent! As we've argued countless times before, the answer to the problem of cars in China is to tax them off the streets, and to gnore any right wing bollix about the illusory personal freedom a car brings. We need higher gas charges, higher road taxes, congestion charging, raised parking fees and anything else that basically gets cars off the roads. Along with that, we need serious police prosecution of bad and arrogant driving, rather than the current kowtowing to drivers that goes on, especially if the badge is deemed "VIP" - whatever that means. That's our view - rant over. Nobody cares about our view, of course, and they all still want cars, so why have car sales tanked?
 
Listening to a few presentations recently from the pro-car and car manufacturers lobby, they're floundering a bit at present. They like to say it's the gas price hike in June (and it is, a wee bit), number plate prices (a wee bit too), but hate to talk about other factors. What are those other factors? Well, some are just obvious: lots of people who want cars simply haven't got anywhere to park them; others can't yet afford them. But the major reason right now is that clever Chinese consumers know that, with sales gone south and inventory building to past record levels, prices will have to be slashed.


More ...

[Read more...]

Posted in: Blogs, Beijing Beat
Actions: E-mail | Permalink |
04
A hint at how badly the Olympics crushed the local live music scene, Peter Scherr and his group Headache hasn’t played Beijing since last December. The jazz musician and concert planner call off three shows set for the Chinese capital summer. The Games “really interfered with the projects he’d planned for summer. Now, “pleased to see that things are getting back to normal again,” he’s got “a lot of plans to do more performing in China.”
 
Shut out of Beijing, Scherr and crew however found good gigs in China’s southerly cities, a sign that there’s plenty more space to play China, even for left-of-field jazz. In Guangzhou, two hours by train from Hong Kong, the Scherr-guided Joe Rosenberg Quartet played two nights at Loft345 for two nights – the music was extremely well received by both the drinking crowd and the more earnest young student crowd which “seemed to really groove on our strange, strategic improvisations. Scherr praises for that a “wonderful Parisian drummer Edward Perraud, who truly puts on an amazing show.”
 
In nearby Shenzhen the band played at "the beautiful huge new version" of local club C-Union, owned by artist Teng Fei who told Scherr "repeatedly that he is very serious about turning it into a top music venue.” In Shanghai, Scherr's charges played at Yu Yin Tang, “really a rock club” – since he felt his music was a “bit too left-of-center” for the audience at local jazz club JZ. A nice crowd, “really good technical staff” and “very nice people” means he’s going to bring his projects back to Yu Yin Tang again soon.
 
It’s taken him a few years of footwork to build up a network of venues and promoters. His strategy for the future is find more cities that are within a short drive of each other. “That will be a big help in keeping expenses down.” Some cities yielded sponsorship, elsewhere he’s relied on ticket sales. ”Of course I would like to have more sponsors." Scherr has hired a local assistant, David Wang, to help him drum up more contacts and sponsorship on the mainland. But he keeps his goals modest. “My goal is to break even on my shows. Until I get more well-known, I don't think I will be able to make a profit. I try to keep my losses to a minimum. It's a challenge.”
 
Scheduling can be tricky. “With a typical project, the first step is to fix a time period when all the artists are available. Then I contact venues and try to set a schedule that makes for efficient traveling. It's a bit of a complicated dance, because some places prefer to have shows during the week, so as not to disturb the weekend drinking crowd, and others prefer shows on the weekends.”
 
Crowds are mainly locals with several expats. “But as we get to cities other than the major eastern cities, the audiences are almost all local.” Are local fans very knowledgeable of jazz? “Well, I'm not playing jazz per-se, it's 'Creative Music' so we are free to play far outside the expectations of the mainstream jazz fans. Local audiences approach the music as a new experience. "They are perhaps not versed in the language of jazz or the avant garde or whatever, but they are very interested in music, and are thrilled to hear something new. In many cases I get reactions like 'this is the first time I've heard improvisational music, and I find it really exciting, fascinating, colorful etc.' This is the great joy of bringing Creative Music to the mainland audiences.”
 
Similarly, artists have been amazed at the audience reactions. “Once we do a concert, they understand my interest in bringing creative music to China. Organizational challenges and financial remain big issues in mainland China. “Also just maintaining energy and good humor on what can be some pretty intense traveling schedules.” Logistics can be tricky too: Trying to balance the ideal of carrying as little gear as possible with the need to have the right instruments for the performance. Scherr has tried to pare down the instrument loads. “I feel strongly that the musicians, if they are comfortable with their instruments, will play better.” Hence a set of band instruments is kept in storage in Guangzhou for mainland gigs.  
See www.peterscherr.com and join his mailing list.
 

More ...

[Read more...]

Posted in: Blogs, Beijing Beat
Actions: E-mail | Permalink |
02
Known all over the cool southwesterly province of Yunnan, the Kunming-based Tribal Moons is a fine example of how to be successful on China’s music scene. It’s a long haul but ultimately better for China and for the musicians than those prohibitively expensive tours by foreign artists like Air, which charge a revolting RMB700 for their club show in Beijing lately.
Live here: A very cosmopolitan group of blues rockers bases itself in Kunming - several members teach at the local university, the Triball Moons, having polished their act and made their name here (and in Yunnan backpacking havens like Lijiang and Dali), stretched itself with mini-tours of easy-to-get-to cities like Chengdu, Wuhan, Changsha, Guangzhou and Shenzhen.
Be sustainable: After a few years gigging in Kunming “we're pretty wired into the scene” says Lundemo.
Be local: Tribal Moons drummer Ma Tu, a local, knows everyone in the music business here including all the bands, clubs and agents. Another band member studied Chinese in Kunming so knows the large population of foreign students studying in the city. A computer-savvy guitarist meanwhile does all the band’s graphics and posters.
Hand Out A CD: There are decent local studios to do the job and it gives fans and possible future club owners something to remember you by. Tribal Moons hope to have a CD in the bag by mid October. “It’s gotta get done,” says band man John Lundemo.
Don’t get ahead of yourself: the Tribal Moons picks off a bunch of cities at a time, plays them and then goes back a few months later, having made their name, and contacts. While the band has gotten acquainted with agents around China it’s doing it for itself for now.

Tribal Moons is revving up for a Psychedelic Carnival set for October 17th at the Uprock Club in Kunming at the Uprock club. It’ll be the first rockgig in what’s nominally a DJ and dance club, so we'll be the first live band to play there and it opens up a new venue here. Lundemo and co are also lucky in that Kunming has a well-updated English language bible, www.GoKunming.com, which gives the low-down on the local news.

 

 


More ...

[Read more...]

Posted in: Blogs, Beijing Beat
Actions: E-mail | Permalink |
Page 4 of 15First   Previous   1  2  3  [4]  5  6  7  8  9  10  Next   Last   

Search Articles

Nuggets from our archive

2000 - 'Rock Criticism: Getting it Right', written by Mark Godfrey. A thought provoking reflection on the art of rock criticism.