The CLUAS Archive: 1998 - 2011

Beijing Beat

26

There’s a big party this Friday night in D-22 for Ian Sherman, rock scribe at Time Out magazine in Beijing. Always worth reading, Sherman is currently in Boston getting treatment for his cancer which affected the 30 something writer’s throat, an especially painful sounding affliction and described as a “fairly aggressive and rare form of cancer” by one of the concert organizers, Halla Mohieddeen in an email sent out yesterday.  

There’ll be t-shirts and CDs on sale on the night, organized by various writer friends, rockers and Tag Team, a local label for which Sherman moonlighted as publicist, DJ and author of the label’s regular, hilarious newsletters. Sherman got a wider audience for his monthly column in Time Out which went beyond music to Hunter S Thompson style musings on Beijing life.

 At RMB100 tickets are priced above-average for Beijing, especially give that the city has been awash recently with benefit concerts for victims of the Sichuan earthquake. But Sherman is a popular man about town, judging by a line up which includes local rock darlings Carsick Cars as well as punk-styled PK14. The decks will be manned by BBC's music man Steve Barker, a close friend of Sherman. Bands have donated CDs and t-shirts: Lonely China Day, who can't be there, are donating a 10th of the takings from their next four gigs.

Says Mohieddeen in an email: “The line up for this event is incredible, and there are so many bands who wanted to take part that proceeding are going to have to kick off very early indeed to accommodate everyone who wanted to perform.”

The gig starts at 6pm, first band on stage at 7pm.

 


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21


Last Saturday Matthew Niederhauser released his "Soundcapital," a collection of images focusing on Beijing's indie/punk scene with an afternoon party at Lost & Found a shop for retro fittings in Beijing’s ever happening Guozijian street near the Lama Temple. Niederhausen, a gregarious American snapper relocated to Beijing, was also selling large-format prints from my urban development project dubbed Visions of Modernity, the genesis of which he was explaining to Cluas over a recent lunch. We didn’t make the launch party but have seen the photos before, since they’re framed and hanging over the stage at D-22, the cramped and colourful nervecentre of Beijing punk and rock, where most of the Soundcapital shots were taken.


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20

 

I’d seen the name on posters for lots of the gigs happening around Beijing. So I tracked down Zhu Tianchi, man behind www.rockbj.com a useful and very interactive portal tracking what’s happening on Beijing’s music scene. Here’s the transcript of that interview with the fashion-conscious designer who in his spare time organizes rock shows and worships Evanescence.

 

When was rockbj.com set up and by whom?

I started to make preparation for this website in April, 2005 and this website was completely established on October 1st in the same year.

 

Why was the site set up ? What was your plan?

I am fanatic about rock music, the idea of setting up this website was a sudden brainstorm. Before this website, I had a very small personal website with some rock-related staff I liked very much. As I was colleting information, I gradually understood rock music much deeper and I found there were great potentials in China’s rock music field. I thought I should do something to unite those rock Chinese rock music power in order to affect more people and draw more attention on rock music.

 How many people work on the site?

Currently there are eight people in Beijing and there are also many representatives in different regions . And for sure, they all love rock music as I do. Besides, many of my friends are helping me and supporting me now and I extend my thanks to them all.

Which parts of the website are most popular with users?

I feel all parts are warmly welcomed by our users. We have more than 30 sections on the site and each boasts of its own feature. These parts include news, audio files, videos, chatting tools and more.

 What can you offer musicians that other similar websites can't?

We concentrate more on the combination of on-line activities and off-line music events. For example, we often organize events at bars, in the open air and on campus to provide musicians with a broader stage and more performing opportunities.

I've seen your name regularly on posters for rock concerts. Do you run your own shows?

Yes, we often organize shows of different styles. We have organized more than 30 shows since the website established and has cooperated with other media in countless shows.

 

Which artists and events proved most popular recently on your site?

Artists and bands on our website are carefully chosen by us and I think they are all excellent.  As for events, we organized the May 1st Metal Music Festival the other days which lasted 2 days. Each day the venue was full of people including many friends from abroad and from other cities of China for two days. We are now organizing several bands to go to the south to take part in an event called “Rock the Weekend, Cheer for the Olympics”. Also we are organizing a charity show to collect money for our compatriots who are suffering an terrible earthquake disaster. We are trying to call for all people in the rock circle to commit their love and duties to the society.

Is Cui Jian being replaced by bands like Carsick Cars as the most important name in Chinese alternative music?

Mr. Cui Jian is the godfather of Chinese rock music. I believe that nobody is able to take his place. We are just continuing on the rode he used to be on, developing things inherited from him. As true rock fans, each of us plays different roles in everyday life, but we have shouldered the same responsibility, that is, to unite together to make the rock music market better and better.

 What's the reason for the recent bloom in rock music talent and venues inBeijing?

This is closely related to the development of the society, varied cultural life and the needs for rock music in the market. This is a very good phenomenon, a sign of progress. In recent years, rock music has grown very fast and of course this cannot be parted from the push power from the Internet and a deeper understand of rock among people. Another important factor that can’t be ignored is rock music itself has developed a lot. It’s no longer closed but more and more open and free to other music forms and this broadened its audiences. Now rock fans listen to Jay Chou’s songs and Jay Chou’s fans also listen to rock. There should be  no boundaries among music of different styles and only in this way can rock music step onto a bigger stage in China.

What's the best rock concert you saw recently?

Nightwish, Dreamtheater’s concerts in Beijing. Both of them are fantastic! I love John Petrucci’s music very much. Though it’s been a couple of months since  I went to those 2 concerts, I’m still quite impressed by the professional lights, acoustic impact and especially the music. I hope more excellent rock bands could come to Beijing for further communication.

What's the best CD you've listened to?

The Open Door by Evanescence, released in 2006. I’ve been listening to it till now and I love both the music style and the music editing. These songs are soft, beautiful and full of emotions, like epics. Also I have listened a lot good CDs of my friend’s bands in Chinese rock circle. But that’s too many to introduce one after another.

 

 


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19

Email inboxes were overflowing over the weekend with invites to concerts organised to help victims of last week's earthquake. Well done to  the bands like the Verse, Laolang, Wanxiaoli and Chasing Stars who gave their services in one of several seemingly spontaneous gigs put on around the city. Other prescheduled gigs were also giving their share. The excellent folk-jazz band Panjir gave the takings from their RMB30 t-shirt sales at their Stone Boat show to the Red Cross.

Next up is the "MONEY IS NOT NOTHING" show this Wednesday night at bewish venue ROOM101 next to the Andinmen Hotel. Eight bands have signed up for the seven-till-late gig. RMB30 (EUR3) donation at the door. But donate RMB100 and you get a "WenShuan, we will be with you" T-shirt. Donate 200rmb, get one diamond make-up mirror luxury package, whatever that is. There's also a "special cocktail service" with all takings from food and drink on the night also going to the Red Cross.

Bands:
The incredible
J,S,B
MALIKA
LES ENFANTS TERRIBLES
N,A,L,C
LOMBER DU VENT
SUMMER
And many others…
 

Eevnt Hotline : 13401126829 / 13581664798 /010-64027532
 
 
how to get :ROOM 101 PUB
 
NO.199 Andingmen nei road ,
beside ANDING hotel
150m north to the jiaodao kou cross
300m south to the andingmen subway station

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14

A read of the government website www.antifraud.gov.cn suggests China is awash with fraud and scams. Typical is a report from a recent copy of the China Youth Daily detailing a scam by a school claiming to be affiliated to the China Little Journalist Association which recruits provincial high school students for their RMB1,480 (abut EUR150) journalism courses with the promise that the brightest will be sent to conduct interviews at the Olympics. The Ministry of Education and police eventually caught up with the school when several hundred angry parents began demanding a refund after repeated requests for Olympic plans were met with silence.


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13

Forget pubs and clubs. The best place to find a typical Chinese 20-something at 1am on a Saturday morning is at a karaoke palace. Karaoke is only in its infancy here, compared to Hong Kong and Taiwan. Top of the pile, Taiwanese owned Partyworld, runs 15 outlets on the Chinese mainland (six in Shanghai, four in Beijing and two in Shenzhen). The company only has 17 in Taiwan, where the market is more mature, a Partyworld executive told me today. Like many Chinese bosses he's very tight with details and figures. The call was to tell me the company is scouting cities for new clubs. A Partyworld means jobs. Each club hires an average 300 staff though four hundred staff man the company’s largest, spread over a massive 10,000 square metres near Eastern Huixin Bridge. 


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07

On a call this morning with Betty Heywood of NAMM, the US-based international body representing makers of musical instruments I learned that one of the least likely victims of the economic turn-down in the USA are Chinese instrument makers. Ambitious local brands like Pearl River are hurting as house-building slows down means fewer grand pianos are going into the living rooms of middle-class America.

The slump in the USA and rising raw materials costs globally (caused largely by China's rise) means rising costs for instrument makers Jumps have been particularly sharp in traditional Chinese instruments – often made of imported hardwood – rose 162 percent. Liu Sheng, Maketing manager at Shanghai Piano Co.Ltd, a private company exporting 20 percent of its mid-to-upper level pianos - The US and Europe and US, Germany and France are top three markets tells me that rising wood and metal costs are forcing the firm to spend 5% of the revenues are spent in R&D “We'll stimulate our sales by improving our technologies.”

Some of the companies I've talked to, like massive Korean-owned Sejung which makes guitars and pianos in Qingdao, say they're cutting costs through  local sourcing of parts like wood and strings. Others will just sell more at home, to ever-wealthy Chinese. Nanjing Moutrie & Schumann Piano Manufacturing Co sells two thirds of its 6,000 pianos to Fujian and Guangdong

 

Like its cars though, China's instruments definitely have an image problem. Guitars made in Japan and the US boast better materials and sound quality, says Wu Ligen, a technician at the maintenance department at GAid, a rare guitar. “You can easily tell the difference in listening to the timbre of a Chinese and then a Western or Japanese made guitar.”

It may all just be a matter of time before China has a brand of its own to rival Gibson or Steinway. I also talked earlier with Wang Gentian an avuncular bureaucrat who runs the China Musical Instrments Association from a comfortable new office in Beijing’s Fengtai district. “If western peers compete with us in making traditional Chinese instruments they wouldn’t be able to match us,” he said. Wise words.


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06

The possible demise of busking in Beijing was the subject of an interesting article by Hung Daohen in the latest issue of Beijing Today, a weekend English language paper published by the Beijing Youth Daily, one of the city's more commercially successful dailies. Beijing security forces have begun moving on street performances, citing the city's loosely defined (as most Chinese laws are) and hitherto loosely implemented Regulations for the Management of City Apprearence and Environmental Sanitation, which allows police to fine and confiscate the instruments of performers for blocking passageways and "harming the city's image."

Lonely folk singers banging out their compositions on battered acoustic guitars are a frequent sight in the underground passageways under the city's massive, traffic clogged arteries. By not playing on the street they avoid the ire of the various city and military police and armies of country boys in security guard uniforms which keep public order in Beijing. Explaining the recent kicking-out of acoustic troubador Ga Lin from the city's busy Guomao station, subway management told Hung Daohen that busking "will easily cuase congestion at  the station and breach the outlook of the city."

It's another example of how anal local public security can be - another egregious example being a ban on bicycles from the doors of the city's new wave of pitifully ugly skyscrapers. The idea is the same: bicycles and buskers are somehow anti-developmental, whereas traffic jams and huge empty marble malls are signs of progress. It's a pity they weren't so keen on enforcing recent city promises to make people queue properly and stop spitting in subway stations.


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05

Proof that China can make about anything you want, only cheaper, is at this year’s Canton Fair, the largest trade fair in the world each year. Cluas has been walking the booths. One of the most interesting things is the African doll. Afro-topped beat-grinders or topless villagers, they’re all here, mixed in with the lampshades, patio tables and rattan bowls, all under one vast roof near the Yuexi subway station in Guangzhou. Made of polymer resin, the 32cm tall dolls, made of polymer resin, wholesale here for between RMB4-RMB7 (EUR0.44- EUR0.88). Proof of how much they’re marked up by western retailers who come here to source: the dolls sell for up to EUR15 in European shops according to two of the Chinese makers, Quanzhou Fengze AOK Craft Co and Spring Arts & Crafts Co, both located near Quanzhou, a city in southerly Fujian province.  


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03


The west courtyard of the Duan Qirui government on Zhang Zizhong road in historic Dongcheng district is an unlikely location for a Chinese rock club, but one to die for. Unlikely less so because it's an historic monument (as headquarters of the warlord who dominated China intermittently between 1916 and 1926) but bChinese rock clubs can't afford the rent. Yugongyishan however seems to be alone among local rock bars in its ability to make money.

Manager/owner Lue Zhiqiang played guitar in a  “really old” heavy metal band in the late 1980s but now the 37 year old is too embarassed to remember its name.  A period in Berlin was mind-opening for the Beijing native, “it widened my view.”Lue learned from Germans – he’s married to one - to be persistent as well as open-minded: when his first bar Lu Xiang café near Tsinghua University was closed by the onset of SARS in 2003 (his partner imigrated to Canada) Lue opened Yugongyishan in 2004 in a warehouse in the corner of a carpark. Sensing fate perhaps, the bar's logo, made famous in t-shirts sold to punters, was 'chai,' the Chinese character for demolition.

When the bar was levelled in 2007 (the site was developed as yet another Beijing mall) Lue moved over to Dongcheng. Upstairs Yue has preserved all the cool of Rui Fu, a failed lounge bar/club that previously occupied the space. The lounge, or “quiet space” intended as a VIP lounge and green room place for bands, has all the colours and fittings of a 1970s GDR nite club.

Lue also kept the chandeliers hung by Rui Fu. That was the club’s previous incarnation, run by perennial bar hand Henry Li. “He also a friend, the place wasn’t going so well –his shengyin (sound) wasn’t good – so I took it over. Li overreached, tarting up Rui Fu for a sophisticated VIP set which Beijing doesn't have. He charged too much for drinks, thinks Lue. “Guests were drinking champagne and smoking cigars. Our crowd pays RMB20 for a beer."

Yugongyishan is breaking even: “enough to pay the costs and pay my mortgage on my house,” says Lue. “I’ve put millions into the place and not sure if I’ll get it back.” The bar doesn’t depend on the door fee, which can rise to RMB200 for a visiting foreign act.

Compared to the ghetto cool of the old venue, the new Yugong Yishan is unabashedly retro. A ticket booth by the door, bathed in round light from large lanterns each side create the feel of a 1950s cinema. - that's probably why corporations hire it for parties and photo shoots. He's reluctant to discuss his accounts but by a series of gruff nods Lue agrees that the corporates' cash helps pay a 30-strong staff: 20 are full-time, another ten work on the company’s flyers and website. A three-man team, Pierre Blanc and Oh Yang and Lue seek and book musicians.

There have been great nights. Like when International Noise Conspiracy played – in the old venue. “We got them through a good old friend who’s a very good friend of the band’s leader.” Local hero Zhang Qu in 2005 brought out the old bar’s biggest ever crowd: “700 people on 300 square metres and 200 people at the door who couldn’t get in… He hadn’t played in 10 years and suddenly he came back.”

The biggest night in the new venue was a free-in Wednesday night rockathon of local bands headlined by punksters Brain Failure, which drew 1,200 to 1,400 people. Yann Tiersen drew the biggest crowd foreigner at the new venue, selling 450 tickets. The bumper attendance was down to a co-operation with Midi festival organizers, which has a solid following among local college students.

“The size of the crowd doesn’t depend on the band, it depends on the music they play. I can’t say which of them will bring me the biggest crowd.” In trend-beholden Asia that’s a brave commitment. But less about quantity: quality is king, says Lue. “This is not a rock club, this is a place,” says Lue flicking a zippo lighter open and closed constantly as he talks. “I’m not concerned with how many people come, I’m more concerned about the quality of the music. Stop drawing us into categories, I’d just as gladly play reggae or African music as I would rock.”

African music is scarce, and quality arbitrary, on Beijing's music scene. Yugongyishan’s postbox bulges every month with demos from hopeful local bands seeking gigs. Sometimes we get eight demos and they’re all decent. Sometimes seven of the eight will be awful.” And sometimes there’s no accounting for taste. Only 70 people turned up to hear Austria’s Black Business play. “I thought they were great, but there was no one within ten metres of the stage.”

Sourcing good talent from abroad is beyond Yugongyishan’s own budget –  “Sometimes there’s only enough [from door takings] for a taxi home for the band.” But cash from Beijing’s foreign embassies – Scandinavians in particular – allows Yugongyishan to bring European musicians – he cites the 30 musicians from Finland. Everyone pays a “certain amount,” but Yugongyishan’s share is a “shangye jimi,” a business secret, says Lue.

For so long on the run from the demolition ball, the name Lue chose for his bar says something about the man. Yugong Yishan name from an ancient Chinese myth. “Children study it, I did when I was a kid, it’s about the Yu Gong an old man living by the 2,000 metre high Yishan mountain in Shandong. It was right in front of his house, according to myth he had to go around it so the old guy decided to move the mountain bit by bit. Neighbours mocked Yugong, that he’s so old he’ll never see the day when it’s gone but he said his sons and grandsons would. The Chinese gods heard about it and decided they’d help him as they were touched by his persistence.”

And that’s the spirit of Yugong Yishan. “Persistence really brings you success. It doesn’t matter how big the challenge, you’ll do it little by little every day. It was hard to leave the Sanlitun bar with all its histories and stories. But although there were a lot of great memories it’s too small for me, I needed to move here.”

 


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2002 - Interview with Rodrigo y Gabriela, by Cormac Looney. As with Damien Rice's profile, this interview was published before Rodrigo y Gabriela's career took off overseas. It too continues to attract considerable visits every month to the article from Wikipedia.