Project Dementia Goes to Shanghai: An Interview with Wu Jun and a Night @ 4Live

While in Shanghai I was able to kill two birds with one stone, or as they say in Chinese, 一举两得 .  Three birds really, since I also reuned with my family, but that’s another matter.  While Sat and Sun were reserved for the CET fieldtrip (see my previous blog), Friday July 20 was a chance to reengage with Shanghai’s live music scene

I started on Friday afternoon with a visit to Wu Jun, organizer of the Rock It! festival (see my earlier blog on this event) at his recording studio on Wuxing Lu, called 13D.  It’s a small studio filled with guitars lining the walls as well as other instruments, gadgets, and doodads for musicians.  The studio room is tiny but well padded--even so there have been numerous complaints by neighbors and when the lease runs out later this year they’re thinking of moving the joint elsewhere.

Wu Jun gave a great filmed interview about the rock scene in China.  I asked him to focus on a few bands that I was interested in such as the Hedgehogs and the SUBS, and he obliged.  He also discussed the difficulties that rock music in China is trying to surmount in terms of both creative musicmaking and finding an audience.  Then he told me about an event he’s organizing in August to bring together rock musicians, DJs, music promoters, producers, and other likeminded parties.  More details on that event down the road.  All in all he impresses me as a man with a passionate drive to support and expand the live music scene in China, which in my impression is in desperate need of people with such a passionate commitment and organizational ability (the MIDI festival notwithstanding).

That night I headed over to 4Live, a recently opened live music club located at bahaoqiao 八号桥 on Jianguo Lu.  The club is in the same venue formerly known as La Fabrique, which was managed by my friend TQ.  Despite drawing a fair crowd on the weekends, including a lot of young local people who were obviously new to the clubbing scene, La Fab just couldn’t cope with the intense competition of the city’s nightlife industry.  I don’t know the details, but they decided to sell it off, and now it’s 4Live.  It has a cavernous central space making up two floors, with a balcony surrounding it and lounge-type seating areas on both the upper and lower floors.  My wife and I arrived there along with Gary and his friend at around 10 pm.  The show began soon after. 

To my delight, the two bands that night were Banana Monkey and 45, both of which gave excellent performances at Rock It! at the end of June.  The BMs didn’t disappoint--they were up to their old tricks all right, jumping about like their banana-munching namesakes, hip-hopping and trip-hopping, roaring and rapping, doing all their standards including their anthem based on “What’s Going On.”  Unfortunately the audience was quite small, and they didn’t get the call-response that they’d achieved at the Rock-It! festival.  My impression was that they were too big for this venue, which is more designed for an intimate music session than a hard-rocking jam, but then again, with a larger crowd they could have pulled it off.

Next up was 45, whose lithe, tall and pointy-bearded lead singer gives off strong fumes of brimstone.  On a smoke-filled stage lit up in red and orange, he bellowed like the devil himself as his band jumped and pranced doing their usual guitar aerobics.  It was Asmodeus’s twisted version of ballet.  Again, the feeling was that this act is too big to be confined to such an intimate space, which would be more suitable for a five-piece jazz band than a bunch of death metal thrashers.  As usual the volume was turned up to 11, but then again, there was little in the way of subtlety in this band’s act--noise was the point.

My impression of the Shanghai live music scene is that while obviously smaller than the capital city, it is not too different from Beijing in many respects, though the hardcore fans are almost all Chinese.   In Beijing there are plenty of foreigners who show up regularly to these events, though I’m sure I’d find some in Shanghai too if I hung out there long enough.  It’s a small but devoted audience along with some curious first-timers, but it is in desperate need of support and constructive criticism.  I hope that in writing about these bands, about the excitement and energy they bring to the stage, I can convince some people to lay off the usual round of slick Shanghai DJ clubs and bars and instead go to 4Live or Zhijianggongchang at Tonglefang on Yuyao Road (see my previous blog) to check out some original Chinese rock/indie music for a change.  They need your support.  But do remember to bring earplugs if you go.  Trust me, you’ll need ‘em.