It’s been an intense week. I've been back in Beijing, teaching and carrying out my music research/film project on the indie rock scene.
13 CLUB -- rOCKinest bar in Wudaokou
On Wednesday, I met up with my colleague Tom Mullaney, who was a grad student at Columbia when I got my degree there and now teaches Chinese history at Stanford. Tom's also a great musician and has a band in San Francisco. He plays guitar, sings, and writes his own songs. Knowing his interest in music, I figured he'd like to see some bands in Beijing. We went over to 五道口 to check out the rock music club 13 Club. It took us a while to find it, since I mistakenly thought it was located near 财经东路 where I had my Propaganda adventure last week. Turns out it's a fair bit west of that on chengfu lu, closer to 中关村路.
13 Club is a small, dark, gritty bar focused around a stage. There were a few people there, all Chinese. Most were playing dice games at elevated tables. The first performance began at 9:30 pm. As Chinese partiers noisily rolled their dice (rather obnoxious in my view given that it's a performance venue) a Japanese woman named Bisa played solo acoustic guitar and sang. She had a hard rocking style, reminiscent of Bonnie Raitt, with a strong blues influence. Sang her own songs in both Japanese and Chinese. She's giving her final performance next Wed. night at 13 Club before heading back to Japan--I highly recommend people check her out.
After that we listened to a Chinese blues band called 祝福基音 (?). Three members, a guitarist, bassist, and drummer. The guitarist 太成哲 was very impressive--first time I'd seen a Chinese blues guitarist. I was dead wrong about Chinese not playing the blues. He played everything from Stevie Ray Vaughn to Chuck Berry, with a couple of his own songs thrown in now and then. Unfortunately his singing wasn't as good as his guitar playing. Tom and I both agreed that their band could benefit from the addition of a singer, preferably female and hot.
After we'd quaffed a few beers and listened to some hard-driving blues, I was feeling energetic enough to take Tom over to Propaganda. When we got there a long line had formed. We soon found out why. Turns out that Wednesday is a special night. You pay a 70 RMB entrance fee, and the bar is open. When we got inside the place was absolutely chock-a-block with students. It took a while to penetrate the bar, which was surrounded by people clamoring for their drinks. Downstairs in the hip-hop dance club, the place was rocking. If ever there's a fire or accident there, it's going to be a disaster since there's only one set of stairs. The club must have packed in five or six hundred people. I'm sure it was way over regulation limits. The usual scene, just amped up a few notches with all that alcohol flowing through the hormone-riddled veins of the city's students and young adults.
Last night I met up with Kaiser Kuo, one of the pioneering rock musicians in China. We hung out until very late at his place drinking expensive scotch. Though I'm not sure if I'd met him before, I felt a sense of 一见如故, since we know so many of the same people, and after all, we're both Americans who've spent a lot of time in China, love music, and have small children--lots to talk about.
Kaiser lives in a nice apartment on the East side, full of antique Chinese furniture and Japanese samurai swords--robbers, beware. He has a wife and two small children, a girl about Sarah's age (that's my daughter by the way) and a one-year old boy. Needless to say they were asleep the whole time. By day, Kaiser works for Ogilvy Mather as an executive, so rock is not so much a career for him as a passion. I also met his lead singer Yang Meng, who writes the songs for his new band Chun Qiu, and another singer named Feng Haining (Helen) who sings for two "experimental" bands here, one being Ziyo. After joining Helen and Yang Meng at a hotpot restaurant for dinner, we hung out at a local cafe near Kaiser's place, then went over to his place when it closed. We spent all night talking about music and about filming the scene here.
I brought my guitar along just for kicks. (I bought a guitar at a shop across the street from where I'm living now in Beijing. It was pretty cheap, less than 100 USD, but sound quality is great. It's an acoustic, steel string guitar. Next I have to step up to an electric.) Kaiser and Yang Meng were both jamming on it, playing tunes from their first album. Yang Meng also explained the thoughts behind some of his lyrics, which are steeped in Daoist mysticism, especially 山海间.
Didn't do much filming last night, just wanted to get to know these guys better and let them become familiar and comfortable with me and my camera. They were all very impressed with my new Canon XH A1 camera by the way. Hell, I'm very impressed with it, so far. Only wish I knew better what all the knobs and buttons on it do.
A Big Weekend: CH+INDIE rock fest at Dos Kolegas
This is going to be a big weekend. There's a two-day rock fest at a local club called Dos Kolegas, with some of the best bands in Beijing playing, including Brain Failure and the SUBS. (Kaiser had a funny story about meeting the members of Brain Failure in the snow-covered mountains near Lijiang during a rock concert there. I'll let him tell it on his own blog if he feels like it, since he's a better writer than I am). People from the local record companies will also be there. A great concentration of folks in the music biz--I'll be filming like mad. Then Kaiser's band Chun Qiu is playing tonight. Just hope I have the energy for all this filming.
Addenda and Corrections
Blogging is a kind of reportage and with it comes certain duties and responsibilities (for those of us who take it seriously and use our real names, that is), one of which is to report things as accurately as possible. Confessedly I've made a few mistakes in my recent reporting. Thankfully people have written me to correct the flaws. Last week I posted a blog about the film Beijing or Bust. Kaiser wrote me to point out that the group of people in the film were technically not "returnees" but ABCs, a very different category of people (and as he explained last night, a very privileged group of 高干子弟). I suppose I meant "returnee" in the much broader sense of people who had Chinese ancestry and have come back to live here after living abroad, but the term 海龟 refers specifically to people born and raised here, who went abroad for their educations/jobs and have returned.
My reportage of the Rock It! festival also contained a few mistaken bits of info. Wu Jun, the organizer, wrote me to point out that the festival attracted around 10,000 people (that is, the park did) over those three days, a lot more than I'd reported. Also, ticket prices dropped after 4 pm down to 80 rmb, which explains why so many people came in the late afternoon. He wants to make sure that word gets out about these facts.