Punks on Stage in Shanghai: Re-TROS at Moganshan Lu STD Party

Shanghai is full of surprises.  Things are never quite what/where you expect them to be.  Take for instance the JZ Club.  This is an intimate lounge club that features some of the best jazz performances in the city.  It features a sunken underground space with a cluster of small, high round tables surrounded by bar stools and a medium-height stage.   The focus is on the musicians in other words.  On Saturday night, I attended the Jazzanova concert with some mates.  There were five of us.  We had a table close to the stage.  We were expecting to see musicians on instruments.  It is a jazz club after all.  But when the performers started playing, lo and behold it was a guy behind an array of DJ equipment, and a young female singer.  The music was cool, but it was dance music.  It belonged in a dance club.  The singer was exhorting people to dance, but there wasn’t much space to do so.  The club was packed beyond capacity, so people were stuck in this tight, sweaty space wedged in between the tables and chairs.  We were lucky to get there early and have seats, but it wasn’t the type of music you should be sitting down to.  Had they thought about it more, they might have taken out the tables and chairs and made it standing room only.  That would have made for a much more interesting and engaging performance, and a lot more interesting social contact too.  Then again, this act would have been better off performing at one of the many disco dance clubs in town.

Halfway through the concert, I persuaded the group to head out to Moganshan Lu, the arts district along Suzhou Creek, where the STD party/rock concert was going full blast.  We arrived there just in time to see the full show of Re-TROS, one of Beijing’s most acclaimed punk rock acts.  Well, post-punk might be a better label, though like most bands in China, this one is a genre-bender.  The lead singer and guitarist Hua Dong is the major talent in the group.  He pours so much energy and passion into his songs that he’s dripping with sweat and his face is a constant grimace.  His female partner Liu Min plays bass and does backup vocals.  She definitely looks the part, but her playing is pretty basic, no pun intended.  Ma Hui backs them up on drums.  To get a taste of their music check out the Re-TROS myspace site.

The STD party was held in a warehouse overlooking Suzhou Creek.  The cavernous warehouse made the music sound echoey and hollow near the back of the hall, but most of the ardent fans were clustered right up to the stage where they were blasted by waves of sound.  There was plenty of moshing and good-hearted pogoing going on near the front of the stage, as usual.  The crowd was largely foreigners, but a healthy number of Chinese youths were there, dressed up in their stylish versions of alternative wear.  Too bad I didn’t have my camera, but after almost a year of it, I’m getting a bit tired of photo-documenting the live rock scene.  That said, I would have liked to shoot some of the styles these kids were sporting.  Especially the young ladies.  Shanghai punks are a lot more self-consciously stylish than their Beijing counterparts.  One nice thing about the venue was that you could escape the music by heading outside and enjoy the cool night air along the creek.  Some people (I’m not naming names) took advantage of the natural WC and vented their beer and whiskey into the river.  I had to head off around midnight so did not catch the party that followed, but I give the venue and the concert a big thumbs up.