It is common for bands to play in front of near empty dive bars that are filled with the stench of urine and covered in dust. They live a piece-meal existence, surviving by doing odd jobs and bumming meals off friends. There are no booking agents or tour promoters; DIY is a must, not just a fad. Indie labels are actually independent from the majors and rely on self distribution while record shops willing to except non-mainstream (top 40 pop) music number less than one. Shows and venues are routinely shutdown by the government for being too loud and too political. Mainstream music fans aren’t interested in anything new, to them sappy pop songs are golden, while angry guitar riffs and drum beats are garbage. This is Shanghai and the time is now.
So why invest so much money, time and effort in such a hostel (musically) scene? The answer is really very simple. Here it feels like what we do has meaning. China is on the threshold of their own musical revolution. Youth creating music based on personal angst, need for artistic expression in a hollow world of commercialism and disgust at what the mainstream is pumping out. For them there are no dreams of making it big, getting signed to a major. Love of music, not money, is the main driving force. And like all revolutions this one could go either way.
On any given weekend crowds at the few live venues can number between 20 and 300. Recently I was at one of those nights of 20. The energy was as empty as the room, a feeling of sadness for such a miserably turnout, then when I was about to head for the door, the band came on. As soon as that first chord was hit the room lit up. Those 20 depressing people were out of their chairs, head banging, slam dancing into walls, tearing up the floor as if nothing else mattered. That is the moment I realized this is what a revolution is all about. Giving back the freedom of musical choice to the small and growing number of fans who want something other than pop.
AjiSignal is a magazine
about new music in cities.