The year started out with what was meant to be both my Beijing farewell and the end of LiveBeijingMusic – a three days extravaganza involving friends and family – bands and artists who I’ve championed over the years (some nearly as long as ten years). A whirlwind of smashed trumpets, surprise guests, crowd surfing, held back tears and way too many coffee and whiskey shots.
Getting out of Beijing didn’t go as planned for obvious reasons and I myself found escaping to Singapore on the eve of Chinese New Year as panic was just starting to ferment – in retrospect not the brightest idea (I was visiting my senior citizen parents). But twelve hours after landing I was crammed into a tiny sweatbox watching Singapore emo rockers Forests tear into a set as patrons threw their bodies into one another with reckless abandon.
Myself and fellow Beijingers continued to tip-toe around the pandemic in Bangkok throughout February, popping into gigs as much as possible – treating ourselves to dub, shoegaze, and Molam music. Eventually, I had to accept the new reality and wait out the rest of the pandemic on the outskirts of Beijing till things cooled down and the city (as with the rest of China) cautiously but enthusiastically spurred back to life. I’ll always remember the first proper gig post-COVID at the beginning of May on the rooftop of Longfusi with the FLOSO crew.
From there, it was time to complete the move to Shanghai just as the city’s venues were opening their doors again. A few hours after receiving the key to my new apartment I ventured up north to Yangpu to catch Dirty Fingers 丢莱卡 on a Wednesday night, kicking off my love affair with Neo Bar. The next weekend a reopening party at Yuiyintang Park was thrown together by none other than Shanghai Qiutian letting their spirited optimistic music bring the venue back to life. And from there it was off to the races.
Treated the summer like any fresh-faced kid does in a new city – throwing myself into every show and concert with reckless abandon. There are way too many highlights: the feverish 44OUT party thrown on the rooftop of the BFC building on the Bund – Shanghai excess at its finest – where I stood witness to the power that bands like Berlin Psycho Nurses and Stolen秘密行动 had on crowds. Basking in the spry and volatile energy of ReJianBeiShaShou at Bandai Namco or the angular off-kilter sensibilities of Solid Liqui固体李逵, who are one of my favorite new acts this year. Watching my wife squirm in delight at Poetry in Shorts 短裤里的诗歌, one of the few bands that she can actively can recite lyrics too.
But it was also the smaller moments and gigs that left a lasting impact on me — from discovering emo rockers Diels-Alder, The Valley Surfer 山谷冲浪手, and autumn rush 秋日疾走 (a band that feels like they stepped out of a university exam) to the intimate and quirky Ming Room 明室, off of Shannxi Lu, where experimental acts found cozy solace. Catching Zuho after a day of vinyl shopping; stumbling into M.E Studio after a lackluster gig at Mao and falling immediately in sync with The Pluto Project. Taking in the lush grounds surrounding Keep It Quiet whilst listening to the sublime soundscapes of Wang Meng + Yu Miao.
It was also a year of seeing old Beijing friends in new settings – catching up with everyone from Backspace 退格, Lonely Leary 孤独的利里, Birdstriking鸟撞, Future Orients飞去来, Xiao Wang小王, Acid Accident酸性事件, Life Awaits, Agoraphobia 广场恐惧症 – the list goes on – and seeing how much they’ve grown musically as well as take glee in watching people around me get swept up in their music. Beijing was a hotbed for amazing music and I’m grateful to be able to see them time and time again.
I held my first gig at the end of summer at Yuyintang育音堂 – a venue I hope never leaves – and couldn’t have asked for a better turnout or for better acts – a debut & farewell show fro Exit Through Singapore, led by departing friend Simon (of Thin City). It also solidified my opinions on Naohai闹海 and Kṣitigarbha地藏 – they’re absolute killers on stage and are some of the scene’s most original acts. The night ended with a performance from YunJing云镜, a band who I’d snapped pictures of two years prior in their home of Xiamen – they ended up fronting the money for their journey up from there to be apart of the show. They brought the house down.
September went by in a blur. Foster Parents gave an emotional farewell at Yuyintang Park, I discovered why Shanghai bows down to the all and mighty Banana Monkey, checked out Hiperson 海朋森 in a sold-out afternoon set, interviewed Railway Suicide Train 卧轨的火车, and went to Specters far too often.
October holiday brought my latest musical adventure to Xi’an – a city that continues to impress despite my resistance. VeinLab 未来俱乐部 and JAR are keeping the spirit of rock and roll and underground electronic music alive and well – personality goes a long way these days and they’ve got it in spades. Aperature Club (西演LIVE一剧场) may be classier now but damn if I didn’t have a great time dancing with the kids during Chinese Football, or being gobsmacked by Wang Wen惘闻 once again. All I can say is keep it up Xi’an!
In October, discovered the carnal pleasures of live music in C’s – a dingy sprawling basement legacy that is made for down and dirty rock antics. The possibilities are endless and can’t wait to pop in there for more and more gigs (though a flash camera is a must for capturing it in all its glory). I was mentally and physically healed by Elevator’s Ambient Night after one long weekend – a concept that may sound basic on paper but takes on a whole new life in the hands of its organizers who put the utmost care in its execution. Finally, the return of NaoNaoSi脑脑死 at LOFAS reminded me of just how brilliant the Wuhan troublemakers are.
The less said about Halloween the better but it did lead to a very interesting kickoff to November for the Citrus Flavor Festival 柑橘音乐节 where I marathoned my way through six bands with my podcast co-host – watching Beijingers Lonely Leary孤独的利里 and springiscoming虎啸春 turn audience members into converts.
I made a trip to Hangzhou for old Beijing cohort Tingting’s latest ‘8 Hour Rock and Roll Show 八小时摇滚俱乐部’ at the one and only 9 Club酒球会– a place that feels unhinged from the moment you walk in and then somehow contorts even further. Crowds are of a different ilk there.
Sunday gigs are evil and should never be done – or at least that’s my excuse for a lackluster crowd at my second Yuyintang gig. But damn were the bands good. And Flying Games 飞行游戏 are one of Shanghai’s most underrated bands. Also got flowers so there’s that.
December would have been low-key if it wasn’t for my second trip to Hangzhou for the massive two-day blowout festival 现场音乐 Live Music that ambitiously (and detrimentally to my health) decided to gather over fifteen of China’s best bands and acts to Mao Livehouse. Essentially cramming for a test the day before your exam.
The icing on the cake for this closing month was hosting Salty Tomorrow明天的盐 at Neo Bar – a band I’ve been bugging (in one form or another) for years to perform. So fanboyed out. And with Naohai 闹海 and Pale Air 淡色艾尔 supporting it turned out to be quite the night.
And really that’s just off the top of my head. It’s likely I overextended myself these past six months – but damn was it worth it. You ain’t too shabby Shanghai. Now if only I could figure out how to make a living doing this. Farewell 2020!