Here’s Some New Music And Notes On America

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One of the best parts about America is public radio and satellite radio. The joys of driving around in a Subaru, switching back and forth between presidential campaign coverage, nihilistic rap, and chill dub reggae… Been traveling through Michigan and Los Angeles over the last month, and noticed / remembered that:

1) Uber has completely changed the ability to travel around LA (and other sprawling cities) without a car. Uber drivers range tremendously in age, ethnicity, and background, and their profit margins are quite small. One Filipino lady driving a Prius claimed that “China owns the Philippines, and you never see a funeral for a Chinese baby, because they just get a new one sent over from the mainland”. Also, LA’s public transport is pretty chill and more people should ride that.

2) Unlike Shanghai, which is totally safe, American cities go from “OK to walk around in” to “Christ, there is gang graffiti everywhere and there’s a homeless dude with a baseball bat walking towards us on this empty street” in about two blocks. Fuck Google maps. I wonder how many people have gotten murked because that devil app led them down the wrong path.

3) Infrastructure and mental health in American cities is falling apart and people in the suburbs are still worried about non-issues like gay marriage and legalization. In the eight years I’ve lived in China, the PRC has built about, oh…150 high speed trains connecting major cities. America has built none that I am aware of. Chicago to NYC and LA to SF seems like obvious places to start.

4) Paying for dental appointments in cash is something that people just do not do. Also, dentists are not keen to accept new patients who pay in cash.

5) Going through airport security is not bad at all and TSA are doing a fine job. Not sure why people complain about due diligence. That said, American domestic airlines are far behind say, Emirates, Korean Air, etc, in terms of customer service, but I still feel confident in the pilots. Also, riding in small planes for short distances, e.g. over Lake Michigan from Kalamazoo to Chicago is hella fun.

6) 24-Hour gyms are becoming the standard and China needs to get on that shit.

7) Everything contains / is mostly made of some corn products. Even treats.

8) Race is a big issue but class is dividing America even more.

9) Poor people in China eat way more fruits and vegetables than poor Americans, who subside largely on a diet of corn-based processed foods and fast food.

10) QR codes are just not a thing in America, unlike China. Saw some QR codes, but seems like no one knows how they function. That’s cool, because fuck QR codes anyway. Also, more and more people have ditched landlines for cell phones, which seems like a bad idea in the event of emergencies / cyber wars.

11) China can learn a lot from America’s great urban planning mistakes of the 20th centuries. These mistakes include building cities for cars, discouraging walking by getting ride of sidewalks, getting ride of bike lanes, and breaking apart social capital. The Death And Life Of Great American Cities is a nice place to start.

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[Kalamazoo from the window of a small plane]

Alright enough chat. Here’s some new tunes.

Damacha – tapt_new  (coming out next week on Groove Bunny Records!)

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Jessy Lanza, DJ Spinn & Taso – You Never Show Your Love (feat. DJ Rashad) [Teklife Mix]

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DJ Paypal – bEbay (just an unbelievably good DJ, this guy…)

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Dr. Dre – One Shot One Kill (feat. Snoop)*

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*Can’t help but point out the influence of Yeezus / Death Grips on this album, specifically this track. And yeah the album slams, though much like the new Kendrick album, it does not contain many obviously single-ready / club-ready tracks, which <i>Chronic</i> and <i>2001</i> had plenty of. Perhaps that’s in response to the retarded number of purely functional, quick-to-expire West coast rap singles by DJ Mustard and Co.

Future – Blow A Bag (so many good tracks on Dirty Sprite 2…hard to choose)

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Deadboy – White Moon Garden (Black Magick Mix)

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Crazy Neighbor Is Gone

chongqinggongyu

Well, we knew that was coming. Our crazy old neighbor downstairs tried to light the building on fire. That’s the same guy who scrawled curses such as “your wife is being fucked and you don’t even know it” and “your family is dying and you don’t realize it” after we threw away some corroding medicine boxes and rotten fruits from his mountain of trash in the hallway. The same wretched old man who viciously cursed and snarled at my girlfriend for walking down the hall with a foreigner.

Crazy Neighbor had long displayed an affinity for fire. He would often leave a fire extinguisher at the top of the staircase, with the hose pointed up, or light small fires in the landing. Well, he is in jail now. According to the security guard, they are trying to determine if he’s crazy.

It was a sad situation. Who knows what the man had been through. He probably lived through the worst of the ’50s and ’60s. Our landlord – a doctor – had shrugged off the situation with “oh, he’s crazy – don’t talk to him”. The affable grandma next door warned us not to interact with him. Even the security guard downstairs just cracked one of those nervous laughs, like, “…oh…hehe…not much we can do about him”. Shanghainese people don’t like trouble, though some neighbors eventually organized to remove the trash from the hallways though, as rats began throwing parties in the refuse.

And we just kept saying, “he’s gonna light the god damn building on fire one of these days”.

Most residential buildings in China do not have smoke detectors. Certainly not in the common area. That is very troublesome. Imagine if one went off when someone was sleeping! It might wake someone up. So we equipped our room with smoke and CO2 detectors and avoided dude. He really seemed like the kind of guy that, as his big last move before death, might just strangle someone in the hall.

Upon returning from America last week, the third floor was oddly silent. Usually Crazy Neighbor would leave his TV on full volume 24 hours a day. We’d often return from the club at 4am to a dark staircase, lit by screams from war dramas and Chinese infomercials.

The security guard confirmed our suspicions that dude had been removed from our building, a fine piece of French architecture from 1933, where the American journalist Agnes Smedley once lived. This means no more of Crazy Neighbor’s classic routines, like “Hey It’s 11pm Let’s Slam The Door Fourteen Times In A Row”. Good riddance.

While it’s incredible that dude lasted in our building so long, after hanging out in downtown LA for a few days earlier this month, I can say the mental health situation in America is not much better. More on that later.

Ariel Pink – Picture Me Gone

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Guest Editorial – Do International DJ Bookings Help The Local Scene in Shanghai?

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This is a guest piece by my friend Chris Russell about the impact of international bookings in Shanghai. Before we get into it, I should mention that Chris lived in South London for a few years, he’s a huge music fan, and he’s definitely been to more “proper nights” than myself.

[Note to the reader: In this piece when I used the word international, I’m not referring to laowai – I simply mean someone who isn’t based primarily in China. This isn’t some laowai self-loathing or anything like that.]

Sometimes you or other people just aren’t very good at something. A regrettable fact of life, you are left to either writhe around in a quagmire of mediocrity or you try and move to an environment where you can learn how to do that thing better. Or you try and create that environment where you are now.

Throughout history there are numerous cases where importing talent into a country has raised standards or improved the local culture. In China, the Tang dynasty, widely considered to be the greatest of them all, had as one of its hallmarks a receptiveness to foreign influence. If people from other countries are operating at a much higher level than you it can be prudent to try and learn something from them, but this isn’t to say that all outside influence is an unalloyed good. This is where international DJs in Shanghai come in.

Once upon a time international DJs were a rare breed in this city, and a handful of local promoters made their name bringing them over when otherwise Shanghai wouldn’t figure into their Asian tour schedules. Now on any given weekend it’s usually possible to see at least one, particularly now that Arkham has emerged on the scene and relentlessly begun booking international acts. This is ostensibly a good thing – it helps drive interest in the clubs; gives punters a bit of variety or enables them to see someone they really like; and it helps local crews expand their connections and gives them a chance to learn from people who are apparently at the top of their game. There comes a point though where we have to question just how much value these DJs bring to Shanghai and whether they in fact have a malign influence on the music scene here.

Back in December of last year I was involved in the night that saw Caspa play at Arkham, probably one of the biggest nights that month and one that received a reasonable amount of press coverage, which included Caspa doing an interview with Shanghai 24/7. As I stood watching from the balcony on the side, I saw Caspa run through the kind of wobbly dubstep he made his name with while Dynamite MC phoned in his performance. Caspa and Dynamite MC had arrived in Shanghai that afternoon, but perhaps no more than an hour after finishing their set they were being ushered into a taxi by their manager in order to head to Pudong airport, presumably en route to playing at another Asian megalopolis the following night. Before departing, Caspa and Dynamite MC gave some generic answers to an interview filmed by Redscale Studios.

What did Shanghai gain from this? The crowd looked like they were having fun and taken in isolation it would be hard to say there was anything particularly wrong about this event, but in many ways it is indicative of a lot of the international bookings that happen in this city, and, when these are taken together, their effect can be insidious.

I made the point earlier that foreign talent can raise standards and drive innovation, and that is the reason why at least ostensibly most foreigners are here in China, including myself, but with Caspa et al what are they really contributing? They are here for such a short period of time that any engagement is a best fleeting and it is debatable that anyone really learns anything from them. (Although the DJ hanging around for awhile doesn’t always make a difference either.) Do we notice any increase in quality of selection and mixing from the local cohort of DJs as a result of these international DJs passing through? Perhaps in some cases these DJs are just really fucking good and prove to be a huge inspiration to locals even in the limited time that they’re here, but largely it’s doubtful if this is the case, in part because at least some of these DJs will simply be going through the motions, Shanghai but one date on a larger tour (see above), and also because the scene here is still so small and there isn’t enough grassroots involvement to increase the likelihood of there being a substantial engagement. This isn’t like a DJ from New York going to London.

What’s more, these bookings aren’t just negligible in their impact, but are also possibly detrimental to the development of the scene and Shanghai as being a place with something approaching its own identity. This is largely because they leech away attention from what people are doing on a local level. This isn’t to say that local DJs and producers don’t ever get a look in – the live sets of Acid Pony Club and SLV have received their fair number of column inches, although it does seem that the humble DJ set doesn’t get quite so much attention – but when a reasonable amount of space is being given over to conducting interviews with the likes of Josh Wink you have to wonder if something is going wrong.

Now I understand why nightlife editors might be reluctant to turn over too much space to your average local DJ, this isn’t exactly a town of EZs, but that’s not to say everyone here is a bad DJ, and in my own experience it’s often the sets from local selectors that I find to be more memorable. Nonetheless, for better or worse these are the people that will in part define people’s experience of nightlife in this city, although I’m well aware they might not be the most important factor. As things stand though, someone browsing through the myriad listings on Shanghai’s expat websites probably doesn’t have much of a reason to choose one club night over any other, given that they’re mostly full of PR bullshit and vacuous descriptions. However, if some of these nights and crews actually got a bit more in depth coverage, perhaps these things might be a bit more meaningful to people. It might also freshen up some local-only bills, with certain line-ups, particularly those connected to boats or beaches, perhaps becoming overly familiar.

Another way to look at it is this: does Shanghai have anything approaching an anthem? I’m not even talking about something produced locally; communities can often take something from outside and make it their own. Honestly, I can’t think of anything, and one reason is quite possibly that there is a dearth of sustained coverage of what people are doing here. Nevermind though, we can always find out what Tim Sweeney is into prior to his one night here. The only website I can think of that might delve into this kind of stuff is Layabozi, but, and this is no criticism of them, club music isn’t really their field of expertise.

The thing is, these international bookings are now where most of the media attention is – an article like this one on Resident Advisor of the London club night Rhythm Section probably just wouldn’t happen – and this attention is vital for club owners and promoters across the city. You may have noticed that some venues have struggled over the summer, and one of them has closed down. So the whole process starts again, and we get the next batch of international acts going through the motions before fucking off somewhere else.

However, not all international DJs are created equal, and I don’t want to slight those that have made a tangible contribution to this city and the promoters who brought them over. For me, Kode9 is one who stands out as he has close links with the Sub-Culture crew and has played an important role in Cha Cha getting to the point where she is now. To cite another example, Void’s international links helped MHP secure a release on the Detroit record label Cratesavers International. There are no doubt others. Also, those early international bookings by the likes of Phreaktion and Antidote were vital in giving an early jolt to the scene that helped it get to where it is now.

Then there is that other type of international booking: regional DJs. They’re probably not that famous, but, given that they’re local, relatively speaking, and possibly from somewhere at a similar stage to Shanghai, they’re much more likely to be engaged with what’s going on here. At the end of July, the crew Darker Than Wax from Singapore came to collaborate with SVBKVLT. It was probably one of the best nights that the Shelter had all summer, and William-J killed it with a perfectly mixed selection that took in everything from juke to grime. That night helped cement links between Shanghai and Singapore. Also early in the year Gyto from Neo Tokyo Bass gave Shelter its first proper introduction to jackin’, something that would have otherwise taken a lot longer to happen. It’s worth noting that in their respective cities these people would be the local DJs.

Now you might just think that I say all this because I run my own nights and want as much publicity as I can get. Of course I do, but the argument would be just as valid even if I wasn’t a DJ or promoter, and this is bigger than me or what I do. There are plenty of nights and DJs here that I feel deserve more coverage, and I don’t have any stake in them. It might also be said that I’m overstating the problem and that local DJs and promoters do get coverage in the media. They obviously do, but it’s often fleeting and not all that substantial. Time Out has in the past run profiles of local DJs, but these were short and not overly insightful, while Smart Shanghai’s Undercurrents series is often more retrospective than forward-looking. Perhaps local crews aren’t actually all that interesting? Sure, some aren’t, but that only makes it more important to give attention to the ones that are. There are a lot of people trying to communicate their vision through mixes and the like, but precious few of these actually get brought to people’s attention. Maybe people simply just don’t care and are simply looking for an inoffensive soundtrack to their hedonism. No doubt those people exist, but the media here clearly fancy themselves as agenda-setting entities, so why not try and push those who are genuinely making a contribution in the scene?

Really what it comes down to is this: what do you get out of booking this DJ or covering them on your website or in your magazine? Perhaps more importantly, what does the wider music scene get out of it, aside from a show? That obviously wouldn’t be a consideration if you’re just in it to make a quick buck, but a lot of promoters would at least pay lip service to the notion that they stand for something more.

I’m not saying “don’t book international DJs,” but it doesn’t hurt to consider the implications of these kinds of bookings and the disproportionate amount of media coverage they receive, especially when Shanghai doesn’t quite have its own musical identity sorted out.

-  Chris Russell

Chris runs monthly nights somewhere on Xingfu Lu, but he’s asked for his DJ name and the names of the nights to be left out, lest this essay be seen as simply an attempt at self-promotion.


 

Shanghai Jinshan Zebra Music Festival Part 2 – What We Can Learn From This

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Wow, almost 500 people read that review! Big thank you to all the readers and commentators. Turns out there is an audience for objective criticism in Shanghai. Sadly, a few people can’t handle that, because Shanghai is SOFT like Lawson’s ice cream. I appreciate their comments anyway though.

Come on ya’ll, don’t take the internet so seriously. People write shit like this every day in places like NYC, London, and LA.

I went to London in February, and after hearing the warmup DJs at Corsica Studios I thought to myself, “damn, I ain’t shit.” I knew I needed to seriously step my game up if I ever wanted to rock a spot like Corsica or Plastic People. Well, Shanghai needs to step its game up in many areas, and criticism and competition plays a huge role in this. Shanghai is too soft yo! The underground is pretty good. Some great people like SVBKVLT, Acid Pony Club, Split-Works, MHP, VOID, JZ Club, PAIRS, Death To Giants, and many more coming out of here, but as for the mainstream? It’s pretty bad yo. I’ve seen good Top 40 DJs before, and that’s not what we’re dealing with 99% of the time out here.  What about the middle ground?

***Criticism and competition pushes the scene forward*** Come on ya’ll, you can’t tell me that brand tents at a music festival blasting Gangnam Style is a good look.

I’m puzzled about why one reader accused me of racism. I suspect they’re affiliated with the DJ stage mentioned in the article, and I guess I would ask them why at a three-day festival they only booked one Chinese DJ (Mia). Why not book Ceezy, Cavia, hBd, Jasmine Li, Ben Huang, Doggy, MHP, or any of the other talented Chinese DJs? Enough said. I think this commentator has some reading comprehension problems because my article mainly attacked brands, most of which come from America or some other foreign country.

Anyway, here’s what we can learn from all this. Lessons for music festivals around the world, not just Shanghai.

1) Seriously limit the number of booths/stages playing loud music. Don’t point speakers at eachother or place them in the same line of sound. THIS IS SO IMPORTANT. Soundsystems trainwrecking is a bad look. Don’t let each brand booth have their own soundsystem! They already get to sell product and target ads, and they’re not about music – they’re about their product.

2)  Book interesting DJs who have a sound/style and don’t just give people what they’re comfortable with. It’s not H&M. Some people make a living playing shitty music, fact of life, but they shouldn’t be booked for festivals. Investigate what’s going on in the scene – there’s people in Shanghai doing good, original stuff. People like Downstate, Tzu Sing, MHP, Cavia, Death To Giants, and loads more. Wouldn’t hurt to book one somewhat famous and talented act from abroad too.

3) Turn the lights down, and don’t point them directly into the audience’s eyes. So many clubs and events blast hot lights right in people’s eyes – no one is feeling that.

4) A real music festival should be about the music, not brands or some escapist bullshit like reading an iPad while having fish eat the bacteria off your feet. Obviously brands and festivals can work together but without oversight or coordination this turns into an absolute mess.

5) Fuck Skull Candy and other shit #fashion brands.

6) In general, chairs should be free, especially when people pay admission.

Ok that’s all for now. Feel free to drop your love or hate in the comments! Let’s push things forward.

 

Event Review – Shanghai Jinshan Zebra Music Festival

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Note: For various reasons, I waited a while to post this review. But here it is, raw and uncut. Also, shout out to whoever managed to time-travel back to 1994 and have Sega and Capri Sun team up to design this flyer.

I need to write about this festival, because I’ve seen many praise the event on various social media and I’m compelled to offer a different perspective – the perspective of a customer, rather than someone who organized, performed at, or otherwise had their hands on this beast they call Zebra. This is what happens when music festivals lack organization by competent people who love good music and then brands fill the void. I’m not writing this to attack anyone except for the brands and consumerism that ruined what could have been a really rock-and-roll experience by the ocean.

Zebra Music Festival could have been amazing. I mean, how hard is it to fuck up a music festival on the beach? Not that hard, apparently, once brands get involved without any  oversight. The only beautiful moment was when rain suddenly poured down in the middle of some terrible electro house and only the crazy ones stayed dancing in the sand while others scattered for awnings and umbrellas. But even then the lights were too hot and bright.

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Imagine for a moment that KTV* put on a music festival. That’s what Jinshan Zebra resembled – loud, repetitive 128 beats per minute electronic music pared with blinding lights, fake renao* (热闹), and heaps of branding and corporate presence poured on like oil in a Shanghai restaurant. Having participated in half-ass music festivals here, and given the desperate, midnight-hour promotion that promised “the biggest, best musical festival in Shanghai,” I feared Zebra would disappoint, but I had no idea just how bad it could get.

KTV = Karaoke TV; the whole spectrum of Asian karaoke halls, which ranges from places for family fun to deafeningly loud dens filled with flashing lights, sensory overload, hookers, dice, dissociatives, whiskey-and-green-tea, and people making business decisions. I’m referring to the latter end of this spectrum.

renao** = exciting, happening; something entertaining to watch. Could be used to describe the atmosphere at a bar, especially one like M2 in Shanghai. In this context *renao* also carries the meaning of loud, bright, and “high.”

Note: Through [questionable] luck and circumstance, I didn’t pay for transportation or tickets to this festival. Had I paid I may have caused a bigger scene.

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We spent the 1.5 hour drive to Jinshan drinking Russian vodka in an American mini-van and watching the sun set. The night seemed promising and it felt good to leave the city. We got closer and closer to the beach and passed street hawkers selling inflatable ducks and swimsuits, then we arrived.

If bad house music got into a car accident with an advertising company it would look like the sprawling, confused beach scene that lay below.. Products, sounds, brands, and ads collided in total chaos down on the beach. Jinshan Beach is by the ocean but this wasn’t Venice Beach or even Hainan. Rumor is the sand gets imported from the latter though.

It was loud. And not in a good way, with at least ten soundsystems booming simultaneously, arranged for maximum interference and annoyance. The omnipresent speakers belted generic 128 beats-per-minute house music from tents/booths repping companies like Coke, Bacardi, and some shit you’ve never heard of. I heard “Gangnam Style” twice, and that song would only be appropriate here if sung by a Mao hologram. This was Guantanamo. To a DJ it all sounded like one colossal trainwreck, but occasionally when we passed between two systems, two songs lined up perfectly for like ten seconds. Brilliant.

Beyond the brand tents, there were KTV booths and even a place to soak your feet in a tub of bacteria-eating fish. Seriously. This was like a car show with Chinese characteristics. And yes, there were cars on display. On the beach I counted at least three under a tent with price tags. Never heard of that brand either.

We walked away from this mess and through the sand toward the main stage, where we found some kind of wacky salsa competition where the MCs called up people from different countries and had them compete in a dance-off. One Chinese guy was dressed up like an Arab and the host said, in Chinese, “oh you know those Arab people – they’re conservative and like to wear a towel on their head!”  This was at 6:30PM on the main stage of a music festival with a few thousand people. This was a show to watch, not a music experience, and I fucking hate seeing shows when I’m trying to listen to some music.

Around 7:30, one of the weakest bands I’ve ever, ever seen took stage and stumbled through a few songs before I left; some local university students barely fit for an open-mic night slot. Don’t know how they got that slot. We had to heckle, and they were visibly shook but didn’t respond. People deserve more at a music festival.

Tragically, the biggest musical act of this festival was DJ iTunes, who often showed up at  seven places at the same damn time, like the Bacardi tent, which stood right next to the main DJ stage at a 90 degree angle and had equally loud speakers. Or at the knockoff Gatorade tent, or the Coca-Cola booth that was actually SELLING Coke to people while blatantly attacking them with advertising and sensory confusion, or the Skull Candy Booth, that whore of headphones. What can I say about Skull Candy besides the fact that they’re shit, look tacky, and the company will sponsor anyone but no real sound pro would rock their shit? But they so #fashion! 怎么办??

We tried to find refuge from the bad music and hot, blinding lights by hanging out by the beach. I mean, it’s the ocean right? The inflatable slides looked cool but the water’s hue wasn’t exactly inviting, so we sat in white plastic chairs and stared at the sky until a countryside goon donning heart-shaped red neon glasses (frames) and a t-shirt rolled halfway up his stomach stumbled over and demanded 100RMB (about $15) each for the chairs. He looked like a villain from a B-movie about a haunted roller rink. There were hundreds of empty chairs. The wooden beach chairs, all unoccupied in these dark hours, were double that price.  Who does that money go to? Is there a chair mafia? I bet many, many crayfish are eaten with that chair money.

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So we went back to the show. The excitement. The renao. I’m not judging, but most of the crowd, probably 85% local, was there to watch a show, not dance or a have summer of love sesh. Fair enough. Music festivals are new phenomena in China and there’s no cultural background of e.g. Woodstock or Acid House. But unfortunately this festival was not organized by people who understand the magic of music festivals either. Instead of showing patrons something new and crazy, this festival became nothing but a vehicle for pushing products on consumers, with comfortable, accessible, and “high” music as a mere aid to the transaction.

Honestly, music played by actual DJs or musicians represented maybe 5% of the music audible at this festival. On the one stage with two or three decent DJs over the whole weekend, even tried-and-true songs like Beenie Man’s “Who Am I” and hip hop classics didn’t do much because the sound didn’t really bump. They should have called Pat. The MCs had heart and hyped up the crowd of camera statues by screaming “Jinshan put ur hands up” et al and pouring vodka straight out of Stoli bottles. This got bursts of excitement and ‘FLASH!’ ‘SNAP!’ from eager cell phone cameras. Chinese people love white people actin crazy in these settings, and people went mad for the free “Perfecto Playboys” sunglasses like a god damn food riot. One kid dove over my feet and hit the sand to secure a pair.

This was the Collective Concepts stage. These are the people behind successful commercial clubs The Geisha, Flamingo, and The Apartment. Look, I don’t hate these places. I’ve had good times there, but they’re not an acceptable choice for managing one of two real stages at a music festival. Ironically, they probably cared more about the music than anyone else working at the festival. I mean, at least they had human DJs. Much of this festival’s fucked-up-ness was way beyond their control. Furthermore, I give them props for letting us play what we wanted on the third floor of Geisha last Saturday, and for letting us bring our own subwoofers into the club, and for allowing hip hop on the main floor on Fridays. These are all positive signs. My problem is that these clubs make a lot of money but somehow can’t cough up enough cash to sound as good as an underground spot like Dada or loosen up their music policy a bit instead of catering to the lowest common denominator. I believe a lot of people want something more, and unfortunately most of the bookings on their stage reflected the music policy at their clubs – commercial, comfortable, and easily digestible. McMusic. Why should people travel 90 minutes to a festival to see this when they can hear it at dozens of clubs any night of the week?

Somehow these clubs are tied into an mysterious enigma called Perfecto Playboys. I don’t exactly understand what Perfecto Playboys is. A brand? A lifestyle? A meme? Bad electrohouse and wack pop trance shit? These guys played lowest common-denominator electro KTV fistpump jams with some 3-D screen-saver font spinning in the background  advertising the mysterious Perfecto Playboys name. This is difficult to respect. One can push a crowd while being creative and maintaining some dignity, even while working in the frame of something familiar, e.g. Conrank’s bass-heavy remixes of Chinese songs.

Does “Party Rock Anthem” signify The End of Music? Is this mankind’s natural conclusion for music – derived, four-minute dance songs that are high, fun, and easily digestible? It doesn’t have to be like this. Challenge the audience a little.

If you’re a DJ playing at a music festival, you have to push the music you believe in. It’s not like earning scrill at some shit club in a third-tier city and playing music to keep the dice-playing customers happy on some baby-needs-shoes-and-I-gotta-eat hustle. And unfortunately whoever booked this festival on Saturday got a bunch of people who either don’t believe in anything or believe in total shit, with the exception of Hip Hop Hijack. I wasn’t there on Friday or Sunday so maybe James Blake or Cam’ron played, I dunno.

Admittedly, challenging the audience was hard at this festival, because people could wander to any booth selling some product and hear something they knew. I heard fucking Celiene Dion “Because You Loved Me” at one booth. That song should never be played at a music festival anywhere.

In the dark last hour of the festival, the last human DJ at the Perfecto Playboys stage, DJ Leo Chiodaroli, a resident at a wretched club called M2, requested no MCs during his set. How does this guy have such a long DJ name. His name alone is like half of a fucking Twitter/Weibo message. Why not just DJ Leo?  Anyway, after a few songs in his set, the crowd dwindled down to about five people, for there was no more show. Everyone migrated to the Bacardi tent to hear all of 2011’s biggest hits. A song would start, play all the way through, end, and move on to the next in the library. Either no one cared or no one noticed. And who can really blame them? Dude played garden variety house that may make worked with MCs getting hype but otherwise it’s just one foreign bro playing some indistinguishable house music.

It could have been so much better. Black Rabbit is still the best music festival I’ve been to in Shanghai, and JZ Festival and Strawberry Festival are affairs worth attending. The latter two are organized by locals and come recommended by this blog, so I’m not saying “they just don’t know how to do music festivals here,” but rather complaining about a festival ruined by consumerism and poor planning. Zebra was the music festival that wasn’t. Instead, we just got a trainwreck of brands, advertisements, bad sound, and tackiness at 128 beats per minute.

iPhone vs Android in China: Part One, The First 24 Hours

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Until yesterday, I used outdated versions of iPhone for the last four years. Before that I mostly fucked wit Nokias; the old school joints with the snake game. Those were the days before apps and before iPod, when the coolest thing you could do to your phone was swap out the faceplate. Nextel chirp all day.

All that changed last Thursday when a typhoon hit Shanghai during my walk home from the Chinese hamburger (肉夹馍) store and soaked my pockets and the iPhone 3GS within, rendering the screen backlight completely dead. I could only use my phone directly under the glare of the sun. My uncle at the electronics market on Fuxing Lu, home to fake Beats headphones, used Rolex’s, and probably some ivory, didn’t have a spare screen so I asked my auntie over there if she knew a good place to buy a second-hand phone. She knew a guy.

I’ve been wanting to try Android and partially exit the Apple ecosystem, so I bought a used HTC Sensation for RMB550 (about $90) and a 32GB micro-SD card for RMB125 (about $25). I came home and wasted about four hours trying to figure out how to upgrade to the latest version of Android. Apparently my device isn’t authorized, so forget it. Learned a grip of new jargon like ROMs, swapping, GooglePlay, rooting, flashing, and some other shit I don’t understand.

I’ve now spent 24 hours with HTC and Android, and here’s what I like and what I’m definitely not feeling.

Like…

I can download an album/mixtape/whatever on my computer and just drag it onto my phone like it’s a USB drive. No need to bring anything into iTunes. As someone who previews a ton of music this is so crucial, especially when I’m trying to keep iTunes organized and not import any bullshit. Really curious if I can download Soundcloud files directly to my SD Card. That would be HUGE.

Not Feeling…

Where is Google Play? Oh wait it doesn’t work on a lot of devices in China, specifically this second-hand joint (it’s not fake). Luckily a site called http://www.coolapk.com let’s users download files directly onto their phone and open em there, but they don’t always have the newest versions of apps like Instagram. Opening apps from the web does carry a much higher risk of getting a virus on the phone though.

Like…

Being able to make a folder of photos on my computer and drop it right onto the phone. Much easier than having to sync photos through iTunes. Really feeling the camera and big display on the Sensation.

Not Feeling…

I can still up nine photos to a single WeChat moment, but I gotta do the photos individually, a time-consuming process. Also, I can’t even view WeChat moments when my computer is connected in USB mode.

Like….

Really pretty weather display that probably devours my battery. Also, Android uses AccuWeather instead of the terribly unreliable and wildly unpredictable iPhone weather system. Thanks for that one Steve Jobs.

Not Feeling…

Where is Notes? Hopefully there’s some built-in app I haven’t found yet. I need this. Aesthetically, not feeling the GUI as much as iOS but I’ll trade a bit of prettiness for a lot of freedom.

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Verdict? After some initial frustration, I’m definitely feeling some aspects of Android. Dragging and dropping files onto my phone without having to use iTunes is huge. The HTC Sensation itself, released in 2011, runs significantly faster than my iPhone 3GS, which frequently shut down for no reason whatsoever. Android’s learning curve is steeper and less intuitive, and the GUI doesn’t look as nice, but as someone who doesn’t use that many apps (Instagram, Weibo, WeChat, Chinese dictionary) and wants to preview new tunes without using iTunes, I’m feeling it. Just took a while to find the apps. More on this tmmr.

What do ya’ll think about Android in China? Have any of you switched from iOS to Android and did you stay?

 

Hunting For Art In The Beijing Ghetto

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The day after the Popasuda party at Dada Beijing last month, my girl received an urgent mission – buy some art from up-and-coming Chinese painters and sculptors in the city. Sounded like a task from Elaine’s boss Mr. Peterson on Seinfeld so naturally we extended our stay in the Hanting Express, a rockstar hotel with an above-average 18RMB breakfast buffet. Toast.

After seeing the Duchamp exhibit and paintings by Wang Xingwei including his “Grandma In Window” series, we taxied deep into the hood to find some studios far from the comparatively pristine 798 Art Zone. Beijing cab drivers so chatty. The public toilets on this narrow street of rubble were just basins in an open room, not even squatters, and offered no indication that a studio with millions of RMB worth of art lay just around the corner.

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Old stairs led up into an aged warehouse where the affable Chen Xiaoyun (陈晓云) and Ye Linghan (叶凌瀚) showed us around the studio space they share with Jiangzhi (蒋志), who wasn’t present. Here’s a bit of what we saw:

Chen Xiaoyun’s pieces were the darkest of the three. Water, shapes, and creatures of the deep stared ominously from giant canvasses all around the room. I don’t know if having something like this is good for a home’s feng shui, but I dig it. Actually this guy primarily works in video.

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The youngest of the three, 叶凌瀚/ Ye Linghan makes some really dope videos with a  stop-motion hand-drawn/painted technique. The drawings feel almost like MC Escher at times and the animation is choppy but beautiful. Stills for videos were laying around the room, plus paintings like this.

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And finally, Jiangzhi, the most famous of the three, and probably my favorite overall. The big blue painting was inspired by computer viruses and how they can open up an infinite string of dialogue boxes to crash a system.

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Love the cover on this magazine. Reminds me of trying to draw in perspective, which I suck at. heatwolvesbeijingart6

And this – dude managed to paint what looks like still from a melted VHS tape. This one also by Jiangzhi.

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I have no idea where this studio was. Even if you dropped me off on the same street I couldn’t find it. Sometimes I get caught up in all the Shanghai bullshit and forget about what’s going on in the rest of China, or in scenes besides my own. Luckily in Beijing and Shanghai, as opposed to gritty American cities with art scenes like Detroit or Baltimore, you can actually walk around freely and without much worry. Gotta do that more.

Notes: I should point out that it’s not like we just stumbled upon this studio – my friend studied art in Hangzhou where these artists either studied or have connections. Also, no one has decided which work to buy yet. Finally, I’m not an art expert so please feel free to call out any inaccuracies in the comments!

 

Fuck City Weekend Shanghai – But Why? An Interview with Brian Offenther

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Some say celery has negative calories, because it takes more energy to eat a stalk than the calories within. That’s kind of a metaphor for Shanghai’s City Weekend magazine, because unlike most literature/prose, you will actually lose brain cells by reading it.

If you’ve lived in Shanghai for more than a few years and have at least a grasp of the English language, you’ve probably written something for City Weekend. I have, and so have many friends. As a nightlife promoter, I submit my events to their website and deal with error-ridden rewrites and subsequent emails, followups, etc. But do I read City Weekend, like I read SmartShanghai or Shanghai247?

Not really. It’s *maybe* something to read in the bathroom if your phone has no battery, but you’re better off just thinking instead of getting offended by ignorance.

[I want to point out that I like the nightlife editor, Kat, and I have no personal qualms with her. I’ve seen her out at many shows and disagree with the contention that she isn’t out in the scene.]

For many years, City Weekend Shanghai was just bad, but it has now sunk into the abyss. This is the expat version of those tabloids that read “Nine-headed 600 pound baby born in Detroit!”  Take for instance a recent cover story entitled “Date Our Friends!” that unironically dedicated multiple pages to pictures and profiles of people in Shanghai that City Weekend “just can’t believe are still single!” I was offended. I threw the magazine away because everyone in my house felt uncomfortable with that on the table.

Lowbrow writing aside, allegedly City Weekend Shanghai recently came to a band in Shanghai and said “hey we’d like to do a web video for City Weekend TV about your band, but you need to pay us 50,000RMB.” That’s a lot of money – something around $8,000. I can’t confirm whether this happened, but if so, that’s ridiculous for multiple reasons. First, what band can afford that? And even if they could, that video would get at most maybe 1,000 views. Totally not worth it.

It’s important to point out that in Chinese media, almost ALL coverage is paid for. There is almost no objective journalism here, sadly. Fashion writers get red envelopes of cash from designers at fashion shows, restaurants pay food writers, TV stations charge money for coverage. Sadly these are the facts of life. But if one of Shanghai’s biggest English-language magazines has really stooped this low, that’s shameful, and that’s my big beef with the rag aside from the ignorance.

Well, someone is doing something almost as egregious as publishing this magazine – Brian Offenther, aka DJ BO and a few others are throwing a party called “FUCK CANCER, FUCK CITY WEEKEND” and donating the money to a cancer research fund and a literacy charity. They even penned a manifesto, which you can read right here. This is so hilarious, audacious, and awesome that I decided to interview DJ BO about this over sandwiches at City Shop.

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[DJ BO, originally from Florida, organizes rock shows in Shanghai and Mongolia and writes for several publications including Shanghai247, Pulp, Shanghai Daily, and previously worked for City Weekend Shanghai. He DJs rock/motown/50s music on a MIDI controller but does not know how to use turntables or Serato, as evidenced at his brief set at Come Correct.]

Heatwolves: If you could sum it up…what’s your biggest complaint [with City Weekend Shanghai]?

BO: We’re not doing this to step on City Weekend or really shit on them. We’ve had issues with City Weekend, a lot of people have, for a long time. We’ve tried to approach them in a cordial manner and it hasn’t worked. We feel that the only way anything will be addressed is if we get the acknowledgement or interest of their advertisers, cause we think that’s what City Weekend care about. So we had to put out a forceful message so people didn’t think it was an ironic or a cheeky thing…

I was talking to one guy who’s associated with City Weekend, and he said “I like the idea of the campaign but I don’t like that the shirt says ‘fuck.’ If you had a t-shirt that said ‘City Weekend sucks’ I would wear it.” And my response was “you would wear it, because you could also wear it in a cheeky kind of way.” There’s nothing cheeky about a message or a shirt that says “fuck” on it.

The name comes from a show that I saw right after MCA [Beastie Boys member who passed away from cancer] died. So at the beginning of the show they did a tribute to MCA, and someone said “fuck cancer.” And then later on, from the stage someone complained about something in City Weekend, and then someone said “Fuck City Weekend,” and at the end of the show we yelled out “Fuck Cancer, Fuck City Weekend Shanghai!”

Heatwolves: Whose show was this?

BO: I don’t wanna tell you who because they specifically asked me not to. But that act is gonna be repping at the event.

Heatwolves: Why didn’t you ask me to play?

BO: We’ve had to turn people away. We started with the core people who had been real vocal about City Weekend.

Heatwolves: Give me a summary of these core complaints.

BO: I try to avoid talking about them too personally, because it’s really not “DJ BO vs. City Weekend.” In general, complaints include articles so short that it seems they’re just name-dropping people, wrong information fairly consistently; information about bands, members, lots of wrong info.

[Heatwolves: Here's a personal example of this - I complained to City Weekend a few months ago because S L V were nominated for "Best DJs" when actually they're a producer duo who at that time had only performed live in Shanghai once]

Heatwolves: Why do you care though? You write for a lot of publications, why don’t you just say “man fuck em, this place is wack, so I’m just not gonna read it, not gonna give them my time.” Why do you wanna have a show and make t-shirts that say fuck this place?

DJ BO: Ok, and I think this is a fair thing to say. And this is the problem: I’m approaching this from an artist’s standpoint. Originally this was called “Fuck Cancer, Fuck City Weekend,” but out of deference for Alex Searson, [editor at City Weekend Beijing] and the good work she does at City Weekend Beijing, we changed the name. I think she’s doing great work.

The problem with City Weekend Shanghai specifically is that they claim to cover the nightlife and the underground music scene. They put out a video for City Weekend TV saying “here’s underground Shanghai music.” They have an award for rock n ‘ roll things, where they nominate completely irrelevant bands and and skip over really important ones.

Heatwolves: For example who was skipped over?

DJ BO: Without any specific reference to Fever Machine’s music, they haven’t played in Shanghai in many months – they’re nominated for best band. Death To Giants, who are one of the most consistently interesting, best bands around – not nominated. That’s just a quick and clean example.

The real bugaboo is, and we mention this in the manifesto, they claim coverage of [the music scene], and they consistently fuck it up. We’re not doing this to shit on City Weekend Shanghai. We’d prefer if they made their coverage much better, but if they’d just avoid doing coverage at all, and this is my personal opinion, it’d be much better than the current situation. Like I mentioned before, That’s Shanghai gives very little coverage to nightlife, and you can talk to the editor and he’ll say “well that’s just not what we do.” And I completely respect that.

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So there you have it – classic first-world problem of music kids complaining about how a mag’s coverage of “the scene” sucks. But are these people just being cunts? There’s plenty of poor journalism, why take it out on one magazine? Furthermore, isn’t this just great advertising for City Weekend?

Or are there indeed some serious issues here. Ignorance aside, asking musicians, or anyone, to pay for media coverage is wrong, and sets a terrible precedent. Sadly, we already accept that as the norm in Chinese-language media. If this expat magazine really asked a band to pay for press, I say fuck City Weekend Shanghai too.

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“Fuck Cancer, Fuck City Weekend Shanghai” is happening this Friday at Harley’s Bar in Xujiahui. It’s a stacked lineup, featuring Acid Pony Club, Marquee VII, Xiao Xin Yi Yi, Hu Jia Hu Wei, and lots more. It’s 30RMB and proceeds go to charity.

Music scene Dungeonkeeper Andy Best also wrote a bit about this event on his blog. Have a look there for another perspective.