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.