Recent shows have got people talking about whether Shanghai needs another dedicated live music venue in addition to the city’s current home of rock Yuyintang. Soma seem to think so, but their decision to make a deal with the owners of Zhijiang Dream Factory has caused waves in the local music scene and some fairly heated debate.
Pang Pang, one of the men behind the label, recently spoke to Shanghaiist about Soma’s plans for the Dream Factory and the ensuing controversy.
What stage is the deal at between Soma and the Dream Factory at the moment? What are the exact details of the arrangement?
I hope you can understand it’s difficult for me to reveal the exact details, as this is a confidential business agreement. What I can say is that our agreement is only confined to Friday and Saturday. The rest of the time, whatever shows the Dream Factory put on have nothing to do with us.
We’ve invested RMB1.2 million in sound and lighting equipment for the shows that we will put on because we know a lot of Chinese bands don’t have access to decent equipment on a regular basis. We want this quality to start a livehouse revolution in Shanghai. Of course, other companies or individuals are welcome to cooperate with us.
But according to several sources, you’re planning to charge an upfront fee of RMB 15,000 or will demand a 50-50 split on ticket revenues for use of the space by other promoters. Is this true?
Of course RMB 15,000 is not our final price – it may be less, it may be more. We can only make a decision according to each situation and proposal. If another company wants to use the Zhijiang space, they can talk to us about renting our equipment or they can make their own arrangements. If you look at the equipment that we’ve put in, the actual market price for renting it should really be around RMB 25,000.
So far, we’ve only spoken to one company about using the space and we know that previously, they’ve had to spend a lot of money on bringing in their own equipment and then had to pay Zhijiang a fee for use of the space as well. What we’re offering includes all the equipment and the other fees. In fact, if you compare it to what you had to spend before, we’re actually offering a deal that is less than half price what it was before because we’ve already invested in the equipment. If you’ve studied maths you can calculate it yourself!
How do you respond to criticism that your arrangements will cut out other promoters?
Such accusations are irresponsible.
Won’t your plans put you into direct competition with Yuyintang?
There will doubtless be many stories about the future relations between ourselves and Yuyintang. But we think that Yuyintang will always have a reason to exist and we feel that the atmosphere of the two places will be different. Fans and bands will have more choice this way and that’s the natural law of the market. We hope that we will be able to coexist happily with Yuyintang.
Do you believe there is a big enough audience in Shanghai to regularly fill the Dream Factory?
At the moment, it’s very difficult to hold a rock show for more than 400 people in Shanghai and occasionally there are several shows with in excess of 400 people attending. It’s hard to allow such a situation to continue and so we want to respond to the development of the market and achieve our vision.
We’re talking to local mainstream media about cooperating with them and are going to set up a number of ticket offices in the city’s universities. The purpose is to allow more people access to this music.
Perhaps we’ll spend all our money and get out quickly from Zhijiang (which would be good news), perhaps we’ll create a professional livehouse, or perhaps we’ll open a new livehouse elsewhere.
In the meantime, what are your plans for the Dream Facotry?
Our ultimate plan was for a complete transformation of the Dream Factory – the environment, the sound, lighting, stage, low-priced drinks – making it a specialised livehouse. But we were unable to agree on this plan with the Dream Factory so we made our current arrangement. Hopefully it’s just the start of something and will lead to greater cooperation. Whatever happens, I think the biggest beneficiary will be the fans.
Initially, we plan to do a weekly show and turn the Dream Factory into a proper livehouse with regular gigs. We’ve already got a couple of shows lined up for May and things are in the works for June. The Zhijiang space has just been sitting empty a lot of the time – they don’t put on their own shows – and so we wanted to change this by putting on our own shows there.
Will the new arrangements preclude the IndieTop bands from playing at other venues?
Actually, if you look at the bands on the first IndieTop compilation, you’ll see that only a few of them are actually signed to our label. We don’t have any say in where these bands choose to play their gigs.
Incidentally, if I can sneak in a quick advert, the second compilation will be out in the summer and will have a more international indie sound to it.
How do you feel about the controversy that your arrangements with the Dream Factory has caused?
My main feeling is that things haven’t really started yet. I feel a bit like Big Brother is watching us. But it’s not the government, who we are used to opposing rock shows, it’s people who are afraid of losing their own interests. Right now, I feel like I’m in the police station having to patiently answer a bunch of questions that I really don’t want to answer. Still, for the sake of Soma’s reputation, I seriously accept this trial.