Archie arrived in China in 2005 to set up a company that focused on building both the music industry from the ground up and generating compelling creative and content for brands that have a youth bias. Split Works book and produce tours all around China and Southeast Asia, and curate and produce festivals and brand campaigns — outdoor monster Yue Festival (watch out for this returning in 2010), the International Music and Arts Festival JUE | Music | Art, Bacardi Sino Sessions, Converse Love Noise, etc. He writes a blog on the Chinese Music Industry called China Music Radar and manages a Chinese language only blog on the music industry in China called Wooozy.
I arrived in China exactly half way through the decade. Now, at the end of it, I look back with affection on some of my favorite musical moments of the last 5 years, 5 years that have seen extraordinary growth in live music in China.
My choices are somewhat skewed towards Split Works events, because
- I attend them all
- I have generally listened to the music intensely for 3 months prior to the shows
- I have a large say in which artists, and thus pick artists that I love already.
I have tried to be objective though, and I hope my choices reflect this:
1. Handsome Furs in Shanghai
This was the tour we worked hardest on – we sorted shows all over the rest of SE Asia as well as 3 in China – and the tour that I personally got the most back from. Dan and Lex were two of the loveliest people I have ever had the pleasure of working with – they really spent time with every single person on the tour: support bands, venue owners, media, fans – and the Shanghai show at YYT was simply one of the most amazing moments in my musical life. 500 people jammed into the tiny main room of my favorite venue in China, sweating, moshing and generally going crazy. Finest moment. When Dan jumped into the crowd still playing his guitar and told me later that as he jumped, he got the most intense electric shock from the notoriously badly earthed mic – sort that shit out YuYinTang.
2. Ozomatli at the Migrant Worker School
We brought Ozomatli out for the YUE Festival in 2007. They are a band that work for people, and spend much of their time on tour reaching out to NGO’s, charities and other causes. Knowing this, we hooked up with a migrant worker community in Beijing and took the band down there for a day of awards, ceremonies, performances and fun. Ozo sat through 4 hours of the local karaoke hero blasting out favorite numbers, children performing traditional songs, speeches and demonstrations, before they were allowed to get their instruments out. With 600 well behaved migrant kids watching on, Ozo started jamming on ukeleles, bongos, trombones and cheese graters, all the while exhorting the kids to get up and dance. One by one, they did – the few became several and within 5 minutes, everyone was up and conga-ing around the yard. Sadly, the teachers and adults felt that the dance was out of control and shut it down after one and a half songs, but not until after the kids had truly experienced what music can do for you!
3. Sonic Youth at the Star Live
We’d been doing shows for about 6 months when this one came about. Honestly, it was before we really understood the various drivers in the Chinese music scene, and this was an instinctive move, and could have been a very, very expensive mistake. We lost the venue we were hoping to use in Shanghai about 6 weeks before (the Paramount Rooms built useless winding staircases over the top of the stage, rendering it useless for any kind of live band), and hastily rearranged the show in the Shanghai Concert Hall, which was actually pretty trippy, and an amazing experience in itself.
But it was the raw power of the Beijing show that blew me away. The Star Live was fuller than I have ever seen it (before or after) and there were 500 people that couldn’t get in. Carsick Cars were banned for the show 1 hour before doors (somebody reported the show to the Ministry of Culture that day), and the band were nearly 2 hours delayed on stage while we tried to sort out the paperwork. Crushed into the Star Live, people were supremely patient and when Sonic Youth finally went on stage, the energy just crackled and blazed, and the band stood up to the challenge. Simply an amazing, amazing night.
4. Efterklang at NO+CH 2008.
I have enjoyed and respected the work that NO+CH have done over the last 5 years, but I have never seen anything that truly blew me away. That is, until I saw the mighty Efterklang in a crazy Greenhouse half way to Hangzhou. It was 7 people playing in amongst the flowers on a fairly ordinary rig, but they are consummate musicians and created such beauty that I couldn’t tear my ears away.
5. Snapline at Logo
Snapline have alway been one of my favorite Chinese bands. Clever, sharp, a little punky, they are great songwriters and excellent performers. Logo has always been a secret crush of mine – I love shows most when they are in tiny packed spaces when you are practically on stage with the band. Logo has always put on great shows, although recently their sound just hasn’t cut it. Back in 2007 (when there weren’t many other alternatives), Logo was the place to see shows, and Snapline blew the place apart. I was literally inches from é™ˆæ›¦ the whole way through and it was a great insight into what the young alternative Chinese music scene has to offer.
6. Offset : Spectacles at D22
This is a recent discovery. It’s two of the members of My Little Airport (a relatively big HK band) who have relocated to Beijing and play this discordant, vocal-free drone rock. It is compelling and hauntingly beautiful, played by people with great command of their instruments. D22 is always a wicked little place to see shows, even when there are only 30 people in the venue. Catch these guys if you can…
7. Sonnet at the old YYT ($5 Shake)
This was one of my first strong memories of music in Shanghai. I went down to the old Longcao Lu Yuyintang for Banana Monkey’s $5 Shake. These were amazing nights featuring 3 or 4 of Shanghai’s best bands. The venue was a wreck, but you really felt like you were experiencing something magical and community driven every time you went down there. It was dirty and down at heel, but it was the only place to hang out with live music in Shanghai at that time. Sonnet were on last. Banana Monkey had just played – they were rowdy and drunk as always, but a little loose and chaotic. Sonnet came on and were tight and moody. I may have been a little wasted that night, but I remember thinking it was all very Gang of Four.
8. Demerit at the Dream Factory
Our JUE festival this January was occasionally hard. January was freaking cold, and we had a 5 band Maybe Mars showcase on the Saturday night. Added to that, punk is kinda dead in China. Demerit were due to play on the Friday night – a big headline show in the Dream Factory – and they were really excited, as were we. Everyone had high hopes about the show. I left my house at 8pm and it was freezing out. Chinese New Year was the following week, and all the taxi drivers must have gone on holiday already. We had to talk the whole way, in the wind and the rain – a whole hour. Honestly, if I hadn’t been putting the show on, I would have given up and gone home.
When we got there, the 600 capacity Dream Factory was about 10% full. The band were visibly disappointed and I feared that the show would be a damp squib. Yet, Demerit pulled it out and produced one of the most visceral, exciting performances I have ever seen. True professionals, and great, great musicians…
9. PK14 at Modern Sky
PK14 have always been one of my favorite Chinese bands. We have worked with them a lot, and think that they have the best songs, the best look and the best attitude of all the bands here. In October 2009, I saw them step it up again and own the main stage at Modern Sky in Beijing. Come to think of it, I think it was the first time that I’d seen a Chinese band really own a main stage. It was a bit of a watershed, I think…
10. Maximo Park at the old 4Live
Our first show. ‘Nuff said
Honorable Mentions: Nosaj Thing at YYT, Random Rave in Gubei, Jose Gonzalez in the Children’s Theatre, Shanghai