Shanghai’s most notorious nightlife purveyor Morgan Short, the soul and wit of lifestyle website SmartShanghai, is saying farewell to the city after a gazillion years here. But he’s not quite hanging up his boots just yet. He’s flying up north to the capital to pioneer SmartBeijing. Trixx catches up with Da Admiral to get the shizzle on moving to Beijing, Smart Shanghai, and his band Boys Climbing Ropes. This interview first appeared on The Ice Cream Truck and has been reprinted here with their kind permission.
You’re going to Beijing, what’s that about? Is it a demotion?
It’s like a sideways promotion. Smart Shanghai always wanted to expand, and Beijing was the logical choice to expand. But it never worked out before, because they never had the money to be able do it, and the competition up there is really well done and it’s hard to compete against these already established magazines like, whatever, the Beijinger or City Weekend. But in the last couple years, the ticketing – Smartticket – has been going really well so we have a bit more money, and so we’re going to roll the dice and see if it works.
So basically it’s me going up there and doing the website, pretty much the same as SMSH, but maybe a little bit more snotty and Admiral-like, because as I said all the magazines are pretty good up there, and we can’t really cover everything but maybe we can say ‘fuck’ on the internet, and I can shit on ice cream cones and make fun of people’s flyers, and maybe that’ll have like a . . . so that’s the short-term game plan I guess.
So they’re setting you up with a big expat package…..
(Laughs) Yeah, no, not really. It’s still a pretty small operation so no one’s making a shitload of money. The company is set up now so there are three main people who are operating it, I guess, or at the head of it. Alex is the creator of it, and Hean is sort of the business manager, and I’m sort of like a junior partner in that scheme, just doing the editorial. So we don’t have a very big team, we don’t have a lot of money. But doing a website, the overhead’s pretty low . . .
Let’s go back a little bit, what brought you to Shanghai? Did you dream of being a writer, Shanghai’s Charles Bukowski?
(Laughs) No. I was going to university, I studied English lit in university, and back then I was way younger, so yeah, of course I wanted to be, you know, a Writer with a capital ‘W.’ It’s kind of embarrassing to talk about, but I was very stereotypical, I wanted to be a serious and important writer, standing on the shoulders of all these, you know, serious white-guy writers.
I came here with a friend I went to university with, we had just finished our school and I didn’t have a job so I came over here with him to start a punk band. From there, I was teaching English and I wasn’t very good at it, so I started doing freelance writing. I did freelance writing for pretty much everyone – Shanghaiist for a little bit, City Weekend for a little bit, Smart Shanghai, and I was doing corporate copywriting for weird things, like the JZ school brochure, I wrote that, and the Blue Frog website or something.
So the job opened up when the website was trying to move away from a forum, and I got that job. I’ve sort of gotten older and stopped caring so much about being a writer, like a proper, you know, that mythic figure of a writer, and I just kind of wanted to be funny and do whatever I wanted to do.
I first noticed you in 2008, all of a sudden Da Admiral, he had edge. And he pissed off a lot of people. Tell me about Da Admiral.
It was this guy called Paul Gray, he was this sort of fixture in Shanghai nightlife. He ran this club called Pegasus back in the day, and he was the original Admiral, and it was just a way for him, in 2004 or whatever, 2005, to tell his friends what’s going on for the weekend. So he started doing it with Smart Shanghai, and then he got pretty lazy with it, so I took it over. I was ghostwriting it for him, pretending to be him. And then it turned into this absurd fucking thing, the next thing I know I’m cutting off all my jean shorts and like being completely stupid . . . the idea was, it was someone else’s name so I didn’t really have any problem acting like – pretending like – I was a real fuckin’ asshole to . . . I dunno.
You’ve done a lot of interviews with people, electronic artists, DJs – are you into this shit? Or do you just fake it?
I am actually quite into it – it’s one of the greatest things about my time in Shanghai, is developing a real appreciation for electronic music. I still feel like I’m faking it because I don’t have half the knowledge of other people, and a lot of the times I am faking it where I have to pretend I have some background in it, which I obviously don’t.
I grew up in a part of Canada which is all into punk rock, and noone ever listened to electronic music, and I was like that as well, very close-minded. One of the things in Shanghai that was really good was meeting people that exposed me to this music, which I really do value, people like Olson with the Antidote shit or Gaz or whoever else.
I mean, I still don’t really know a lot about it, because, I don’t know why, but I do like it, I do appreciate it.
A lot of people are going to be sad that you’re leaving. You’ve got a lot of followers – but the best thing is, Shanghai is very Shanghai-centric, so you can start talking shit about Shanghai right now. So, I need to know: what do you think about party pictures.
I have a weird relationship with party pictures, because party pictures get three times the amount of traffic of anything I write and that will always be the case.
It’s because people can’t read.
Yeah, that’s true. And it’s actually the chicks, because there was a time when I was actually controlling where the party pictures were being done, and I would say “hey, go take a picture of this really awesome band that’s playing a show” – and they would get like 400 clicks, but if you do like the fucking Pervert party and it’s like chicks and stuff, it gets ten thousand clicks.
I know they’re such a lightning rod for people because they degrade everything about experiencing this city, I don’t know, it’s degrading. It makes everything seem so worthless and cheesy and trite, but it’s actually, you know, I’ve grown to live with them because I’ve realized it’s part of the thing where I’m able to earn a salary, is doing that kind of shit.
You do the listings on Smart Shanghai, you’re kind of in control . . . who’s the most annoying promoter?
Fuck man, shit. Like all of them. Every single event submission fills me with rage, and disgust. No, I mean, I don’t really have animosity towards people, but there are people who are good at their job and people who are bad at their job. A lot of my really close friends are promoters, and I have nothing against that as an aspect of what makes the world go round.
But there are some promoters that are very bad, and very sort of condescending, like “hey you have to do my shit because I’m the best,” so those are the worst. Usually they’re in the higher-end clubs. One time I got this angry email from a guy who used to work at Babyface, and he was like “What are you doing, you’re listing all these shitty-ass local bands, we bring the biggest DJs in the world and you don’t even bother to list them.” So a guy like that, who’s like a complete asshole . . . he didn’t even submit his shit, so he wants me to go look for it. And the other thing, I took so much offense to it because I’m in shitty local bands, and all my friends are in shitty local bands.
It’s just, you know, people who assume privilege based on this made-up idea of status, people who think they deserve something.
What do you think about the other Shanghai media? That’s, City Weekend . . .
A lot of my close friends work at those places. I’m good friends with Ned Kelly at That’s Shanghai, and Jake at Time Out, and so we get along really well because it’s almost like we’re in a shared situation, where they’re dealing with the same kind of struggles, where they want to do some stuff their way but they can’t because of how the business is. I mean, these are not public service things, these are for-profit businesses, and most of the time you have a boss that tells you how it should be, and you can’t do anything about it. These days, just because I’ve been here for too long, I don’t really pay attention to what other people are doing. But I don’t really have any . . . there’s a little bit of competitiveness, but it’s not something that I think about too much.
In Shanghai, things like the ice cream reviews, the flyer reviews, they’ve given you a kind of cult status. I picture you walking down the street getting high-fives from everybody. Does this happen? Or is it just six or seven homeless dudes on the internet posting in the comments section? Do you get love?
Sometimes. At the end of Da Admiral stuff, everyone knew that that was me. When I was doing it before, people didn’t really know that that was me, but at the end of it everyone really fucking knew it was me. I think that comes from not really the quality of the writing itself, but because expat media and lifestyle journalism is built around making money, people really have to pander to their audience, they have to be really positive and really general, they can’t ruffle any feathers because they’ve gotta make the wheels go round. And if you shit on someone’s flyers or ice cream, it’s like the one instance where the audience feels like they haven’t been pandered to, it’s not censored, so I probably get way too much credit for that. It’s like how I can say “fuck” and the other ones can’t say “fuck.”
You’re going to be in Beijing, will we hear from you from time to time? Or will we have to go to Smart Beijing?
I think I’ll still be shitting on flyers and ice cream. That’s kind of my gimmick, my schtick.
Are they going to fly you in, to taste some ice cream?
Yeah, exactly. I’m coming back and forth. It’s kind of depressing, because I went to school for like a million years, and I’m thirty four, and this used to be my main purpose in life, is to be snarky on the internet, I’m embracing that now. But yeah, I’m going back and forth.
Let’s talk about music, because you’re not only a writer, you’re a famous musician, the bassist for Boys Climbing Ropes. How would you describe this band to someone who’s lived here for seven years and never seen you?
Man. How many people have I tormented with this question, over the years? I’ve asked this question every single fucking interview, and everyone hates it. To be honest, it’s just a fucking good-time indie rock band. It sounds a bit like the pixies sometimes, and the point of it is to just have, you know, indie rock exultation, anthemic, and have a good time and be emotional, and that’s pretty much it.
So you’re playing your last shows, Friday and Saturday.
Yeah, two shows, we’re playing with like 15 other bands over two days. The first day is four bands and the next day is like twelve bands. There’s free sausages from Amelia’s little blue cart, the sausage lady, who gets abused by xinjiang guys all the time I hear.
Why are you breaking up? Do you guys hate each other?
The guitar player I moved over here with, he just got married. So he and his wife are moving back to Canada. I moved over here with him, we started the band, and he’s sort of trying to embrace that next stage in his life I guess.
I think we’re all doing that now. I’ve been in the electronic scene for a while and people always ask me about groupies. Do you guys get groupies, or does the Fever Machine steal them all?
The fever machine, holy shit. They won’t want . . . fuck, I probably shouldn’t say it.
You get groupies.
No, we definitely don’t get any groupies.
So which band gets the groupies? Because I’m not getting the groupies.
Let me think . . . I really think the groupie situation for bands in Shanghai is dire, it’s fucking dire. People don’t get any respect for being in bands. Yeah, maybe Fever Machine gets all the groupies, I don’t know.
This weekend, back to music – are you gonna play a lot of new songs we haven’t heard before, or a lot of old songs we haven’t heard before?
You’re taking like a Lenno turn with this interview, the wittiness! Yeah, we’re playing all the old songs you haven’t heard before. You just asked that question just to stick in your little witty joke.
Yeah, that was for me to be funny. OK, last question: new music projects in Beijing?
Yeah, myself and Peipei are moving to Beijing, that’s the little tiny singer of the band, trying to work on a different band, maybe a bit of a different sort of direction and no guitars, maybe a little more electronic music, I should ask you about it. But we’re going to work with a guy in Beijing on drums and hopefully – the drummer doesn’t even have a fucking job – we’re going to try to tour around a lot and really push the touring. It’s kind of a way to reset it a bit, like if you had to do it again, what did you do wrong. I would never make a Myspace page ever again, so I’m looking forward to never having a Myspace page ever again. It’s just a way to like, I don’t know, I’m probably too old to do it, but can’t help it, so . . .
That’s the best thing about electronic music.
Yeah, I’ve seen some old fucking DJs in Shanghai.
Any last words for Shanghai?
Fuck you! No, (laughs)
I’ll take that out. Most memorable experience in Shanghai?
I’ve been here for seven years, and fuck, it’s the most horrible ones that come up in my mind. The time I saw a guy dry hump a girl outside of like Windows, I don’t know why that came into my mind, it should be something like a really good birthday party, or, I don’t know. What’s your most memorable experience?
I can’t remember it. It probably has Sacco in it with his shirt off.
I try to forget Sacco. Sacco makes me drink to forget.