first published in Life Nanjing (Jan 2005)Well Under the Radar: Live Music in NanjingAn Interview with Xu Feng
Life: Can you please describe the music scene in Nanjing?
Xu: Right now in Nanjing there aren’t so many bands that can put a show on. So right now we’ve been inviting bands in from Beijing to come down to play a show. Right now we have some bands from Austria and some punk bands lined up to play shows in the near future. We’re looking to negotiate with some sponsors for the show coming up at 82 Bar and also trying to put a show together featuring International Noise Conspiracy from Sweden sometime soon.Life: You organize a lot of concerts. Can you go into the details of just how you get a show together? How you find the bands? Which bar owners are more open to live music?
Xu: There aren’t so many bars in Nanjing for us to put shows together in. Stupid Bird asked us for a 1000 kuai to rent out the space. The bands playing sold the tickets, but only made about a thousand kuai. So most of the money from that show went to the bar and not the bands. The show at 112 Bar, the bar wanted to have a show to help sell more alcohol, but in the end they didn’t sell that many drinks; so the next time we do a show there they’re going to ask for some money. Right now, I’m working with 82 Bar for the Brain Failure show on New Year’s Eve. The owner there is a friend of mine. If the show there is good, then we will probably put more shows on there in a sort of long-term collaboration. So not so many bars in Nanjing are willing to put on shows and not so many bars have the facilities to do it. Most bars don’t have the equipment necessary to put on the bigger shows.Life: You held a show at Librairie Avant-garde. What other places other than bars have you had bands play at?
Xu: Right now we have different styles of bands playing in Nanjing. Last year, Stupid Bird was just opening up so they put up shows for free as a sort of advertisement to get people in the door. Now that they’ve become more successful they don’t really care. They are like the big boss and now you have to pay. Last year and the year before last, some bands came down from Beijing not punk bands but bands like Wooden Horse came to Nanjing to play. Next year, I hope to have everything become more systematic, more formally organized. Have more shows and different kinds of bands. Right now, we’re focusing on punk because the bands are my friends and it’s more convenient for me to organize show with them.Life: Who makes up the audience for live shows?
Xu: The first part is mainly students who have come to Nanjing to study. The second part is people that actually like rock music, rock and roll, punk. They’re usually aged 18-about 30. And the last group is foreigners.Life: Talk about the bands a little bit. Their relationships with each other.
Xu: In Nanjing, the place isn’t that big so everybody knows everybody. They’re friends. Sometimes it’s like this guy plays with them, they mix. The people know each other and are pretty supportive. It’s not like Beijing which has a lot of bands that scatter around and form their own communities. Beijing bands often have conflicts with each other. Nanjing is much more true friendship kind of scene.Life: Can you tell us a little bit about the history of the Nanjing music scene?
Xu: In 1991 or 92, Beijing had, I don’t know if you’ve heard of them, the Black Panthers; they kind of started the thing. So the kids in Nanjing started buying guitars. Over near Wutaishan, there was a place, an old bomb shelter, and the kids would go in there and play songs which the famous bands had played, just try to practice. And PK-14
is a Nanjing local band. I use to be a member of that band. Yeah, they played a little bit then moved to Beijing and cut their first album. I stayed in Beijing for three years and came back. PK-14 is constantly changing members. I came back and there were more kids playing punk rock so we widened the bomb shelter. We tore everything out to make room for more bands to play. So there were more and more bands.Life: How many working bands are there right now in Nanjing?
Xu: It’s a problem. There’s only three or four bands that play out. Angry Jerks, the Great Cocks, some of their band members have left. So you know. They have fill-ins play. One lacks a bass; one lacks a drummer, he went back home. So there’s a constant problem with continuity.Life: The guitar player for 7.16 also plays bass for another band. Does that happen a lot?
Xu: The different bands may want to try different styles. This band wants to try this style; the other band wants to try this style. So people play in different bands to test things out. Right now in Nanjing, it’s hard to fill positions. How to say? They’re not that great.Life: I disagree. The Angry Jerks guitar player was better than all the Beijing guitar players at the Stupid Bird show.
Xu: The guitarist’s name is Gao Feng. There’s a lot of bands that have no clue as to what they’re doing; they’re lost. But Gao is pretty sure about it.Life: Are there record labels in Nanjing? Because it seems that PK-14 left to go to Beijing, all these bands are in Beijing. Does Nanjing have recording labels?
Xu: Right now, Chinese indie labels probably want to sign up abroad with a foreign label because it’s cheaper. They probably want to start a company and have some records and publish a zine. Right now my studio we can’t afford it, but we want to develop it.Life: Is the Nanjing music scene right now healthier than it was say five years ago?
Xu: I was born in the 1970s, and those of us probably think that the best music in Nanjing happened between 1996 and 2000, because back then the people just really loved the music. The music was really pure. But right now, people like it because it is fashionable. They don’t like the music because of the music.Life: Do more people come out for the shows than before?
Xu: The old crowd that used to go to the shelter a lot, right now they’d rather stay at home. Unless the band is really good, then they will come out. Right now it’s more kids. The scene has lost a lot of older people and gained more new people. There was a place called Wheaties no 3, it was a little bar and back then there was a band called 7 and 8 club (it was a really great band, better than PK-14). If they would have gone up to Beijing, Modern Sky would have signed them. They were a much better band, but they disbanded. They used to play a lot and do a lot of impromptu jams .Life: If you could wish for five things to change in the Nanjing music scene, what would you ask for?
Xu: I don’t have a lot of faith. I just want to continue to do what I’m doing. I wish for more good bands, but that’s out of my control. I can’t do anything about it. I would like the bands to be more creative, not following other people. Create their own new thing. The problem now is that the bands are now more or less the same. Thirdly, it would be nice if people actually listened to the music. Not just superficially but listened for a deeper meaning.
—(dhh with Liu Shasha)