With community radio and online features, the metaverse in cities like Chengdu and Shanghai continues to be a conduit for community. Efforts by independent community streamers could serve as an example to the rest of us figuring out our post-pandemic world.
It’s clear that COVID-19 is not “ending” any time soon, for anyone. But for both the vaccinated and unvaccinated, that raises continuing questions for how to keep connections strong. And music and art are often about those connections and gatherings. So vaccinations reach some before others, clubs are the last to open domestically, international travel is generally what happens last. And – as we’re acutely aware in Europe right now – outbreaks continue.
What these streaming examples prove is that we don’t need to think about an either/or choice between coming together in person and staying connected online. We can enable serendipitous connections through music that defy our conditions. And that’s something we should take with us forward, rather than rushing to go “back to normal.”
It’s funny to look back at what I wrote in early February 2020:
And it’s also worth revisiting Josh Feola’s article for RADII, a site that has been active in covering the Chinese scene. Here’s their take, also from February 2020:
I realize my reference to “quarantined China” didn’t age well, but recall that the international strategy at the time was containment (in that country and elsewhere). In hindsight, it also reveals how unprepared the rest of the world was for slowing infection. (It was early enough that my description of the virus as “2019-nCoV” was still up to date, before those letters were rearranged.)
But it’s also apparent how important streaming was at the time for the musicians I highlighted. Some of the more experimental streams I mentioned also revealed something that I think a lot of us have experienced over the past year – that it isn’t the size of streaming audiences that count, but the connection.
And it’s also clear that artists in that sphere in China were quickly aware of the importance of streaming – perhaps a lot faster than music venues and artists in Europe or the USA, for instance. You can still watch streams from southeast Asia generally and be wowed by wild futuristic features and hyperactive interfaces. But slowly, we’ve seen some of those features evolve in other locales, too – by necessity, just to avoid boredom.
It’s also even more apparent in 2021 some of the divides in the planetary metaverse – by language and other barriers. There are plenty of streaming services in China that remain unknown here. And conversely, access to US-run site Bandcamp was blocked last month in China. (Chinese labels still sell on Bandcamp, but needing a VPN does limit audience.)
But “firewall” issues aside, there’s still clearly a lot to be done in communication between scenes, especially when electronic music visibility remains so stalwartly centered in certain capital cities. (Hey, it’s generally why we wind up moving to them, but still.)
So, what has been going on? That’s relevant especially now, since China has managed to reopen nightlife even as Europe (ahem) continues to struggle.
There’s Shanghai Community Radio, for one – which has been growing by bounds and just recently started their own site. A documentary from last summer on their activities:
And for folks outside Asia, they’ve got a Patreon:
They’ve been busy, busy lately including doing the entire Out of Touch festival – so proof that even with venues opening again, international connections can continue in hybrid form online.
And just a couple of highlights of all the experimental / underground / rock / electronic business going on there:
Temple Rat is new to me even though they’ve evidently played in Berlin – but check out their richly futuristic take on ancient inspirations:
I always enjoy 肖翔/XiaoXiang, the Beijing artist whose work has gone from clubs to games to films –
Oh yeah, Nairobi is in Shanghai, too, and then Kampala is teleported to Shanghai!
More on their online festival. So the significant thing here is that even with clubs open again, Shanghai chose to keep international connections going online with artists from China, Russia, Vietnam, Iran, Kenya, and so on. I notice that is a different take than what I’m hearing from conventional industry bookers and promoters in Europe and the US, who seem to prefer to focus on the business and go “back to normal” by staying local.
And don’t miss their awesome new website, which is ready for an international audience:
But part of the reason you don’t see big stats on US-run social media sites is, people are using sites that are fully localized and – well covered in wild cartoons and things. So for the ‘local online’ experience, check bililbili’s version of SHCR:
Chengdu Community Radio has been going strong, too, for another example. They, too, are bigger on bilibili – their cdcr.live link even points there – so let’s drive up their YouTube numbers a bit, shall we, just to introduce some other folks to great music? (They were on BBC which evidently didn’t help, so – CDM bump instead?)
They did a 36-hour livestream marathon of live performances and DJ sets in February, together with Wigwam and Bianli Music.
(Find links on Facebook.)
Our friend WISE did a great panel in September looking at Chengdu’s club culture. That features:
Ellen Zhang (Club Owner, .TAG / Hakka Bar / Yitong, Chengdu)
Heling (DJ, Producer / 便利音乐 / Steam Hostel, Chengdu)
Tobias Patrick (DJ, Shanghai)
Moderator: Sebastian Dern, Deputy Consul General, Consulate General of the Federal Republic of Germany in Chengdu
And check these killer live sets with talks – Cvalda doing superb, broken live stuff and talk:
Geezer, too, has a great Elektron-powered jam and talks about the evolution of the scene (subtitled in English):
In Shanghai, flashback to an early set at the legendary ALL club, back when the city was still under strict lockdown, for this killer XDD set (the “ALL by yourself” is of course a reference to stay-at-home music of the pandemic):
I still adore Zhu Wenbo’s set with looping tapes and toy turntables from a year ago – so maybe if we paste it again, they’ll upload something new. (Obviously, YouTube just doesn’t have the same importance there as in some places, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing – but I would love to be able to catch more music!)
A footnote – to shift off the mainland, Hong Kong Community Radio clearly has inspired community streaming efforts not only throughout southeast Asia but worldwide, as a kind of high-water reference of international collaboration and independent platforms. So I do definitely see some of that impact on efforts across the Pacific hemisphere – and I know I’ve been inspired by their music selection from all over the planet. But they’re almost a topic for another day, and I’m certain people are less aware of what’s happening in Chengdu – well, so far, anyway.
Wuhan could also be a topic for another day, as the city that tragically has come to be identified with this virus also has a thriving electronic scene that’s worth hearing out. And you all deserve to be known for your music, not just the history we’ve all been caught up in.
(PS – please don’t think I want to privilege China over the rest of southeast Asia’s terrific scene – it’s just one place to begin; there’s more to say looking around the Pacific, too. And it’s amazing that there is a lot of collaboration across that enormous region, even with literal seas and oceans between people. Mainly I want to say – I miss you, friends on other sides of the world, and I’m inspired by you, strangers making music who pick me up when this time of life feels a bit dark.)
Stay tuned for more.