Brad Ferguson has been at the heart of the emerging underground rock scene in Shanghai for a number of years, working as a producer (though he shies away from that tag), running venues and having been responsible for bringing a number of Beijing based and international acts to play in the city. As such, he's ideally placed to give us a potted history of the development of the scene since his early days documenting gigs as a photographer, right up to the current state of play.
SH24/7: When we first met about a year ago, you told us a little about how things were a few years back and how they’ve changed since you arrived; could you go through that again?
BF: I'm a little fuzzy on dates etc. but I'll give it a go. Most of it happened in bars, so that's probably why it's not too clear. I came here in 2002, and for a long time I didn't realise anything was really going on. I worked for a big company and no one there listened to rock music; at the time I thought JZ Club and Cotton Club were all there was, just jazz and blues and stuff. Eventually my Chinese got good enough and another friend of mine started finding out about some shows, so he told me about a place called the Sus2 Music Factory. It was out in Yangpu or Hongkou, near Fudan University, and it was in an actual factory. You had to walk through actual piles of metal slag and stuff to get to this one little room that was smaller than Yuyintang is now. I saw Loudspeaker and Reflector there, both bands that are still going strong now. That was 2004 or 2005... So I took some pictures of that; at that time I was an amateur photographer. I put the pictures online, sent emails to the people I'd met there, and they started asking me to take more pictures of them, so I met some people who were active in the Yangpu scene.
That was around the time that Live Bar was starting up. Yuyintang was still a travelling thing; they'd done some things at Harleys and they moved around a bit. They did some stuff at Melting Pot 288 on Taikan Lu and some other places. So I went around all these places and got to know some bands. I started translating a lot of what I found on the Chinese internet and putting it up on a website called Shanghai Streets - it doesn't exist any more. I had a database of bands and event listings; there wasn't really a lot going on so I could keep it going in my spare time.
Sometime in 2005 I think, I met a guy who knew another guy who wanted to open a live music club on Xingfu Lu - it became Shuffle, which then became Pirates which then became Anar. He was looking for someone who knew the local scene and knew local bands. He had this idea that he could put on local music with local bands seven nights a week. So he asked me to find loads of local bands, gave me a little bit of money to get them all to come in. We did it for a while and then it got paired down, and paired down until we got to just 2-3 days a week, which was a lot more sustainable. Now you could probably do it, but it was really hard back then; there was never anyone there, like ever! The sound was really bad; they wouldn't hire a sound guy so I had to do it myself, but I'd never done live sound before. I pretended I knew what I was doing but I really didn't have a clue. It was pretty bad but there were a few interesting bands and then we did some bigger events there, got around 300-400 people on a couple of nights.
SH24/7: And these were all Chinese bands?
BF: Yeah, all chinese bands. Then at one point, I guess it was the MIDI festival in 2006, I found out that there were all these foreign bands coming to Beijing. I'd wanted to do something bigger and I thought to do that I'd get a big name Beijing band to come and play. At the time, any band from Beijing could draw a huge crowd in Shanghai; it didn't really matter who they were. At that time I was kinda in competition with Yuyintang - they'd just opened up their venue in Longjia and they were bad mouthing me to other people around town, so I was like, "Fuck you guys, I'm going to do something big!". So I called a friend in Beijing and got in contact with The Subs, paid them a ridiculously small amount of money, but it was all out of my own pocket. The bar wouldn't put up any money, so I made a deal with the bar that I'd take the door money and pay the band, and it turned out that a lot of people liked it and a lot of people came. The bar made a ton of money, I made a little money, the band made a little money and everyone was happy.
SH24/7 - Which were some of the foreign bands you brought down?
BF - When the MIDI festival came around in May the bar owner thought that if we could do that on one weekend why don't we just do an entire week with these foreign bands playing every night. So we spent a lot of money on these foreign bands to come down to Shanghai and play. No one came out to see it; it was during the May holiday and I guess there just wasn't that big of a draw and so the bar lost a ton of money out of it. The only memorable band to come down was The Wombats - they were going to be the next Arctic Monkeys, but then that whole style of music just kind of died out. But they came here and played; they were just kids, they brought their parents down to hear them play! And it was just their parents, me and a couple of friends drinking all the beer in the bar. It was my first experience with a British band and it was a lot of fun.
SH24/7: But you've managed a few other venues too right?
BF: Well, that bar then closed and I took my little savings, quit my job and I took over managing Live Bar. We remodelled, brought in a new sound system, put on some decent shows, got some people in and then we had the biggest show we'd ever had - over 400 people I think, literally standing shoulder to shoulder. It was a charity thing for Roots and Shoots, and the owner of Live Bar came back to Shanghai to see how it was doing, and he saw how many people were in and then said, "I want my bar back", and then he took it back from me!
SH24/7 - The same guy who runs it now?
BF - I'm not sure, I've not been back since then to be honest. We had a falling out and it was pretty bad, but I spun some publicity out of it which was OK. I then went off and worked at a few other places, 4 Live for a while and then I hooked up with the Windows people. They had a bar that wasn't performing very well, they wanted to do a live music place, so I gave them a real plan and they gave me a real budget and we made it work. The bands were getting paid, people were coming, the bar was doing well and making money and everything was going good. We outgrew the venue within the first few months and then they got this new space which became Windows Underground - it was bigger and a cooler, but the rent was a lot higher so I had a higher bar to reach. We reached it, but a lot of the older Windows crowd didn't really like live music. I would have shows going on, say PK14 playing at Windows - great band, great live, everyone was into it - and I'd be at the mixing desk and somebody would come up to me and say, "Hey when's this band getting off the stage? I want to listen to some hip hop"! Those people complained enough that the owner thought she was losing her core cliental and she decided she didn't want to do that anymore, so I left.
I then had a long period of not doing anything with venues and then I went to Yuyintang, and for the past few months I've been there. Now I'm back doing independent stuff again. Somewhere along the way I met my wife and her first band; they were the first band I recorded with, I did their demo. I also did something for Boys Climbing Ropes and then Duck Fight Goose's EP too.
SH24/7: So how did the first recording with that band come about?
BF: For the same reason I started to manage clubs and events - I just felt there was a hole, a place where I could fit in and do something better than what was already being done. At the time there wasn't really anywhere to record a demo in Shanghai; I happened to have to have equipment because I was running a bar and I was interested in sound equipment. So I bought some stuff, put the band up on the stage and just recorded them and tried to make it sound good. That was the first band, they were called Ferris Wheel, back in early 2006. That didn't even come out, the band broke up during the recording process which apparently seems to happen a lot! So I had this recording equipment sitting around and then I decided to record some more, recording my wife's next band - they were kinda low-fi, with girl singer on the keyboard, synth-poppy stuff, almost early Crystal Castles sort of stuff. I recorded that, and someone come and shoot a documentary video of it and then it became a big thing. Then Boys Climbing Ropes, who had been friends of mine for a while, asked me if I would record their EP ('Except for the Darkness') too, so I did that one, and then immediately after that one my wife's next new band, Duck Fight Goose, wanted a recording, so I did that too.
SH24/7: And we know you build equipment too - amps, pedals right?
BF: Building equipment - that came about because at the time you couldn't get some of the cooler effects pedals and other stuff, certainly none of the European or US hand made stuff. So I figured I could buy a bunch of electronics in Shanghai and I could put something together myself and make something that my friends would like. I was just doing it as a hobby really. Somewhere along there another guy who was based in Beijing at the time found me through some online forum postings and asked me if I wanted to design effects for his brand. I did that for a little while - it was called 'Tone Rider'. We made a series of four different effects pedals for sale - they may still be for sale! He kind of ran off so I'm not sure.
SH24/7: When you first started recording, were you recording on separate equipment with a desk or did you always start straight on the computer?
BF: Straight on the computer, using Logic. In fact, I bought the very first macbook as soon as it came out in Hongkong specifically to record that first band.
SH24/7: And has your way of working changed much since then?
BF: It hasn't changed at all really, the process hasn't changed anyway. There are some better places to go now, there are some sound proof rooms, there are vocal booths, but even now almost everything anyone is doing - certainly in Shanghai anyway - is recorded straight into a mac using Logic or Cubase or something similar.
SH24/7: Did you record the drums on the first recording?
BF: Yeah, that's the first thing I did and that's why I didn't record them on any of the later ones! It was the hardest thing to do; I had to use every microphone that the bar had and some of my own mics too, and I still couldn't get it to sound very good. Then when Hard Queen recorded they hooked up with some DJ / Producer wannabe guy, he'd been DJing at Logo, he had a lot of money and was interested in doing stuff, so he just went out and bought a load of equipment but he didn't know how to use it. So he took the band to a studio and tried to get real live drums recorded on all this equipment that he didn't know how to use and it came out sounding like shit. And the band got really frustrated. So I said, "Why don't we just go somewhere that has electronic drums?". We did, it and it turned out pretty good - the electronic drums actually worked quite well with their style.
SH24/7: Did you think same would apply to the Boys Climbing Ropes EP?
BF: With Boys Climbing Ropes, it was more of a trade-off. For the ‘Except for the Darkness’ EP, the only way that we could get it done for free was to play electronic drums in my apartment, that's why we did it. It didn't really fit with their style of music though so that's why for the next one, ‘Summer and Winter Warfare’, we recorded it live at Yuyintang, just had them up on stage, the stage they've played on a hundred times. It was a lot more comfortable and you got a lot more of the dynamics out of it.
SH24/7: Did it take a long time to get it sounding how you all wanted it?
BF: What took a long time to get right was the recording process. They had actually come to me in April or May of that year and said they wanted to record a new EP and they wanted to record it in a studio - they were doing it at JuJu's studio. But it didn't work; they couldn't get it right, everybody playing separately just doesn't work for them. So we had to put that on the shelf for a while and when everyone came back from the summer break we decided to do it at Yuyintang, and it took one day. The mixing took a little bit longer but part of that was me being lazy and busy!
SH24/7: Were the songs that made it on to the EP ones that were started at JuJu (studio)?
BF: They had two new songs by the time we recorded. We recorded five songs but we only put three of them on the EP. 'The Knitting Song' and 'Grow Up Stop Fucking Around' were both new songs. I suspect if they were going to do a full album they'd record all the tracks again.
Boys Climbing Ropes - The Knitting Song
SH24/7: And would you do the recording in Yuyintang again?
BF: I don't even know if they want me to do the album; they might be able to get some big shot producer to come in and do it!
SH24/7: Is it hard to record and produce for your friends? Is it hard to tell them what direction they should go in?
BF: That's kind of why I hesitate to call myself a producer and don't really like it when others label me as a producer, because I see a producer as someone who tells a band what direction they should go in, who says, "You should put a bridge in here before that last chorus" or, "You should change these chords around". I don't do any of that; I tried to do that with the first band I worked with and it got very bad - some members of the band were receptive to it, some members weren't. And... I don't blame myself completely for breaking up the band but I feel like I was a big part of it!
For somebody like Boys Climbing Ropes, my main selling point is that I'll try and make them sound like they sound live. That's my goal - they're a live band, all the bands in Shanghai are live bands - they all play these songs first and then they record them after the fact. Producing an album is something different; it's something that takes months of studio time, the band working together, working with the producer to make it sound the way they want it to sound.
SH24/7: When you work with the bands do they often look to you for input?
BF: It depends on the band. I've only worked with five bands, they're all different. A band like Boys Climbing Ropes, it's obvious if you listen to what they've recorded in the past their first album was recorded by another producer who had some ideas about what he wanted it to sound like. For the second EP, the one I did, I had some of my own ideas about what I wanted it to sound like and they trusted me with that part, but for the most part I wanted it to sound like they do live, and when it didn't a lot of people were disappointed. The main negative comment that I got about that album is it doesn't have the power or the dynamics that people get from their live show. So for the most recent one it's recorded just like they would play it live - only the vocals were over-dubbed, I didn't add any digital effects or do anything else to it. The guitar is exactly what it sounds like on stage at Yuyintang. I think it came out sounding a lot more natural and suited to their style.
SH24/7: What about working with Duck Fight Goose?
BF: For a band like Duck Fight Goose, you can sit down with them and produce an album. That's what they did. I wasn't involved in the production process of the new full-length album but that's what they did. They recorded a lot of stuff, they recorded twenty-something different guitar tracks, a dozen keyboard tracks for each song. Then they went through and picked out which tracks from which instrument they liked and put it all together and sculpted it into Han Han's idea of what he wanted the song to sound like. They may be the only band currently that know what they sound like, the live thing is the closest approximation that they can get and they try and go all the way on the album and make each track exactly what they want it to sound like.
Duck Fight Goose - Glass Walls
SH24/7: Was the decision for you not to be involved in production of their new album a decision that you all came to together?
BF: Well, Han Han wanted someone else to produce it. He wanted someone who had more album production experience and he had a couple of choices; in the end he went with a guy, Donkey, who's worked with Top Floor Circus, he did the Muscle Snog album, I also think he did a Xiao He album too. So he's quite involved in the scene, but he's one of those people you almost never see at gigs - he's always in the studio recording, a really professional guy. Han Han thought he'd get the sound he wanted by going with him and it kind of worked out well because he has his own studio, uses his own equipment and Han Han could go and sit next to him as he did everything.
SH24/7: Being the manager of Duck Fight Goose, do you have much input on decisions like that? Say, the decision to go with a particular producer?
BF: No, the only way I'm their manager is that I do the stuff that Han Han doesn't want to do! I get to ask people for money! I get to reply to the really weird emails that we get from all over the place, that's what I do. I don't tell the band what to do, they tell me what they want me to do.
SH24/7: Han Han strikes me as someone who completely knows what direction he wants the band to go in, is that true?
BF: I can't think off the top of my head of anything that I'd like to brag about that I personally had input into. I kind of sit back for the ride; maybe after a show I'll tell them what parts were good and what parts were not so good. If they play a bad show I'll tell them, but I don't try to change the structure of songs or the direction of their music. The most I might do is suggest a different song order for the setlist for the show, but no real input.
SH24/7: Within the band, how much input do the individual members have?
BF: For the overall direction of the band, that's down to Han Han. As far as the songs go and how they are composed, the other members have a lot of input. Han Han comes in with an idea - he may have recorded a simple demo track using synthesisers or guitars etc - he has maybe a thirty second clip of how he wants the next song to sound like and then they all work together to build a song around it. It's definitely collaborative.
SH24/7: You're often referred to as an influential person in the development of the Shanghai scene - what do you think you've contributed?
BF: Everyone who knows me knows that I'm not the kind of person who goes around trying to build myself up, I'm not self-promotional at all, I hate it when I see other people in the scene being really self-promotional. But, a lot of people have said that I have brought something to the scene. I personally don't think I've brought anything new to the scene in the past couple of years, but I know I did contribute something back in 2005/2006 when I was doing Live bar and then Windows.
SH24/7: Who else do you feel contributes to the scene?
SH24/7: You mentioned earlier that there weren't too many bands when you first came here, how do you see things these days?
BF: There still aren't many bands around. For me, the peak was around late 2006/early 2007. It seemed to me that at that time there were a lot of good bands. I had my list of every band I knew the name of and I ranked them. "These are the bands that could headline, these are the bands that could support, these are the bands that need a little more time"... I had around 50 bands on that list and maybe 10-12 of them could headline a weekend gig, a local show - it wouldn't be a blowout 600 people kind of thing, but it would be a decent 200-250 person show. There just aren't that many bands that could do that right now - the majority of them are the expat bands. That's another thing that's happened in the last few years, the expat bands have taken over the scene. I don't think that is necessarily a good thing or a bad thing, it just is. I think there will be another cycle; there will be more Chinese bands coming through. The bands that have been around for a long time, like Loudspeaker and Reflector, are still around - they don't play every week, but they're still around. A lot of bands just seem to break up after a year or so; somebody turns 30 or someone gets married or someone has a kid and then they break up. I really respect bands like Top Floor Circus, where they are married and have kids but they still play regularly.
SH24/7: The future for Shanghai music, where does it lie? What do you make of the newer Chinese bands coming through?
BF: All the university bands at the moment suck, they're terrible. Actually most of the expat bands suck too but at least they can throw a party! That's one thing that really bothers me about this recent push to get more of the younger Chinese bands to let them open for other shows… Pairs invited some student bands and they sucked. Why would you do that? I know it's Rhys's thing to reach out to the Chinese community, but the bands are terrible. Then they had this thing where they pay you 1 kuai to come see them - that to me is overtly racist to split it up like that, on two different nights. All of the Chinese bands that played that night were bad - there are only one of them that are even listenable. You couldn't pay me 30 kuai - that's not even exaggerating... if you bought me two or three drinks I might sit through their show, they're just bad you know? To say, “We want to introduce the expat community to these Chinese bands”, and then put on a show where all the bands suck is just giving people the impression that bands in Shanghai suck, when there are some good bands, you just have to be willing to see the same bands twice a month, every month because that's all the good bands that there are.
My feeling about the expat band night - actually, it was the afternoon... The expats, or the people organising it, they're sitting back and saying, "Hmm, well Chinese people seem to like shows that start earlier, so let's start ours in the afternoon... Chinese people don't like to spend money, so let's make our show free, and we'll even give you one kuai... Chinese people don't like to sit around waiting for the show to start, so let's start it exactly on time". Instead of trying to change the Chinese attitude towards local music they're trying to capitulate. So all those bands played for free, the bar didn't make any money, and I know it's not all about money but if the bar doesn't make any money they can't continue to host the shows. I was looking at the Wooozy site, and on that I saw a review of the show where (they said) it was good that it was free and it was good that it was in the afternoon but the complaint was that the drinks were still too expensive. So basically what this audience that they've now reached want is afternoon shows that are free with free drinks - why would you even want to reach out to those people? Fuck those people.
SH24/7: So you think money is almost seen as a dirty word sometimes?
BF: This is another complaint I have about the expat bands and I would probably say Pairs specifically. They really don't like to play for money... I guess, I'm describing a lot of what Rhys (drummer from Pairs) has never said out loud but I'm guessing is what he thinks. They'll go outside of Shanghai on a tour and not get paid for it, and that's not something we should be encouraging bands to do. Bands should be encouraged to ask for the money that they deserve. They have expenses - not all the bands can have cushy jobs where they get paid 20,000 RMB a month. Some of these bands have to work real hard jobs or they starve. And then they pay their practice fees, they buy their instruments, they pay for taxis, all of it out of their own pocket, and then you want them to play for free or feel bad about asking for money? It's just wrong.
SH24/7: I know the guys putting on these shows would argue that they're doing it to try to bring in a new audience...
BF: Sure, some of them might have been converted, I totally agree with that. But if you think about how many bands played that night - 4 or 5? Think about anywhere else in the world; think about how much you would have to pay for 4 or 5 bands to play for an evening and how much you would expect the bar to make and add all that up. That's how much you bribed those people. It's not the 1 kuai per person. So each band should probably get 1000 kuai, so that's 5000 kuai. The bar should be making 20,000 in a night, so that's 25,000 kuai that you spent getting maybe 10 new fans? And any of the none live music bar owners who just heard me say that a bar makes 20,000 in a night they're just laughing their asses off because they all make ten times that amount.
When somebody says to me, "Yuyintang is making a ton of money, I should just be able to bring my own beer in", I feel that's wrong. And even if they are making some money, that's their job! They don't do it for fun - well they do do it for fun, but it is their only form of income. When they're making money they're not even making as much as the average person who goes to see a gig.
SH24/7: So how would you change things around then?
BF: I can't force people to like music, I can't force people to pay for it. I just would just try and avoid putting on free shows, unless they're sponsored by some kind of brand who's paying for the venue and paying the bands.
SH24/7: A lot of people rile against that sort of corporate sponsorship though don't they?
BF: There are some people who are completely anti-corporate, 100% against it, there is no grey area. But even these guys can admit that it doesn't bother them as much when beer brands or alcohol brands sponsor the bands at a bar, because it is a bar! So when Tiger sponsor a battle of the bands at a bar, even though the format for Battle of the Bands is stupid and Tiger beer sucks... When they sponsor an event like that there is no conflict. It's not like Volkswagen sponsoring a music festival, what do cars have to do with music? Actually, that's not a good example!
SH24/7: People are in a bar, they're going to drink...
BF: Yeah, so put up your Tiger poster and your Jaegermiester banner or whatever, and then there is some benefit. I don't see any of it as 'selling out'; all these people should be getting paid, whether they're getting paid by door sales or by a beer sponsor, to me that doesn't really make any difference as long as they're not getting screwed by the sponsors.
There are a lot of sponsors out there, and bands actually take these gigs, where they're getting paid basically nothing AND they're selling out - that to me is even worse. I get calls all the time from various marketing agencies who say, "We have such and such a brand and they want to put on a show and they want a rock band. We can't pay much but you're going to get a ton of exposure, there are going to be all sorts of photographers and media there". In the beginning I'd try and be polite to them but recently there was one where there was a fashion show at Mao livehouse and they were offering to not pay the bands! They wanted bands to play for them for free! Basically saying there was going to be a ton of exposure because there would be fashion photographers there. I said, "Are the models getting paid? Is your company getting paid? Then why aren't the bands getting paid? Why do you think music is worth less than walking on the catwalk? You'd pay a DJ to play a CD but you won't pay a band to actually play their instruments?" It's bullshit.
SH24/7 : I suppose there are a lot of bands that would be susceptible to that kind of thing...
BF: I have another point to make on that - bands selling out for no money. All of the so called ‘record labels’ in Shanghai, with the exception of Zang Nan Recordings… All of them - Soma Records, Ako Studios - they're all scams, they rip off the bands, they rip off everybody. They are all about making money for themselves; they're not about music at all. In the west, the standard for an agent, manager etc. is a 10% cut of profits, or maybe even a 10% cut of revenue, but all these labels are taking 80-90%, They're giving the band 10-15%. It's wrong; they shouldn't do that.
And with the corporate shows, basically what happens is that a brand like Dickies, they come and they say, "We want a band for this and we're willing to pay 50,000 RMB". For 50,000 RMB you can a pretty good band; the fees for commercial gigs are usually higher than for a night at Yuyintang, but there are really good bands in China who would play a corporate gig for 50,000 RMB. But they tell that to the ad agency and then their ad agency takes a cut. Maybe they cut it in half. Then the ad agency goes out to these so-called labels and they say, "We're looking for a band and our budget is around 25,000". Then the so-called labels, who often don't have full contracts with the bands, say to one of their bands, "Hey you got this gig, go play it", and they pocket the money and give the band maybe 1000 RMB.
I don't know which is worse, but there is another kind of scam that happens. This is where the agency just calls random people, people who have band contacts but aren't actually working as a label. The agency will ring them up and say, "Hey, I'm looking for a band and my budget is 25,000 RMB". That person rings a friend and says that his budget is 10,000, and that friend calls someone else and says, "I'll give you 1000 RMB to play". By the end of it, the brand have spent 50,000 RMB, the band made 1000 RMB and the show's going to be shit because the only band that will take the gig is a band that will play for 1000 RMB! And then everyone who sees that, from the brand or the agency, they say, "What? We paid 50,000 for this? But it's shit! We should never hire bands anymore". It gives music in Shanghai and China a bad reputation.
Then what happens is, they find out that the band only got paid 1000 RMB because they'll just walk up to the band and ask them, then they find out that there are bands that will play for 1000 RMB, so in the future they'll say they have a budget of 1000 RMB
SH24/7: Is that the same with all the labels in China?
BF: No, Maybe Mars are a real label which actually promotes its bands and puts out records. Modern Sky, as much as they do some stuff I don't like, are an actual label who puts out records and promote their bands. Soma or Ako - these things aren't labels, they're artist management companies and they're ripping off the bands. The sad thing about it is that they're all run by people who are in, or who were formally in bands. It's like they suddenly have a few business world contacts and now are willing to rip off their own people.
People ask me why I'm so cynical and why I'm so negative about the scene in general but it's bad... There are some good bands trying to do interesting things, but they're pushed into a corner. They can only play at Yuyintang, and they have to book their show like four months in advance, AND then if they play two shows in a month they get all these people on message boards, especially the expats, saying, "I've already seen those bands before, why would I want to go see them again?"! I saw one of the blogs on Shanghai 24/7, the guy from Battle Cattle saying, "I didn't even go to the Duck Fight Goose CD release, I've already seen those bands play a few months ago"!
SH24/7: I think in that particular case there was a whole discussion about whether it's better to have shit different bands or good bands that play all the time.
BF: Was it the same discussion that Rhys (of Pairs) posted Douban links to all these unknown bands saying that anyone could get some of those people at the show? All those bands suck. The reason why Boys Climbing Ropes, Duck Fight Goose, Pairs and Rainbow Danger Club etc. play all the time is because they are the good bands that people want to see. OK, now I regret putting Pairs in that list! But they are the bands that people want to see, whether they are good or not, people do want to see them.
SH24/7: So do you think that people are kind of guilt tripped into going to see shit bands then?
BF: In a way... (people say) "We should support the local Chinese scene, we should support the students". Sure support them, but don't clap them if they suck... well, no that's kinda mean. Then you get called-out for being a poser standing at the back with his arms crossed not getting into it!
SH24/7: Speaking of new interesting bands, you've been involved in the recording of Next Year's Love's debut CD?
BF: Yeah, I'm working on it right now. It's actually already recorded and I'm way behind on producing it, but it'll be out very soon. That will be on Andy's (Best) record label, Qu records.
SH24/7: Where was that recorded?
BF: It was recorded at 0093 space and in Andy's apartment.
SH24/7: How was it recorded?
BF: It was recorded live in the practice room - I borrowed a big mixer from Yuyintang and lugged it upstairs. It was terrible! Andy and I carrying this thing, it weighed something like 20 kg and the stairs are really windy and covered in grease. So we're trying to carry it down and then back up again. But we did it OK, and then we re-did some bits in Andy's apartment. It should have already been out but I'm way behind.
SH24/7: What does the future have in store for you personally?
BF: If there was a new venue I'd be happy to do that, if there are any bands out there reading this interview who would want me to record them, if their music is good or they at least have potential I'd definitely record them. I'm basically going to do what needs to be done, I don't have any concrete plans.
SH24/7: What is your feeling about the current state of the venues in Shanghai? Various voices say that we need another mid-sized venue, like Shanhai (now closed!)...
BF: It's owned by Lezi, from Zhu Lu He Feng, also former manager of the old Mao Livehouse, also the drummer of Top Floor Circus, Pinkberry and like five other bands! So you can see what he did at Mao - he basically ran that place into the ground. I assume he had outside help with it, the Soma people, they're all assholes who don't know how to run a business, so they helped him run it into the ground. When he left they set up a new one! I'd like to get some of that money, I don't know where that money comes from but if they just give it to incompetent people then great, I could take some of that and do something really cool!
I think the more venues the better, but there's a limited number of bands to go around, so if it's the same bands playing every weekend rotating through 4 or 5 different venues then I don't think there is really any need for that. I personally don't go to Mao or Livebar or 696. I don't have anything personal against 696 but it's too far away! But Live bar I have a history with, and at one point the guy (who owns it) told a friend of mine that if he ever saw me there he would kill me! Apparently he's not there anymore but you never know!
The thing is that there are all these people who think that they're in China and they have to have a real authentic experience, so when they see a place like Yuyintnag which is fairly integrated, even expat-heavy, they think that it can't be the 'real' Shanghai scene. They think they need to go to a shitty place like Live Bar and see some shitty band in a shitty venue and then that's somehow more 'real'. They think they have to go somewhere near the universities because that's where all the cool bands are going to be, but what they don't realise that most Chinese students are not 'cool'. They don't become cool until they're about 25! And by the time they're 30 or so it starts to fade out again. So you have a five-year window to start playing your instrument, to get good, to start your band, to record your album and then break up. Then you can get married and have kids! That explains completely why there are very few good bands in Shanghai.
SH24/7: And do you think that's the same all over China?
BF: I guess in Shanghai, with the cost of living so high there are basically no full-time bands here. In Beijing there are a few. I'm not sure about anywhere else. Yuguo used to be one, but they have jobs now. As far as I know there are no full-time bands here in the indie music scene. I'm sure there are jazz musicians who are full-time musicians but in the indie music scene they all have day jobs.
SH24/7: I guess for a band like Duck Fight Goose, with all their kit, it's necessary to have a decent job to afford it all...
BF: The cost of all that stuff is absolute - it costs the same or even more here than it does in the UK or the US, but the salary is so, so much lower here than it is in those other places it means you have to have a really good job to be able to afford, for example, an American made Fender Guitar. In the States it's expensive - it costs $1000 or something - but you can work at McDonald's and make $1000 in a few weeks. But here, that's 7000 RMB plus import tax and all of that, and then you're looking at a pretty decent white collar salary per month.
SH24/7: So let's talk quickly about SXSW - I watched the video of Han Han who said he thought the invitation was spam!?
BF: I don't think he really thought it was spam, but he was shocked to have been invited. I sent him a text message and I said, "Do you want to go to SXSW?" and he said he did and so I told him they'd just sent me an invitation, and he told me to forward it to him 'right now'. That's what happened.
SH24/7: That must be pretty exciting...
BF - Yeah, it’s exciting. It's a really good thing that the band signed with Maybe Mars for this album otherwise we wouldn't really have the support to be able to go there. Maybe Mars have just announced that they're taking three other bands too; Carsick Cars, Snapline and something called Cradle Death - I think that's a guy from Carsick Cars and another noise band. So that's four bands from Maybe Mars. It'll be really cool. It's my hometown too, so it'll be fun to hang out with the band.
SH24/7: Do you class Maybe Mars as the best label in China?
BF: That's kind of a leading question! Yeah, sure. I can't think of another label who has put out as many good records as they have. And I guess they are good to their bands, or the bands wouldn't stay with them. Take a band like Carsick Cars, who are big enough now that if they wanted to switch to another label or if they wanted to do their own thing - they definitely could but they're part of the label, it's a family thing. So far they've been good to Duck Fight Goose too.
SH24/7: So that must give you some hope that there are people out there who actually want to push good Chinese music...
BF: Yeah, I'm excited to see what they do next, now that D22 is closed. I know they say that the two aren't related, but it's the same people running the label who ran the club, so they're related somehow. I hope they do something good with their next club. I don't have any special knowledge but my understanding is that they want to open up a place in Gulou, which is the hipster area, just down the street from where Mao is, and they want to focus on the experimental stuff. They do a night called Zoomin' Night, which is their noise night. It's all those really, really noisy, noisy bands; they play their effects peddle. Not personally my thing, but I think it's really cool, the musicians involved are all good.
SH24/7: The main guy at Maybe Mars is an American - do you think that makes a difference to how the bands are treated?
BF: I think he ran a club in New York too, and also I think he's an economics professor at one of the Beijing universities, like a world renowned economics guy! I really don't want to cast it as a 'we're from the US' sort of thing, but one of my main principles when I first started doing this was that I asked the bands how much they got paid in other places, how much they got here. So some bands weren't getting paid or they were getting promised money then not getting paid. So I said to them, "When you play for me you'll get this amount on a Wednesday or this amount on a Friday", and I paid them every night as soon as they finished playing. That was my principle and I felt good about the fact I was treating the bands better than other people. Not necessarily because the other people were Chinese or anything, but just because that's what they were doing and the bands hadn't been demanding any better. So I feel like that's one of my contributions, getting the bands to ask for money from the venues. But definitely treating the bands better is something everyone should do.