Sunny Wong, the co-founder of promotion company Music Fever, allowed us to delve into his mind and chat about the challenges of promotion, the keys to surviving as a band in Shanghai, and his band New Vector.
SH 24/7: Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and how you came to be in Shanghai?
Sunny: Well I'm from Hong Kong. I came here for work, about five or six years ago. I started playing music when I was in high school. A really long time ago. I was in a band in high school, and bounced around with several other bands before I came to Shanghai.
SH 24/7: And how did New Vector come about?
Sunny: The band officially formed in 2008. The lineup has changed around a lot, but all the band members like post-rock, so that's what we play. The bass player, the other guitarist and the keyboard player are Shanghainese and students here in Shanghai, the drummer is from Hong Kong like me, and we used to have an Australian cello player, but sadly she had moved back home. We actually have a new keyboard player, and we've been trying to get an EP together, which hopefully we will launch the party at the end of this year at some point. We've got five people in total in the band; a keyboard plyer, two guitarists, bass and drums.
SH 24/7: So how did you guys all hook up?
Sunny: It's a long story. Well, I first met the bass player through a friend. And her boyfriend played the guitar, so that was a perfect fit. Then I met the drummer through another friend, through some Hong Kong contacts. The keyboard player plays with another band called Airwalker, and our bassist asked him if he would join us.
SH 24/7: Is there one member that takes the lead creatively?
Sunny: Normally we start with me. I write some music and have ideas, then I bring them to the band and we jam around the music I have written. Then we usually record them to find out what we like and what we don't. Earlier we would just record on mobile phones or something like that, but we have a multi-track recorder now. It's really convenient to record with, so we've started to really start recording because we have much better hardware. I'm really looking forward to recording an official EP so I will have something physical to show my children in the future.
SH 24/7: How's that coming along?
Sunny: We've got four to five complete songs. We like to modify stuff so much, so it's like the songs are always changing. But we've got four finished songs now as I say. My band members kind of hate that the songs are always changing, but it works out.
SH 24/7: What are your thoughts on Momo of Biu Biu telling us that local bands don't play often enough because they don't make any money?
Sunny: Well, some bands require money for gigs and they don't want to play free gigs, just for the sake of playing. I don't think that most of them have this attitude really. It's interesting, because when I lived in Hong Kong, every band seemed to want to just play gigs. And when I came here I noticed a big difference between the music scenes. Some bands need a return for their investment, such as the transportation fees and things like that. At the same time, some people just want to play regardless of the return. It's interesting, but I don't really know why there are these differing attitudes.
SH 24/7: And for New Vector, big things coming up?
Sunny: I hope so. Hopefully we'll have a little tour after the EP launch, and just make our music more and more accessible for people. We're going to open up a Facebook page, as well as Soundcloud and Bandcamp etc., just to get the music out there. We'd really love to do anything to get our music out there.
SH 24/7: Do you draw inspiration from other Shanghai bands around right now?
Sunny: Rainbow Danger Club is really interesting to me. I think their record is amazing. Boys Climbing Ropes too. I've seen them many times recently. There used to be a Tawainese band called Triple Smash that was really good, but they've broken up.
SH 24/7: You guys are relatively old in 'Shanghai band years', what's the secret to your longevity?
Sunny: Just loving playing music. I think that if you really love playing music you can keep doing it until you die. I don't think being in a band takes up that much time. Composing music is just like writing, reading, and things like that. You can always find some time to do it. I think when people say they don't have any time and they need to focus on work and earning money, I think it's just bullshit. I think it's the attitude of the Chinese people too. They think that if you can't do something for money, don't do it. But playing music can be just a personal hobby, just like reading or playing games. I'm doing it for myself, and I love to do it. People may think that work will give them more satisfaction so they give up on music. It's all about the attitude; if it's your passion, you'll find time to do it.
SH 24/7: Music Fever - your promotor guise - when did you start that and why?
Sunny: January, 2011. I started it to earn some extra money at the start. Because I thought you could get money from organizing gigs. When I started, that was my goal, but after I started it, I realized that was bullshit. But also, I wanted to try to somehow change and enhance the Shanghai scene. I wanted to organize some more organized gigs. When I started I saw some local promotors set up gigs, and they only tried to have a good lineup and didn't care about other aspects of the gig. There are more people out there now trying to focus on the whole aspect of setting up gigs, like Trash a Go-Go and Spli-t Works. I'm just a newbie to organizing gigs, so I've learned from them. My partner has also taught me many things, and I've learned how the clubs and venues work. He's a very experienced promoter.
SH 24/7: So what's your approach promoting and organizing gigs?
Sunny: Most of the time, I find bands and try to set up shows. I like to organize an "event," not necessarily just a gig. And most of the promotion I do is on the internet, rather than just going to Universities to put up posters and things like that.
SH 24/7: What have been some of the best shows so far?
Sunny: We did a kind of music festival last year in May. It was a whole week of shows. We did shows at shopping malls, Universities, Mao, and in total it was six gigs in two weeks. And New Vector played at some of those shows too.
SH 24/7: What kinds of bands have you put together shows for?
Sunny: Local bands mostly. It's because I just don't know that many foreign bands. The more bands I get to know, the more shows I will do with them. We are organizing a 'Post-rock Shanghai' gig on May 20th at Yuyintang, and I've invited X is Y to play, and some local bands too. I think we should have them with us if we call it 'Post-rock Shanghai'. But yeah, it's not that I'm only focusing on local bands, it's just that I'm not really in contact with many foreigner bands. It's interesting that I'm from Hong Kong, but I'm not really connecting with other foreigners. But I know lots of local promoters and bands.
SH 24/7: You mentioned Trash a Go-Go and Spli-t Works. What have you learned from them?
Sunny: The design of the poster and the gigs are the most important things. Many local promoters ignore these kinds of things, such as the poster not looking very good and the quality of the organization not being great. Things need to look good.
SH 24/7: What are the challenges being a promoter?
Sunny: I think for any promoter, it's not about making money, but it's about not losing money. It's all about the relationship with the venue. Many of the relationships I've acquired here I got because of my partner.
SH 24/7: What's the music scene like in Hong Kong right now?
Sunny: I go back every year and I think there is nothing to do really, in the music scene. I think the situation is worse than Shanghai. There is a lack of bands, a lack of promoters and a lack of shows. There is only one official venue that actually does gigs, so something's definitely lacking.
SH 24/7: So how do you see the Shanghai scene?
Sunny: It's getting better for sure. The audiences are still not great, but it's much better than when I first got to Shanghai. The organization of the shows, the labels, the promoters and the bands are all getting better. Good things are happening.
SH 24/7: Why is that?
Sunny: I think the biggest contributors are the two main venues, Mao Livehouse and Yuyintang. On top of that, Spli-t Works is doing a lot to help out - they motivate all the other promoters to work harder. The competition and cooperation is necessary and everybody seems to understand that. Everyone is working together to push the scene forward, while competing at the same time.
SH 24/7: What's in the pipeline for Music Fever in the coming months?
Sunny: I think we are going to focus more on post-rock. We are starting with the 'Post-rock Shanghai', and we have invited an American band called Pacific UV from Texas who we will play with in Shanghai on May 16th. We have organized a China tour for them to promote the release of their new album. We have found that Shanghai people really like post-rock, so we are going to put more focus on that specific genre. Before we did folk, pop, rock and whatever, but we are going to really focus on post-rock for now.
WORDS: SUNNY WONG / ANDREW BYRNE