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September 17, 2011

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Mushrooms shatter so many basic assumptions

PARTY animals don't usually go to rock shows on Mondays, high school kids don't sing along spiritedly to songs 5 years old and the night time is widely considered to be the right time for rock and roll.

However, a show by Shanghai emo-rock band The Mushrooms destroyed all those previous assumptions.

Many hints were given by Chinese rock expert and blogger at, Andy Best, whose coverage of the band is long-standing, insightful, borderline pathological and therefore perfect for the occasion.

Originally formed in 2006 as the Crazy Mushroom Brigade, the band went through several stylistic and member changes before settling on an emo-rock style sprinkled with rap-rock of bands like Limp Bizkit and Korn.

In 2009, they played a series of sold-out gigs at Yuyintang, and The Mushrooms became the first Chinese mainland band to get signed to a record label, linking with Taiwan-based pop sensation David Tao.

To rock expert Best, more important to what they accomplish is the how of the matter. In terms of the Shanghai music scene, "they plug a gap that is utterly missing."

A success story

"The singer Pu Pu generally represents Chinese youth who are little bit more open and like music. And he gets on Douban, and he answers every question like your best friend," he continues.

That may sound innocuous, but it's important to remember that Chinese mainland still lacks much infrastructure of a music industry.

Many bands see their chance for "success" by grabbing the international spotlight or by hitching on to corporate sponsors. The Mushrooms bypassed those channels, reaching fans on their home pages.

For Best, it sounded the trumpet of a revolution. But that phenomenon, still an ongoing process for The Mushrooms, has not been followed by many others.

Since then, The Mushrooms have stayed largely off the stage, busily recording a proper debut album, hemorrhaging two guitarists as a result of that arduous process. This leads to a series of questions for The Mushrooms that can be summarily asked as: Can the band continue its momentum?

At 2pm on Monday with the sound of clanking beer bottles, Mao Livehouse was getting crowded. About an hour later, out came lead singer Pu Pu and The Mushrooms.

With his white mechanic's jumpsuit standing out from the black background, Pu Pu was only beginning to display his eye-catching ability. He jumps, head-bangs, stage dives, implores, whimpers, screams and prays: This is barely a lead singer, completely the front man of a rock 'n' roll band.

His actions were not for naught: The crowd, though never vibrant, sang along to the older songs, clapped enthusiastically, and yes, cried at the tear-jerking theatrics.

Occasionally, it felt less like rock 'n' roll than therapy. Only the extended acoustic set seemed to drag, with the sparser sound allowing room for idle chatter.

Still, with a reported crowd of 1,000 (impossible to tell if that's accurate, but this isn't math, this is music), The Mushrooms proved relevant, a beat still pounding in the chest of their fans.

As long as that is happening, the other assumptions and queries don't really matter.

This is a weekly column by Brian Offenther, a Shanghai-based writer on music scenes in the city. He can be reached at


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