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The beat goes on

THE Shanghai live music scene covers a multitude of styles and venues from basements to theaters. Kat Jiang checks them out.

Wriggle along hustling Huashan Road, enter a residential area, skirt around several high buildings, and a small isolated shed appears. Behind the iron door, a long path takes you deep under the ground.

It is not easy to find the Juju Music Studio, a rehearsal room for band players that hides in an isolated basement. With really serious sound-proofing, people passing by are rarely aware of the rock music being pumped out beneath their feet.

"Juju has received more than 50 bands since its opening last February. Right now there are about 20 bands having regular rehearsals here," says Li Wei, who runs the studio with his wife. It costs about 30 yuan (US$4.39) per hour. Li had his own band and was a bass player in the early 1990s.

"I think the best local rockers are the 1970s generation. Now the post-1980s, even the 1990s, have taken over the stages at Shanghai's live venues and most of my peers have disappeared," he sighs.

A young four-man band named The Rank was playing Britpop in the rehearsal room. They have never presented a live performance.

"They create their own songs with lyrics written in English and I like them very much. The city is never lacking energetic young music makers," says Li.

Next to the Juju Music Studio is a rehearsal room for heavy beat music like African drum.

Shanghai has dozens of live houses with different styles of music. Taiwan-based Brown Sugar, a famous brand of jazz bar, opened its Shanghai outlet in the North Block of Xintiandi last December. CJW with jazz and country music is popular among expats while the Yuyintang live house is famous for young local bands.

However, with the global economic slowdown, it is more and more difficult to run a live house in the city.

"It costs between 150,000 and 200,000 yuan a month for a live house with a live band every night together with other maintenance costs, and the amount keeps increasing if you want to have more bands every night," says Sunny Sun, marketing manager of the Ark Restaurant & Bar.

The original live houses tend to switch and change. The four-piece band MP4 now performs in the Shanging Loft on Dingxi Road. The newly opened bar has an exquisite design with white gauze curtains and a retro red chandelier. As well as the weekly live performances, Shanging Loft screens classic Western films every afternoon.

MP4's leader and guitarist Wu Shengbao, nicknamed Xiao Bao, is a professional musician and owns his own recording studio, Style Orange. Drummer Yuan Jia is a folk music player with the Shanghai Kunqu Opera House and the keyboarder, Shi Ying, is a teacher at the Music College of the Shanghai Normal University.

"Unlike some indie bands struggling to be accepted by recording companies, we have the clear goal that we are going to provide professional musical accompaniments at live concerts," Wu says.

The Ark Live House has been an icon in the city since its debut in Xintiandi eight years ago. Local rock fans were sad to see its doors close last July.

Now the legendary bar returns, not in the touristy Xintiandi, but in Shanghai style at the Shanghai Ever Shining Theater, also known as the Grand Theater on Nanjing Road W.

It is now in trial running and will officially open next month.

"Whether in Xintiandi or here, in the old Shanghai-style building, we always keep a rule when choosing the location - stick with the culture," says Shen Songwei, general manager of Shanghai Yake Management Co Ltd. "It is really hard to operate a live house in Shanghai nowadays, but we will never give up on music. That's why we are reopening Ark."

Ark now orients itself as a restaurant and lounge bar. The 1,000-square-meter inner space in Art Deco style and the outdoor garden serve Shanghai and nearby Jiangsu-Zhejiang food.

"We won't have live performances any more in the restaurant, but we will keep organizing live shows and concerts," says Shen.

Ark is now on the third floor of the cinema which was designed by Hungarian architect Laszlo Hudec and has stood for 80 years. It plans to use the cinema's newly built large hall which can hold 1,800 people for live performances.

"We are going to have monthly concerts. We hope that fans will pay to come, and that they will enjoy the show and that we can produce a show of high quality," says Shen. "Of course, we will choose music that fits Ark's spirit and keeps the standard high.

"It is hard to promote the style of the former Ark Live House. But it is easier now that we have changed our strategy," he adds.

Shen is confident that they will open up a chain of similar venues in Shanghai and other prosperous cities.

With Japanese investment, Ark is working at Sino-Japanese music links, introducing a number of Japanese artists to Shanghai, including the visual rock band Dir en Gray and girly idol Matsuura Aya.

"We will continue to introduce J-pop into China for it is a fairly advanced and modern style. J-pop is a mixture of all kinds of music and it is innovative," says Shen. "We are going to add more Oriental elements into the music provided by Ark."

Ark Restaurant & Bar

Address: 3/F, 216 Nanjing Rd W.

Tel: 6327-7177

Juju Music Studio (for rehearsals)

Address: B/F, 1635 Huashan Rd

Tel: 6280-1415

Shanging Loft

Address: 739 Dingxi Rd

Tel: 5230-7757

Jazz bars

Brown Sugar

Address: Bldg 15, North Block of Xintiandi, 181 Taicang Rd

Tel: 5382-8998


Address: Room 4, Bldg 2, 123 Xingye Rd

Tel: 6385-6677

Cotton Club

Address: 1428 Huaihai Rd M.

Tel: 6437-7110

Rock live houses


Address: 1731 Yan'an Rd W.

Tel: 5237-8662

Live Bar

Address: 721 Kunming Rd

Tel: 2833-6764


Address: 13 Xingfu Rd

Tel: 6281-5646


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