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February 16, 2012

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Mao Livehouse Awards on Saturday

THERE'S no place like home ... and that's what makes travel so great. Each place has its own identity, formed by a multitude of factors. This can be reflected in the culture of its people, its climate, its tourist attractions, and yes, its popular music scene.

A few weeks ago, I produced and DJed a weeklong tour of China featuring a young band from Ulan-Bator, Mongolia, called "Mohanik." Shows began in the north, at Hohhot, the capital of China's Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, and ended in Shanghai.

During a week in Shanghai featuring the Mao Livehouse Awards this Saturday at Mao Livehouse (308 Chongqing Rd S.), an awards show and concert aiming to celebrate the past year at the local music club. It's also good to see how things are going when you step out on the yellow brick road of a tour.

I arrived in Hohhot a day before the tour was to begin, and was awesomely and unexpectedly met at the airport by a police officer holding up a sign with my name on it.

This was arranged by Xiao Jia, owner and manager of NING Livehouse, Hohhot's only regular club for rock music. Over the two days I was there, he would continuously impress me with his hospitality.

Not a lot of touring musicians come, so he always tries to leave a good impression. That's especially true in the dead of winter, when Hohhot's temperature hovers around freezing.

Xiao Jia is always at NING, which is impressively big and innovative, with plenty of kitschy charm. It's also very much a community project, with local artists always there, customizing and improving the place. While I was there, a giant mural was being painted.

Xiao Jia opened the place after seeing similar clubs in Beijing and Shanghai and wanting a place for shows for his punk rock band. His band is currently looking for a fill-in member, but NING is going strong. Xiao Jia has poured his heart into the place, and it shows. Because it's so apparent, others have reciprocated.

In a city much closer to Shanghai, Ningbo in Zhejiang Province, the local rock music scene seems similarly built around one guy, Evan, a Ningbo local who runs CMK Livehouse.

CMK has gone through a few different locations over the past two years, but is now directly by the tower in the middle of the town. Other clubs have opened, but all of them have quickly closed or stopped featuring live music.

And while CMK is valuable, it doesn't get as much enthusiasm from locals, who seem to prefer the more pub nature of entertainment featured in laowai tan (foreigner town), the nightlife area of Ningbo.

It's hard to tell whether it's the fault of Evan, or a reflection on the community: perhaps both. Either way, he treated us graciously.

Whether in Hohhot, Ningbo or Shanghai, communities can't form in vacuums. Likewise, the settings reflect the community.

So what does our music community say about us?


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