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SUBCULTURE

The Artistic Hubs of China’s Cities

September 2021
Photos by Menny He, Ricky and TylerQDurden

With well over a billion people and some of the biggest cities in the world, China is undoubtedly a treasure trove of unique and growing musical subcultures. But plenty of them remain unknown to people beyond its borders. This summer, Fred Perry headed to three major cities in China to get a guided tour of the best bars, gig venues and record shops from key people rooted in their local music scenes.

Shanghai

Sophia is co-owner of Uptown Records, the store which helped turn Shanghai’s Ping Wu Road into a destination for underground music culture. We caught up with her to find out what’s special about the area and how it’s changed and evolved since Uptown opened in 2011.

Save Uptown’ Open Mic Night, held by Uptown Records
Uptown Records was the thing that brought underground music culture to the area right? How did that happen?

Sophia: Yes, it was! At the start of 2011, it was just Uptown Records and a vintage boutique I ran too called Disco Kitty in the same space. There was more space here so people started putting on experimental punk shows and then we’d host flea markets sometimes too.

There’s been an influx of different artistic collectives and workshops taking place in the area since 2014. How has the area been influenced by them?

The population of like-minded people has really grown here and there’s power in that. In the beginning, it was tiring as it was just myself and my husband trying to put on events, and it was hard to get big crowds here. But now, since collectives like Basement 6 have moved in, who put on exhibitions and panel talks, it’s really become a hub and artists stay here for a long time.

You’ve worked with NTS Radio a lot. How did that come about?

We opened a second store, Uptown RnB, which is a little smaller than the original but also doubles as a bar and venue. Then a friend of ours, Matt, who DJs and runs a record label called China Social Club, he started working for NTS Shanghai and was looking for a space for them to stage events. He always used to drop by here and thought it would be the perfect environment for NTS events when they wanted to do something outside of their studios.

Save Uptown’ Live, held by Uptown Records

Chengdu

We caught up with soul artist MIA AIM to get the inside story on the scene in Chengdu, the capital of the Southwestern province of Sichuan.

Instagram: @miaaim1114
What are they key areas for music in Chengdu?

Yu Lin Road is the place people tend to start their musical journeys. There’s loads of spaces for music shows and art exhibitions here. There’s amazing places for food and drink here too and it’s just a great place for people to have fun. You can find a lot of alternative lifestyles here.

You released music on Mintone Records for a while. Can you tell us a little bit about the label?

The label means a lot to me as it really gave me a chance and helped light up my passion, when I was going through a dark time. They were instrumental in putting alternative hip hop from Chengdu on the map.

Instagram: @mintonerecordsstore
Where would you recommend going for a drink or to see a show in Chengdu?

Little Bar is cool, and has a similar vibe to a lot of old school bars in Chengdu. A lot of indie electronic artists and rock bands had their first shows there. I would recommend it.

How has Chengdu’s music scene changed and evolved?

A few years ago, EDM was massive here but then more and more bars opened which played trap and r’n’b. Now Chengdu’s known as an amazing place for trap and hip hop in China.

Beijing

Beijing has a fierce reputation within the country for its furtive rock scene. We met up Xiong and JOJO from the duo LockerRoom to find out about all the city has to offer.

Instagram: @zhaozhao900, @jojoadventure816
You started LockerRoom last year. How did it come about?

Xiong Hua: It was during the pandemic and we were both in different bands but couldn’t go out and tour obviously. So, we decided to start working on some music together as something fun to do to get us through the winter. If you listen to the music, the songs are all quite light, and its because they came from singing and playing guitar at home during the pandemic and not thinking about performing to an audience. The production on the tracks isn’t complicated. We wanted something that gave that sense of staying at home and chilling.

Where are your favourite places to play or watch bands?

Xiong Hua: SCHOOL is great. You have a special connection with the audience because the distance between the stage and the crowd is so tiny. You can literally get in amongst the crowd and perform. Plus you can stay there drinking and chatting until the morning after your show. It’s very rare to find places like this nowadays.

Where do you go to buy records?

The shop Indie Music is really important to us. It represents the music culture in China brilliantly. They’ve put so much effort in over the years to beautiful renovations to the space and have spread music culture to so many people in Beijing and beyond over the years. It really means a lot to us.