The ’87 Raving Crew

Months ago I picked up an old second-hand copy of a book by the eminent sinologist Orville Schell called Discos and Democracy: China in the Throes of Reform. The book’s age and the fact it had ‘discos’ in the title was what caught my attention, and I was hoping it might shed some light on clubbing (I use the term loosely) in China during the 80s. Despite having it all this time, I only just got round to reading the discos chapter and I thought I’d share a few quotes here. Unfortunately, Schell doesn’t know too much about the music, so details are a bit light and he doesn’t fully appreciate the potential signficance of discos, saying late on in the relevant chapter that “the society’s inability to animate its own young people with goals both more self-referential and capable of providing the stuff from which higher aspirations and dreams could be fashioned [than disco] seemed to be tragic and dangerous”. For him, it’s just about a fascination with Western things, a rejection of China’s Maoist past and an interest in modernity, and it surely was those things as well, but you can’t help wondering what the other dynamics were. Anyway, the quotes:

For certain groups of young Chinese, the soul of this huge hotel complex [the Huating Sheraton in Shanghai] was Nicole’s, the world-class disco on the third floor, where at night the thump-thump-thump of an electric base [sic] reverberated through several floors of the building like the beat of a giant heart. It cast such a spell over Shanghai’s “with-it” dance-crazed youth that even people who had never entered the hotel spoke of it with awe.

One night as I arrived back under the hotel’s portico, the young cabdriver, who made his living team-driving a small, leased Romanian Dachia with a friend twenty-four hours a day, gazed reverently up at the third floor and said authoritatively, “That’s the best disco in Shanghai, and probably all of China.”

By 1984, when the Chinese government allowed dance halls to open in China for the first time in thirty-five years, Chinese youth had embraced “couples dancing” with an almost delirious enthusiasm. On recent trips to Shanghai I had discovered that almost every hotel in the city held nightly dances (with stiff admission prices of 6 to 10 yuan). Young people, dressed so stylishly that it was possible to imagine one was in Hong Kong or Taipei, flocked to these new socialist pleasure domes, almost all of which were drab old halls from the thirties cheered up only by incongruous strings of Christmas tree lights. At least they featured live bands, never mind that they played warp-speed disco versions of “Jingle Bells” and Stephen Foster spirituals. The fact that this mix often sounded more like circus music than dance music hardly bothered the youths ardently gyrating about the floor.”

…in March the Party even lifted a long-standing but largely ineffectual ban on what they had called “underground ballrooms.” By November, 1987, Canton alone was reported to to be host to over five hundred such ballrooms and seventy tea rooms featuring music, several of which had reputedly become hangouts for China’s nascent gay community. The beach resort city Qingdao bloomed with dancing spots. Even some small county cities now claimed to have six or seven dance halls as Chinese of all ages turned en masse to this new form of diversion.

By the spring of 1987 official newspapers had even begun running articles proclaiming the wondrous effects of disco. This led to an unlikely dissonance in the press: One page would feature an article on the virtues of “bitter struggle” and of youths going to the countryside to labor side by side with the peasants; an adjacent page would have an article proclaiming the virtues of disco.

In fact, such dancing places were fast becoming a regulation part of all the Western-style hotels… In Beijing, there was the Cosmos Club at the Great Wall Sheraton, Juliana’s at the Lido Holiday Inn, the Xanadu at the Shangri-La Hotel, and the Glasshouse at the Kunlun Hotel, which ran ads proclaiming, “Latest sounds, Latest Lighting, Disco Night Fever!”

As living symbols of modernity in a country where modernization had replaced revolution as an animating ideal, discos, with their strobe lights, high-tech sound systems, up-to-date music, and svelte cosmopolitan styling, proved irresistible.

- Alta

Push and Pull #14 w/ Beardslap

Push & Pull July

It’s that time – we’re back at The Shelter again tonight and we’re bringing Phreaktion’s Beardslap with us for Shanghai’s only night dedicated to grime, garage and club trax. Beardslap is also part of the new Galvanism live electronic music project alongside Dmandoneit. They’re showing of the fruits of their labours this Saturday at LOgO – if you’ve not got any plans, pass through to show some support.

Beardslap has also done a mix for us – Boxed grime, r’n’b bootlegs, garage, bassline and all that good stuff. Stream that below.

Push and Pull Mix #4 - Beardslap by Push And Pull on Mixcloud

Push and Pull Mix #3 – Alta

Push and Pull Mix #3 - Alta by Push And Pull on Mixcloud

It’s been awhile, but here’s the latest mix from us ahead of our rave at The Shelter this Saturday. It turns out that WordPress isn’t really feeling Mixcloud so there’s no embed of this, which means you have to click here. Mixed live on 1200s by Alta, it’s a nice overview of some of the tracks we’ve been feeling over the last few months plus some new bits as well. Watch out for some of the blends. Track list below.

Logos – Cloudbursting
MikeQ & DJ Sliink – The Bitch
Trap Door – Luv Thang (Ra’s Al Fatale Relick)
x5 Dubs – Drunk in Love
Naaah – 2much
Deadbeat – Wheel It Up
Mumdance – Springtime
Jam City – Worst Illusion
Wizzbit – Darkest One (Sirpixalot Remake)
Flava D – Plate VIP
MssingNo – Skeezers
Grobbie – Light Speed
Bok Bok – Melba’s Call (feat. Kelela)
Island – Fantasy VIP
Air Max ’97 – Progress and Memory
DJ Marfox – Lucky Punch
TRC feat. Ruth – You and Me (Murlo Remix)

Push and Pull #13 w/ Robjamdj, Zean & MC Jado

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Pow. On the 21st we’re doing our first Saturday at The Shelter and we’re bringing along some sick local talent for it.

You may know Robjamdj already from when he played for us back in February. We love this guy’s tunes, which he mixes in that proper UK style, and we’re sure you will too.

We’ve also got Zean from the Rankadank crew. You might have seen him down at Dada for Rankadank’s Electric East party where he usually lays down some beatboxing, but recently he’s really upped his game with his production work and is starting to come through as a DJ as well. He just dropped his new EP Forget the Frame – check that here.

Rounding out the line-up we’ve got MC Jado. For the longest time it’s felt like there’s been a dearth of MCs in Shanghai, but in the last few months Jado has really raised the levels and he’s been spitting on sets at some of the best raves and alongside the likes of Tippa Irie. He’s a local Shanghainese guy and it’s great to see more Chinese people getting involved. He’s really enthusiastic about everything from jungle to reggae to grime and totally gets the music we do.

One last thing, keep an eye out for flyers around town for discount entry.

Facebook event right here.

Jackin’ / Grime / Garage / 4×4
30 RMB (20 RMB with flyer)
10pm – laaaate

 

Push and Pull #12 with Heatwolves

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It’s that time again: we’re back at The Shelter for Push and Pull on Thursday 22nd, the first of two times we’re playing there next week (we’ll post about the second one soon). This month we’ve got 热狼 aka Dr Wolf aka Heatwolves gracing the decks for us. You probably know him from his Love Bang parties at Dada with DJ Caution and the pool parties they threw last summer – hopefully we’ll see some more of those this year. (Incidentally, erstwhile Push and Pull member Arthur Fox played a sick set at the first one they did last year, who remembers that?) He was also involved with the Heijiao Shehui nights at LOgO last year. The whole Love Bang idea is ‘a house party in a club’, and Heatwolves’ sets are usually up front and range across a number of genres and tempos. Maybe expect him to go a little deeper next Thursday while still retaining the dancefloor vibes.

We wrote a ridiculous write up for this event full of fire and heat-based puns, which you can check here on Facebook or over on Resident Advisor. If you think you can do any better, send us your puns to pushandpullmusic@gmail.com or post them on the Facebook wall and if they’re good enough we’ll throw you on the guest list.

Been getting some really good feedback for this poster, designed as ever by our man Tom Brennan. Makes me think of Hayao Miyazaki/Studio Ghibli – it might be the blues.

Jackin’ / Grime / Garage / 4×4
20 RMB
10pm – 3am

Nantong Frontlines Are Where You Don’t Go

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Last Friday I headed out to the city of Nantong, which is just a bit up the Yangtze River from Shanghai, to play a set as part of a residency Rankadank are doing out there. Zean, Rankadank’s resident beatboxer and also an emerging DJ/producer, and Jado, a Shanghainese MC, came as well. If you’re coming from outside of China, I think it’s pretty much guaranteed that you won’t ever have heard of Nantong, and even if you do live here or have had a lot of exposure to the country, I’d say there’s still a fair chance it’s escaped your attention. And this is a city with a population of just under two million (that’s only the urban area as well). Part of this is probably because Nantong gets overshadowed by all the other massive cities in the neighourhood: not only have you got Shanghai, but there is also Hangzhou, Suzhou and Nanjing. Nantong just can’t compete with these places in terms of culture, history or economic power, and so gets overlooked. On top of that, it can only be reached by train from Shanghai using a highly circuitous route with only such train each day. Nonetheless, Nantong is the latest front to open up as underground, alternative music scenes take root in China.

The club I was playing at is called The Void, and I’d heard about it sometime last year through Weibo and a DJ in the city named a Big Sen, a family man with a love of classic dubstep from FWD’s Hatcha-dominated heyday. I’d figured that the club got its name from the Gaspar Noe film Enter the Void, which has as one of its key locations a bar in Tokyo’s Kabukicho called The Void, and having now been there I doubt I’m wrong: the club was dark and lit mostly by blue, red and UV lights, while up on the walls were a number of weed-related posters (“Good buds stick together”) and the club’s logo, seen on the white tshirts of the staff members, was a pill. It’s kind of funny seeing such overt drug references in a club here in China (it probably is anywhere in the world) as Chinese drug consumption, despite being prodigious, takes place in a more discrete manner. (Make no mistake, The Void is a place for Chinese people; I don’t think you get many laowai in Nantong.) On our way Jado had told me that people in Nantong were way more into smoking weed than people in Shanghai, partly because there wasn’t much else to do.

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The Void was highly reminiscent of Arkham, to the point where ‘reminiscent’ simply seems like a kind way of avoiding the word ‘copying’. Located in the basement of building, the walls and ceiling of the staircase down to the club were almost completely covered in splattered paint and there were UV lights the whole way. Remind you of somewhere? Then once you were inside, it was a bit like if Arkham had been squashed, both in terms of length and height: ahead of you was a stage with some familiar-looking metal barriers in front of it and a reasonable-sized dancefloor. There were some tables and seats to the back and sides.

In pretty much all the alternative music venues I’ve been to in China outside of the first-tier cities, they’ve tried to fuse both live music and DJs. I figure this is as much of out necessity as it is a considered choice about programming: any alternative scene in these kinds of places is so small that it’s not big enough to support more than one, or rather it’s not big enough to support a separate live music venue with all its additional overheads. Then there’s the fact you’re expanding your target audience, but you potentially get a strange mix of a crowd: the rock fans and the clubbers. The way I see it, you could try to work that to your advantage and try to build up some kind of interesting cross-pollination between the two, but, and again I think this comes back to the size of the scene and the limited choice it gives, this doesn’t necessarily happen. A case in point: before me there was a band playing – initially I thought this might be the only two laowai in the whole of Nantong plus their Chinese mate, but it turned out they’re from Shanghai. They were playing pretty standard rock stuff – I’m not sure if they were originals or covers, if the latter then I didn’t recognise them. Then for their final song they played the James Bond theme tune. I actually checked with Zean to see if I wasn’t just imagining this. (In case it needed saying, I use the words ‘underground’ and ‘alternative’ slightly loosely in this piece.) Myself, Jado and Zean were on right after this as soon as the equipment had been switched over, during which time a mix CD of generic house was playing. This is the manner in which your night out in a Chinese city might unfold.

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Once we’d got set up, Zean did his beatboxing and then I started my set. I’d intended to go in with some heavy grime, but the club wasn’t actually that busy, maybe because it was pissing it down with rain outside, so instead I went with Foam Feathers by Nguzunguzu thinking it might be a way of easing into it. I kept it with grime for just under an hour playing tunes by MssingNo, Sir Pixalot, Bok Bok, Spooky, Flava D and others before gradually moving it into more UK garage territory and other kind 130 bpm-ish stuff we’d play at Push and Pull. It was probably this stuff that got the best response: in particular I remember Naaah’s 2much, Deckstar’s 1 Step Further remix and Deadbeat’s Scottish Notez getting a good reaction (one guy was getting so hype he kept climbing up on the barriers). This probably isn’t that surprising: despite being around for some time now, grime is still a strange, unknown thing to most people, and a regular house beat is always going to win out, but these tunes aren’t polite or tepid like a lot of house you hear in Shanghai and it was nice to see people reacting to that kind of rude energy.

The next day I didn’t hang around for long as Zean was heading back to Shanghai early on. What I did see of Nantong mostly consisted of wide avenues and grey buildings. Basically, if you’ve ever been to a non-tier-one Chinese city or just out into the suburbs then you can probably imagine exactly what it looks like. When we got back to Shanghai South Station, Zean said it was like we hadn’t left Nantong. The reverse would be just as true.

It’s hard to say just how much somewhere like The Void helps club music worm its way into the consciousness of Chinese people compared to, say, EDM festivals parachuting in with spectacle and massive marketing budgets. It’s easier to say which kind of enterprise you can really get behind, and if there is a truly Chinese-centred movement, then it’s primarily taking place in these kinds of spots across the country. I wonder how hard it is to really make these local scenes grow, most of the best talent would probably make the move to Shanghai or Beijing eventually, seduced by the pay and brighter prospects, but you’d like to think it was possible. Just recently I’ve been digging into some of the bleep stuff, an early rave sound in the late-80s from the likes of LFO and Nightmares on Wax that came out of Sheffield and Leeds, cities not exactly on the level of London, Birmingham or Manchester. Could Nantong spawn a Chinese bleep?

- Alta

Sub-Culture Weekender

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“Let’s go to the Bund after Shelter”
“Lol wtf”
“That early it’ll be deep”
“It’ll be a recipe for shame and self hate”
“We’re having that kind of weekend”

Sub-Culture are running Shanghai this weekend and Drunk Monk kindly asked us to be involved. We’re playing b2b tonight after the main man Chimpo, from 3 til when the lights go on. It’s going to get rowdy.