Shanghai Smackdown

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Last weekend, we were lucky enough to be invited to judge the Summersonic local bands competition at MAO.  Essentially, the MAO Livehouse chain is “sponsoring” 8 bands to head off to Asia’s biggest music festival, the 2-city monster that is Summersonic (we’re not sure exactly what the financial details of the trip are).

Beijing Daze has an account of the Beijing final HERE.

MAO Live Summersonic Competition

First off, great idea.  Japan is an obvious market when it comes to exporting Chinese music – it’s only a 3 hour flight, it’s a very trend focused market, and it would be great to export some soft power to diffuse some of the ill feeling that exists between the two nations.  Credit to MAO and Summersonic for creating this platform.

And so to the competition itself.  There was a Beijing competition (2 qualifiers and a final) and Shanghai competition (same format) and one band go through from each. They are added to 5 preselected bands. We think they are going to be something like:

  • Queen Sea Big Shark
  • Black New New (a Soma hip hop artist)
  • Perdel
  • The Ghost Spardac (signed to Bad News, the investors in MAO)
  • Muma
  • Re-Tros

We were called in to judge the Shanghai final. It was a decent turn out, probably 300-400 people. Five bands were on the bill: 3 from Shanghai (Candy Shop, Da Bei, Da Fresh), one from Nanchang (Run, Run Loser) and one from Chengdu (Montoffee).  The first thing that sprung to mind was where are the bands that make up the backbone of the scene here, the Sonnets, Yuguos, Duck Fight Gooses, Boys Climbing Ropes, Fever Machines (answer is probably a combination of too many expats/ not interested in band competitions)? Secondly, why hadn’t we heard of 2 of these bands?  Anyway, we were looking forward to listening to the music and hopefully seeing something exciting and new, for this was the crème-de-la-crème of Southern China’s music scene. Yes, we were also shitting ourselves a little about having to comment on the artists in Chinese, but that was of secondary concern.

Long story short, there wasn’t much we could say about two of the Shanghai bands (based on our mother’s wise words “if you don’t have anything nice to say….”), Da Bei were definitely impressive, good musicians and by far the most interesting of the bands in terms of their stage show, use of video and gimmicks, but took themselves a little too seriously and ruined it for us by having a very moving film of the atomic bomb dropping on Hiroshima as the backdrop to their second song (in a competition to win a trip to Japan – c’mon guys), and Montoffee had a difficult job to do following obvious crowd favorite and heaviest band of the night Da Bei.  They tried hard however and their disarming brand of simple surf pop and enthusiastic stage presence did win over parts of the remaining crowd.

It was the first band, Run, Run Loser that won over 3 of the 4 judges.  It was a simple and slightly nervous performance, but these guys were super tight (they had obviously really practiced a lot for this) and the singer had an interesting (if slightly weak) voice and great stage presence.  He was also a great dancer.  They also didn’t seem affected by a kind of smugness that particularly infused the performances of Da Fresh and Da Bei – they were genuinely happy and slightly overawed to be there, and their manager was a sight – nervously pacing the dancefloor, practically praying to a higher power – it was charming.  They definitely deserved to win, although Da Bei brought the crowd and were definitely more visually impactful and in our mind were a close second. What clinched it was the thought of any of these bands on the stage in Japan – the only two that would have represented China well (we have been to Summersonic twice and Fuji Rock 5 times so have some experience with Japanese crowds) would have been Montoffee and Run Run Loser, due to their humility. Is this a factor of not being from Shanghai???

The results have certainly stirred up some conversations online.  It would be great if people could update us with what this is in the comments J

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