Toward the end of December we attended a press conference where it was announced that MAO Livehouse would be expanding. At the time, there was a bit of chatter on Weibo from Li Chi (李赤), the founder of MAO Beijing. We’ll reproduce an archived screenshot here.
Finally (a version of) the full story came out, and it looked as though we were dealing with a fairly complex but not unheard of situation.
Translating from an article published on WeChat, it seems that following the press conference, MAO Livehouse Shanghai changed its branding online and did not respond to Li Chi’s post, where he claimed a third party had – without his knowledge – registered the MAO Livehouse business in Shanghai. His first Weibo post was followed by another, where Li Chi claimed MAO Shanghai was ‘bluffing’. Let’s return to the press conference…
There were three parties at the conference:
1) Century Music Dream Culture Media, Ltd. (世纪乐梦文化传媒有限公司)
This company was committed to handling MAO Livehouse business development in China. Representatives present said that they had run the Shanghai branch for several years and were preparing to launch MAO Kunming and Chongqing, as well as a new MAO in Beijing. However, according to the Secretary for Commerce and Industry, the company (MAO Livehouse Shanghai) was registered in March 2014. Shareholders include Gui Yanwen (桂延文), two Legal representatives, Shanghai Music Dream Industrial Corporation (上海乐梦实业有限公司) and Haining Asia Media (海宁亚细亚传媒) – the former is owned by Gui Yanwen and the latter is an advertising company .
2) Bloomage International Cultural Sports Ltd. (华熙国际文化体育发展有限公司) – related with real estate investment. They build arenas and stadiums.
3) Asia Media (亚细亚传媒) – as mentioned above, a shareholder in ‘MAO Shanghai’ (as registered in 2014).
The article suggests that an opportunist did some digging and found that MAO Livehouse (Shanghai) had not been formally registered as a business (or at least trademarks hadn’t been registered, we would guess, as some kind of business license would have been required). This opportunist – in partnership with the aforementioned businesses – brokered a deal to franchise the MAO brand, without word from their Beijing counterparts (Li Chi).
Who owns MAO?
The Beijing venue was originally opened through a partnership between Li Chi and Chiba (千叶和利) – Chiba runs Bad News record label, which is owned by Shanghai Music Dream Industrial Corporation. Chiba has been into the rock music scene for a long time, and wanted to export bands to Japan. He came to China in 2002, then became the band manager for Brain Failure (脑浊) and Hang on the Box (挂在盒子上). It was at that time that Li Chi met Chiba. They opened MAO in early 2007 on East Gulou Street. Li Chi and Chiba invested RMB 1.5 million each, and brought equipment and staff. The success of MAO Beijing lead to the opening of MAO Shanghai in 2009. It was founded by both MAO Beijing and Soma Records (from Japan). No one knows whether Li Chi was involved in or agreed with the MAO Shanghai plan.
If the speculation is true, then there is an argument that the party behind MAO Shanghai’s franchising (i.e. everyone except the Beijing founding partner who has seemingly been left in the dark) is ‘passing off’ the original Beijing brand. However, if no formal agreement exists for who truly owns the original Beijing brand, then there isn’t much room to maneuver. The only thing we can say for sure is that there has been a lack of transparency, and a failure on the part of the original founders to clearly delineate 1) the terms of their original partnership 2) the terms of their expansion, and 3) how ownership of the intellectual property behind the MAO brand is distributed between the parties.
Of course the only way to approach some semblance of the truth is to interview the man himself. Li Chi very kindly took the time to talk to us – here is his perspective:
Do you believe the information that is circling online accurately represents the difficulties you face?
First of all, I don’t believe it’s such a big issue. I just posted one short Weibo, nothing very offensive, and I didn’t pay much attention to it afterwards. Though many people may have viewed it online, I don’t know how to define whether it was a big issue or not. The issue has not passed yet. I mean, we haven’t discussed anything officially. We’ve had some private conversations through friends and a few phone calls. So it’s not over yet, and nothing is sure for the future.
Have you maintained a certain level of silence over the situation as a way to perhaps show your respects to MAO?
Yes. I never intended of make much money out of MAO. I did what I did out of passion. All these things stimulate the development of rock music. There’s been a coordination problem, but I’m not so worried. Truth speaks for itself. Let’s give it a little time.
The development of a robust music industry depends on the willingness of people to support and help each other to an extent. The idea of going against someone’s back sort of contradicts the DIY ethos that encourages collaboration rather than outright competitiveness. How do you feel about this?
This is a good question. In the beginning, the market was small and people got into all kinds of trouble – it was very important that they helped each other to survive. Now there are more festivals and brands. Competition is normal. It’s fair to say that it is inevitable. But it is also important that people stick to their initial dreams and goals. Everyone is seeking a place in this system – it’s impossible not to make a change. On the other hand, any competition besides monopolization can be seen as a form of stimulation.
Following this incident, have you encountered any problems?
Of course. Some people want me to step up and fight. Others worry about whether we are going to change the name someday. But it’s nothing serious. As I just said, we haven’t officially discussed it yet, and it will be solved eventually. We might have some small conflicts but I’m positive it will be handled properly. I haven’t changed my initial goal of helping to further the development of the music scene.
So can we expect you to keep going business as usual?
We will do our best to solve this peacefully. Anyway, we should see this in a different way. Following what happened, people should have a raised awareness of protecting their brands so they can avoid such unpleasant situations. Don’t give anyone the chance to make damage.
Is there anything else you would like to share with our readers?
I haven’t read that article about MAO – all I know is what my friends told me. I suppose it is partly right and partly speculation. We are now operating two MAO livehouses; as I said, I never changed my original goal. It’s not like running a chain of restaurants. MAO is a unique stage and a special way to spread the culture of music. Real success is not based on money. You must have a deeply rooted connection to fans and culture. The development of a livehouse is a process.