Shanghai has for years been at the bleeding edge of China’s electronic music culture. While Beijing holds the edge for other, grimier forms of alternative music, like punk and indie rock, something about Shanghai’s historically cosmopolitan character and brighter, shinier facade lends itself to the crystalline sheen of contemporary club sounds.
If you don’t live in Shanghai, or if you do live in Shanghai but tend to go to bed before 2am, the subtleties of the city’s electronic music scene might fly beneath your radar. It lives in the late-night, bred in underground bunkers like the recently closed Shelter and multi-purpose arts space Basement 6, and in alternative dance clubs like ALL and Elevator.
Earlier this summer, a loose crew of musicians and artists united to launch Shanghai Community Radio, a multi-stream platform putting out podcasts, livestreams and mixes on Soundcloud and Chinese video platform Bilibili in an attempt to give this small petri dish of experimental sound a wider, international audience.
I got in touch with the SHCR crew for a short interview about their mission to bring Shanghai’s deeper sounds to listeners outside the Great Firewall, to provide an antidote to more corporate-leaning streaming labels like Boiler Room, and to help Shanghai artists develop a sense of local identity.
Radii: When did SHCR start? Who all is behind it?
SHCR: There are seven of us involved. We’re a mixture of Chinese, diaspora, and foreigners. The crew is sort of arranged so that we all have different areas of expertise. Some of us specialize in sound, some of us in video and performance, some in the linguistic side of things for translation. We all have really different tastes, but the unifying quality that we have as a group is a drive to put on interesting broadcasts that can hopefully shine a spotlight on some of the stuff happening in Shanghai.
The perennial problem with music in the Mainland is that while there’s great stuff going on, not a lot of it sees the light of day outside national borders, and the media covering stuff here can be patchy. We started broadcasting a few months ago after the idea was put forward by Katy Roseland, one of our co-founders.
“The perennial problem with music in the Mainland is that while there’s great stuff going on, not a lot of it sees the light of day outside national borders, and the media covering stuff here can be patchy” — SHCR
What is the rough concept? I notice you have mixes, live recordings, and have also done a bit of live streaming… what is the core “product” or format?
It’s radio, so our core product is broadcasts and podcasts. Under this umbrella, we’ve done DJ mixes, talkshows, live Q+A’s with artists, and performance art pieces. I think the video element brings the listener a bit closer to what’s going on and heightens the performative element to whatever we’re broadcasting. Eventually, we’d like to have an archive that documents underground music in the city.
What platforms are you streaming on? I’ve seen you on Mixcloud and Bilibili, any others? Where is your audience and how do you attempt to get at them over these different platforms?
We’re mainly focusing on Bilibili, Facebook and SoundCloud at the moment, but we’re looking into other platforms too. I see our audience as both those who are curious about what’s going on sonically behind the Great Firewall and those who live here. If we can pollinate the scene here with ideas and contexts beyond the firewall while giving people a window into what’s happening in China, I think we’ll have succeeded.
“Our audience is both those who are curious about what’s going on sonically behind the Great Firewall and those who live here” — SHCR
How do you differentiate yourself from other streaming/music platforms, like Meat & Bone, or even Boiler Room?
One of our members — Swimful — used to be part of the Meat & Bone crew, so energy and ideas from that have probably transferred over to SHCR in some capacity, but honestly they’re two very different projects. The visual element of Meat & Bone was always playing second fiddle to the sound, whereas the visual setup on SHCR is a much bigger part of the stream.
In terms of Boiler Room, I think they’re very much restricted by the tastes of their fixers here in China, as well as by trying to get the maximum number of views to appease sponsors. You won’t find local artists supporting the likes of Skrillex on SHCR. When we have international artists in, they’re very much on an even keel with the local artists, and we put them on purely because we like them, not so we can pick up a check from Budweiser.
What is the community aspect of SHCR? How are you trying to build and sustain a community? What other entities (e.g. venues, labels, zines) are you working with to build this community?
We’ll be putting on specialist workshops in the coming months, we do Q+A’s that are open to the public, and we’re always ready to listen to suggestions about how what we’re doing could be of greater benefit to the community. We’ve worked with several promoters to organize bringing artists into the studio for sets and, we’ve put on events at ALL and Elevator. We have strong ties to local labels like SVBKVLT and Genome and we hope that by offering a platform on which to play fresh Shanghai music, we can promote these artists and help the scene develop its sense of identity.