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Amidst Coronavirus Lockdown, Musicians in China Livestream the Party

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The effort to contain the coronavirus outbreak has shut down pretty much all extracurricular activity in China, putting as much human activity as possible on the internet. Food delivery has gone “contactless,” university classes are convening virtually, gym classes have gone online, big-budget films are premiering as streams, and musicians and DJs around the country have now taken to meeting up on livestreaming platforms like Bilibili.

As Peter Kirn at Create Digital Music writes: “Streaming was already a popular hangout for Chinese musicians and artists across the region, before the viral shutdown of public space. That already included experimental artists looking to reach one another in their niche. The difference is, now online interaction in China is essential because people are effectively all isolated at home.”

Practice Makes Perfect

Kirn wrote that in response to a new, ad hoc streaming series launched recently by Zhao Cong, a Beijing-based artist who for years was a seminal participant in the weekly experimental music performance series (and now cassette label) Zoomin’ Night. The newly christened “Practice” series has so far shown Zhao, her husband and main Zoomin’ organizer Zhu Wenbo, and Dali-based noiser Ding Chenchen playing on whatever is at hand, really, transforming their intimate personal quarantine zones into an improvised performance space. They write:

During the period of Covid-19 in China, all of us have to stay at home and read desperate and depressing news all day. [The] Practice series aims to create a connection during this period—it invites various musician friends to participate, share a rehearsal session or a trial at home through live streaming, and make progress together. Practice series could be watched live on Bilibili, after which screen recordings would be uploaded to YouTube. This is an ongoing project that will invite more musicians to join.”

Live from Shanghai

Several crucial music venues in China have jumped on the streaming game as well. Definitely the best-named is ALL by Yourself, a one-day, nine-DJ stream by Shanghai club ALL featuring regulars like Kilo-Vee (Genome), Alex Wang, GG Lobster, and Ikke. “Play at anytime, any order, you control,” they say. Find all the recorded sets in an appropriately jittery Github page here.

Another crucial Shanghai club, Elevator, teamed up with Shanghai Community Radio to throw a 12-hour “home party” on Monday, featuring livestreamed sets from some of their regulars, like Heatwolves, Michael Cignarale of monthly-ish queer club night Medusa, and venue boss Mau Mau. “We’re going to keep doing at least one marathon thing a week,” Mau Mau said today.

Earlier in the month, SHCR organized a three-day series of “home streams,” stepping away from their studio and decentralizing their operation into individual living rooms. Tap into SHCR’s current Bilibili stream here.

Laughing Ears on Shanghai Community Radio

Shanghai’s preeminent rock venue Yuyintang is also getting in on the action. Though the venue will be closed at least through February, their team is currently looking into possibilities to create a ticketed video streaming performance series. “A lot of musicians are still stuck in their hometown as far as I know, and also a few local bands in Shanghai are still worried about the virus and choose to stay at home all the time,” says Fanmu, Yuyintang’s booking manager, adding, “as a venue, our advantage is what we currently have: the venue space, the equipment, and our tech crew.” The Yuyintang crew doesn’t want to rush the production details, however, especially as uncertainty remains about the scope of the coronavirus outbreak. “Entertainment is probably not the priority in my own opinion,” says Fanmu. “We will take time and we will see how it goes.

We’ll update this space as more details on Yuyintang’s video streaming project fill out. Starting on Friday, February 14, Yuyintang-affiliated venue Specters will be livestreaming radio shows, which you can follow via the QR below:

Pogo at Home

As we reported last week, music festival monolith Modern Sky was quick to get into the livestreaming mix too:

“On Monday February 3 [Bilibili] was host to Music Vaccine, an electronic music livestream featuring 12 DJs from across the country. The next day, record label and music festival organizer Modern Sky kicked off their Strawberry Z (or “Stay at Home Strawberry”) Music Festival on the platform. Over the course of five days, Bilibili [hosted] sets from 70 acts, including rappers Kafe.Hu and Tizzy T, rock acts Birdstriking and Re-TROS, and Big Band winners New Pants. The “festival” will be a mix of videos of artists performing in their homes and previously-recorded sets from past Modern Sky-organized festivals across the country (including several at Wuhan Strawberry Festival). The idea is to use Bilibili’s bullet comment feature to create a sense of community even while many viewers will be in some form of isolation.”

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Now boutique Beijing indie label Ruby Eyes is doing a similar program. It’s currently in the middle of Cloud Party Music Week, a seven-day, 50+ artist shebang that kicked off on Monday. Ruby Eyes writes:

“At the beginning of 2020, everyone seemed to be trapped at home by this sudden epidemic. But the harder the times, the more you need to get up and move! […] Don’t lie down, try drinking beer at home, raise toasts in the bullet comments, pogo in your bedroom — watching the scene on your phone can also get the blood moving!”

Cloud Party Music Week can be found on livestreaming app Kuaishou (ID: 1634579013); find the full program here.

Merrie Records, which got a shoutout in our 2010’s Best Music Labels list, is also throwing a livestreamed show on Friday, February 14, featuring a set from Xu Bo of beloved Wuhan indie band Chinese Football.

Bilibili has also teamed up with smartphone maker Xiaomi to produce a 72-hour program called “Life Is Not Made for Defeat” (“休想打败我的生活”). Running from February 13-15, the program is heavy on content (mainly lifestyle vlogs: quarantine edition) but also includes music components, like this coronavirus-safety-themed trap banger, and a virtual tour of Beijing’s M WOODS museum. Tune in to that one here.

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Josh Feola
Josh Feola is a Shanghai-based writer and musician, and RADII's former Culture Editor. His coverage of Chinese music and art has appeared in The Wire, Dazed, MIT Technology Review, Artsy, Bandcamp Daily and more. He's been active in China's underground music scene since 2010 via his booking platform pangbianr.com, and is a former member of Beijing bands Chui Wan, SUBS, and Vagus Nerve.