Beijing and Shanghai Play Nice In the Name of Creativity

Posted by Pete DeMola on 8. Mar 2010

BEIJING, Mar 8 - With the springtime weather comes a renewal of artistic spirit via JUE | Music + Art 2010, a creative arts festival set to take place in Beijing and Shanghai from Mar 12-29.

This year's incarnation, the festival's second, will feature over 70 events spread over four dozen art galleries, live music venues, theaters and studios in China's two most cosmopolitan cities, making it one of this country's most ambitious odes to independent creative culture to date.

The participants, in addition to visiting artists, include some of the country's most invigorating homegrown designers, photographers, mixed-media artists and musicians.

Curated by Split Works, the Shanghai- and Beijing-based concert promotion company and youth marketing agency, the festival has been assembled with the a goal "to bring the community together in appreciation of the best of blossoming arts scenes in [Beijing and Shanghai] and to stimulate local creative communities to present their work and have it promoted to a wider audience."

"The north has more cult performances rather than so-called trends," said participating artist Chairman Ca, the delightfully-twisted mind behind the country's most mesmerizing rock show posters, on the differences between the two cities. "Beijing's art is more spontaneous and guiding: it has a sense of responsibility and higher pursuits."

"For me, Beijing creates and Shanghai does (and makes money)," simply said Split Works helmsman Archie Hamilton.


Installation highlights in The Creator include the festival's opening party and Chairman Ca's exhibition (Mar 11 at D-22); the multimedia portrait series "Unspoiled Brats" by Beijing Bastards director Zhang Yuan at UCCA on Apr 11 and a slam poetry showcase on Mar 13 at 2 Kolegas with British-Jamaican Rastafarian dub poet Benjamin Zephaniah and the award-winning Steve Connoll.

Chairman Ca at his best.

Residents of The Doer and Money Maker are strongly encouraged to attend a free screenprinting workshop on Mar 13 at Neocha Studio -- perfect for those itching to outfit themselves in custom-designed Ts -- and "A Taste of Red," a collaborative effort by performance company Fifth Wall that will attempt to spin a narrative using a multimedia technique that borrows cues from the neurological condition synaesthesia (Mar 20 at River South Arts Centre).

Also notable is Dada Bar's Shanghai Photographer Night on Mar 24 featuring a slideshow exhibit of six artists, including Beijing-based photographer Matthew Niederhauser, who is perhaps best known for his portraits of this country's underground musicians.

Neiderhauser's portraits, many of which use Beijing live music incubator D-22's distinctive red walls as a backdrop, have become the international face of this country's independent music scene. He said that he's excited to take part in the festival this year, for the exhibit marks the official China release of his book Sound Kapital.

Containing 125 photos taken from Oct 2007 to Mar 2009, the 176-page book captures one of the most fecund periods in the scene's development and maturation process, with bands moving out of their insular orbits and onto local record label rosters and their first domestic and international tours.

"I think this portrait is the most punk out of all them," says Neiderhauser on this photo of Steely Heart's Sai Li. "He is caught completely unawares with his battered face, rumpled blazer and exposed fly."


Foreign recording artists will flit between the two cities, including Japanese synthpunk performance unit Trippple Nippples, one-man psychobilly band Dead Elvis & His One Man Grave, indie rock singer-songwriters St. Vincent and Julie Doiron and JD Twitch, one-half of the self-proclaimed "dance music" duo Optimo and co-founder of the famed Glasgow club of the same name.

On the domestic front, residents of each city will have the chance to check out the others' darlings (and see if they're worth the hype) as part of the festival's CrossTalk Series.

Shanghai gets a taste of Mongolian folk revivalists Hanggai and earthy rock and roll act Omnipotent Youth Society, while on Mar 26, heavily-hyped quintet the Mushrooms is scheduled to float a nu metal trial balloon to capital city audiences for the first time.

"The main strength of the Mushrooms, apart from their high energy and professional live show, is the singer Pupu and his lyrics," said Andy Best, a Shanghai-based music blogger and journalist. "Their shows manage to do something that other Shanghai bands can't: fill the shows with a young local audience."


The Mushrooms' frontman Pupu; courtesy of Andy Best.

On their native turf the band has a strong following, said Best. Maxing out venues with up to 500 concert-goers, the wheels of success are greased by their embrace of the social networking site Douban, which they use to interact with fans on a daily basis.

"The fans sing every word and turn up wearing their shirts," he said. "They were one of the first bands to embrace Douban and use it to build a following."


Another musician who also hopes to construct a loyal audience of Chinese youth is one Ólafur Arnalds, a young Icelander who beat out 772 foreign competitors to win a free trek across the country.

Facilitated by Split Works in conjunction with indie music promoter Sonic Bids and American artist development firm Planetary Group, the eight-city tour aims give Arnalds a launchpad into the Chinese market, exposing domestic audiences to something fresh in the process.

And how fresh it is.

At a tender 23-years-old, Arnalds is already a virtuoso at the creation of emotive, sweeping classical compositions speckled with subtle electronic noodling and muscular guitars in the vein of Explosions in the Sky, Godspeed You! Black Emperor! and fellow Icelanders Sigur Rós, a band for which he has recently opened.

"I'm really honored and grateful to be selected," said Arnalds on winning the bid, adding that he had been trying to get to China since 2008: shows were booked but were canceled shortly thereafter.

"I think my music could be very well received in Asia, so it's great to get an opportunity to finally go over there."

JUE 2010: Mar 12-29. Visit the Official Website for scheduling information, artist bios, news and lots more. An excellent wrap-up video of last year's festival, featuring the punk band Demerit, artists from Shanghai's Island6 art center and numerous others, can be viewed here.

All images used with permission of the creators. Cover image provided by Chairman Ca. Like it? You can see more of his work at D-22 at the JUE launch party on Thurs, Mar 11.

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