The Club That Moved Asses

Posted by Pete DeMola on 16. Sep 2010

BEIJING, SEPT 16 -- For most party-minded Beijing residents, local nightclub Yugong Yishan needs little introduction, having served at the forefront of the country's creative culture scene since it's founding six years ago this week.

Taking its name from an old proverb about a foolish man who decided to move a mountain, the club -- now in its third inception -- is among the city's most respected nightlife destinations as a result of its diverse daily event schedule that, in an average month, boasts as many A-list international hipster acts is it does revolving rosters of local talent, dance parties, film screenings and the errant exhibition of local art.

The club, now nestled in a former Qing Dynasty-era government compound nearby the Zhangzi Zhonglu Metro Line, remains independent -- that is, without major financial backers or associated record labels -- a position that founders Gouzi and Dorothea Adam say helps them to proceed in "The Yugong Yishan Way," or the embrace of the natural state of the scene at the moment in all of its unfiltered glory.

Adam fills us in on the club's formation, changes in crowd dynamics and regular faces over the years and what they've got planned for their sixth birthday bash this weekend.

What was the genesis of Yugong Yishan and your initial goal when you opened six years ago?

It really started more than six years ago with the tiny (about 75 square meters) Loup Chante Cafe near Tsinghua University that Gouzi took over during SARS in 2003. He invited bands and DJs to play...

So the first inception of Yugong was actually at Loup Chante Cafe?

Yes, you can say that. Yugong Yishan was a logical consequence of Loup Chante Cafe. The idea was the same: eclectic, but good quality, music.

What was the scene like back then in terms of venues and artists?

It was like Yugong Yishan today, a shelter for all genres, but not as many interesting bands or diverse genres as today. And there weren't as many music festivals.

When did you make the move from Tsinghua-area to Gongti?

September 2004

What was the lineup for the first official show at Yugong?

We had too many. The first successful shows included International Noise Conspiracy (Jan 2005) and [domestic rock icon] Zhang Chu's comeback after about eight years in Feb 2006 (pictured below).

What made them so successful?

They were absolutely packed. Some people didn't make it inside and were listening to the show with one ear pressed against the wall from outside. For us, they were artistically exceptional.

What were some of the more memorable shows at that location?

Yann Tiersen, Bloc Business and High Tone with Wang Lei (Wangtone). And we used to love to host Poets, Sailors and Saints... very good nights.

I faintly recall that...

That was a bunch of friends who wanted to have fun and share that feeling with others. They did unusual decorations that took you to some fantasy world, but also took that opportunity to bring social or environmental problems to your attention.

What were the crowds like back then, and have you seen a change in the audience dynamic since then?

It's very nice to observe that the crowds are getting younger and younger -- not like six years ago when you saw the same faces at every single party or show you went to (mostly musicians). Nowadays, it's like non-musicians are going to shows too. It's our goal to promote good music -- in the sense of letting more people know about it -- and giving bands a chance to play for a more diverse crowd. Those goals have finally grown a bit closer to reality.

How so?

In the beginning, we had the feeling -- no matter how hard we tried -- that only a very limited (in terms of numbers) crowd was at all interested in live music. Now, young people seem more open to see non-pop shows and you have much more high-quality bands, both local and international, to choose from.

Your event schedule is incredibly-diverse, probably more so than any other venue here in Beijing. Do you have a "regular crowd" at Yugong, or does it differ from event to event?

We do have a regular crowd that stuck with us after the move to Duanqi Ruifu, but you get a different vibe, of course, when you choose to go to our regular Section 6 MC night then you will get at a Jose Gonzalez show.

What criteria do you use when you book performers?

Quality and original characteristics -- that's all.

Biggest disappointments?

That would have to be Marnie Stern. I loved her stuff, but she decided to have a bad day and messed her songs up pretty badly. It was the first time in six years that the crowd was running off after a few minutes. But I would still recommend catching a show of hers if you can -- she's supposed to be great on good days.

Which artists make up the core of your event schedule, and why?

We don't have many regular events, but Section 6 performs monthly. At the beginning, there was not much of this [live hip hop] style in Beijing and they needed a platform to develop ideas and to meet like-minded people. And we liked Dou Wei & Bu Yiding's Wednesday Night jam nights because they were really energetic with a fantastic, creative vibe. Also at the Old Yugong, we booked Hanggai, Lonely China Day and Dou Wei & Bu Yiding (不一定) because we believed they had potential, but needed some time to develop.

How about at the new location?

Pet Conspiracy, Re-TROS, New Pants, Queen Sea Big Shark, Joyside and the Maybe Mars bands. Why? Because they're wicked. But it's too hard to name a core, because we stick with diversity.

What are some of your fondest memories at the old location?

We are really looking into the future and don't even have the time to think about the past too often. I did love the atmosphere at Dou Wei & Bu Yiding nights because they were single events that never could be repeated -- they didn't take themselves too seriously even though they are brilliant musicians. There was a good mix of old and new generation of musicians that happened there.

Who are some artists that used to perform there who have since broke up or stopped performing in public?

Joyside, Junglecat, 1979, Hang on the Box... Bu Yuding.

Hang on the Box, circa 2004. Credit: Li Xiao.

So, what's in the future for the club?

We haven't really changed our agenda in the past six years: we will continue to give the opportunity to listen to good music, or sometimes maybe we can help people to see something really new, and maybe that helps to open a mind or two.

What can we expect at this weekend's party?

The most diverse culmination of Beijing's scene.

Yugong Yishan kicks off their birthday bash on Fri, Sept 17 with performances by Re-TROS, In3, Free the Birds, Longshendao, 24 Hours and Exit A. Saturday's lineup takes on a more dance-y air with White Rabbit founders Yang Bing & Thomas, the Syndicate's Slide, Dan and Blackie, Section 6's Wang Bo & Raph, Demone & Kaise (Retrodance) and others.

Image: Club-goers mingle outside one last time at Yugong Yishan's Gongti Beilu location in July 2007 before it was demolished days later. Courtesy of 6sco.

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