'As one door closes, another one opens', is a piece of wisdom we are told to believe in, though in the world of Beijing music, it can often feel like a one-way shuttering. Recent years have seen a particularly rough ride for some of our best livehouses, most notably in the protracted closure of Gulou institution Mao Livehouse. Elsewhere, Yugong Yishan
's rather quiet shuffle off the mortal coil last year made space for a new contender to stake a claim to being the city’s best medium-sized venue.
Enter Omni Space
. Though it opened back in December 2016 and finds itself a way beyond the Beijing music’s scene longtime epicentre, Gulou, over the course of 2018, this lively livehouse beneath the Tianqiao theatre
seemed to to establish itself as that new premier. (Indeed, we were so impressed with its high-quality sound, slew of international acts, day festivals and quality domestic acts, that we gave it the gong for Live Music Venue of the Year at our Bar & Club Awards.) We spoke with the duo behind Omni to hear more.
Tell us who you are.
Zuoye: I'm one of the partners and founders of Omni Space. Officially I'm the CEO.
Jason: I'm also one of the partners of Omni Space. Before, I was a tour manager, so I'd seen many livehouses all over China and when Zuoye said he was working on his own, I jumped at the chance to be involved.
So this isn’t the first Omni Space, right?
ZY: That’s right. Omni Space was just a small bar in Gulou [by the name of Jiang Jin Jiu (疆进酒), which is still Omni's Chinese name]. I ran that bar for two years but then the building was torn down around 2014. I enjoyed that spot a lot. After that, we moved out here and spent two years putting this place together.
We realised the people playing for us were getting too big for our venue. Many of these guys we knew from college, like Zhaozhao, Hanggai or Buyi, were now big stars on tours and TV shows. Why would they come play for 100 people when they could sell 500 tickets elsewhere? We needed to see an upgrade in what we call a 'livehouse'. That's why we moved in a new direction with this space.
J: The other thing is that there are these lower-tier pop stars that have started to play in larger livehouses.
ZY: There’s a mix of indie bands and pop musicians. With all these new music TV shows, there is this new middle tier of pop and indie musicians. Only the top winners of these TV shows can do stadium events like traditional pop stars. Other contestants will continue on in smaller venues like ours.
What makes Omni Space different from other mid-sized venues in Beijing, like Yue Space or Yugong Yishan?
ZY: When I was playing in my small band back in the 00s, I always thought maybe one day I could play in Yugong. They’re a great example of a livehouse. They have a great bar and sound environment.
What makes us different from Yugong though, is that, first, we’re new. Technology has advanced on stage and in the sound booth and we have learned from watching them. We have a different business approach. We use our own floating rate system to split ticket sales between the venue and bands and incentivise promoters and performers to work hard.
Our team is practical and sensitive to the needs of our bands and our audience. Our stage, for example, is high enough for people to see clearly from the back – we noticed that many livehouses have these low stages. Jason proposed from his music festival experience that we have it even higher, so we tested it, but it was too high, and we lowered it a little. That’s how we do things.
You guys have been doing this for nearly two years. What’s the secret to building a loyal audience all the way out here near the Temple of Heaven?
ZY: What I think is that, in a city like Beijing, your absolute location is not that important anymore, but your comparative location is important. We’re still in the centre, so we can still draw people from all over. Our audience is scattered all over Beijing, and even around North China. We're close to the South Railway Station, so bands and fans in Baoding or Shijiazhuang or Tianjin that want to come to Beijing can buy a train ticket, and one hour later they're in Omni Space. They actually get here faster than some who take the subway from the far north or east of Beijing.
J: And early this year we’ll have a subway station right outside our door!
You just passed the two-year mark in December. Who are the most memorable performers you’ve hosted?
J: This is hard. [Beijing prog rock band] INXU, definitely. Rhye was cool, too – they were a kind of cool, calm indie band from Canada.
I like more creative bands in Beijing. I like [indie label] Maybe Mars
and their bands, particularly some of the shoegazing and these new psychedelic bands lately. Some of the electronic musicians nowadays are really good. We had DJ Shao
and he did really well. Four Tet
was crazy – we almost ran out of drinks. [Indie-electro group] Stolen from Chengdu
were also good. And the post-rock band Zhaoze
from Guangzhou, this year they released a new album and they debuted one of the songs here – it’s more than 40 minutes long.
What can we expect from Omni Space in 2019 and beyond?
ZY: I think we are still working towards perfecting the music experience. Maybe in the future we’ll have new spaces. One thing for sure is that we are signing bands and have already launched our own label called Vibes. We’ve signed two Chinese bands and a singer from Scotland already. We hope to find more good bands to help them grow and bring more good music to the market.
All of us have been in bands. I still have one. We know what its like being a young band and we want to provide soil and help these bands to grow. When bands ask to get booked here, we always listen to their music. If they’re worthwhile and musically sincere, even if they’re not that big, we’ll give them our support and a good discount.
By Michael Marshall