It wasn’t just a great year for bars and clubs – Beijing’s music scene also saw lots of ups and downs,and a handful of firsts: new music series sprang up across the city; talented young bands broke out and then promptly disbanded; electronic/folk musician Djang San released, like, 12 albums; new music festivals with hilariously obscene-sounding names were born (yes you, Sound of the Xity!), and much, much more.To help us sort through the best of the past year in music, we enlisted some of the city’s top musical authorities, ranging from club owners to promoters and media (see ‘The Panel’), to vote on the best bands, clubs, shows and more. Here are our picks for the best of 2013.
The ‘Best Live Music Venue’ award in our Bar & Club Awards combines both programming and atmosphere, but for this article we’re breaking it down into two separate categories. There are a lot of great venues in Beijing, but when it comes to programming, Yugong Yishanwas the standout winner for both our panellists and Time Out. While a lot of clubs are content to repeat similar lineups month after month,Yugong’s programming is always creative, diverse and risky, including everything from big international artists to local acts, pop stars, punk, hip-hop and metal. ‘Yugong is consistent, with quality programming week in and week out,’says Nathaniel Davis, co-founder of local promoters Split Works. ‘Over the calendar year, they have the most varied, interesting and compelling acts.’ The runner-up, School Live Bar, features some of the best acts for clubs of its size, having established several regular series, and booked reliably solid shows centred around the city’s best indie, punk and post-punk bands. For addresses see listings.
Yugong and School again topped this category, and while no place handles a big act like Yugong Yishan, both Time Out and our judges were with School on this one. With its low stage and black interior, School evokes the intimate, edgy ambience that belongs at the heart of rock ’n’ roll. Our panellists’ runner-up, 2Kolegas, boasts a similarly grungy feel; as BeijingDaze blogger Badr Benjelloun says, ‘I like the band in front of me, the gritty feel of the place, the affordable prices and the fact that you get to hang out with the band easily afterwards. For addresses see listings.
Local music platform Pangbianr wasn’t the first to do a series based on experimental improv, but it’s arguably done it the best – which was why the Pangbianr Improv Meetings were our panellists’ top pick. Rather than just giving musicians a stage, Pangbianr requires them to play original music, and collaborate with artists they wouldn’t normally encounter. ‘It’s one of the only music series I went to this year,’ says HuPan, the editorial director at music mag Q China. ‘It offered a great setting to take in experimental music.’ Meanwhile, runner-up Zoomin’ Night at XP continued to showcase some of the city’s best experimental artists, while Time Out’s pick, the Miji concert series, organised by experimental godfather Yan Jun and held at various venues, featured a curated mix of cutting edge local and international artists. Pangbianr is taking a break and will return in February; Miji Laboratory will be at Zajia on Sunday 8; Zoomin’ Night is on every Tuesday at XP.
Following in the footsteps of punk inspired troublemakers like Joyside and Bedstars, The Diders exploded on to the scene this year with anarchic, proto-punk-style rock that takes after bands like The Dead Boys and New York Dolls. ‘They’re scrappy– they just go after it,’ says Will Griffith of Live Beijing Music. ‘They know how to put on a show – too many bands don’t know how to interact with the audience, but they do.’ While The Diders were busy giving Beijing’s rock scene a shot in the arm, experimental jam group Xinmayoujiang (who came in second by a single point) raised the level of underground rock with their exquisite, idiosyncratic weirdness. But our personal favourite was After Argument, the new side project from PK14 front man Yang Haisong that barrelled on to the scene seemingly fully formed, with powerful post-hardcore that recalls the likes of Fugazi.The Diders are at School on Tue 31;Xinmayoujiang are at School on Sun 22;After Argument are at XP on Tue 31.
Previously known as Maze, Glow Curve have emerged within the past few years as one of – if not the – most promising post-rock acts in Beijing.Though they’d already released multiple demos and EPs, Dedicate to Mind was their first proper album, and one that impressed both our panel and Time Out by venturing into new territory. ‘For most Chinese post-rock bands, it seems that the whole “quiet-loud-quiet” pattern has been adopted as their bible,’ says Wang Ge, editor at VICE China. ‘What I love about Glow Curve is that they never fall into clichés; their musical arrangements always come as a surprise. Dedicate To Mind does just that.’ Newcomer Song Dongye’s Anheqiaobei also impressed with its lush folk music, which even won a vote from Freddy Cai, an editor at metal mag Painkiller, who praised the album for its ‘real and touching’ sound. All albums available at Indie Music or Rockland. See listings.
If there was one thing almost all of our voters could agree on, it’s that PK14’s 1984 was the best album of the year. Recorded in Chicago with legendary engineer Steve Albini,1984 takes on Orwellian realities with stripped-down rock ’n’ roll that’s as smart as it is visceral, proving that after 16 years and four albums, PK14 still have it. ‘There are a lot of bands now who say that they’re true rock– to them I say f**k off,’ says Douban music editor Zhu Wenbo. ‘There’s only one kind of rock music in my mind: masses of chaos and noise, with poetic, critical lyrics. Music shouldn’t just be about drinking and girls; it has to engage the problems around you.’ Coming in second was Stealing the Show, Secondhand Rose’s first album in eight years, which boasted their burlesque-like mix of classic rock and traditional Chinese music. All albums available at Indie Music or Rockland.
It would be hard to find two acts more different than Public Image Ltd and Daikaiju, but the two were tied for first – while John Lydon (nee Rotten) impressed the Yugong Yishan crowd with his sheer wicked charisma and penitentiary-like jumper, American surf-rock band Daikaiju literally jumped down off the stage at XP and kissed our sub-editor on the mouth, along with many other acts of confrontation that imbued their shows with a real rock ’n’ roll danger. ‘For me, they were just the most exciting and energising band of the year,’ Pangbianr’s Josh Feola says. ‘They’re technically very good musicians and their live act is unlike anything else I’ve seen in China… I undoubtedly had the most raw fun at the two Daikaiju shows I went to.’ Post-rock giants Godspeed You! Black Emperor came in second with their dark, compelling set of instrumental music. But our personal favourite was Kawabata Makoto, the front man of Acid Mothers Temple, whose experimental jams at 2Kolegas reached a level of ethereal drone that was cosmically pitch-perfect.
Note: votes representing a conflict of interest were discounted
Doro Adam co-owner of Yugong Yishan, Badr Benjelloun creator of music blog BeijingDaze, Clement Berger owner of Temple Bar, Freddy Cai editor at metal music magazine Painkiller, Lulu Chow music columnist at VICE China, Nathaniel Davis co-founder of China-wide music event promoter Split Works, Abe Deyo promoter, Helen Feng musician and co-founder of Fake Music Media, Josh Feola founder of music platform Pangbianr and electronic music label Sinotronics, Dann Gaymer musician and editor at Jingweir music ’zine, Jo Greene writer at BeijingDaze, Philipp Grefer DJ and co-founder of Fake Music Media, Will Griffith creator of music website Live Beijing Music, Hu Pan editorial director at Q China music magazine, Jake Newby managing editor and music editor at Time Out Shanghai, Brad Seippel musician and writer at Jingweir music ’zine, Rhys O’Loughlin musician, Wang Ge editor at VICE China, Zhang Jincan owner of Jianghu Bar, Zhu Wenbo music editor at Doubanand booking manager at X