Wudaoying Hutong’s School Bar and Party Project has re-branded itself as School Live Bar: same venue, similar name but a whole new taste in music.
Like a teenager that reinvents their image with a different haircut and a few new threads, School Live Bar has thrown away its vinyl and glowsticks, grown out its hair and recreated itself as a live house with just a few small changes in décor and design. It suits the place, too: School has grown into the venue it always had the potential to be.
The minimalist, white walls are now black and red, and the DJ booth’s a small stage. The venue has also opened a new bar area that, like the previously existing live music section it sits adjacent to, has two floors that already seep rock ’n’ roll excess. For some, the most pleasing new addition the opening boasts will be the sanitation facilities. Perilously drunken visits to the vile public toilets opposite the venue are no longer needed.
Despite being in its infancy, with classic gig posters and football trinkets adorning the walls the new section has the weathered dive rock bar feel that characterises School, with Brooklyn Lager and Vedett beer on tap. Sound from the main gig room is blocked off well and a separate soundtrack is piped through the new section’s stereo system, but it still very much feels like part of the same location atmosphere-wise.
Despite the change in musical direction, School Live Bar doesn’t seem to have found any problems fitting in with the new crowd. In fact, on the night we were there, it was busier than we’d ever seen it before. As it’s co-run by the ex-bassist from Beijing punk band Joyside, the change of direction is no surprise. And the fact that the management have been able to pull in their mates to play – Hedgehog, Tookoo and Residence A have performed here recently – has helped the transition.
We wish they’d also improved the surly bar staff, the post that obstructs the view of the stage for half the crowd and the low-quality, limited drinks selection (beers 20-50RMB, mixers 25-40RMB, most cocktails 40RMB). But, overall, the new direction is exactly what this awkward, dark space always needed. It also provides some much-needed edge and urgency to Wudaoying Hutong – an area that’s fast becoming a characterless, hipster strip mall. Let’s hope it doesn’t go back to the old School.