2009, Shenzhen. I quit my job and joined an international band and started performing in a bar owned by Chinese in Sea World, Shekou. I know it sounds cool but actually the experience wasn’t quite inspirational.
First of all, we sucked. We were a band quickly founded with a collection of semi-professionals and amateurs. You can’t blame anybody, though. Quality isn’t really what the market needs. A lot of bar owners just want a few foreign faces with some instruments on the stage so they can distinguish themselves in music bars. When we asked the manager what he thought about our song list, he just told us to add Hotel California, dress less and dance our asses off.
Then the sound system was terrible. It was a big room, and there were no monitors. So all we could do was try to “feel” the music from the mixed sounds of all sorts of instruments and voices that were reflected from the walls, hoping that we didn’t sound stupid. But again, it was another challenge for the instant band. And 3 tables away from the stage, no one could tell what we were singing.
If the sound system was so bad, why wouldn’t they make some changes? No customers complained, I guess. We settled for the situation because we wanted a job, I guess. Everyone wants live music in their bars but no one cares what it takes, I guess.
After the contract was over, I spoke with the manager and asked if he would like an acoustic band playing some covers and originals, because I thought that kind of music would really fit the atmosphere in the bar, instead of loud, high energy performances. He said no. He didn’t give a shit about original music and would like to find more foreign bands with girls dancing on the stage and shake their asses off.
How much is there about music, you know?
So I moved on. But during the 3 months performing there I made a lot of friends. I met Mike, a passionate American entrepreneur who encouraged me to start this blog. And there’s Rue, another American man who’s extremely passionate about music. We started writing together, performing together, then we named ourselves Brue, did some recording, tried to make things happen… Then we got married and have a beautiful daughter. And the story’s not over.
March 11th, 2012 by Gabree Kwan
Now,we’re making things happen…
It was August 2008, at the end of my first year in China and I had made it through. I had survived the swim in the deep end that was my job and was just at the start of my music journey in Shenzhen. Someone asked me to form a band to play in Tibet for a Christmas show. With a few phone calls here and mutual friend there, The Collective was formed.
Shortly after, 3 Western songwriters and the best Chinese drummer were opening Friday nights at the newly opened OCT LOFT IduTang, still in collaboration with C-Union at the time, playing only our own stuff. We were livin’ the dream. Not long after, a few fights and a phone call had us going our seperate ways. A little longer after Gabree and I met and well, you read what she wrote.
Bands split up all the time and usually for a number of reasons. We had our issues but central to it was the lack of support from bars for the music we were creating and incentive to keep writing. Outside of Idutang, where else could we play original music? Mccawley’s? The Terrace? V-Bar? True Colors? Basebar? Simply, no.
Most of these bars operate with a house band, 6 nights a week. They simply can’t afford to ask their musicians to sit one out. With their audience it’s got to be classic rock or commerical music. And the Chinese bars? Well, they want Chinese solo artists to play soft music. Sure, there’s the occassional novelty of a foreign band but nothing consistent.
The only other bar that has attempted to showcase foreign talent is La Casa. It started great but as Coco park developed it was swallowed by Viva and Gaga. Now, we get an open mic slot, once a week on Sunday night and it’s just not enough.
So what does that leave for the foreign musician and Western music SZ?
Dealing with Chinese agents for Chinese functions. What is that experience like? One word – GROSS. The agents take 50%or more, the sound system is never set up correctly and the audience stares blankly while you play along with a Karaoke CD. And the worst – half of your “band” don’t actually know how to play an instrument. Their just models. It’s nothing to do with music, everything to do with “how you look”. The only upside is that you can sometimes meet talented players and hot Russians. But even with the easy buck , it’s not long before you come to resent the music situation in Shenzhen.
So, this is why we’re writing this blog… As my good musician friend said, “If we don’t do something about live music, your daughter will grow up thinking live music means 1 person jamming to a backing track.” Music and music performance is a core element to the creative indsutry that is the West. We live, breathe, and grow up listening to the grooves of Hendrix, Fitzgerald, Taylor, Charles, Willy and the likes. Thier lyrics shape the way we think about our lives and inspire us to continue in that spirit.
Shenzhen should be the muscians meeting point connecting Guangzhou and Hong Kong. It’s on us to to make the events and build the venues to bring our music to life. Build it and they will come
We’re here now. Shenzhen is our home.
April 11, 2012 by Rue Moyer