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New Music Venues Rock Shanghai's World
1133 and U-Like offer new outlets for rock talent

by Lisa Movius, Shanghai Editor

As you walk through the doors, it takes a few moments for your eyes to adjust to the dim lights filtered through a wall of secondhand smoke. Clusters of small tables are filled with young Chinese men, sporting either long hair or none at all, sucking on their Double Happiness cigarettes and staring with casual intensity at the stage as a mean guitar solo invades your eardrums.

Not so long ago, this was a rare sight in Shanghai. Ever since the demise of the Tribesman in the summer of 1999, the city has been without a regular live music venue. Regular roaming concerts and a few places that tried hard without really succeeding didn't quite cut it. Supporters and detractors alike conceded that, while Shanghai has the bands and the fans, the scene lacked the venue and the record companies needed to get things moving. The record label is still so far absent, but in recent months music venues have been proliferating almost as fast as other bars have been closing, and the two most notable of these couldn't be more different.

U-Like Music Pub is the last place you'd expect to find the local long-hairs letting it all hang out, and it's not just for the name. The location is deceptive also: situated on the main drag of Huaihai Zhong Lu, next to the North-South raised freeway, it previously housed Pub NYNY, of Western buffet and Filipino cover band fame. That it's in the basement doesn't quite make it "underground." Above sits its sister establishment, the Starbucks copycat U-Like Coffee. The bar itself is huge, designed with large concerts in mind and able to accommodate crowds of around 600 people. Entrance is by a catwalk providing an excellent preview of the stage and continuing into an overhanging balcony area that wraps around the bar. The main floor centers around the large raised stage, and décor comes in the form of a lively mural eulogizing the Jazz Age. Its Taiwanese owners have installed a fantastic sound system and imported a sound technician from Taiwan. In concept, it's very similar to M-Box, both in appearance and likely clientele, but the application thus far has managed to diverge.

Many bars in Shanghai professing to be rock venues have failed due to an ignorance of music in general and of the Shanghai rock scene in particular. U-Like's saving grace thus far has come in the form of music director Wang Jia. Not just another pretty face, Wang has a vested interest in seeing the rock scene in Shanghai take off. Her husband, Zhou Zifeng, is guitarist in Iron Orchid (Tieyulan), a Bon Joviesque group that was the first Shanghai band to release an album (Jingwen, 1998). While Zhou has since headed to Macau for a cover gig, his connections in the underground have served U-Like well. It has quickly become the venue of choice for concert organizers such as music critic and radio DJ Sun Mengjing and music website Red B-52. In addition to the handful of big shows like Hang on the Box, Fall InSex and Taiwanese DK Cowboy. U-Like also features a local cover band every weeknight. Sundays feature Honeys (Tianmi de Haizi), one of Shanghai's leading bands, who serve up a unique musical style that's pop enough to be palatable to the most timid listener while excellently executed to the point of pleasing the most diehard headbanger.

While U-Like is taking the Shanghai underground mainstream (pray pardon the oxymoron), 1133 Pub is maintaining the "Cheers" effect -- when you want to go where everyone knows your name. In 1133, the space is small, the crowd is intimate, the music is deafening and the smoke fumes are asphyxiating. Which may be why, except for when the band comes on, at least half a dozen patrons lurk on the sidewalk outside, swigging their 15 RMB bottles of Qingdao and harassing passers-by. Located on an otherwise desolate stretch of Beijing Xi Lu, 1133 is relatively near to the Portman Center, but not so near to that or anything else that customers wander in casually. 1133 is not a bar for hopping but rather for sitting, drinking, and trying futilely to talk over the loud music.

One enters 1133 into a narrow, slightly long room with the bar tucked away at the back. Seating for a maximum of 20 people lines the left wall, the band occupies the right. Journeying from the door to the bar requires weaving among seats and dodging band members. A staircase leads up to a slightly larger space on the second floor, but when the band comes on, the stairs are blocked by squatting observers. One wall is covered floor to ceiling in a collage of CD covers, including a handful from Shanghai bands' demo albums.

A number of local bands use 1133 as a rehearsal space, but come Friday and Saturday nights the music comes compliments of Chan, very possibly the best young band in Shanghai. The small, intimate nature of 1133 is the epitome of casualness, but the music there is anything but. These boys throw as much panache into their gig as if they were performing before thousands. Lead singer Lao Yao, with his wide, Cheshire Cat smile and sexy swagger, combines with Cao Yi, Shanghai's most frantically active drummer, for a truly enjoyable show, with a large sound that fills and overwhelms the room. Chan's music borders on the edge of metal, but without falling off, and their music maintains the sophisticated complexity that is becoming the trademark of Shanghainese rock. In recent memory, they were still a bunch of bright-eyed enthusiasts without an original song or reputation to boast of, but now they have a large enough repertoire of very tight, hard rock pieces to fill up their two sets without even a single cover as filler. Like in the Tribesman of old, audience members may hop on stage for a jam session once the main gig is completed, and the festivities can last all night. While these walls will never see any large concerts, they will soak in a lot of good times and great music. Between U-Like and 1133, Shanghai's music scene now can boast a bit of everything.

U-Like Music Pub
Address: 438 Huaihai Zhong Lu, BF
District: Lu Wan
Phone: 5351-1711

Address: 1133 Beijing Xi Lu
District: Jing An
Phone: 6281-6678

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