Beijing has historically been regarded as China’s independent music capital. From the ’90s until recently, it boasted the most underground venues, record labels, media organizations and promoters for indie music of all genres, acting as a magnet for aspiring musicians from across the country. That situation has changed substantially over the last few years — a trend pointed to in RADII’s decade-end music label roundup — with regional scenes popping up to absorb and retain talent locally, resulting in a healthier, nation-wide system of DIY pockets.
Especially in the realm of underground club music, Beijing has for the last several years played second fiddle to Shanghai, and in particular the scene oriented around ALL club and labels SVBKVLT and Genome. But Beijing has always held a kind of grimy, historically deep cultural edge over Shanghai, the latter being a city straightforwardly devoted to fashion, cash and progress.
“The most amazing thing about Beijing is that you think it has been changing, getting better or worse, but after a long time, you will realize that Beijing has never changed, it’s the same place at the same pace,” say the founders of Out of Fashion Boys, a new club music label that officially launched its debut compilation yesterday.
Founded by promoters/DJs luxixi and Tsinglung, OOFB is an outgrowth of the duo’s THUVDR club night at Beijing’s Dada club, which they used as an offline beacon to attract like-minded producers from far-flung corners of the world to come in and experience the Beijing they knew, as two outsiders in their own right. (luxixi comes from Guizhou in China’s deep southwest; Tsinglung from Tianjin, a large port city an hour’s train ride from Beijing.)
On the occasion of the label launch, RADII spoke with OOFB about their club night, the recent tightening of freedom of expression in the capital and elsewhere across China, and the particular character that Beijing’s deep historical roots give underground club culture in the city today:
Out of Fashion Boys grew out of your club night THUVDR, which is done now. When did THUVDR start and when/why did it end? What are some of your top memories from it?
THUVDR is the previous form of Out of Fashion Boys. We made our first party in October 2016, and then ended THUVDR in November this year and became OOFB.
THUVDR had been just a party label since the beginning. After a few years, we actually became tired, but we had a desire to express more. In late 2018, we made a clothing branch called Out of Fashion Boys, and held a runway show in Beijing. We discussed turning THUVDR into a part of OOFB, and expressing our ideas in more fields under OOFB. For us, THUVDR is not over, but integrated into OOFB to explore more possibilities. In the three years of running THUVDR, what impressed us most was the first Grime party we threw — we were worried that no one would come, but at midnight the dance floor was crowded, which made our first party succeed.
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In the press release for OOFB you talk about the “unique energy of Beijing City.” How would you describe this energy? How does it compare to the energy in cities like Shanghai, Shenzhen or Chengdu?
I think the contrast between Beijing and Shanghai is very obvious. Shanghai is very fashionable, people keep up with the trend. All the latest things happen in Shanghai, but Beijing seems to be out of fashion. But Beijing’s scenes or market never seem to panic about chasing fashion, no matter whether it’s audiences or artists living in Beijing.
It’s difficult to explain why — maybe it’s because of the habits ingrained in residents at the foot of the imperial city. Compared with other cities, Beijing is like a deep and stable plant with huge roots. No matter how other plants fight, Beijing stays still. I think the energy we describe comes from Beijing’s deeply rooted “rhizome.”
Beijing is like a deep and stable plant with huge roots… I think the energy we describe comes from Beijing’s deeply rooted “rhizome”
You describe OOFB as a “more-than-music” label. Your first release is a digital/CD compilation — what other, non-music projects do you have planned?
Next year we plan to hold exhibitions, fashion events, and documentary screenings. Even for non-music projects, music will be a component. We hope that all of our events will articulate a common theme with music.
OOFB Vol. 1 features producers from Shanghai, Berlin, Paris, Tokyo — are any of them from Beijing? What common features unite the artists featured on the comp?
All the artists in this compilation have been invited to Beijing by us. We have taken them to some historical sites and commercial centers in Beijing, as well as restaurants, so that they can better understand the difference of the city. So when we were planning this compilation, we hoped that they would express their impression of Beijing through their music. This compilation only has one Chinese producer, ZEAN, who is from northern China but lives in Shanghai. We are also trying to find more Beijing musicians that match our vibe.
Can you talk about the visual identity of OOFB, including the Vol. 1 album art by Berlin artist Heimer and your logo? What vibe are you trying to get across with these? Will design/visual art be an important part of OOFB in the future?
Visual identity is a very important part of communication for us, whether in this compilation or live performance, or even the runway show. We believe that the importance of visuals, music and text cannot be replaced by one another. We hope to develop traditional Chinese concepts or elements visually.
Just like the compilation cover mentioned earlier, we’ve used a lot of plant elements to express our impression of Beijing. We have worked with Heimer many times before, but we’ve never met in person. He has been to Beijing and even to Dada club, which made him the best visual artist for our compilation.
In your press release for the compilation you talk about the “three-decade gap” between “major explosions” in the Beijing rock scene. Obviously the second “explosion” came because of the success of web show The Big Band, which created an entirely new audience for rock in the same way The Rap of China did for hip hop in 2017. Interestingly, iQIYI‘s 2018 EDM show kind of failed to do the same thing for dance music. How do you think the audience for electronic music in China has changed in recent years? Has the audience for web series like the ones mentioned above changed what you’ve seen at parties or in online discussion about club music?
First of all, I think that the explosion of talent shows is not the main reason that rock or hip hop are successful in the music culture. That only proves that these talent shows are successful, thus stimulating the vitality of music market. And the failure of the electronic music talent show has nothing to do with electronic music — it means the show’s mode failed.
Audiences for electronic music have indeed expanded in China in recent years, whether affected by the overseas environment, or the [domestic] electronic music scene becoming more and more closely related to young people’s fashion. But the growth is still very slow. Of the large-scale expansion of the offline market for electronic music that we’ve seen, in fact, most of it has little to do with music, but more and more young people are beginning to accept the clubbing lifestyle. They may not care about the music very much, as much as just going out to a nightclub or an underground club. Anyway, more and more people go clubbing is not a bad thing.
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What about Beijing? How is it changing? I lived there for 10 years, managed some underground rock/experimental music clubs, so I have my own ideas about how it has changed — I think there are fewer opportunities for artists and musicians to express themselves freely, especially in the last 5 years. Do you agree or disagree?
I think the most special thing in Beijing is the sense of contradiction brought by tolerance. The coexistence of emergence and decay brings a wonderful sense of magic. The most amazing thing about Beijing is that you think it has been changing, getting better or worse, but after a long time, you will realize that Beijing has never changed, it’s the same place at the same pace.
The most special thing in Beijing is the sense of contradiction brought by tolerance. The coexistence of emergence and decay brings a wonderful sense of magic.
Opportunities for free expression are decreasing. I think this is an objective fact. Under the general environment, freedom of expression seems to be tightening. I think it may be related to the international environment. Globalization is the main theme of the past ten years, whether young people or artists are enjoying the benefits brought by this process, but it may be that the situation has changed because of events such as Trump’s rise to power and Brexit.
Compared with these objective facts, the willingness of young people in China to express themselves is not that strong, which is the main reason for the decline. Some musicians and artists are beginning to integrate expression into life as they get older, but young musicians today generally care more about making money than expressing themselves. That’s the worst.
The best venues in Beijing can only be Dada and Zhaodai, because we have no more choices.
What’s next for OOFB? Anything else you want to add?
Besides the non-music projects we mentioned for next year, we will also throw a series of parties, which are more about cultural input and output, such as the combination of dance and music scenes to let more people see the cultural side. At the same time, we will also hold scene exchange events with overseas club scenes. Maybe you will see us in Mexico or Melbourne next year.
In addition, the Social Practice that we started last year will be carried out from time to time, encouraging everyone to go out and explore new things and meet interesting people in this explosive internet era.
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