Saturday, December 27, 2008

YY still sucks

I commented a little while ago on how disappointing I find the new Yugong Yishan music club.

It really pains me to say this, because I've known the owner Lu Zhiqiang for years, and he's probably done more for the Beijing music scene than anybody else: his long-since demised Loupe Chante bar, over by the west gate of Tsinghua University, was one of the first rock venues in the city; and the original incarnation of Yugong was for 2 or 3 years beyond question the best music club in Beijing, and probably in China.

However, his new place is just too big - it's an atmosphere-free barn. And the proportions are somehow all wrong. The stage is just a bit too high: when you're down the front, you feel strangely cut off from the performers towering above you. The "mosh" area is just a bit too deep: if you stand on the elevated level further back, you feel as though you're miles away from from the stage. And that main elevated area at the rear is rather too high, somewhat above the level of the stage - which tends to make you feel even more disconnected from it. The best place to stand, in fact, is on the narrow stairs to either side of the (enormous) sound booth; although that, of course, is rather anti-social because you get in the way of people who want to move to and fro between the stage area and the bar in the rear. (Funnily enough, the sound is always reasonably good if you're near the sound booth - I wonder why that is?! If you're anywhere else in the room, it can be pretty dreadful: that high, high gabled roof makes for an appalling acoustic.) I've had so many disappointing experiences there - even bands that I really like seeming off form, or suffering from poor crowds, poor sound, or poor ambience - that I have practically boycotted the place over the last 8 or 9 months.

However, last night there wasn't much else going on anywhere in town.... and Yugong was advertising a 废墟 gig (fei xu = Ruins - one of the better names for a Chinese rock band). These guys are veterans of the Beijing rock scene, but they seem to be in semi-retirement now; at least, they don't play live any more; or not in any of the usual venues, anyway. I caught them once or twice at the old Yugong, and thought they were about the best rock act I've seen here - superb musicianship, and long, dreamy, semi-improvised instrumentals, rather reminiscent of Meddle-era Pink Floyd.

Last night, they were playing with a vocalist called Zhou Yunshan, who is said to be an enormously popular 'folk' singer. Or at least, he was sometime back in the '90s. And unfortunately, in China you only get to be a 'popular' success by pandering to the lowest common denominator. There was a big crowd of his long-time fans out last night (100% Chinese), who seemed to be revelling in it - former teeny-boppers, one suspects (a stage which, in China, can persist well into the twenties), but now getting into their thirties and forties. Perhaps if you could understand the lyrics, this performance might have revealed rather more substance; but I found him an unremarkable singer, and the songs were all desperately bland, at times almost Mando-pop naff. The band were as smoothly competent as ever, but they had nothing really to play: this was just anodyne cocktail lounge music, not to say elevator music. In terms of the crowd, the atmosphere, and the sound quality (I was stood right by the sound booth!), this was about the best gig I've been to there. Alas, the music was a huge letdown. I witheringly observed in a text message to a friend: "The Floyd analogy no longer works. Well, I haven't seen them in three years, I suppose. But Floyd got even better in that time. These boys seem to have got worse."

I was so disenchanted that I could barely force myself to stay until the end of the (mercifully, fairly brief) set at 11pm; and in my haste to leave, it entirely slipped my mind that there were supposed to be other performers on the bill that night, including the rather fascinating-sounding Sainkho Namtchylak, an 'experimental jazz/folk' singer who sometimes utilises the extraordinary 'throat-singing' techniques of her native Tuva (something I first learned of 15 years or so ago through Tuva or Bust!, an entertaining little book about the brilliant physicist Richard Feynman's fascination with Tuvan throat-singing). This hadn't been very widely advertised - what with it being Christmas and all - so I wasn't at all confident that she would in fact be appearing at all, or that she hadn't perhaps already been on (there were rumours that the show had started at the indecently early time of 8.30, and I didn't get there until 10.05). I am sorry to have missed her.

If you're curious about Sainkho, there's quite a lot of her on YouTube - this is probably one of her more accessible pieces. And this isn't.

Anyway, I'm now going to be even more wary of going to Yugong ever again. The place manages to disappoint me every time. Every single time.

However, they have got rather a good roster of bands lined up for the New Year's Eve show. And there's bugger all else to do.....


Froog said...

On checking my phone, I find that the message was in fact (although I think I sent variations of it to a number of different music fans I know):
"Pink Floyd got better, Ruins got worse. Ain't that China all over? Honestly, this is bad hotel lounge music now. I may have to stab chopsticks through my eardrums soon."

Froog said...

That message was in fact directed to 'Disco Mike' (named after the Simpsons character Disco Stu, to whom he bears some resemblance), an enthusiast of all things avant garde who was very sorry to have missed Ms Namtchylak.

In fact, he sent me tip-offs about no fewer than 3 "avant garde music" events this weekend. I couldn't resist teasing him,"If there were an avant garde spoon player, you'd go, wouldn't you?" Yes, I think he would.