Thursday, December 29, 2011

So, farewell then... D-22

The 'big news' on the music scene this week is the apparent confirmation that the long rumoured closure of Wudaokou's trendiest music venue, D-22, is now imminent - probably some time early in the New Year.

I wonder if this has been on the cards for a long while; perhaps the owners, knowing the lease was up, had been losing interest in the place, starting to pursue other options. A couple of people in bands have told me that D-22 has been in the doldrums for a year or more, that the energy seemed to have drained out of the project, and the crowds weren't coming any more.

It's always sad to see the number of music bars get smaller rather than bigger; sad, too, to see a place go under that's been around for more than five years now.

I liked the intensity the place could sometimes achieve, with people packed at the front around that tiny stage - or hanging over the balcony behind it. And, after a very ropey start over their first year or two, they did eventually manage to get their act together in getting the sound system to work properly and finding some decent bar staff.

But, for me, it was never a great venue. The long narrow space meant you couldn't see much unless you managed to push your way down to the front. The mezzanine made the acoustics very muddy, unless you managed to push your way right down the front. Unnecessarily long bills and maddeningly late starts would often mean you'd have to hang around till 2am to see a decent band come on.

Worst of all, the place seemed to me to become almost immediately very incestuous and self-satisfied. In theory, the idea of providing a home base to incubate promising student bands is all well and good. But I'm not convinced how well it worked in practice; for my money, the roster of 'house bands' never had enough quality or diversity. It was mostly just a lot of second raters copying each other; and thinking they were pretty cool because they were drawing big crowds of foreign students from the nearby universities. Carsick Cars were generally reckoned to be the best of the "D-22 bands" - and I didn't rate them.

During the first two or three years they were open, I lost count of the number of times I found myself up in Wudaokou on a gig night, wandered past D-22 to see who they had on.... and ended up going to next-door 13 Club instead. Better space, better bar, lower door fee, bigger crowd - always fun times. 13 has always tended to draw more of a Chinese crowd, too. I think the thing that used to piss me off most about D-22 in recent years was that, on a weekend, the crowd would very often seem to be 70% or 80% laowai. When that happens, you're doing something wrong; there are lots of local kids who love this music too, but you've got to make it affordable for them.

Looking back over six years of gigs there, I think I've probably only had 4 or 5 really good nights (the best being a launch event for Arrows Made Of Desire's first CD, at which I got utterly wrecked on tequila shots with a bunch of Swedes...), and a similar number of rather mixed experiences (good bands/ shitty bar service, good bands/ show going on much too late, bands half good/ half bad); the other 15 or 20 shows I went to there were painful to endure.

So, sorry, D-22 - to be honest, you're not going to be much missed. I hope that something better is going to come along in your place.

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