Breaking the mold: Xinjiang band to play Latin flamenco this weekend at Idutang

Posted: 07/20/2012 6:03 pm

Rue Moyer is the founder of popular local music site Shenzhen Local Music.  He contributes a column on the music scene in the Pearl River Delta to The Nanfang each week.

So, I was at La Casa‘s Open Mic Night about two or so months ago, one of my first nights back to that scene in years, and stumbled upon these guys: the Battle Wolf Band, from Xinjiang. Well, actually, no real stumblin’ on my part; they found their way to La Casa through their own initiative to give it a go on the intimate, limelight stage that is La Casa’s venue. Since then, I’ve set them up with a regular gig at Rapscallions and they played in the SZLM Blues and Folk Festival which wrapped up last weekend.  (Video of the festival is below).

Anyone that’s performed music for an audience which doesn’t speak the language that the songs’ lyrics are in knows just how terrifyingly difficult it can be.  It’s not unheard of for people to just stare or not pay attention, completely missing the emotionally-charged words or dynamic moments that defy translation.  Yeah, it can be a lost cause at times. Which is why these guys, who humbly took the stage some months back, are all the more impressive.

And these guys have two major advantages when facing this situation: first, Latin flamenco-style music gets the body moving; second, the lyrics are in Spanish, so both laowai and Chinese listeners are not likely to understand, giving them some common ground to “fo’get about it” and let loose. This is exactly what happens at Rapscallions Café and Bar week in and week out when the Xinjiang guys bring that groove to the venue.  And this is where breaking the mold comes into the picture.

Typically in Shenzhen, any group that does music outside of classic rock, Billboards, Western folk and DJ music stray away from the bar scene. Not to mention the bars don’t exactly draw or invite local Chinese bands to bring entertainment. It’s just been the way of the world in these parts. But, this is changing and the “Battle Wolf Band”, the guys from Xinjiang, are leading the trend. Mind you, they’re not on some kind of mission to break through, they’re just trying to make some bread – the foreigner bars pay far better than the regular Chinese spots with far less competition.  Still, it’s making a difference in the variety of music foreign bars can offer and the exposure that non-mainstream bands are able to get.

Usually, local bands like “Battle Wolf” won’t make it outside of OCT Loft, Brown Sugar Jar and BaseBar circles. For years, Yerboli and his crew played his original Kazakastan influenced music, which also had a touch of Flamenco in it. But, if you didn’t go to Yidutang or weren’t in that circle, you had absolutely no chance of knowing about it. Again, it partly comes back to the language barrier issue, but it’s also because the venues and promoters involved in these shows don’t market outside of those circles.  The question is, why?

I’m sure they have their reasons, but ultimately those same reasons are limiting the exposure the musicians get. Maybe this is a ‘cool’ image to have for the venue operators or perhaps some other political reason I’m not aware of. Either way, most people living in Shenzhen will never know about the music happening in these circles. As a musician myself, I loathe this type of protectionism and attitude and choose not to leave my exposure in the hands of venue owners. I suppose Battle Wolf do too, given that they asked me to push their show this weekend and keep the foreign community in the loop!

This piece is my way of showing the Xinjiang guys my appreciation for their years of studying and practice, their determination in finding a way to succeed and their bravado in bringing their flavor to the local foreign music scene. Come check them out at their first formal concert, tomorrow night at Idutang OCT Loft. Tickets are RMB50 at the door and the show starts at 9:30.

For more info on venue location, band biography, and more videos of the group check out this piece on my blog.



Blues & Folk Music Festival @ Rapscallions kicks off tonight

Posted: 07/13/2012 10:00 am

Rue Moyer is the founder of popular local music site Shenzhen Local Music.  He contributes a column on the music scene in the Pearl River Delta to The Nanfang each week.

It’s finally here: the Blues & Folk Music Festival @ Rapscallions.  We have a busy line-up tonight for those who want to check it out.

8pm-9pm: Rue and The Fredall original music written in Shenzhen, by Shenzhen ren, about Shenzhen

Rue Moyer

Rue and The Fred met way back in 2008 over a beer and a jam at Idutang, OCT Loft. Back then, he was simply “Fred” and their group was The Collective. It was a good start, but very few places to play; axes were put down. Now, four years later he’s “The Fred”; him and Jackie Chan have rocked the stage together, and now Rue and The Fred are back at it with enough Blues Slide Guitar and Rhythm sections to blow your face off. Trust me, you’ve never seen someone like The Fred or heard such sarky and insightful lyrics specific to China and Shenzhen.   Plus, maybe you’ll shed a tear listening to Rue’s emotionally-charged, sentimental lyrics.

10:30pm:  The Alec Phillips Band playing tunes from Alec’s CD’s, “Over Easy” and “It’s  Jungle Out There”

Alec Phillips

Alec is bringing his gear and his crew all the way over from Guangzhou for this Festival. Now that’s what I call commitment to community!  Any and everything you might ever want to know about this well-travelled, comes-from-a-family-of-musicians guy can be found in this interview on Shenzhenlocalmusic.com

Midnight: Our very own Jordon Dotson, country music and poetry buff, paints imagery fit for Virginian Appalachian mountain range lovers through songs like “What the Hell is Beautiful”: “Now throw back your hair & open your eyes / We’re born again into this light / Your hips, these prayers all answered in white / ‘Cause salvation’s just a breath drawn out in the night / And this is heaven.”                              

Jordan Dotson

Jordan has lived in the trench for more than seven years now exploring, wasting time, writing poetry and building up two highly successful businesses, including the recently opened American bar, Frankies! That’s a hell of an interesting track record, especially since he’s done all of this before turning 30 years old.

All info and band line-ups for the entire festival can be found here.

Rue Moyer is the founder of popular local music site Shenzhen Local Music.  He contributes a column on the music scene in the Pearl River Delta to The Nanfang each week.


The wizards of Shenzhen – meet the guys behind the city’s successful events

Posted: 07/5/2012 4:18 pm

Anyone that’s ever attempted to produce a music entertainment event knows that, well… it ain’t no easy thang!  As organizer and producer you are the axis connecting the venue owner, entertainers, production engineers, promoters, audience, media outlets and the moon!  While individually adjusting each channel is fairly straight forward, the logistics involved in managing the relationships, details and the sensitivities of the musicians (the same ego that makes them great at their art) requires just a touch of patience coupled with a some steady hustling. But… if you can ‘keep’a’hold them reigns’, you can be The Wizard of Oz; you can watch the seeds of your imagination grow into a uniform event.

Like I said, it ain’t no easy thang, especially in Shenzhen where you need to turn water into wine, but it’s happening now and has been happening for the past few years and well, I think it’s high time that ‘The Wizards of Shenzhen” take a bow.

1)      Leon, Hero For Hire…  When it comes to Rock and Heavy Metal live music events in Shekou, Sea World, no one has pushed it more than him.  He’s in about 3 bands, plays all around the PRD and to date, he has a laundry list of events which he’s organized, produced, managed and performed in. To name a few:

2)      Jesse Warren… Founder of FRESH Crew,  building and promoting dope underground music & events in Shenzhen since 2007. Jesse is the behind-the-scenes mayor in Shenzhen; everyone knows him and most people have had a drink or met a girl at an event he’s organized. Seriously, he makes the party happen, including his most recent event bringing Japanese superstar and major label DJ Makoto to Shenzhen. Best thing is, his events combine music and activities, like surfing, slip n’ slide, beach tours, and more and he hosts them at venues all around town (even outside of town). Now that’s FRESH! This is just a touch of what he’s done:

  • Summer Warehouse Massive featuring Makoto at Brown Sugar Jar, Futian, 2012
  • New Year’s Eve Beach Party, 2010
  • Rock N Roll DJ Party at True Colors, 25th Floor

3)      A Fei – The OCT Loft area (Nanfang Studio: OCT Loft) has been the beacon for Chinese musicians both in Shenzhen and around China since 2008 with the opening of Idutang. Since then, countless acts from around China and the world have made their way to the OCT area for one-off shows, a tour and most recently the Outlook Festival and The Smiling Knives at Old Heaven Bookshop.  A Fei is the man behind most of this traffic.

4)      Rue Moyer (me) – I’ve got a bit of catching up to do in building up my portfolio. These men have been at it far longer than I have, but my approach is different. I write a blog. Why? To bring continuity between online hubbub and offline shows. Offline conversations into online bio’s, ‘aboveground’ and in the open, where people can see and know about the events, all throughout Shenzhen and the PRD, getting local musicians into local venues and keeping steady live music on the regular, not just here and there. How? By doing the leg work: playing shows, connecting this musician with that venue owner, setting up sound and stage, running from this end of town to that and networking like a fiend. Weibo here, Twitter there, blog post yesterday and band review tomorrow. On second thought, maybe event production ain’t so bad!

Most of what I’m doing now is performing at and helping provide steady live music for venues like Rapscallions, Brown Sugar Jar, McCawley’s Shekou, and creating the flow of local music between Shenzhen and Guangzhou at bars like Hooley’s and The Brew.

Shenzhenlocalmusic.com big event coming up is The Delta Sessions: it’s a 3 Day Live Blues and Folk Music Festival  with nine local bands from Shenzhen and Guangzhou playing original music at Rapscallions Café Bar, July 13-15.  I think this will be the most interesting show for live music in Shenzhen in 2012. It’s not a competition, it’s not a blender mix of different genres of music thrown into one and it’s not just one night. It’s Blues baby, by local musicians and three days of it. You can check out the band line-up and the weekend activities here.

Producing shows anywhere in the world is a real challenge, but Shenzhen is akin to scaling Mount Everest. I think one of the fundamental reasons “The Wizards of Shenzhen” have had so such success producing and promoting events here is because we also perform in the shows we create. We produce the shows out of our passion for music and the enjoyment of aiding in building a community. It’s certainly not for money! Not to mention, the music community in Shenzhen has been so minimal that we operate under the motto, “as we build it, they will come.” So…keep coming!!!

Rue Moyer is the founder of popular local music site Shenzhen Local Music.  He contributes a column on the music scene in the Pearl River Delta to The Nanfang each week.


What’s the key ingredient to a timeless song?

Posted: 06/29/2012 11:24 am

(from maniadb.com)

This isn’t about a subject specific to the Shenzhen Local Music scene, but it’s certainly at the front of every musicians mind: What does it take? What’s the key ingredient to writing songs that blow people away…and continue to do so decades after they’re recorded?

Is it melody, groove, lyrics, voice, luck or what? Recently departed Elliott Kettler argued that every great band in the history of music wrote all of their mind-blowing music in the midst of their drug haze. He’s adamant that drugs push a musician into the next realm. Other people believe the best music comes from tortured souls; people like Ray Lemontagne or Tom Waits.

Whatever it is, we’ve all experienced it. We throw on a track with little to no expectation and by the 2:00 minute mark we’re caught trying to justify the steady flow of tears fighting their way to our cheeks and searching the cracks between the walls which we hide between in the attempt to understand. Why…why does this particular song take a hold of my soul and, as my best friend Thadd puts it, “pull on my heart-strings”? For me, one song that has this effect every time is “Helplessly Hoping” by Crosby, Stills and Nash.

Look at the play on words of the verse:

They are one person,

they are two alone,

they are three together

they are four, each other

and the metaphor in the line:

Love isn’t lying it’s

loose in a lady who lingers,

saying she is lost and

choking on hello

In this particular song they touch on all that is beautiful about connecting ideas, memories, and emotion with notes; creating a story through combining these tones in an order, then coupling with lyrics and driving it home with dynamic.

Notice how the finger picking by Steven Stills creates the feeling of movement, walking,  maybe raindrops and a steady flow forward, the emotion in Crosby’s vocal control (left earphone) provides stability and comfort while Nash’s trembling high harmony causes tension, making us feel so fragile, as though we could break in pieces with just a breath (right earphone).

And the music structure perfectly complements the lyrics. Minor chords usually evoke sad feelings while major chords make us feel happy (to put it simply). See how C.S.& N. craft their story around these emotions. It’s art. It’s honesty, and it chokes me up every time.

Take a look:

(Image from DiscoveryChannel.com)

The verse ends with, “Only to trip at the sound of goodbye…”  Devastating; real; painful… Life.

Maybe some of you reading this have never heard of Crosby, Stills and Nash and weren’t aware this song existed. Doesn’t matter. Discovery is half the fun. Surely after listening you’ll understand why I feel inspired to share this beauty with you.

Regardless of your flavor in music, great songs all have something in common. They all are a meaningful combination of music, lyrics, emotion and the culmination of a soul’s life at the time of composition. It’s hard to be yourself…but I think that this is really the key ingredient.

Rue Moyer is the founder of popular local music site Shenzhen Local Music.  He contributes a column on the music scene in the Pearl River Delta to The Nanfang each week.


Shenzhen music blogger gets tossed from a bar for shooting video – is that fair?

Posted: 06/21/2012 9:02 pm

I came across a situation recently that made me question what kind of conduct is appropriate when inside live music venues in Shenzhen.   In fact, I was told to leave a venue for taking footage of the band without buying a drink.

Last weekend I was at OCT Bay, Shenzhen’s crème de le crème in structural aesthetics and local hotspots, for a business function. While there, I wanted to scope out the Detroit band playing at CJW and get some blog footage. Simple enough, I thought…

Below is the video I took before getting the boot from the owner.

Honestly, I didn’t think twice about walking into a public place and snapping off a few photos. But maybe that’s just it…Is a bar a public space? Does free entry mean public? Does public mean freedom of press? Does participating in social media mean you’re the press? Are there any rules? Blah… I don’t know.

Maybe it’s my ignorance. Maybe the rules aren’t clearly defined. Or maybe society is evolving so rapidly that new norms haven’t yet been established. Either way, before this experience I wouldn’t have thought twice about rules of behavior when dealing with a venue. Here’s why:

My thinking (perhaps a touch assumptive and direct):

“Last time I checked this isn’t the early 1900’s, there’s no shady looking fella’s protecting the doors and this bar isn’t hidden down some hallway behind a kitchen in the basement of a random building… What you might expect of a swanky New York bar 100 years ago. It’s in Shenzhen’s Mecca of public spaces. Besides, it’s 2012 and the internet is the vehicle which manages both our social and business lives and openness has proved rather beneficial for most businesses in the 21st century. So, surely any venue owner wouldn’t shun the chance to gain some buzz through media coverage, regardless of the type.”

His thinking (I presume, anyway):

“I run a private bar and music venue. We cater to a certain clientele with a certain spending habit. We’ve got a reputation in Beijing and Shanghai as being a classy joint that always has top international live music. If you want in, you need to reserve a table, buy a drink or get out.”

The issue:

I wasted no time in taking a video and didn’t bother to first buy a drink or spend any money. I don’t represent a well-known magazine or media outlet in the city and didn’t announce myself beforehand, so they don’t know me from Steve. Fair enough. But, I didn’t see a list of rules posted outside the entrance. Did you? Should there be?

Given both our ways of thinking, things happened the way they did. I know I learned a lesson on how to approach a venue, with regard to gathering media footage for my blog. But really, I’m interested to see what your opinions are. Everyone I’ve spoken with has a different point!

Some points I’m still thinking about:

  1. Do you have the right to not be photographed/filmed?
  2. Does someone taking a photo have the right to photograph/film you without your consent?
  3. Do venue owners have the right to decide these rules within their own establishments?
  4. As a user of recreational, social media platforms, do you have the right to post and distribute these photos?
  5. Do you have a set of norms you think about when entering a bar/venue space? Why so?

What do you think?

Rue Moyer runs the popular music website Shenzhen Local Music.  He contributes a weekly column to The Nanfang.


Open Mic Night: A city’s need for live local music

Posted: 06/14/2012 5:18 pm

The Nanfang is pleased that Rue Moyer, the founder of Shenzhen Local Music, has joined as a weekly contributor.  Each Thursday, Rue will look at the local music scene in the Pearl River Delta.  You can read more on his website at Shenzhen Local Music.

Music is ingrained in us. It’s as intricate as the DNA that makes up our being and as rhythmic as a heartbeat. It was always a matter of time until the need for music in Shenzhen was backed by an obvious enough demand. The time is now. How do I know? We have 3 regular open mic night’s happening throughout the city.

In nearly every city, in every country around the world you can find at least one open mic night. These vehicles for expressing creative freedom, either for showing off your goods or merely conquering some stage fright, are a staple to music communities worldwide. They offer a welcoming stage to any level of musician for presenting well-tuned pieces or rough drafts to an audience which, at most times, will listen. At the very least they’ll refrain from booing!

In countries like America, an open mic is a neutral stage upon which musicians can test their newest riffs and producers, agents, and pro musicians can scope out undiscovered talent. From a venue owner’s side of the bar, they can pack the joint with free live music, minus the free booze musicians usually get. Unfortunately, Shenzhen isn’t Nashville and isn’t sought out for its musical prowess, so local music and open mic nights have barely even existed. As anyone that’s lived here for more than a minute can attest to, the only real rhythm you feel comes from the thousands of construction workers hammering away all day. However, most of the red clay has been replaced with foundations; the sea reclaimed for city building projects and now, after more than 30 years, people have taken root. Now, as Shenzhen approaches its 40th birthday, a community for music is starting to bud.

Sunday Nights at 10pm

The first to start looking for live local music, a place that has been doing it long before it was practical and remains by far the most interesting, is La Casa in Coco Park. Need proof? Check out this video:

This is David Seymour, owner and active participant in open mic, singing his own song, “Old Joe Hammer”. It was 2am and we’d gone through 8 musicians by this point. Notic, everyone huddled around the stage, each person pounding away on some form of percussive instrument; djembe, Cajon, washboard, chairs, tambourine.  Jordan’s even wailing on a water jug! It’s tribal, it’s simple and it’s intimate. It’s authentic. Ask most customers why they’re singing along on a Sunday night until 2am and they’d tell you it’s because they want to experience raw music backed by travelling talent. La Casa offers a small stage with a minimal setup, and most people play a mix of covers and originals.

Mondays, 9:30pm-Midnight

The second venue to offer an open stage was McCawley’s in Sea World, Shekou. It’s been on about a year or so now and fills an otherwise empty 2nd floor and generates revenue on Monday night. This stage is completely different from La Casa’s. Here, musicians get access to a fully equipped stage setup; instruments, amps, band space and an atmosphere which epitomizes the Rock & Roll scene. And, Rock is likely what you’ll hear if you pop in. Shekou is the hub for long-term expats in Shenzhen. Many of the residents are middle-aged and raising their families here. Incidentally, most of the musicians relive glory days by jamming away on Hendrix, The Beatles, and Clapton tunes. Shekou is also where most of the live music in Shenzhen happens, so more often than not musos from the local venues stop in to help the open micers feel like real rockers. On occasion, you’ll even find local Chinese busker musicians strumming away.

Thursday Nights

As of 2 weeks ago, the third open mic is on Thursday night at Rapscallions Café Bar, just around the corner from La Casa in Coco Park. When you walk into Raps you won’t find a stage, just some mic stands and an amp. Why? It wasn’t designed with music in mind. But alas, the owner is himself a musician. After little deliberation and keen enthusiasm, Darragh made music a priority for Raps.

Brian Wegener singing at the 2nd Rapscallions Open Mic Night

Music started about 2 months ago with John Hutton, a local teacher and old school tunes player. I’m talking 60+ year old music – sweet, huh? Within a week, he added fiddle extraordinaire Graham to his show. Shortly after, I met Darragh and introduced my entourage of players and a Xinjiang, flamenco style trio to the mix and now music is on all weekend. Audience support and crowd turnout blew our expectations out of the water, so we’ve added a Thursday night open mic night. In the two weeks we’ve run it, we’ve had more than twenty musicians peel out of the woodwork to pick away on the guitar.

Raps is quickly becoming a house of music and gaining a reputation for a venue to hear tunes you may have long ago forgotten.

Shenzhen isn’t known for its music scene. It’s only ever been a transient business city, as it remains in its infancy. But the infant loves music the same as the old man. And, the infant has the advantage of being introduced to the best music from its grandfather’s generation. This international city has the advantage of drawing a highly talented, culturally diverse populace from which to build its music foundations from. Believe me when I say, it’s only a matter of time.