In the meantime, check out the Harlem Noodle Shake!
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.