When it comes to live music in China, Beijing might have the most cred, but Shanghai more than holds its own. The city has a small but concentrated rock, punk and metal scene centered around a few killer venues, many of which have become genuine Shanghai staples and must-visits for any music fan in town. Here’s a list of great places to catch local rock at its best, from legendary live houses to untested, scrappy newcomers.
No article on Shanghai’s live music venues could get far without mentioning Yuyintang. This grungey, no frills live bar is pretty much everyone’s favorite – they book great shows, they serve drinks cheap and the crew running the place are the best, most hands-on in town. The space isn’t tiny, but it’s not big either, so on a good night expect the place to be pretty much body to body. Though if you’re looking for respite, there is a small lounge area upstairs – often occupied by the bands themselves – and a space outback where the venue opens out in to Tianshan Park.
Address: 851 Kaixuan Lu, near Yan’an Xi Lu, Changning District
Tel: 021 64450500
Shanghai’s most cutting-edge live venue, Mao Livehouse opened its doors in Spetember 2009 thanks to a partnership between locally owned Soma Records and Tokyo-based Bad News Records, the parent company behind Beijing’s Mao Livehouse. “Owned and run by rockers, it is not a bar that has some music… but a dedicated rock live house, on an ambitious scale that is new to Shanghai,” states Mao Livehouse spokesperson Lisa Movius. “Its location, size, and accessibility attract new audiences, both foreigners and young Chinese, who previously were not concert goers.”
The 800-person-capacity Shanghai live music venue has already hosted international shock-queen Peaches, Japanese post rock legends Mono, French superhero M and indie-psychedelic trio Secret Machines, as well as a slew of international and Chinese artists, and boasts one of the finest sound systems in the city.
Address: 3/F, 308 Chongqing Nan Lu, near Jianguo Zhong Lu, Luwan District
Tel: 021 64450086
For any of Shanghai’s metalheads, the old Inferno in Xuhui was the only place that you needed to know. Having moved to an out of the way shopping mall in Huangpu, the new space is fully equipped for live shows. Best described as an up-market dive bar, the new venue is still figuring certain things out – like how to get the best out of its top-of-the-range sound system – but it’s already been packing in both local and international acts since it opened up, consistently putting on some of the best weekend shows in town. It’s not all metal – there is a healthy smattering of rock, punk and at one point even psychobilly Beijing act Rowling Bowling – but for anyone that likes guitars, drum solos, long hair and plenty of tattoos, this is safe bet.
Address: 658 Dapu Lu, near Longhua Dong Lu, Huangpu District
One of the enduring successes of Shanghai’s music scene, Gaz Williams and Gary Wang started their DJ dance hall in a bomb shelter on Yongfu Lu back in 2007. Popular for its cheap drinks and innovative DJs, The Shelter is one of the best places in the city to dance, with everything from reggae to minimalist techno on the tables. Drum’n’bass gigs are especially strong at The Shelter, with Williams’ massively talented wife Chacha, a singer and graduate of the Red Bull Academy, a semi-regular fixture. Some of the top acts to play at The Shelter include Madlib and the then mad drunk Das Racist.
Add: 5 Yongfu Lu, Shanghai
A divey sports bar-slash-live-music-venue hidden in a Xujiahui basement, Harley’s Bar has the rough and rugged live house vibe down pat despite holding events less regularly than other venues on this list. The “sports” part of the bar – the foosball, the pool, the darts and more – are the perfect accompaniment to some scrappy local rock music. They’ve even had the courage to get a little bit more interesting as of late, with last year’s now defunct monthly Rat On series of gigs often switching up genres with abandon. It’s not Shanghai’s most reliable live house, but definitely a place for live music watchers to keep an eye on.
Address: B/1, 265 Nandan Dong Lu, near Caoxi Lu, Xuhui District
Tel: 021 54247317