The New Shanghai: 12 creatives shaping our city in 2017 and beyond

Meet the people whose visions are turning into Shanghai realities

Shanghai is world renowned as a city of dizzying pace and with a cutting edge that's razor sharp. But who are the people behind the city's relentless drive into the future? We’ve chosen 12 impressive city denizens who are rising through the ranks to put their stamp on our fair city – and make sure it’s even more damn amazing in the years to come.

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Siu Tang, creative director

If anyone’s left a visible mark on the city, it’s this guy. That intricate thread-art piece in Liquid Laundry? That’s him. Sumerian coffee bags design? That’s him. Wall art on Pizza Expresses around town? That’s him. The list goes on, but since starting his branding and design agency The Orangeblowfish nearly five years ago, the 39-year-old British-born Hong Konger has been shaping trending lifestyle aesthetic in Shanghai.

‘Our company motto is “Balls Deep in Paint” which means we go all in,’ he says. You’ll see their recent work at Dunkin’ Donuts in Jingan or the newest Liquid Laundry branch in Shanghai Centre. But also, Tang is planning to broaden out from only corporate and commercial work. ‘A personal goal for me this year is public art. Public art/graffiti is how I started my creative career, and we plan on doing several large public art projects to give back to the amazing city of Shanghai and its people.’

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Candy Li, fashionista

For HARDcANDY fashion agency founder Candy Li, we’re stuck in a moment of old-fashioned fashion and in an industry oversaturated with too many things we don’t need. This year, the forward-thinking 35-year-old’s Shanghai Fashion Week platform GreenCode will work to involve consumers in the future of fashion while encouraging designers to develop more multi-functional, wallet- and eco-friendly products.

Li is also planning what she’s calling ‘the most beautiful pop-up in the world’ project, where she’ll establish sustainable pop-up shops and recycling stations for fashion pieces integrated alongside natural landmarks. ‘In the future, people will buy into experience more than products,’ says Li. ‘I can’t imagine the result, but I know something interesting is going to happen.’

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Merrick, musician

If 2016 was the year that all-girl rock trio Dream Can became one of the most important bands in Shanghai, 2017 could well be when 22-year-old frontwoman Merrick (also known as A Er) and her bandmates take the country’s rock scene by storm. ‘My main hope for the year is that we can release our album successfully,’ she says, alluding to Dream Can’s forthcoming debut with label Maybe Mars that’s one of China’s most anticipated rock records for this year.

Hard-to-please indie fans in Beijing and beyond are already talking about them as an act to get excited about, and Merrick may well find her languid guitar playing, ethereal vocals and striking good looks soon make her a nationwide idol for alternative music followers. Have a peek of Dream Can live here.

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Rudy Guan, musician

‘I don’t photograph too well,’ Rudy Guan tells us when we invite him to the shoot for this feature. It’s a surprisingly bashful response for the frontman of a rock ‘n’ roll band, especially one with as much on stage swagger as 26-year-old Guan. But while he appears unassailably cocksure when grasping the mic, delivering the lyrics for rockers Dirty Fingers with bags of punk attitude, Guan’s actually a polite and down-to-earth young artist in person.

Not that we imagine too many people will agree with his insistence that he’s not photogenic – with his tattered jeans, mussed up hair and an immediately apparent devil-may-care attitude, as The Clash (almost) sang, ‘Rudy can’t fail’. And, after causing a stir across the country in 2016, this year looks set to see Guan and his band reach new heights with a Maybe Mars-backed album and nationwide tour in the works.

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MIIIA, DJ

She had a taste of the limelight last year at Shanghai’s first-ever Boiler Room, unleashing an hour of dark and stormy techno to the world (watch it here). ‘Before my set, I didn’t really want to talk to anyone because of my nervousness. I felt much better when I was playing,’ Mimi Ting Li, aka MIIIA, tells us.

But there was little reason for nerves. As well as being one of Elevator’s star DJs, the 33-year-old Chengdu native hosts monthly outer-space techno night Room 303 at the club, and last year released her first EP What Happened on the label she co-founded, Co:Motion. Room 303 hosted some big Elevator nights last year – we look forward to the guests and nights she has in store for 2017.

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Sonja Long Xiao, fashion director

As the founder of off-the-wall concept boutique ALTER, Sonja Long Xiao established herself by introducing China to international brands. And after six years of bringing style in, now she’s moving it out. Over this next year Xiao plans to pivot towards the promotion of Chinese fashion overseas, with a mission to change the misconception globally that design in China is limited to copying and mass manufacturing. Through this ‘China calling’ project, Xiao plans to find global recognition for what she calls the ‘whole new generation of millennial cool kids’ who’re currently shaping the Mainland industry.

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Li Qi, curator

‘So there’s something serious, something childish and something sexy,’ Rockbund Senior Curator Li Qi remarks on his upcoming projects for 2017. The curator, editor, academic and now online professor has firmly established himself within the Chinese art scene since graduating from the University of the Arts, London, in 2012.

Having recently co-curated the city’s spectacular Félix González-Torres exhibition, Qi has dedicated his emerging career to bringing a very distinctive Asian perspective to his practice. ‘Shanghai is a wonderful place for contemporary culture but there’s still so much space to explore. We need as many people on board as we can to make the city as cool as possible. I’m just trying to do my part in that.’

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Mack Ross, bartender

If you’re tired of the pretension of bartenders in suspenders and cocktails upwards of 100RMB, look to Ross. The 30-year-old bartender/graffiti artist from Toronto goes at things his own way – and it’s always fun. ‘I always work backwards when I make my drinks. I have this food or this name and need to make something work with that,’ he says. The wheels are spinning as he talks about trying to create a drink to pair with some chocolates shaped like mah-jong tiles he saw, loved and bought just because.

After five years in Guangzhou, he moved to Shanghai last year and opened his Changle Lu bar Tour over the summer. There he tends the bar in a t-shirt and serves up playful takes on classics, each paired with a snack. It’s a breath of fresh air in a serious business.

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Daliah Spiegel, artist

Artist, restaurateur, photographer? ‘On my business card it says chief cat lady at Daliah,’ the 30-year-old Austrian tells us. Spiegel is hard to label. She started the Shaanxi Bei Lu eatery Daliah a year and a half ago. ‘I always refer to it as a space since I’m not coming from an F&B background and just making food was also not the first intention,’ Spiegel says. ‘I’m always interested in exploring areas that are less represented here in Shanghai.’

Over its 18 months, the space has evolved into a much-needed venue for events that challenge the city’s status quo. Spiegel has organised everything from a sex shop pop-up to an expired food supper to a programme called Support Your Local Girl Gang focused on female musicians and artists. Monthly queer-friendly party Snap! has also found a home at Daliah and on the horizon are events that present food in an unconventional way (‘like paired with movies’). We ask how old she is. ‘Forever 21,’ she says, and with creative energy like this, we don’t doubt it.

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Jennifer Bin, photographer

The Toronto native is a UI/UX designer by day – she works for the fast-growing design firm Ming Labs. You know the seamless BottlesXO app? They did that – but what she’s really known for is her jaw-dropping images of Shanghai. ‘It’s a really interesting space to be in, especially during this time because things are moving so quickly,’ she says of the city.

With views of heart-stopping heights and feet dangling perilously or a speck of a friend against a sprawling backdrop, the 25-year-old has blown up on Instagram (68,000 followers) for her Shanghai ‘futurescapes’. Oh, and you might recognise her face and shocks of pink hair – the Apple ‘Shot on iPhone 6s’ campaign picked up her portrait and pasted it up on billboards from Shibuya to Shoreditch the world over.

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Tess, DJ/Producer

Despite plenty of bad news from Shanghai nightlife in 2016, one of the highlights was the emergence of locally based collective Genome 6.66MBP, in particular Sun Jingting who started DJing as Tess before producing the standout track on Genome’s October compilation under the name Hyph11E. ‘Making music for me is just about expressing my own feelings so I never imagined receiving so many people’s support and approval,’ the 25-year-old producer told us.

And she has our approval too – we’re looking forward her debut EP release, which is slated for 2017. Despite losing Genome’s home, The Shelter, she’s optimistic about the coming year. ‘Just from seeing how the Genome collective has been attracting more and more young Chinese, I believe the nightlife scene in Shanghai will only get better.’

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Anneliese Charek, dancer

‘Shanghai has been the only city where I have been able to bring all of my ideas to fruition,’ says this contemporary dancer. ‘There is so much creative hustle.’ The 34-year-old from Los Angeles co-founded the community art space Basement 6 Collective in 2013 and the following year, her contemporary dance company SLATE.

‘The contemporary dance scene in Shanghai is miniscule,’ she says. ‘In order to keep dancing and creating, I soon realised I would have to initiate something on my own.’ And that initiative isn’t dying down, with a documentary film in the works to present her current Master’s research on experimental performance in Shanghai.
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