First published on 11 Aug 2012. Updated on 15 Apr 2013.
As Shanghai celebrates Record Store Day, Jake Newby talks to the people behind China’s growing vinyl and DIY scenes
In an age when consumption of music is dominated by convenient, easily portable digital files, Chinese bands are slowly following a global trend that has seen sales of this supposedly ‘dead format’ grow year on year. Shanghai-based bands such as AM444, Next Year's Love, Round Eye, Pairs and Duck Fight Goose have all put out 7" and 12" releases in recent months.
‘It seems like every month there is a new vinyl-related event or store that appears in China,’ says Nevin Domer, the founder of Beijing-based Genjing Records
who have been behind the releases. ‘More and more bands, like Wang Wen, Lure and Go Ri De are choosing to release their stuff on vinyl and audiences in China are collecting second-hand vinyl like never before.’
Domer, who also runs operations for Beijing indie label Maybe Mars, has been working on Genjing for the past year. ‘Originally I was just releasing 7”s for my own band, Fanzui Xiangfa,’ he says. ‘We were touring internationally and did a couple of splits with our friends in Malaysia and Germany and then wanted to do a 7” for a European tour. I was making connections with labels and factories abroad and figured I could also do this for other Chinese bands interested in releasing vinyl.’
The result has been a steady flow of vinyl releases from Beijing acts such as Dear Eloise (PK14 frontman Yang Haisong’s side project) and punk band Demerit, as well as the trio of records from Shanghai. The initial reception has been positive and Domer is planning a string of releases in the next few months, though he remains realistic about the market’s potential. ‘I have no illusions that this market will ever be huge, but more and more Chinese collectors are discovering vinyl and that is a healthy development for the emerging DIY scenes.’
Sophia Wang, lead singer of Next Year’s Love, agrees. ‘A lot of Chinese bands have already released vinyl records and it seems young music fans thinks they’re cool,’ she says, pointing to the intangible nature of the band’s releases to date as leading them to produce their own 7”. ‘We’d already released a digital EP on Bandcamp
, so we wanted to do something different. People don’t really care about CDs now, they just download everything. However, the sound quality and durability of vinyl records is much better than CDs. It’s a warm, clear, well-defined sound.’
Despite his label’s focus on vinyl, Domer says that he personally doesn’t strongly favour one format over another, though he does see the appeal of vinyl records. ‘I do like the feel of vinyl, the physical weight to it, the size of the cover art, the act of placing it on the turn-table and turning it over when it reaches the end of a side. I also like the scratchy, more organic analogue sound. I don’t think one format will necessarily win over others, but despite the forward march of technology some of these “outdated” formats like vinyl and tapes will retain their appeal among music collectors.’
Vinyl records have long held a romanticism that subsequent formats such as the compact disc have been unable to capture and this is contributing to the growth in record sales in China as well as inspiring bands to release on vinyl. ‘Personally, I’m well done with CDs, they seem pretty irrelevant to my life and the way I listen to music,’ says Xiao Zhong, drummer in Shanghai band Pairs, who released their Acid Pony Club-produced double vinyl LP If This Cockroach Doesn’t Die, I Will last October on Metal Postcard records. ‘Vinyl, cassettes, VHS and USBs all seem to hold more value. I’m not sure what that is exactly, but it’s something far more tangible and meaningful than a CD.’
For Domer, one of the key goals for Genjing has also been to connect Chinese bands with DIY scenes around the world. ‘Co-releases with partner labels and the choice of vinyl as the format are good ways to do this,’ he says. ‘I also try and do as many split releases as I can, hooking up good local bands with like-minded bands abroad. This way local Chinese bands can help introduce foreign ones to audiences here and the foreign bands can introduce Chinese ones to audiences abroad.’
The hope is that this will contribute to a growing awareness of the DIY ethic in China, whose nascent alternative music scene is already subject to heavy corporate branding. ‘Many bands here are “DIY-by-default” and will do whatever they need to to get their music out,’ says Domer. ‘But when there are options for bigger record labels, promoters or sponsors to pay for everything they are quick to take that option. It’s only now that we’re starting to see smaller labels and bands saying no to bigger labels and corporate sponsors and trying to create music on their own terms. I don’t think the “Chinese version of DIY” will necessarily be the same as it is in the West, but it will be interesting to see what sort of ethics and principles develop here.’