For the past two years, roving events brand Alter. have been blurring the boundaries between music and art with their immersive parties all over Shanghai, taking over gardens, rooftops, museums and more. Now a household name in the city’s music/nightlife scene, the promoters have taken the next step in their vision with their own bar/club, X Bar
– taking over the former Parrot space on Donghu Lu. We sit down with co-founders Yu Yang and Enzo Grasso as well as the bar’s manager Agu Chen to find out what makes it different to a ‘stereotypical’ nightclub and their plans for the future.
First things first – can you a give us a brief rundown on Alter.?
Enzo: Alter. started with the idea of creating a party focusing on disco, house and generally just good electronic music that we’re really into. We wanted to give a new environment to a style of music that we’re passionate about. Somewhere special that’s not too dark and where you can easily mix and mingle.
After two years of throwing parties all over the city, what was the motivation to move somewhere permanent?
Enzo: We are nomads at heart. We go from venue to venue and always bring our own soundsystem, production lights, DJs and the rest. That can be quite challenging, so stability is important for us because we cannot fully stamp our identity on each venue as they always change. Previously we’ve always had to adapt to the location – a rooftop, a hotel, a museum, you name it. Now we’d like a place that adapts to what we do.
YY: We have quite a large community that would like to meet more than a few times a month. Preferably in a space where you can meet interesting people without being too drunk that feels classy in drinks and design. I guess the main idea is to showcase every aspect we like and give our community a more permanent place to enjoy all that together.
What’s your vision for X Bar and its standing in Shanghai’s nightlife scene?
YY: On weekdays and early hours of the weekend, we’d like to have a strong cocktail identity. Not in a sit down, super serious kind of way but where you can kick back with well-made drinks and natural wines. We’re already in touch with Campari and Peddlers about having guest bartenders. Later into the night things naturally get more dancey and on weekends we want to use our expertise to book upcoming and established local DJs. Once borders relax, it would be cool to do big parties with international DJs on a monthly basis. When it gets warmer we’ll use our terrace to do some daytime events like markets and record stands – we also have a sustainability-focused project going on called Xanadu.
How come you decided to set up in the old Parrot digs and what have you done to put an Alter. spin on it?
YY: An essential criteria of mine is to have an outdoor space. I used to live in New York and I wouldn’t really go out on a Friday or Saturday night. Instead Sunday afternoon parties were more my thing. That’s why we started Alter. during the daytime. It also has to be centrally located and small enough to feel intimate. It’s nice to be a bit hidden, away from the street. Almost like a speakeasy but still downtown where everything is happening. It’s cleaner, more minimal in design, homier, cosier but inside we can still play our music loud. When you think about it there aren’t many places like that available. I think we are super lucky to set up here.
Enzo: The venue has a reputation as more of a late night bar. We’re trying to change the layout, the style, re-brand it to an extent. The most important thing is the vibe – the people that turn up and the music.
Talking of the music, what can we expect?
YY: We’ll try to host some live sets with singers that are experimental and ambient, nothing cheesy! I think that could be quite interesting.
Enzo: We have a vinyl player, a great soundsystem and a club setting. That allows for a lot of experimentation. When we first started out we didn’t focus on bringing in the biggest names. If the brand does continue to grow however, expectations follow and if the situation allows we would love to keep getting them to Shanghai like we did Dixon in the past.
If you could book one artist at X Bar tomorrow, who would it be?
Agu: Tornado Wallace would be ideal, he’s an Australian producer based in Berlin. We actually booked him earlier this year but unfortunately had to cancel because of the pandemic. He fits Alter. very well and we hope we can book him eventually!
YY: I would love to get Nicholas Jaar live – now that would be fun. His work is thought-provoking, poetic and has inspired for me for years.
Finally, can you shed any light on upcoming winter plans?
Agu: We’ll promote open deck nights on Thursdays. We’re a new venue so it would be nice to grow up with new artists and possibly have our own residents. On Wednesdays we’ll have a day called Mercury Code that’s great for dates or important meetings – Mercury is the planet of communication – plus a saxophonist and rotating drinks specials.
Enzo: With the open deck nights, DJs will have the opportunity to showcase their music, bring and share records and who knows, maybe we can book them in the future.