Tag: bad music

A few years ago I spent two months traveling through China. I spent all of my time in the south and the west. I began in Shenzhen, then went to Guiling and Yunnan provinces. I spent the first month there, then headed back to Guangzhou. From there I traveled to Chongqing and then to Sichuan. I spent most of the second month there, with 10 days or so in Lanzhou and Urumqi.

Night club in Shenzhen China
A KTV style Chinese night club in Shenzhen

During my travels, I made it a point to go to a club or two in every major city, to see some local DJs. I came away with one major impression. Chinese clubs absolutely suck. Most of the Chinese DJs are terrible, too, but even if they managed to spin a good set, I doubt I would even notice given how horrible the clubs are. I swear some of them just use regular old record players.

I’ll start in Shenzhen, since it’s the most western city. Located just north of Hong Kong, it gets a lot of international DJs as well as a bunch from Hong Kong and Macau and of course local ones. Many foreign DJs live in Shenzhen, too, since it is the best place in China for them to find work apart from Shanghai and Beijing. It is known as a very progressive city with great nightlife.

While it is progressive, the nightlife is far from great. In fact, the only Chinese city with decent clubs where you can have a good time is Shanghai. And the clubs are only decent, not great. Nothing like Tokyo or even Seoul.

Basically, in China there are two types of clubs: those catering to Chinese people and those catering to foreigners. In all of China, there are maybe 5 of the latter. In Shenzhen, there are none. The city does get some big name DJs, but they end up spinning in the Chinese style clubs, which is absolutely ridiculous. Here’s why:

Pepper Club, located in the Coco Park area of Shenzhen, is the most western club and the one that attracts the most big name DJs. The dance floor is the size of a medium-sized table. It is the biggest you’ll find in a club in the city. Instead, every inch of floor space in the club is filled with tables that customers can sit at for a large fee. This way, the club can make money and Chinese people can sit around in their little groups and not mingle with anyone they didn’t already know.

For some reason they love this. Don’t get me wrong, I love going to a nice bar or pub and talking to my friends, too, but I don’t want to do it in a place with a DJ and pounding music being piped into every inch of the club through hundreds of speakers in every corner. The only time you would want music that loud and that all-present is if you’re in a dance club where everyone is dancing. Not in a place full of tables.

But in China, the clubs are all made for sitting, but the noise level is made for dancing. It makes for the most useless nights out, where you can’t dance, can’t walk around and meet new people and can’t talk to your friends since you can’t hear anything they say. So you end up with a bunch of people getting drunk in small groups but not really talking, everyone just staring into their smartphones. Off to the side, a DJ plays music that no one can dance to and no one can talk over.

I have no idea if the club owners here have simply tried to copy the western club environment and failed miserably, or if they created this horrible clubbing experience on purpose. I imagine they make far more money this way, since people pay for all the tables. Obviously if they were trying to attract foreign customers, they would fail and go bankrupt, but since they get plenty of young Chinese customers, they don’t really need to worry about the rest of us. They can safely ignore us and just do whatever makes them the most money and whatever appeals most to Chinese clubgoers.

This wasn’t just a Shenzhen  phenomenon. All cities are like this. Shanghai, and maybe Beijing, have some decent clubs in the western style where it’s possible to listen to good music and actually dance to it and meet new people, but the other cities don’t. They are far worse than Shenzhen even. In Shenzhen, the clubs are glitzy and at least look like posh clubs. In smaller cities, they look like they want to look like posh clubs, the kind that would attract a famous DJ, but it is obvious it’s just a facade. The clubs all look cheap and tacky.

And the DJs they get to spin music are locals and their skill level is that of someone just becoming a DJ, someone who is in the middle of learning to DJ. They play the same top 40 tunes, but not top 40 from today. The songs were top 40 five years ago. The music is always turned up too loud. If they do play electronic dance music, it’s far too fast and seems completely unnatural. Not that you could enjoy your EDM even if it was good, since again, there are no dance floors and only tables with Chinese people smoking and playing a game of dice.

I’m not the only one who hates the clubs in China. Every foreigner who has tried to go to a few feels the same. The phenomenon of filling every inch of available space with tables and leaving no room for a real dance floor has even made it into a question on Quora, which you can read here. As you can see from that, there have been plenty of huge DJs, some of the world’s most famous DJs, playing gigs in China, but outside of Beijing and Shanghai, you won;t find the venues to really enjoy those DJs. And even in those two cities, the Chinese style of club is taking over. I guess they are just more profitable and are thus squeezing out the clubs that are more traditional and actually enjoyable. Money wins every time. We lose every time. What a shame.

Clubs

I spent some time in Shanghai, China many years ago. While there, I went out clubbing a lot; pretty much every weekend. By far my favorite club in the city was a place called Bonbon. It was located a few hundred meters from my apartment, but that wasn’t the reason it was my favorite. Okay, it wasn’t the whole reason.

It had the best DJs in the city and for a price of $12 it offered an open bar until 4 AM. It was also filled with hot girls. It also had a great sound system and basically a selection of all the best DJ equipment for beginners. True, this club could never compare with the best clubs in other cities, like Tokyo or New York or Las Vegas or Berlin, etc.. But China—and in fact most of Asia except for Japan—does not really have all that many real clubs. Most places are actually pretty horrible, with annoying crowds and bad music that’s way too loud. That’s why a good club like bonbon, seems amazing while you’re there.

Despite the lack of great clubs, China does pull some of the world’s greatest DJs. And in Shanghai, bonbon got a lot of them. I saw quite a few big-name DJs while I was there, but the one that sticks out the most is Sven Vath. I had never seen him before, but had heard many good things, so when I saw that he was playing at my favorite club I was naturally really excited. But that’s not why he sticks out. I remember his performance, because it was so horrible.

DJ Sven Vath
DJ Sven Vath

Bonbon is a drinking club. With an open bar, everyone consumes a lot of alcohol and that makes for a certain mood. That mood is not conducive to long drawn out trance numbers. And unfortunately that’s exactly what Sven was playing. When he first took the stage, the crowd had been whipped into a frenzy by the previous DJ and the excitement only grew in anticipation of the night’s headliner.

But as the set went on and the endlessly droning beats monotonously continued for 10 long minutes after 10 long minutes after 10 long minutes, you could feel the energy being sapped out of the crowd. People who were dancing before were now just standing and watching and pretty soon everyone was looking forward to the moment when the regular club DJ would come in to finish up the night.

It was on this night that I realized that Sven Vath is a terrible DJ. True, it’s not his fault he was booked at the wrong kind of club for his music. There’s nothing he can do about that and the promoter should have done his homework and not brought in a trance DJ. Nevertheless, any good DJ should have the ability to read the crowd and adjust what they are playing accordingly. Sven clearly did not have that ability; or maybe he simply did not have the desire and he just stubbornly continue to play his set list. Either way, he ensured that I will never watch him spin music again and I’m sure many in the crowd left feeling exactly the same.

 

On a final note, if you are planning on traveling to China and more specifically to Shanghai and you want to go out at night, ask around before you head to Bonbon. It was great while I was there, but things change quickly when it comes to clubs and even just a new club DJ can completely change a place. Your best bet, is to simply ask someone when you’re there, like the staff at your hotel or just young people around the city. The one thing you should definitely do is go out clubbing if you’re in China, because even if the clubs aren’t that great, it will still be a unique experience. And if you’re lucky, or should I say unlucky, enough to see a Chinese DJ…well that can be an even more unusual experience.

European DJs