Over the past seven years I’ve developed a love-hate relationship with Xi’an, the dusty old Tang Dynasty capital of China mostly known to the outside world for the Terracotta Warriors (most overrated wonder of the world). This is mainly due to my to the visits being confined to around the Chinese New Year holiday, where every tourist area becomes overrun with activity, and every shred of a modernized city, from bars to restaurants, and most importantly, music venues, close up shop. So you can imagine the internal struggle within me to enjoy myself on these excursions.
Nevertheless, as the city has moved into the first-tier city bracket, it has showed remarkable growth – from craft breweries popping up everything, warehouse style art districts hoping to attract artists (and high-paying patrons), and restaurants of all flavors and budget ranges spread out across the city. Heck, two more subway lines have emerged in just the last year, with a scheduled three more in the next year. Xi’an is definitely on the uptake. Whether or not that’ll translate to a healthy music scene in the long run is unclear, but from the little taste I got during my holiday sabbatical I’m quite hopeful.
My first stop on my musical tour was Wuqiong aka Uncapped – located along the south city wall adjacent to Wolong Temple, the oldest Buddhist temple in Shaanxi Province. It’s an indie music haven, run by a group of folks whose musical sensibilities are a lot more refined and underground than you’d expect. A hybrid of School Bar, D-22, and the OG Mao Livehouse for you Beijingers, and a treat for the eyes as well. Here’s a quick snap of the bar surroundings.
Notice New Pants blasting from the speakers. Playlist at this place was predominantly Chinese bands, which is something I’d wish more Beijing bars would do. And while I didn’t get a chance to see live music there, I was able to sneak a peek at the stage and it’s legit. Speaking with one of the managers, it was clear the music scene in Xi’an still faces some hurdles, particularly for young bands looking to make the leap to a legitimate band. Too often, work opportunities are too fruitful in other cities, forcing bands to never be on sure footing. Brain drain indeed. But with some top notch shows on the horizon for Wuqiong, including hosting Xiamen noise rockers 热键被杀手 this week, Shanghai punk stalwarts Dirty Fingers and Taiwanese dream pop outfit U.TA later next month, Wuqiong has established itself as the indie rock epicenter of Xi’an in a short amount of time.
A few days later, I was fortunate enough to be able to check out not one, but two venues within a five-hour span, giving me an even wider idea on how the scene maintains itself. First up was the behemoth underground space Guangyin Sixteen, located alongside the second ring road – a bit west of the Xiaozhai shopping area (just one of many Xi’an’s new and redundant shopping areas) and Daxingshan Temple, the birthplace of Chinese Tantric Buddhism. A high-ceiling parking garage reformatted into a massive space complete with sound proofing tires and fire hazards galore, the scale of the place was quite a shock at first. But it had punk rock grit and charm, a place perfect for metal bands that appreciate a mosh pit or even seasoned multi-member troupes looking to stretch their arms.
Organized by several of the city’s promoters, vendors, and creatives, the Chinese New Year themed music festival featured an diverse range of Xi’an’s most popular acts – from folk pop group AnXing, to hardcore fist pumpers Yao Zhan, long-standing electro rock outfit TBOR, and veteran folk act Xi Ming. The huge audience was in fine form, relishing and cheering on each act, and upstairs the bar and music store were dishing out Hulatang, a traditional hearty stew that would hold me over for the rest of the evening.
A quick ten yuan taxi ride away was Midie Livehouse, a long-standing intimate basement bar and venue located a stones throw away from the main (tourist heeavy) south gate of the city wall. Hip-hop was the name of the game tonight, as local hip hop crew, H.MC (Hip-Hop On My City) made up of a motley crew of rappers, performed to a smaller, yet equally hungry crowd of young adults looking to avoid family duties. This was a Xianese crowd for sure, with the local rappers spitting in the Shanxi dialect and whipping through their extensive cast of characters – from the teddy bear charm of G.K to the dangerously alluring Er Gou.
The headliner Pact ignited the ravenous fans even more, operating on a completing different level – performing only three songs, which the MC noted was due to his high performance fee (note to MCs – maybe don’t mention this to your audience).
But damn was it worth it. And before the clock could even reach eleven it was all over, reminding me that shows around the rest of China needn’t start fashionably late (and never on time).
Indie music, punk rock, folk, hip-hop and more – it’s clear the demand for solid music offerings is present in Xi’an. And from my short musical tour of Xi’an (which didn’t include visits to the well known Aperture Club or the larger scale 1935 Livehouse, both worth looking up) it’s looking like the demand is being met by promoters, venues, and bands looking to establish Xi’an as a city with its own thriving music scene. Hell yes I say.
Xi’an Showstart Tickets: https://www.showstart.com/event/list?cityId=29
Wuqiong Wechat: wuqiongliveclub
Guangyin Sixteen Wechat: GYMusic16
Midie Livehouse Wechat: xianmidie