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The Electronic Graveyard: Where Good Beijing Clubs Go to Die

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The Electronic Graveyard: Where Good Beijing Clubs Go to Die

If you were to ask most people who have been in Beijing more than a few weeks to name five good clubs to go to, Vics and Mix would undoubtedly be the first two names on the list. This would probably be followed by (depending on this person’s penchant for ‘cattle markets’ and/or their proximity to Wudoakou) Propaganda and then a long pause. While the two behemoths in Gongti are Friday and Saturday night staples for many people, anyone who considers themselves a connoisseur of electronic music or a strong-willed individualist will avoid these places like the plague. Names such as White Rabbit, China Doll and The House will perhaps be more familiar to such people, and for those real Beijing veterans, monikers like Orange, Cloud 9, 88 or Off Beat may well produce a pang of nostalgia.

Limited success in China

What all these clubs have in common, other than their devotion to less mainstream forms of electronic music, is that they all experienced relatively limited levels of success (in The House’s case, just six months!). While Electronic music is a clubbing staple in most Western cultures, why do clubs that genuinely concern themselves with the music have such problems being successful? Currently Beijing is considered by local DJ’s to have the second biggest electronic music scene in Asia after Tokyo, which makes these clubs’ travails all the more perplexing.

On second look though, there are perhaps a multitude of reasons why these closures occur so frequently.  The first of these is that Chinese laws are not particularly suitable for large clubs or raves to operate because of the strict fire and public safety legislations. For big parties like the ones Yen or Acupuncture throw, the organisers must obtain permission from the local police chief, which can be extremely difficult. Not only that, but should the police chief decide to say no, he is not required to give any reasons or recommendations. For a society that considers ‘social harmony’ to be extremely important, such a noisy and potentially exclusive event like Yen could be considered a needless extravagance, especially if it’s organised by a foreigner.

Electronic music still on the fringe

Most people would also agree that while the electronic music scene in mainland China is burgeoning, it is still far from being mainstream and that can mean customer numbers are not always high. When it comes down to it, nightclubs are businesses just like any other private enterprise. Because the electronic music industry is relatively new here (and therefore by extension the nightclub industry) the business tactics are also relatively immature. While events agencies are doing more to improve the promotions side of things, it can still be difficult for new clubs to spread adequate awareness, or even generate interest, especially without big name DJ’s playing at their venues.

Clubs are also extremely sensitive to changes in atmosphere, which is usually directly related to the kind of people who go there. One DJ commented that, “If the people are right, the music is right”. Since electronic music is still primarily an interest of the ever-changing expat community, this is a particularly ambiguous facet of the industry that can’t really be controlled or planned for.  Furthermore nightclubs, just like the art or fashion industries are particularly susceptible to fads or trends. High-end clubs especially can find themselves the darling of Beijing’s more fashionable or affluent partygoers one month, only to be relegated to yesterday’s news the next.

The price of club culture

Lastly is an interesting point which DJ Mickey Zhang made and one that perhaps explains the changes in atmosphere that clubs can experience. He opined that electronic music is an art form and therefore a type of culture. However, people don’t really want to spend money on culture, they want to spend it on getting wasted and on picking up girls. The kind of people who really love the music as an art form (especially locals) will just buy it for themselves and have private parties at home, considering clubs to be too messy and noisy. DJ Weng Weng agreed that the culture must come from the people, not from the clubs. He thought that more needs to be done to push domestic stars, so that they have more influence, rather than relying on foreign DJ’s just here for the easy money.

Whatever the reasons, it is clear that as the popularity of the music and its accompanying scene rises, more people will be tempted to try their hand at opening a club that caters to those people who enjoy a different sort of electronic music than that peddled at the self-sustaining mega clubs like Vics and Mix.
Indeed, the two newest clubs to join the ranks of those hoping for success are Haze and Spark. Haze is the newest project of the former owners of White Rabbit and as such has a certain pedigree already. With its minimalist, industrial design and strong roster of resident DJ’s focusing primarily on House music, it’s definitely worth a look. The cocktails are also excellent although a little expensive, and you should take care not to fall down the steep, circular staircase when you head downstairs to dance.

For a slightly more glitzy flavour you can try out Spark. This is a Taipei-based chain so it already has some financial clout behind it and delights in cheap thrills like iPad menus and a laser-lit entrance. The music itself is usually a mix of hip hop, chart hits and house. While more dedicated enthusiasts of other aspects of the genre might be slightly unimpressed, Spark certainly deserves a group night out, even if only for the décor.    

HazeView In Map
Add: A101, Guanghua Lu SOHO, 22 Guanghua Lu, Chaoyang District, Beijing
地址: 北京市朝阳区光华路22号 光华SOHO A101
Tel: 186 1197 0409
Opening hours: Thurs-Sat, 21:00-late

SparkView In Map
Add: B108, The Place, 9 Guanghua Lu, Chaoyang District, Beijing
地址: 北京市朝阳区光华路9号世贸天阶B108
Tel:   010 6587 1501

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Keywords: Electronic music Beijing limited success clubs Beijing clubs Beijing club closures Beijing

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1 Comments ( Add your comment )

patrick juvet


Jun 12, 2012 19:20

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