The Sound of the South: Guangzhou’s Music Scene

The Sound of the South: Guangzhou’s Music Scene
By Jefferson Mendoza ,

A fire burns brightly among the hearts of Guangzhou musicians who join together every week to showcase their talents and to allow their unique sounds to be their name card at various bars and pubs in the city.

With the rise of music bands like Peacock Blue, DPRP and Shining Light, Guangzhou’s music scene is growing and changing. Every night of the week you’ll be able to find a live band to dance the night away to.

Open mic

Open mic nights have been a great way to discover new talents in the city. Michael Kerton, of the newly formed group DPRP (Democratic People’s Republic of Pop) discovered a future band member, Jacinth Lee, while he was trying out at Hooley’s Irish Pub’s open mic night. Already an established musician in Guangzhou and playing with another band at other Western bars, Michael Kerton serves as a lighthouse to his new band members that also include J Kuang (Bass) and Jaz Chan (drums).

With only a month experience playing together, DPRP quickly bonded and were ready to dive into Guangzhou’s music world. They know that when it comes to performance, it all boils down to a connection with their audience, which begins with the bands chemistry together. “We talk between each other and we get the audience together. We have to bring them in,” says Kerton.

Kuang, an entrepreneur, and Chan, a university student, have been described as easygoing and laidback guys that also help to make up this newly formed band. The newbies have learned hard work and working under the pressure while the more experienced ones (Kerton and Jacinth) are learning from the newbies on how to keep the youth, and the love for music, alive.

The Sound of the South: Guangzhou’s Music Scene
Source: nromagna

Kick off nights

With Alice Leung’s sultry voice, Eric Wong’s bobbing head on guitar and Blair Wilkie’s energetic tapping on drums, Peacock Blue has slowly been breaking musical grounds among Chinese patrons who frequent Western bars.

Peacock Blue’s jazzy and funk sounds may not always be the most popular choice, but introducing such a genre is why this band stands out. “I like to play different rhythms. But for some Chinese patrons, it’s hard for them to catch it,” says Wong who also serves as the band’s director. “Changing pop music to funk or swing music is difficult for them to dance to. It’s a big problem with the culture. But more and more Chinese watch TV programs and they know more about reggae, jazz and swing.” In the past, Peacock Blue’s audience would only watch in silence, play with their smart phones or ignore them altogether. That is now beginning to change.

Canadian Blair Wilkie (percussion) also serves as the manager of the Canadian-owned bar The Brew in Taojin. His high-energy provides a balance to Peacock Blue’s mellow music on Sunday nights. “As a performer, if the place is going wild and the people are going nuts, it’s a lot easier because the energy is everywhere. As for us, we need to keep our energy at a high-level at all times.”

In the past, Leung has sung at Chinese bars, but said that their choice of sound was once difficult to sell to Chinese patrons, especially when the bar has a specific style of music in mind. Oftentimes, their talents are overshadowed or the bar would rather have a foreign band.

Still, Leung and Wong have created a brand for their band and “if you’re creating a band, it’s not always about techniques or music,” says Leung during a dinner interview at The Brew. She said that maintaining friendship might be difficult yet being able to communicate our musical ideas has allowed them to grow stronger. Being honest to each other’s capabilities and areas of improvements both on and off the stage are essential to their success on the Guangzhou music scene.

“You need someone who really cares and who really wants to bring every person to the table. And that’s difficult to do on a daily basis,” says Wilkie, who likes to wear multiple hats at once.

Guangzhou and beyond

With the growing number of bands arriving on the scene in Guangzhou, often bands have to adapt to compete. Shining Light first projected itself as an instrumental-only band. Under the direction of Lili He (bass), and the arrival of Brian Leung on vocals the band created a sounds that appealed to many more audience members.

“When he (Brian) showed up, people came alive. When we were just playing music, people were usually down. They thought that the music that we were playing was elegant music,” said Hong, serving as an interpreter and spokesperson for the band.

Like many band members in the city, Shining Light’s drummer Ken Wu also plays with other bands that have seen the lights of neighboring cities like Macao and Hong Kong. Wu was also involved with Golden Cage – a three-member band – which toured the country in 2009. With ten years of experience under their belt, Golden Cage experienced the peaks and troughs of the music business. Figuring out the musical direction of the band often challenged the creative process of each member. Their breakup two years ago made Wu contemplate his contribution to each of the bands that he is involved with.

The feelings and the memories that are created by these bands at a particular time have left pubs, bars and restaurants connoisseurs alike asking for more. Competition is even higher with the emergence of new sounds and bands. DPRP, Peacock Blue, Shining Light and Golden Cage all play a very different style of music, but in Guangzhou each has been able to share their passion with willing audiences.
Guangzhou venues that offer live music

1) Hooley’s Irish PubView In Map
Add: 101, 8 Xing Sheng Lu, Zhu Jiang Xin Cheng, Tian He District, Guangzhou
地址: 广州市天河区珠江新城兴盛路8号, 101
Opening Hours: 11:00 -02:00
Tel: (020) 3886 2675
Getting there: Take subway line 5 Liede station Exit D

2) British Rebel Rebel Café and BarView In Map
Add: 42 Tiyu Dong Lu, Tian He District, Guangzhou
地址: 体育东路42号
Tel: (020) 852-01579
Getting there: Take subway line 1 Tianhe Sports Complex station

3) Canadian The Brew (Taojin)View In Map
Add: Unit 11-13, Yu Hai Food Street, 1 Jian She Liu Ma Lu, Yuexiu District, Guangzhou
地址: 越秀区建设六马路1号誉海食街11-13号铺
Tel: (020) 8382 8299
Getting there: Take subway line 5 Taojin station Exit A 

4) German Restaurant and Bar 1920 (Jian She Liu Ma Lu)View In Map
Add: 1 Jian She 6th Road, Yuexiu District, Guangzhou
地址: 越秀区建设六马路1号4楼
Tel: (020) 83881142
Getting there: Take subway line 5 Taojin station Exit A

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Keywords: Open Mic live music in Guangzhou; Guangzhou musicians Guangzhou’s Music Scene


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Interesting article but you seem to have only highlighted a limited number of expat style bars for live music. For places that also have a varied selection try C-Union, T-Union, 191 Space, Tekkwun (if it is still open). There are also a number of bars over on Party Pier that have live shows, though these are primarilyy rock covers bands.

Feb 09, 2014 20:28 Report Abuse