Surprisingly for its size, Kunming has a thriving live music scene with several home grown bands, both Chinese and expat, playing regularly around the city and even nationally. From classical music to hardcore punk, the city has it all. If you see them advertised, The Tribal Moons consistently put on a good show and we’ve always enjoyed The Sea Loving Mammals. Also worth a mention is the newly established band, The Great Apes. Musical style is versatile but tends to lean towards rock and jazz. A group that is completely different and shouldn’t be missed if they are around is Smegma Riot. Somewhat of a Kunming institution, on stage this international collective seems to have more energy than talent. This is less a lack of ability and more because they are all so trashed come performance time. Their style is best described as a form of cabaret punk. Whatever your tastes, Kunming is bound to have something for you. The following venues are all frequented by the above bands and make for a great evening out in the Spring City.
TCG Nordica TCG诺地卡 View In Map
Nordica is a Scandinavian managed and Chinese owned café gallery, which hosts frequent music concerts in the evenings. Unsurprisingly, many of the acts are just off the plane from Norway or Sweden, with the occasional Dane thrown into the mix. If you don’t know your kødbolle from köttbulle never fear, the music tends to be contemporary classical or jazz based symphonies or solos with few lyrics. It must be said, the performances are a bit hit and miss. The last time we visited, a very pleasant looking Swedish jazz band banged kitchen utensils together for one hour, accompanied by frantic xylophone music.
Nordica really does make a nice change from the usual shouty bars and clubs. If you find the music isn’t for you, there is always the option of popping into one of the adjoining galleries, tea houses or artists workshops. Put your best shoes on and something black, and float around in the minimalist Scandinavian design sipping on a glass of red wine. Chances are you won’t remember you’re in Yunnan until your drunken cab driver starts screaming in Kunming hua at other motorists on the way back.
Add: 101 Xiba Lu, inside Chuang Ku art compound, Kunming
Tel: 087 1411 4691
Opening hours: daily, 10:00-21:00
Laowo Bar老窝酒吧 View In Map
LaoWo is tucked away down Yiyuan Xiang, a small bustling street packed full of cheap restaurants and their student clientele from the Yunnan Art Institute. Laowo is best described as a dive bar and the venue could kindly be described as basic. Be warned, there is one tiny cubicle toilet serving the entire club so a small outdoor area at the back doubles up as a public urinal towards the end of an evening. However, if you like your beer cheap and your music loud and energetic, this is the place to be.
Since Speakeasy shut down, Laowo seems to have become the venue of choice for touring Chinese rock and punk bands in Kunming. While few compared to larger cities in China, Kunming does see a trickle of national acts pass through. In the past year or so Queen Sea Big Shark, Brain Failure and AK-47 have all swung by. For future events, Laowo would make an excellent venue. A spacious stage and dance area, or mosh pit depending on the evening, ensure that most gigs are well attended if not sold out. On a Friday or Saturday night, the grungy décor of the club and the mass of trendy Chinese students thrashing their brightly coloured Mohicans up and down creates quite an electric atmosphere. It’s not uncommon to find yourself stumbling home with the morning rush hour.
Add: Yiyuan Xiang (across from Yunnan Art Institute front gate), Kunming
Tel: 137 0064 0803
Opening hours: daily, 19:00-late
1895 Movie Bar 1895 电影主题酒吧 View In Map
1895 Movie Bar is situated on a small back street near the main Kundu clubbing area. The bar is nicely presented and has a good selection of local and international beers as well as a passable wine list. There is also a limited menu serving good beer food. It certainly isn’t the cheapest place in town but is reasonably priced for the area. 1895 has a weekly open music night and several talented expat and local musicians seem to favour playing here. Anybody is welcome to perform and the crowd is generally relaxed and encouraging. The stage is quite small and most of the inside area is given over to seating so there’s not much room to show off your moves on the dance floor. However, all this gives the bar the perfect ambience for a relaxed evening, chatting with friends. It’s best to look out for locally placed adverts for up-coming shows and performances.
Add: 106 Wacangzhuang, Sanheying, Kundu, Kunming
Tel: 087 1361 2661
Opening hours: daily, 12:00-late
The Hump Bar驼峰酒吧 View In Map
The Hump Bar is located in the left corner of the lively Jinbi Square. Part of the Hump Hostel, which is located upstairs, the Hump Bar is a popular venue for expats and travelers alike. Currently managed by a hardworking Irish man and his Chinese partner, the bar has a steady flow of weekly music events. A local Kunming band, The Tribal Moons, frequently perform here. Jazz/blues/rock, we don’t know quite how to describe their style, but you can be sure of a lively evening. The venue also hosts a weekly music trivia quiz on Thursdays. There is a bottle of something strongly alcoholic for the winners, as well as booby prizes for the losers. The bar is excellently priced, especially considering the expensive locale. There is a wide selection of ice cold domestic and imported beers on offer.
Add: 1/F Jinbi plaza, Kunming
Tel: 087 1364 6229
Opening hours: daily, 11:00-late
Laba 喇吧 View In Map
Set in a converted factory, by Chinese club standards Laba has a cavernous stage and dance area. We’re a big fan of the pared back industrial look of the place, which reminds us of the uber cool industrial techno dance clubs in East Berlin. This said, at the time of writing Laba had only been open under a year or so and seemed to be struggling to attract regular performers. A lack of decent advertising and the bar’s slightly out of the way location means it also seems to be finding it hard to pull in the punters. Unless you’re specifically looking for quiet, it is perhaps only best to head up there if you’re in a big group or are sure that a particular show is taking place. Look out for posters which are likely to be placed in one of Kunming’s cafes. Surrounding Laba in several outbuildings is a collection of studios/artistic workshops called The Loft. The Loft seems to have the aim of offering an alternative to the artistic community where Nordica is based. In our opinion, Kunming can’t have enough of this type of creative enterprise and so we wish them all the best!
Add: Inside the Loft Jinding 1919 complex, 24 Jindingshan Bei Lu, Kunming
Tel: 136 2962 6830
Opening hours: 19:00-late
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Keywords: live music bars Kunming Kunming Music Scene Live Music Kunming Entertainment Kunming
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