It is a well-known fact that Shenzhen rarely gets the cream of the crop when it comes to international bands. Westlife came recently to the Shenzhen Bay Stadium, but for anyone who's tastes weren't left somewhere in the late 90s, things can be a little tough. Hope is not lost however, as there are a slew of local bands who play week-in, week-out. They're not international-standard, but they may surprise you. So, who exactly are Shenzhen's musical marvels?
These guys are just good. There are seven of them, they hail from all over the world (Canada, the UK, the States, Italy, Mexico, etc), they are unbelievably tight and no-one in the city comes close to them in terms of sheer exuberance. Anchored by the drummer Jay Jackson and bassist JD's dismayingly talented rhythm section, Transit can – and do – turn their quite considerable skills to almost any style of popular music they see fit. Anything from modern pop through dance beats, R&B to rock classics are all blended together with an impressive visual spectacle and eye-wateringly energetic dance moves. V-Bar itself is the perfect backdrop to the main feature, with a unique auditorium-style room enclosing the large circular stage and expansive luxury seating outside by the pool. The band plays every Tuesday to Saturday, from 22:00 ‘til late.
Popular house band the Terrace All Stars.
2) Terrace All StarsView In Map
The Terrace All Stars is the end result of a Darwinian-style musical evolution going on in China's backyard. Shekou's Seaworld has seen many bands come and go in its time, but somehow the Terrace band always seems to pinch the best members. If a new band with a phenomenal guitarist starts playing in the area, then you can guarantee that within six months that guitarist will be playing with in the TAS. Occasionally supported by expat institution Leon Durupt's acoustic set, the TAS is an extremely tight, six-piece professional band with a humungous repertoire of songs, both classic and contemporary. The bar has taken to printing out request cards and scattering them around the bar for patrons and it is a rare thing indeed when the band has to admit to not knowing a particular tune. They play every night from Wednesday to Sunday.
Add: Seaworld Square, Shekou (above Starbucks), Shenzhen
Tel: 0755 2682-9105
3) HarmonyView In Map
Harmony are my favourite group in Shenzhen. Unlike the previous two bands, these guys are simple acoustic-based three-part harmony maestros. Made up of singer Malu, percussionist EJ and a guitarist with the most unnaturally long fingers I have ever seen, these guys are really something special. There is nothing but a single guitar, a small wooden box for percussion and the voices of the individual members, but Harmony create something so much greater than the sum of their parts. With beautifully tight harmonies, exceptional fretwork and a staggeringly vast repertoire of songs both old and new, the band produces a rich melodic acoustic sound that is the perfect antidote to the overdriven decibel-busting sounds of Shenzhen's other bands. They are also the most eager for audience participation, and rarely is a night complete without some patron staggering up to belt out one impromptu tune or other. The group play from 21:30 every Tuesday to Saturday at McCawley's Irish Bar in Futian.
Add: 1/F, Building C, Coco Park, 9 Mintian Lu, Futian District, Shenzhen (near Fuhua Yilu)
Tel: 0755 2531 3650
4) Black Panda
Black Panda are the newest addition to the Shenzhen music scene. Another V-Bar band, this Anglo-American five-piece play on Sunday nights, meaning they can get away with pushing the boat out a little. Song choices that would be just a stretch too wide of mainstream for the city's more populist venues are belted out with the gusto that only a group playing what they really love can muster. Every member sings, and the band swears by an anarchic form of democracy whereby each player gets to make their own song choices, leading to some of the most diverse and eclectic set-lists you could wish to hear in Shenzhen. It shouldn't work, but it really does. Hearing a band confident enough to segue from a Tupac song to Arcade Fire by way of Chuck Berry, all while playing to a rowdy Chinese crowd at midnight on a Sunday, really is a sight to behold. Playing every Sunday night from 22:00, the band cover current pop hits, indie gems, classics ranging from 60s rock and roll through 70s soul to 80s standards. What else are you doing on Sunday night anyway?
5) KaktoozView In Map
Kaktooz are one of the more accessible bands in the city. Playing at the X-Ta-Sea bar in the Minghua ship in Shekou's Seaworld, the band are five piece group from Hong Kong who forged quite a successful career for themselves before making the trip on over to the mainland. Audience-centred to the end, the band carefully split up their gig into four sets: pop songs, R&B songs, dance songs then rock classics to finish. They have one of the most talented guitarists (with both the greatest hair and extremely complicated looking effects pedals) in the city and are a great backdrop for one of the few bars in Shenzhen that actually feels like a bar. They often have expats up to play songs with them as well, so for any budding guitarists out there, this may be just the place for you. The band plays every Tuesday through Saturday from 22:00 until late.
Add: Minghua Ship, Sea World, Shekou, Nanshan District, Shenzhen
Tel: 0755 2686 7649
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