Shenzhen has never had much of a music scene. Sure, the occasional artist will make a flying visit here and there, but Guangzhou and Hong Kong bleed Shenzhen of the majority of the talent. What we do have in the SEZ however are a huge number of house bands who are really rather talented. The majority of these groups play four to five times a week, and are subsequently incredibly professional. Moreover, these bands know they are there to entertain. Whereas you would never get the chance to play onstage with a “real” band, many of the groups in Shenzhen are more than happy for their customers to get up and try their hand. No matter what you are, an amateur singer, pianist, drummer or even fiddle player; somewhere in Shenzhen there is a band to willing to let you play. Here are the best four, so far.
1) McCawley’s FutianView In Map
Every Wednesday to Saturday, an incredibly tight acoustic trio called Harmony play upstairs in McCawleys at 21:30. They play all manner of covers, running the gambit between rock and hip-hop, but they are also famous for letting patrons get up and try their hand at performing. Get to know Malu or EJ, the singer and percussionist respectively, by introducing yourself between sets, and later on at night they’ll let you have a go. If you play guitar or can sing, try learning a tune off the band’s set list and sit in with the whole group. Alternatively, you could take to the stage solo. They usually let you try later in the evening (around midnight), but if you surprise them with how good you are they may even ask you to sit in on a more regular basis!
Add: McCawley’s Futian, 139 Fuhua Lu (Coco Park North), Futian District
Tel: 755 2668 4496
2) X-ta-sea, SeaworldView In Map
X-ta-sea sports bar has an absolutely brilliant five-piece band that plays five nights a week, from Tuesday to Saturday. The difference between here and McCawley’s is that these guys are loud. No acoustic guitars here. Speak to Justin, the bar manager, or one of the band members in between sets and express your interest. Drums, keyboards, bass, electric guitar and vocals are all up for grabs here, and provided you know how to play one of the many thousands of songs the band have learned, they’ll let you have a go. I have seen middle aged men playing out guitar hero fantasies, ten year old kids shredding away merrily, and some really surprisingly talented oil-rig worker singing their hearts out. There is usually more of a crowd here than at McCawley’s. If you can handle the spotlight, this place may be for you.
Add: Minghua Ship, Sea World, Shekou, Shenzhen
Tel: 755 2686 7649
3) The Terrace, ShekouView In Map
Very similar in set-up to X-ta-sea, the Terrace boasts arguably the most all-round talented band in Shenzhen. A little more hesitant at first to let people come up and play, the band will warm to you once you get to know them. Pat, the guitarist, has a tendency to hook his guitar up to a radio amp and then duck-walk Chuck Berry style around the bar. Should he take a shine to you – and should you know how it goes (or at least what key it’s in) – he may hand the guitar to you mid-song. Many a Terrace rock hero have been born this way. Failing this, speak to Leon the bar manager about the chance to play. He plays music himself, and there are open-mic nights now and again. Should you be up to scratch, he may ask you back.
Add: Seaworld Square, Shekou, Shenzhen
Tel: 755 2682 9105
4) True Colours Club, DongmenView In Map
It’s a bit trickier to get onstage at True Colours Club, but at least here the foreigner-as-novelty card can play in your favour. True Colours is situated on the 4th floor of the Gold World Business Center in Dongmen and is split into two areas: a nightclub and a bar/music venue. There is a rotating set of acts playing on the music stage, predominately Mandarin or Canto-pop acts playing to an exclusively Chinese audience, but they have been know to let foreigners up to play. This one may take a little more planning (and a little more talent), so speaking to the bar-staff beforehand will help, but I have been there on at least two occasions where foreigners have played. If you are brave enough to attempt a song in Chinese, you will go down a storm.
Add: 4F, Jinshijie Commercial Center, 2003 Jiefang Lu, Luohu District, Shenzhen
Tel: 755 8230 1833
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Keywords: Shenzhen live music venues Shenzhen music bars Shenzhen aspiring musicians bars to play at in Shenzhen
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