My idea of a good life is very simple. If a lifestyle can combine a person’s hobby with their career together, it must be the best. I first worked in Dongguan in 2004. At that time, it hadn’t developed so well. It didn’t have a great many tall buildings or such big squares. There were still factories in Guancheng, a real contrast to present day Guancheng which focuses on the city’s history and culture. The transportation around the 32 towns was not nearly as convenient. Upon completing the work, I hadn’t paid too much attention to this city since.
Until in 2013, I passed by the Batou Village area in Wanjiang. I discovered a bright and thriving hidden world appearing from nowhere. All of a sudden, I felt warmed and connected to the city. To me, a city without this warm quality is like a man without roots, no one will like him. To be young and trendy there, it is necessary to sit under a flowering tree, drinking whatever coffee or cocktail is preferred, while peeking at beautiful girls and pretending to be awesome.
To be honest, my purpose in Dongguan when we came to Wanjiang under the banner of rock ‘n’ roll was not an altruistic attempt to improve the city’s nightlife Although it has started to rock Dongguan fans, there was still a bit of that dirty selfishness floating over us. We were sniffing out the beauties, along with the money-making opportunities and any other possibilities of self interest. However, we’re happy to do both.
Rock music is my religion. If I was the chairman I would turn the CCTV New Year’s Gala into a gig skewering metal, punk and folk music. Alright, if it’s impossible, let me rock out Wanjiang instead. And that is where we opened the live house music venue we call the Brown Sugar Jar.
Do it harder! Metal-er! At the beginning, Dongguan people didn’t understand what was rock, what was a live house. People here lived a harmonious and simple life; all they cared about was where to eat and where to drink. Rock music seemed to be something from another world.
We were sniffing out the beauties, along with the money-making opportunities and any other possibilities of self interest.
During the very first performance, we were worried about the ticket sales and the reactions that local residents would have. It was the Dongguan stop on the Pearl River Delta tour of Veto Way, the post hardcore, screamo band. We started to promote some new ideas to the fans of rock. Number one, the shows require tickets for entry; number two, seating is not arranged; number three, you should expect pogo during the performance. Pogo, a dance allegedly invented by Sid Vicious of Sex Pistols fame, and its descendents, mosh, stage diving and the wall of death, are an important release for youth. Youth needs passion.
The youth of Dongguan (or people with a young mindset) became savvy fast, helping the Jar’s staff to grow the rock ‘n’ roll atmosphere by attending the performances with the motivation of life during wartime. The first show, I remember we sold 80 tickets—a lot more than we expected—then we successfully hosted bands from all over China and abroad, Zi Zao, BRUE, Time Reverse, Yu Ren, FNKY SMTHG, Xiao Pu, Zhao Lei, Shepherd and so on. The music styles ranged from folk, world music, to metal, hard core and more. The ticket sales were surprisingly not bad. I was so grateful, and full of bliss.
Of course we haven’t seen a lot of money coming in, but we are moving forward. I see more and more people joining in, individuals and bands, such as the locally famous rock band Second Hand Goods met their accompanying guzheng (a 21-string, Chinese zither) player Ms Fang, when they came to play in our Jar. Her participation brings some Chinese elements to the rock band.
Certainly, the good nights don’t come every day. It seems that the crowds either need time to learn rock culture, or they have got it figured out and refuse to assimilate. I was shocked when it came time to pogo, everybody sat still; when the bands tried to inspire a wall of death they wouldn’t stop pogoing; or they wouldn’t stretch out their arms for stage dives. But all of these were only interludes, we must believe that rock ‘n’ roll goes deep down into their heart. If it doesn’t go deep, the band must not be doing a good job.
Dongguan is a special city, we didn’t choose it only because it is close to Shenzhen, where its sister venues are. For all the time we’ve been here, the city has not merely been a sex and factory capital, it should have a spot for rock ‘n’ roll. I’ve met a lot of friends since staying in Wanjiang. They love the Jar as passionately as they love rock music, I’m so overwhelmingly flattered.
Neo Niu is the manager for Wanjiang’s Brown Sugar Jar Live house. He splits his time between Dongguan and Shenzhen.