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Shots from the Kapital
By Mar 22, 2010 Arts


One of the key fringe members of the Beijing music scene is Beijing-based photographer Matthew Niederhauser. After taking in his first show at D-22 in 2007, his photographic documentation of the bands playing on Beijing stages has established a central iconography of the young sound of China's capital. Countless bands use his trademark red backdrop D-22 band shots as their press images, and since the release of his photo book Sound Kapital, Niederhauser has gone on to be internationally recognized as one of the most important and dedicated live music photographers in Beijing.

Sound Kapital was released last year on powerHouse Books, and stands as the most comprehensive and exhaustive collection of music-related photography, not only of bands from Beijing, but from all over China. Niederhauser's unique and groundbreaking book serves as a vital witness to a unique period in Chinese underground music.

This Wednesday, Matthew Niederhauser returns behind enemy lines in Shanghai to present his work at Tim Franco's monthly Photographers Night. He'll be joined by a slew of other local photographers, also showing their work. Admission is free, and Sound Kapital will be available therein. SmartShanghai asked Matthew to send over some of his favorite shots from his career in Beijing, and we also asked him how Sound Kapital is doing out there in the world.

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What's the reception been like for Sound Kapital?

Matthew Niederhauser: I have been getting great responses to the book so far. When I released it in the United States, it got picked up by most major media outlets including Wired, PBS, Washington Post, New York Times, Economist, and NPR. More importantly, the Chinese musicians also really like it.

Sound Kapital is like a yearbook for them, and they really enjoy going through it and making fun of each other and what not. I am also extremely happy that I was able to negotiate with the record labels to include an awesome mix CD in the back. That, including the poster art contributed by Chairman Ca, makes it a rather comprehensive introduction to Beijing's underground music scene.

What are you currently working on?

Matthew Niederhauser: Most people are only familiar with my band portraiture and concert photography, but I also shoot during the day. I originally came back to China two years ago to work on a project on urban development and middle-class consumer habits in Beijing. Hopefully there will be a new book out at the end of this year detailing this material. I also spend a lot of time hanging out in what locals call "Ant Tribe" villages, where unemployed college graduates and other menial laborers congregate on the fringes of Beijing for cheap housing. Lastly, I just started taking portraits of Beijing's notable rappers and some of the breakdancing crews. There is always something to train my camera on these days.

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Matthew Niederhauser: Subs -- This is one of my first photographs taken in D-22, and the first time I saw the Subs play live. Kang Mao, the pictured lead singer, blew me away with the sheer intensity of her riotous stage presence. I just camped out in front of the stage and photographed the entire heart-stopping performance.

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Matthew Niederhauser: Fox Pang -- Fox Pang, one of the lead singers for New Pants, went to a special arts school as a kid and now taps into his creative drive both on and off stage. When I finally got an opportunity to shoot him, he dressed up in old-school Maoist clothing and struck Cultural Revolution poses with his keyboard.

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Matthew Niederhauser: Sai Li -- This photo of Sai Li, lead singer for Steely Heart, is one of the most punk shots from the book. He is caught completely unawares with his battered face, rumpled blazer, and exposed fly. Supposedly, he was hitting on a girl with a much bigger boyfriend the night before.

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Matthew Niederhauser: Carsick Cars -- Carsick Cars are easily one of my favorite bands in China, but sometimes the most difficult to photograph due to their understated stage presence. Despite their casual cool, they drive fans wild, so I often move to the side of the stage to capture the effect on the audience, like this shot taken during the second anniversary of D-22.

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Don't miss Matthew Niederhauser and Sound Kapital this Wednesday at the Shanghai Photographers night at Dada. There is no entry fee. Check out the powerHouse Sound Kapital page here; the Amazon listing here; and Matthew Niederhauser's portfolio page here.
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  • patwack

    make sure to check out Scott Brauer\'s work tomorrow. He\'s my favourite for the night

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