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The Shanghai Rock Guide
All the city's current venues, and an R.I.P list of the fallen...
By Aug 27, 2015 Nightlife
Cover photo, Live Bar, and Inferno pictures by Rachel Gouk. All other photos by SmartShanghai.

[Music Monday will resume next week]

Shanghai's rock community has had its ups and downs over the past 20 years. If you are new to the city, you're lucky enough to be in an upswing of visiting touring bands, an increasing number of local bands, tons of music festivals, and a solid amount of live venues to check out such gigs. This article is intended to share some of the contemporary mainstays of Shanghai rock venues. For those shows, you can check out our live music listings. And if you are looking for large stadium concerts then your best bet is to check out SmartTicket. For now let's take a trip into the underground of Shanghai and visit her established venues for rock, folk, and more.

Note: This guide does not focus on the city's fine venues for funk, blues, and soul. For that, you can check out our Live Music Venues For Grown Ups guide.

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Yuyintang


851 Kaixuan Lu, near Yan'an Xi Lu | 凯旋路851号, 近延安西路口



District: Changning
Metro Stop: Yan’an Xi Lu (Lines 3 & 4)
Capacity: 400
Music Style: Primarily rock, folk, and metal, but also many domestic and international touring artists representing jazz, electronica, world music, hip hop and more.
Drinks: Standard beers with a few craft selections, solid mixed drinks. Wouldn’t suggest ordering a cocktail.
Crowd: Combination of locals and expats (depending on the performance).
Website: YYT official website, YYT Douban
WeChat ID:育音堂
Booking Contact: Email: 37257922@qq.com

Yuyintang is one of Shanghai’s oldest and most well–respected live music venues. Comparable to New York’s CBGB club, Yuyintang is the heart of Shanghai rock 'n roll. The place is owned and operated by Sun Lu and Zhang Hai Sheng, who have over 20 years experience working in the local music scene. The unique location inside Tianshan Park provides a nice setting for checking out Shanghai’s best local bands along with touring acts. Back in the day, one could find people laying around in the park at night (and during the day at the Pure parties), but that's no longer the case due to a museum filled with expensive art.

On any given night you could find a western indie rock artist, Beijing metal, a Taiwanese pop star, and anything else your heart desires. Yuyintang has seen punk legends DOA grace their stage along with seminal electro punk Dan Deacon, post-punk hipsters Deafheaven, and hundreds of other bands.

The sound system has been a work in progress for the past decade and with the right mixing board operator, you will get a solid sound experience that will leave a buzz in your ear the next morning. The door charge always depends on the acts playing but general local shows go for around 50rmb and touring acts are 50–150rmb. Back in the good ole days you could get in a local Yuyintang show for 30RMB and beers were a wu jiao (ok maybe not the beer). A must visit for music lovers, Yuyintang should be on the top of your Shanghai experience check-off list.

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On Stage


A2, Lane 570, Huaihai Xi Lu, near Hongqiao Lu | 淮海西路570弄A2, 近虹桥



District: Xuhui 
Metro Stop: Hongqiao Lu (Lines 10, 3, 4)  
Capacity: 400
Music Style: A mixture of local and touring rock, folk, metal, jazz, hip hop, and more.  
Drinks: Small selection of beers and mixed drinks. Cocktails not suggested.
Crowd: With their focus on Chinese rock, On Stage usually has higher percentage of local crowd.
Website: On Stage Douban
WeChat ID: onstagesh
Booking Contact: 48841640@qq.com, 13774270672 Rex

On Stage is set in the increasingly dilapidated, government–funded sculpture park Red Town (where the original Shanghai Mao Livehouse was). Much like Yuyintang, this place gives you an opportunity to take a stroll through some overgrown grass and check out all those legs that just won’t quit. The building itself has a narrow railroad style with tall ceilings and walls adorned with acoustic blocks that could be in a modern art museum. If you are looking for a place to check out Chinese rock bands and the down to earth fans that love them then On Stage along with Yuyintang are your two best bets.



On Stage represents a more refined Chinese music fan with many interests like post-rock, jazz, folk, world music, and even metal. Upstairs is a large lounge seating area with art and records lining the walls (some for sale) and comfortable tables and couches. On most weeks you’ll find an even number of local & touring bands. Famous for supporting the musician's musician, many of the shows are filled with fellow artists who perform in various projects. I guess you could call it a music industry crowd without the industry.

Some noteworthy events that have been hosted at On Stage include the bi-monthly record market Daily Vinyl which represents mostly local Chinese collectors. Also, DJ Santo Chino used to host his Sunday ambient record listening party Space Out! at On Stage. 

Although On Stage is not immune to a cheesy themed night or two, you won’t find a more enduring and heartfelt live music club in Shanghai. Word on the street is that the sculpture park Red Town has lost its government funding, so get out there and check out a concert before she is gone.

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Live Bar


800 Guoshun Dong Lu, near Shuangyang Lu | 国顺东路800号 近双阳路



District: Yangpu
Metro Stop: Line 8, Huangxing Park, Exit 2
Capacity: 200
Music Style: Rock and Metal; mostly local / domestic.
Drinks: Cheap beers and mixed drinks.
Crowd: Locals, students.
Website: Live Bar Douban
WeChat ID: LIVEBAR-SH
Booking Contact: 13817525605; livebar1@163.com

Legend has it that Live Bar is older than time itself. For at least 10 years, the Yangpu venue has been the respectable alternative to the bourgeoisie inner-ring establishments. Yes, Live Bar is for the hardcore rambling man who can’t be tied down to Changning or Xuhui. A place of true rock, bands like Goushen and Chaos Mind have been known to hold court in the form of regular gigs. On top of old salty rockers you’ll get a heavy dose of local students who cycle in like the tides while class is in session.

If you are looking to find the building blocks of Shanghai’s rock scene then Live Bar is a great place to see how it all got started. 

Every once in a while you’ll get a foreign band with enough constitution to tackle the Live Bar stage -- like seminal American garage rock outfit M.O.T.O. did back in 2013. The current edition of Live Bar is a far step up from the original warehouse days where music fans took their lives in their hands by visiting the bathroom. No matter the occasion, from student folk to dreadlocked metal, the regular crowd and staff are always welcoming. So fear not, inner-ring music fans -- head out to the green pastures of Live Bar in Yangpu district.

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MAO Livehouse


3/F, 308 Chongqing Nan Lu, near Jianguo Zhong Lu | 3楼, 重庆南路308号, 近建国中路


District: Huangpu (ex-Luwan Qu)
Metro Stop: Dapuqiao (Line 9), Exit 6. Also a 15-20 minute walk from Line 10, Xintiandi. 

Capacity: 800
Music Style: Mostly touring rock, pop, folk, and metal bands along with occasional hip hop, world, or electronic music events.
Drinks: Standard beers, a few mixed drinks. Would not suggest ordering a cocktail.
Crowd: Combination of locals and expats (depending on the performance).
Website: MAO Livehouse Douban
WeChat ID: maolivehouse-sh
Booking Contact: lujin@mao-music.com

Spawned from the infamous Beijing Mao Livehouse, Shanghai's MAO opened in 2008 and has ingrained itself as the go-to venue to for medium to large scale shows. Originally, the venue opened in the Red Town art space, but then the building got demolished and Mao moved to Chongqing Nan Lu, just a street beer away from the tourist traps of Tianzifang. Show performances vary from Norwegian Death Metal, Taiwanese Folk, big name EDM acts, and everything else in between. American Indie rockers !!! have graced the MAO stage along with legendary bands like Children of Bodom, Sepultura, Gang Of Four, and MONO, many Chinese post-rock bands like Wang Wen, occasional DJ acts like DJ Krush, and random bookings like Das EFX.

Sound quality can vary from show to show, depending on if the promoter put enough money into renting the backline gear. The bar is notorious for being one of the worst run in Shanghai. During MAO's early days it wasn’t uncommon for the venue to run out of beer halfway through the concert. Of lately, things run a bit smoother, but they still use the drink voucher system in which you have to buy "MAO Money" to purchase drinks. Walking out of there with 10rmb in MAO Money drives me crazy every time. If one of your favorite bands are playing, make sure to hang out after the show as often there are performer meet and greet sessions in the room adjacent to the stage. The merch tables are often a nice addition to concerts where a last minute tote or t-shirt purchase presents itself.

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QSW Culture Center


179 Yichang Lu, near Jiangning Lu | 宜昌路179号, 近江宁路



District: Putuo
Metro Stop: Zhongtan Lu (Lines 3 & 4)    
Capacity: 1500

Music Style: Mostly touring rock, pop, folk, and metal bands along with occasional hip hop, world, or electronic music events.
Drinks:  Small selection of couple beers and sodas.
Crowd: Combination of locals & expats (depending on performance)
Website: QSWofficial website
QSW Douban
WeChat ID: QSW_179
Booking Contact: 1800-179-8385, yymin@peonymediash.com


QSW is a huge, government–funded music and cultural center that includes one large performance hall, one mid–size performance hall, dance studios, recording studios, and a courtyard for small outdoor performances. By any standards, it's an impressive complex and the fact that it was created simply for the promotion of music culture keeps me hopeful about Shanghai's future. While watching the drummer of Japanese doom metal band Boris salute Satan before jumping into the crowd, I couldn't help but wonder if that was the intended use of the space when the center got approved.



Sound quality wise, QSW never disappoints. For example, the Godspeed You Black Emperor was so loud it tested the decibel limits of the human ear. QSW is also used for Chinese opera and classical musical performances, so you know those acoustics are on point. However, one gripe with the venue is its sterile, new office building feeling. On top of lacking character, the concession stand usually falls short, offering just a couple beers (Tsingtao and Heineken) along with water and tea. With its connecting performance rooms, outside area, and various other spaces, QSW is just large enough for a self-contained music festival like the Woods & Wires festival a couple years back.

***

Inferno


Bund Square, Unit 6-103, 1/F, 658 Dapu Lu, near Longhua Dong Lu | 打浦路658号1楼, 近龙华东路



District: Huangpu  
Metro Stop: Luban Lu, Line 4  
Capacity: 300
Music Style: Rock, Metal, Experimental
Drinks: Large selection of standard and craft beers, solid mixed drinks, and depending on the bartender, cocktails can be decent
Crowd: Primarily expats with a mix of local rockers
Website: ???
WeChat ID: ???
Booking Contact: martin@infernobar.com

Before it was a livehouse, Inferno on Yongjia Lu was Shanghai's main drinking hole for metalheads and rockers of all types. When Inferno 1.0 was finally ousted by their not-so-friendly neighbors, the natural transition was to add live bands to the equation for the 2.0 version.

Don’t let the strip mall setting deter you. Just two doors down from the Dairy Queen lies Shanghai’s evilest peddler of dark rock arts. The large room is separated by a sound board station allowing mosh pit adjacent lounging for those of us too old to dance the windmill. 

Inferno offers one of the best beer selections in town and you can even get a quality mixed drinks with an assortment of available spirits. The staff are music fans themselves and the environment is generally friendly except for the odd shirtless, dreadlocked punter looking for sparring partners. During performances, the sound system can have a hard time keeping up with the guys rocking it, but in general the sound is solid. In between live bands, the Inferno FM dial can be counted on to play an assortment of speed, thrash, death, and classic metal.      

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Arkham


1 Wulumuqi Lu, near Hengshan Lu | 乌鲁木齐路1号, 近衡山路



District: Xuhui
Metro Stop: Hengshan Rd (Line 1) 

Capacity: 800
Music Style: Primarily electronic gigs with occasional band performances.
Drinks: Small selection of beers, mixed drinks, bottle service available; cocktails not suggested.  
Crowd: Young tourists, college / high school students, local fashionistas, and the creepy guys who follow such crowds.     
Website: Arkham official website, Arkham Douban
WeChat ID: arkhamclub
Booking Contact: info@arkhamshanghai.com  

Just adjacent to the Henghsan lu bar strip and the American embassy is a unassuming door that leads you into a cavernous adventure into the depths of Wulumqi lu. While currently the underground club looks like it should be set in Berlin not Shanghai, the space was once a Chinese boom boom club called M Factory then had a short-lived period as Shanghai's biggest LGBT venue "Angel". Some have speculated that the space was originally a subway station that never got completed, while others say it was an armory.

Some of the most well-respected names in electronic music and hip hop have graced the large Arkham stage, and on most weekend nights the place is full of energetic youth going batshit crazy. Many of the concerts feature advanced visuals to accompany those block rocking beats. One great example was the IDM mastermind Squarepusher’s next level show.

 Other acts include Nosaj Thing, Aluna George, DJ Snake, Tokimonsta, Pictureplane, J. Rocc, and Tiga, and occasional live shows by acts like The Presets. The Iron Mic hip hop battle currently holds their national finals there as well.

Arkham's events are managed by promotion crew S.T.D., who have a long history of throwing creative music and arts gigs. The bar keeps it simple but the drinks are fairly priced. They also cater to the bottle service crowd, so if you have a birthday or going away party, that baller experience can be purchased with just the price of a Grey Goose bottle in the VIP section. The place very much represents the early / late teen and twenties crowd and events are generally balanced between club banger nights like their "White Party" to respectable live shows. In general, sound is just alright for electronic and hip hop events but falls short for live music.

***

Mixing Room


Mercedes-Benz Arena, 1200 Shibo Da Dao, near Shangnan Lu | 世博大道1200号, 近上南路



District: Pudong
Metro Stop: China Art Museum, Line 8
Capacity: 800
Music Style: Retro Western and Asian pop stars, touring bands, and occasional local shows and club events.
Drinks: Small selection of beers and mixed drinks; bottle service available.
Crowd: Combination of locals and expats, depending on the performance.
Website: Mercedes Benz Arena official website, Mercedes Benz Arena Douban
WeChat ID: MBarena
Booking Contact: ???

Nestled on the side of the massive Mercedes Benz arena right next to Expo Park is an upscale, mid–sized venue that hosts everyone from pop stars to the occasional Chinese rock bands. Notable acts that have played here include Nile Rogers, Diplo, and Avenged Sevenfold. They've also been known to host tribute acts like the recent Aretha Franklin gig sung by Cherry Brown. Basically, they just host one-off events, so don't make the trip out there unless you know something is on.

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Harley's


B1, 265 Nandan Dong Lu, near Caoxi Lu | 南丹东路265号地下一层, 近漕溪路



District: Xuhui
Metro Stop: Xujiahui
Capacity: 200
Music Style: [Updated, May 2016] Primarily electronic; some rock and metal
Drinks: Cheap draft beers and decent selection of bottles, wouldn’t suggest ordering a cocktail.
Crowd: Expat heavy with mixture of neighborhood locals
Website: Mei You
WeChat ID: ???
Booking Contact: ???

For over 10 years, Harley's bar has been in and out of hosting live music shows in her dirty dungeon of a basement. Located in the heart of Xujiahui, this is a true dive bar. English teachers mix with neighborhood locals on a nightly basis all in the name of cheap beer and maybe a little darts on the side. Historically, Harley's is worth a mention as groups like Antidote got their start doing parties there in 2005. However, the bar often goes months or even years without shows depending if management feels like dealing with the local authorities. Hosting events in basements is always tricky with fire codes and Shanghai has ever-changing views from district heads on what exactly the rules are. 

In 2014 sound engineer Nathan Sidoti tuned up the Harley’s bar soundsystem and brought together the best local bands under her dodgy basement roof. It was a true renaissance of the aging, sometimes-live bar and saw bands grace the stage like Tang Trio, Parts and Labor, Nao Hai, Uplines, Next Years Love, MoFei, Dahlia Rosea, The Psyders, along with many more. After the a tragedy on the Bund on New Year's Eve 2014, Harley's canceled their live shows and the rest of 2015 only saw a small handful of events down in her basement. 

[Updated, May 2016] Harley's has undergone yet another round of renovation and rebranding. In April 2016 they got a new soundsystem, split the place into two sections, and decided to focus on electronic music. Guess it's easier to book DJs than live shows? We've heard good things about the sound, the layout, and the vibe.

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The R.I.P. List




The following list includes live music venues that are straight-up closed, but are historically significant.

MING Club
Address: B1/F, Film Art Center, 160 Xinhua Lu, near Panyu Lu; Changning District.

This is the Xinhua Lu venue mother of all original rock clubs. Set in the current location of the City Shop basement with that movie theater and Subway upstairs, this was a large concert space in the mid '90s before there were regular touring bands, a large expat community, or even a Lawson’s to get a cold beer. This space represents the start of Shanghai's rock scene and seeing a show here in the nineties was truly watching history unfold. Yes at the same place where you order that chicken sandwich today, history was made 20 years ago. Check out these videos of the Yuyintang co-owner Zhang Hai Shen ripping it up on guitar, and setting up the sound is Wujun who runs a popular gear rental service today.





4 Live
Address: 8-10 Jianguo Zhong Lu, near Chongqing Nan Lu; Huangpu District

This was one of Shanghai's most respected rock venues until it closed in 2008. With a reputation for a rowdy time, you could have seen early incarnations of bands like Snapline, Joyside, Hedgehog, Loudspeaker among many more seminal Chinese acts. Also home to touring bands like New York’s Ex Models, this venue was just before my time but from the stories I’ve heard it was a great place to see shows in Shanghai.

Zhi Jiang Dream Factory
Address: 28 Yuyao Lu, near Xikang Lu (New Factories); Jing'an District

Located in the center of a cheesy Chinese club street, Dream Factory hosted some big shows like Ratatat, Caribou, and the Maybe Mars showcase featuring Snapline, Duck Fight Goose, and AV Okubo. Other seminal Chinese acts like Carsick Cars, PK-14 and Boys Climbing Ropes played Dream Factory as well. Split Works did a lot of gigs here for their JUE Festivals and a rock series called Get on the Bus was also hosted in the large basement space. I’m not sure if it was the bread box shape and tall ceilings but the sound never seemed to be that great here. Also the generally feeling was a little stagnate.

696
Address: 1727 Sichuan Bei Lu,near Dongbaoxing Lu; Yangpu District

696 had a couple of incarnations (originally on Weihai Lu, near Maoming Lu), until she had to shut her doors for good in 2015. This venue was run like a rock living room, the door charge was always informal, and the general feeling was of a friendly welcoming performance space. Noise Shanghai was hosted here for years featuring the Torturing Nurse crew.

Shuffle Bar
Address: 137 Xingfu lu, near Fahuazhen Lu; Changning District

You wouldn’t know it today, but the office building next to the current Xingfu Lu bar Dada once hosted a rock venue known as Shuffle Bar. Mostly known for local bands, acts like Tom of The Horde used to play their regularly. In fact The Horde still regularly at one of Shuffle Bar's newer incarnations called Fennel lounge. Back in the day you could have seen a number of types of bands play there, including legendary Beijing punk rockers SUBS. The space revamped into a lounge folk spot called Anar before eventually shutting their doors for good.


ShanHai Live House
Address: 477 Aomen Lu, near Shanxi Bei Lu

Back in 2011, a promising new lived house called ShanHai opened up, founded in part by Yang Yan of the band Sonnet. Some notable events were Iron Mic battles, John from the Jam Session fame doing his thing, and some S.T.D. bookings like HEALTH. This was place co-opened by S.T.D. founder SiSi and many thought it was going to be a mainstay venue for years to come, but that proved too optimistic. Rumors about poor management and shady dealings surrounded Shanhai’s closure. Luckily, now you can visit QSW right around the corner for a solid rock show.

D Club
Address: 738 Changyang Lu, near Tongbei Lu; Yangpu District

Way out in Yangpu district, in an isolated industrial section whose main feature is the Tobacco Museum was once a short-lived live bar called D-Club. The actual venue itself was pretty awesome,with a large lounge section that was decorated in general rock "flare". One of the raddest shows was probably Bi Gong Bi Jing playing with Androsace. These two bands later joined into one epic rock staple called Goushen that are still active today.

Windows Tembo

This short-lived offshoot of the popular Windows Bar franchise was ran by Brad Ferguson, who was a respected local music man about town for many years. However, the vibe at Windows Tembo just didn't gel. Maybe it had something to do with former CityWeekend editor Aric Queen -- who was basically a plague on Shanghai -- running ill conceived nights at Windows Tembo. Although Windows Tembo was the first time I watched infamous Shanghai institution Boys Climbing Ropes; they played a cover of Neil young's "Rocking In The Free World", and thankfully that did not happen again. It's hard to pin down why the place didn't work out but luckily Windows still survives today doing what they do best, getting you drunk for under 100rmb.

R.I.P.

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