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What It Used to Be Like: IdleBeats’ 12-Year Retrospective Opens This Sunday

A chat with Gregor and Nini about when Shanghai used to be cool…
2023-03-16 16:00:00

Much of the visual language of Shanghai's underground scene in the decade spanning 2010 to 2020 can largely be attributed to one small, independent DIY screenprinting studio: IdleBeats. As any drunk Shanghai lifer in a bar will tell you, the period marked a relative highpoint in vibrancy and output for the city in terms underground culture and music.

Yes, the "pre-Covid era", three and three million years ago, when Shanghai was a comparatively more open place and creators were freer to move about and make interesting things happen.

To put it in basic terms, the event posters and silkscreen artwork of IdleBeats were an essential component of the larger grand sum of all that. They never ever showed up on a "Worst Flyers" list.

Here's the good news: The artwork is still here. This Sunday, old heads and new hands can get the opportunity to revisit the bygone era of when Shanghai used to be cool, man! IdleBeats is hosting a Retrospective Exhibition of their screenprinting works from 2010 to 2022. At the opening party, guests can get 20% off prints and artworks. Go down and give them all your money and hugs and all your best wishes.

Wether you were there or not, you should go check it out. This is your chance to spend time with musicians who are now banned in clubs that don't exist anymore.

SmartShanghai talked to IdleBeats — Nini Sum and Gregor Koerting — about the good old days...


SmSh: Can you introduce IdleBeats to people who might not be familiar with the studio?

Gregor Koerting: We're two artists, Nini Sum and Gregor Koerting. Since 2009 we've been working together in our print art studio with focus on the creation of original screenprinted art, installation art, music posters, and brand crossover projects.

SmSh: Can you introduce the show? It's a 12-year retrospective? That's a pretty wide net, considering your output in those years...

Nini: We started making silkscreen prints as a duo since 2010. In Chinese we believe in the 12-year circles, such as the Chinese zodiac signs (which we also made an art print series about), and this Spring is exactly our full circle of 12 years.

During this circle, things have changed a lot — us, people, also the city, not to mention the world.

It's important to take a pause and look back at this moment. What have we done? What did it used to be like?

So, here comes the 12-year retrospective of all the screenprints we've made since 2010, from the posters for musicians that are banned now and clubs that don't exist anymore, to art print series from Real Big City to Snapshot series that we printed out in bomb shelters and shikumen lane houses.

The venue is called "The Space". It's run by good friends of ours: Hao Yu and Gao Jie. It's a cafe / gallery — a lovely space for friends to gather.

We hope to welcome all of our friends there, to hug and laugh together, like we used to do in the old days.

Besides all of that, we are also doing a special 20% discount on all prints on the opening day, they are also available on our websitewith a discount code "IDLEBEATS2023" if people can not make it to the opening.

SmSh: It's been a minute. Or more like... I want to say it's been like three years? What's currently going on with IdleBeats these days?

Gregor: Nini is working on her new collage series Urban Landscape using the screenprints she has made before. She's also adapting this series to public space, making murals in Beijing and Shanghai. Later this year she will be doing a residency program in Germany.

I've moved with my family to Japan and am starting to build a silkscreen studio there.

SmSh: What's one thing you miss about Shanghai circa 2010 - 2020?

Gregor: It's that "anything goes" lifestyle — on the streets and among the people. Folks in the cultural sphere had have that strong sense of togetherness and mutual support within the community.

The playful and diverse imagery of the show posters we did in the earlier years of IdleBeats reflects that spirit very well.

SmSh: Nini, you're still here. What are your thoughts on Shanghai these days?

Nini: It feels like that Shanghai has had a long nap for the past three years and now it's finally waking up. It will take its time to gain the energy back, but hey, it's Shanghai and this won't take long!

SmSh: Looking back on your own output over the past decade, what are a few highlights of projects you worked on that you're most proud of?

Gregor: First of all is the poster series, during the beginning of the studio days, circa 2010-2015. We made many screen printed posters for musicians, bands, parties, labels and venues in China also around the world. Including: Shelter, Sub-Culture, Maybe Mars, Camera Japan, Handsome Furs, Moon Duo, Crystal Stilts, Flying Lotus, Li Zhi, Mike Watt, Dear Eloise, Alpine Decline, and so on. These are precious memories of that golden time, and also for us personally.

Another one would be the Tale Of Two Cities project. It's was a continuous exhibition series starting in 2015. Every year we invited one print studio from a different part of the world to Shanghai to show their works together with ours. We'd also fly to their city and do collaboration projects as a residency program. We have worked with FrenchFourch from Paris in 2015, Sticky Fingers from Phnom Pehn in 2016, Palefroi from Berlin in 2017 and Mara Piccione from Groningen in 2018.

The project opened our eyes and brought us so much inspiration on art creation, as well as understanding how independent studios work in the other parts of the world. We hope to keep doing this project which was unfortunately suspended due to covid.

SmSh: Are you keeping track of new artists / design trends coming out of Shanghai? Are you seeing anything inspiring?

Nini: We're a big fans of "Stay With Tuesday". They are two girls making illustrations and art installations also running a tea business in Shanghai. There's also "Fever Dog", who makes very funny and cool art products. She also runs a shop on Anfu Road.

Not to forget Xiao Long Hua who's unique work widely varies between sculpture and zine publishing.

SmSh: What does the future hold for IdleBeats?

Gregor: We are hoping to set up studios in Europe, China and Japan in the near future, keep making good art and cool projects, keep bringing people together and making communications happen across the borders!


For more IdleBeat and to look at their previous work, check them out on the web right here and follow their Instagram (@idlebeats_china).

The event information for the exhibition opening Sunday is right here.