Undercurrents is an ongoing column on SmartShanghai in which we profile Shanghai-based promoters and music makers living and putting on music events in this city, specifically within the context of the larger cultural, economic, and arts landscape in Shanghai. These are your manufacturers of cultural capital, Shanghai. This is the business of art and music.
Shanghai is to China (mainland), as what San Francisco is to the US as a gay capital. It is a cultural beacon, and a measurement for where the country is going. As such there are many layers worth looking into here in the city, it’s microcosms, and how they are affecting the broader culture of the city. One of these sub-cultures is the LGBTQ community, which I can no longer say is burgeoning, because it’s already colorfully massive.
In the space of a single year, Snap! has exploded onto the Shanghai gay scene and grown to an already full 500 person WeChat group. Their last major event at the McKinnon Hotel Terrace drew over 700 on a scorching hot day that was 44*C, and their official WeChat account has over 1,000 followers. From literal Ikea-themed parties, to now hosting events at swanky hotels like the W, it was all started by four charming gentlemen who threw a birthday party almost a year ago at Daliah's.
Image by Justice Kelly
Left to Right: Jacky, Yelin, Jing, Jeffrey
Jeffrey is 27-years-old and works in the wood and timber industry on plantation projects with Russian and South East Asian firms. (It’s a family business!) He’s from Taiwan but grew up in international schools across Malaysia, Taiwan, China, and eventually the US for college.
Jing, 30, has been in PR and Marketing for five years, primarily doing independent work for luxury brands. He hails from spicy Hunan. He’s returned to Shanghai after a 3-year stint in New York City.
Yelin is 29 and is from nearby Jiangxi province. A serial entrepreneur, he mostly does Business Development and Consulting within the arts, food, and beverage industries. Before arriving starry-eyed in Shanghai, he was in Hong Kong and New York for a number of years.
Jacky is 28, born in Macau but grew up in the UK since the age of 10. He arrived on Shanghai’s shores three years ago working in Retail Management specializing in optimizing sales efficiency.
Read on for a journey with these gentlemen as they explore the Shanghai gay scene, and tell us about how Snap! was formed, and where it’s headed.
SmSh: You gents are largely international, how would you compare Shanghai’s gay scene, to others you’ve experienced elsewhere?
Jeffrey: My first gay club experience was in Shanghai. I moved here when I was 15 years old in 2004. On one side, being able to come out so early was a perk for living in China because the clubs back then weren't checking your ID. I used to go to Deep in Jing’an which was one of the most happening clubs in the city. Then I went to San Francisco, and it was a completely safe space to be able to express and explore who I am. People are not judgemental [there] -- you meet all sorts of people, the sisters, the drag queens, the transgender, bi, and the metrosexual, and it was an assortment of colors so to speak. I experience basic gay bars, to mixed underground parties, to circuit parties.
Then I came to Shanghai and in 2012 and I lost that whole variety that I had grown accustomed to in San Fran. After I moved back, I spent a year in Taiwan for military service. From what I got to see in Taipei gay scene is very vibrant. I came to Shanghai and there was Eddies, Shanghai Studio, I mean there were a few options but eventually, I started to see that places began closing down. With the decreasing options, we would message each other on a Friday night and say to each other -- “Where can we go” -- and eventually it simply wasn’t a lot to choose from.
Jacky: I think Shanghai, for me, was an experience of meeting people through people. My social circle was small, it was me and my boyfriend, and our friends in proximity to us. Coming to Shanghai was when I was single, meeting people out, being introduced around, it was a very much physically meeting people. It was none of the apps shit back then, it was real face to face interactions. Now, I consider myself having a colorful social life after finding the friends around.
The difference in gay life in Shanghai compared to the UK was, I would say in Shanghai you need a lot more confidence because you are a lot more exposed. You are exposed because people are more closely connected than they are in the UK -- it’s a smaller community here. The more comfortable you are with yourself, the easier it is to fit into different environments and therefore easier to meet more people. So in Shanghai, confidence is an important part of having a healthy social life. Being comfortable with yourself. You don’t need to be cocky, you just need to know your past and future and accept it. I think another difference is, the gay life for me has been a lot more social in Shanghai, than in the UK. Previously, my social life was made up of friends who were around me -- uni friends, my boyfriend's friends, etc. Here, you meet people outside constantly, and, these days, I've developed a great group of friends, some of whom I am going on holiday with, and meeting their friends... Here, friendships can be a really strong foundation.
SmSh: How did the idea for Snap! come about?
Yelin: The first Snap! party was actually a birthday party for Jacky and Jeffrey. It was very experimental in the beginning, mostly just friends and family, but we decided to combine our groups of friends and do something at Daliah. There have been previous attempts to do pop-up parties. It has happened, but nothing really lasting. We had a lot of casual conversations about the lack of variety in Shanghai within the gay scene compared to our experiences. Our first “planning meeting” was at Green & Safe, and it was there we decided that Snap! was something that could be viable as more than a temporary alternative.
Jacky: Yea, it was great to host at Daliah, because it was without pretense; it was a vision of fun, and the space itself is pretty unique. What the four of us bring together is something that is slightly foreign to the local crowd but familiar to the expat crowd. It is less of what people are used to here in Shanghai. Music is a large part of it. Some of the other options seem to be more geared towards a hook-up scene, and we wanted to bring back more of a party and community feeling with international flavor.
Jeffrey: We had over 200 people come to the birthday party, and we had a ton of feedback from people who attended who said we should do more fun nights like this. One of the triggers was that we felt that a lot of gay expats have stopped going out, mostly because of the lack of variety in the gay scene. We essentially brought people out, and so we had the idea of trying a few more creative events.
SmSh: Can you describe the music at your parties?
Jing: In relation to parties, when I go out, I just wanna dance. Shanghai is such a DJ-oriented city that it is mostly focused on electronic music. We like that of course but not all the time. There is no real place in Shanghai right now that has this kind of variety vogue-variety that highlights old-school R&B, disco, modern pop... The well-known music variety that gets people to say “yea, wooo”.
Jeffrey: When you are on the dance floor and there is a stranger across from you and you find them lip-syncing the same popular song that you love, there is an instant connection. We wanted to build a music scheme that helps provide that bridge for people. Because of this, our parties have a lot of straight guys and girls who come, because they just want to have fun.
Daliah, in the center -- Austrian for common sense.
SmSh: Who is typically going to Snap! parties?
Yelin: We get a good mix of sub-cultures at our parties, like Chinese hipsters who don’t normally go to gay bars, or those trendy expats that are not into constantly blaring house music. The visions are brewed together, it brings together something that is quite different, you have a greater variety of people-types which makes the environment feel more colorful.
SmSh: What are you thoughts on Shanghai in general? Is it a livable city?
Jing: I love Shanghai, it’s great. It’s a very livable and very international city. I like living here. There are a lot of opportunities and potential in the city. It’s very young and alive, it’s not like other western international cities. Shanghai is growing at speeds that are surprising and you can actually see it. Shanghai is kind of like New York in a way because you can make anything happen, but the chances of doing something special in New York is more difficult because it’s become so established. Whereas, in Shanghai, opportunities are endless. Also, in China, now it is the largest economy in the world [by purchasing power parity] and Shanghai is also the largest city in China. It’s very important to the world.
Yelin: I had initial doubts about Shanghai because I lived 10 years in Beijing, so I came with a little prejudice. I came for business reasons, not personal. I struggled between the two worlds because I was fond of the roughness of Beijing. There are far more subcultures in BJ, and they are often politically driven because it is the capital. Shanghai, on the other hand, is more livable, and international art city, and you get to really have a better quality of life. There are a lot of creative people in this city, and so it is incredibly stimulating for the mind being here. I have grown to really love it.
SmSh: You've got a range of events that you do with Snap!, tell us about some of them.
Jacky: We have a weekly event called "Thirstation" which is done at Parrot. Thursday options, we felt for the gay community, were quite limited, and we are of the opinion that Thursday is the new Friday, so we wanted to establish Thursday as a fun night to go out.
Jing: Thirstation has a slightly different crowd than what you’d expect because a lot of straight guys go as well because they know it’s easier to make “friends” with the girls that accompany their gay besties. [Editors Note: obviously.] On a Thursday night, we have about 30% who are girls. Some of them are lesbians, but most are fabulous fag-hags. Usually, we have about 150 on a weekly basis.
Yelin: Our terrace party also drew over 700 people. We teamed up with Social Supply, and with the McKinnon Hotel to use their terrace, which I don’t think a lot of people really know about. It’s a gem.
SmSh: What are some of the future plans for Snap!
Jing: We have a calendar which we are releasing this year [Editor's Note: The header image features Fantasia, who is "March" in the upcoming calendar]. It was done entirely from friends in the Shanghai LGBTQ community. Denis Sbodnov is the professional photographer who volunteered his time to support the project, and he did great.
Jeffrey: Our 1 year birthday is coming up, and will be held this weekend at the W Hotel.
Yelin: We want to move Snap! into the lifestyle area as well. We started out in nightlife, but want to do networking events, fitness, and anything that will click with our crowd.
Jacky: Yes, Shanghai is so entrepreneurial, especially in the fitness space. We want people to feel like we are open to working with them, especially if they want to support the LGBTQ community, we will support them as well. We did a spinning class with MOVEM, and would like to do more things like this.
Group shots of Snap! by Justice Kelly.
Snap! turns one this Saturday at W Shanghai. You should go! It's going to be good! Details here.
To connect with Snap! add their official WeChat: Snap_Shanghai
Image by Justice Kelly