Undercurrents is an ongoing column on SmartShanghai in which we profile Shanghai-based promoters and music makers living and putting on 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.
There's this café called Regional down on Wulumuqi Nan Lu, part of that Wulumu Court development that includes Loco, Thirsty Seahorse and that desert place, Pantry. It's a small, rather costly café that's remarkable mainly because the owners have stuffed it with one of the most expensive sound systems in the city. Word is they spend 500,000rmb on that. And really, it's just a café. The DJ Deep 19 is the music director there, Razor did a few Thursday nights, and it's becoming quite the spot for audiophiles in Shanghai.
To that end, Santo Chino is kicking off a new event there this Sunday called Space Out. It's a listening party where guests arrive at 2pm, sit down and listen to a classic ambient album in its entirety, on a piece of vinyl. Then they leave. That's it. Just one record, played in crystalline hi-fidelity. This Sunday he'll play Manuel Gottsching's E2-E4.
There's only room for 30 people. Guests can bring a pillow or blanket and lie down on the floor while they listen. You've got to RSVP if you want to go — to santochino[at]gmail.com. It's free to go down, but there's a one-drink minimum.
We caught up with Mr Chino for a brief chat to find out what it's all about.
Santo Chino: It's a day, not a night, and that goes to heart of what it is: a way to enjoy music outside of the club framework and all that means, for better or worse. I guess I'd liken it to a performance or a movie, but the "performance" has been pre-recorded — on a record. Style-wise, I guess you peg it as "ambient". Music without the club heartbeat. It has to be spacey, enveloping, engaging. Something that in the right environment — intimate, eyes closed, surrounded by clear sound — really hypnotizes or transports you. To me, that usually means synthesizer and electronics and loopy stuff.
Or to be a bit less pretentious: it's music without beats to space out to. On a really, really nice sound system.
Manuel Gottsching in his studio. It's his music on Sunday
SC: No protest. I like clubs, too. But they are limiting by nature, and there's so much good music out there in the world. I just think it'd be nice if you don't have to be up until 4am and be expected to drink all night if you want to lose yourself in music. You can do it during the day, too. And it can be something different, quiet.
SC: The idea of getting lost in music, getting hypnotized… This all sounds a bit silly maybe, but I think anyone who is a bit of an obsessive about music — and I know there are a lot of us in Shanghai — understands that feeling.
The first one is going to be E2-E4 by Manuel Gottsching. This is a massive album from 1981 Berlin.
Manuel Gottsching having a sit down
SC: Gottsching was this experimental guitar player who did weird stuff for years in Germany. And then one he day wanted to make something to listen to for a flight, and so he was just playing with these electronic loops, and recorded an hour of stuff, and eventually someone told him he should release it... that's this. It's not really guitar-ish; it's the blueprint of techno, basically, even though it doesn't really have beats. Its just these chugging, looping electronics. Then some Italians beefed it up a bit and turned it into a massive club hit in the late '80s, "Sueno Latino".
But this will be the original, the full 58 minutes, and it's just completely trance-inducing. The second one will be the soundtrack to Koyaanisqatsi by Philip Glass. Minimalism at its finest. Cult movie, incredible music.
Third: I think I'll do Gas's Pop album. This one's a bit different than the first two. It's slowly rising and breaking sweeps of sound, like super slow motion. Fuzzy, warm, sad. At some points there's a kick drum and bell going, but it's always done within this feeling of, I don't know, drifting up to heaven. It's from 2000 and was a side project of Wolfgang Voigt, the guy who founded Kompakt records.
I like how Wikipedia introduces him:
"Voigt cites his youthful LSD experiences in the Königsforst, a German forest situated near his hometown of Koln, as the inspiration behind his work under the name Gas. He has claimed that the intention of the project is to 'bring the forest to the disco, or vice-versa'."
I'll also do Aphex Twin's full Selected Ambient Works II, but that's a special occasion. It's more than two hours long, so maybe I'll save that for the half-year mark.
Magic vinyl edition of Aphex Twin's Selected Ambient Works II
SC: I think I've got to be a bit of dictator here to make sure the environment is really conducive to complete and total space-out. So, yeah, no chatting, no smoking, no drinks during the "show". The music is gonna start at 3pm sharp, and people have to be there 15 minutes before that, at the very latest.
That's hopefully just a way to keep it friendly. The idea is you show up, get a drink or two from the short menu we'll do, and then take off your shoes and go upstairs (Regional is split-level; the bar is downstairs). There are about 15 seats in these big comfy chairs, and then there will be spaces on the floor, which will be covered in fabric. Not too many. Ten or 15 places on the floor, maybe. People wander up, get their seats or stake out their space on the floor, settle in with the pillow they've brought, I'll introduce the record a little bit, put it on and then shut up and get out of the way. If the record came out on vinyl, I'll play it from the vinyl.
When the record is over, it's over. Maybe I'll play some very, very quiet something in the background, and people can chat, discuss, get another drink or just get up and go home. But basically, once the "performance" is over, it's done. It's not a long party, it's not a commitment to spend hours and hours. It's like the movies.
SC: I've had the idea for a while but the missing piece was always the sound system. Regional has this 500,000rmb system from Meyer Sound. I don't know why. I mean, I know — the owners are music lovers — but from a business perspective, I don't know why. But I love it. They have 17 speakers and 32 seats. Like all good sound, it's loud but crystal clear and never painful. You can really get immersed in the sound, and that's what this music needs.
It's a plus that it's intimate and they have some very comfortable chairs and a nice sofa. But the size restrictions are an effect of the space. For right now, it has to be RSVP only, because the space is so restricted. We'll see. If it proves popular, I'll do two "showings", one at 3pm and one at 6pm.
I want as many people as possible to be able to come and space out. Calm down the city a little bit.
SC: It's meant to be a fancy cocktail lounge. They're still working on that, let's say. Downstairs has mod orange plastic chairs. Upstairs is much cozier.
SC: I'm not age-ist with this stuff. It can be from whenever. But there does happen to be quite a few albums from the late '70s and early '80s, and I think that was the meeting or extension of Krautrock, where Germans were consciously trying to make music without the American soul influence and coming out with all these wonderful and weird experiments, and the rise of synthesizers around that period.
Don't really know the new stuff. I'm still catching up on the old ones.
Space Out takes place this Sunday from about 2pm at Regional. RSVP only, no drop ins. RSVP to santochino[at]gmail.com. Free but there's a one-drink minimum.