Besides being a writer, single malt aficionado, and bigwig at a PR firm, Kaiser Kuo has been rocking in Beijing for a over a decade, whether with Tang Dynasty starting in the 1990s, with AC/DC tribute band Dirty Deeds, or with current project Spring and Autumn (Chunqui). Here are his top five all-time Beijing live music venues. (Note: I’ll soon have a post on the top five current live music venues).
1) Keep in Touch: The biggest myth about the old Keep in Touch, which was across the street from the Kempinski Hotel and was in business between 1998 and 2001, was that it was owned by ex-Cui Jian keyboardist Wang Yong. To set the record straight the owners were Wang Yong’s (late) sister Wang Ling and her then-boyfriend Liang Jun in 1997, and as far as I know it never officially changed ownership, though Wang Yong certainly behaved as though it were his. Between its opening and closing, there weren’t really many other decent venues. KIT had a good sound system for its day, and acts like Overload, Cobra, Zhang Chu, Underbaby, Brain Failure, Again, Iron Kite, and Tang Dynasty used to play there quite regularly. The motorcycle Tang Dynasty’s first bassist Zhang Ju died riding formed a morbid but central piece of the bar’s decor. (Photo: Yiren)
2) Rhine River Sound Stage: The Sound Stage was the heir to Keep in Touch. It was jointly opened by Wang Yong and Tang Dynasty’s then-manager Sun Hao during the waning days of KIT’s glory. Located off of Xueyuan Lu just north of the Beijing Film Academy, Sound Stage inherited much of the gear and pretty much the same crowd of rock aficionados that Keep in Touch had. Things went downhill for the club after May 11, 2001, when the annual tribute concert to Zhang Ju (held at Sound Stage in 2000 as well) was shut down by the authorities after a crowd of roughly three times the club’s capacity showed up. Live shows were stopped soon afterward, and the bar closed some months later.
3) (Old) Get Lucky: Located in a nasty ghetto called Taiyanggong, south of the University of International Business and Economics, Beijing, the owner of the Get Lucky must have had some serious connect: Over the years, every business around his was flattened, and it became easier and easier to find his weird ramshackle club, vaguely Old West-themed bar. Its exterior was gaudily festooned in neon, which I thought was appropriate: Friends of mine and I fondly referred to the place as “the rock ‘n’ roll bordello,” because down a hall on the side of the bar away from the stage were these sleazy karaoke rooms full of sportin’ girls, who’d come tottering out on stiletto heels to check out the bands when things were really rocking. Between 2000 and 2005, when the New Get Lucky on Lady’s Street started taking over most of the live shows, just about every band — whether punk, metal, or whatever genre of rock — played at this place. It’s where Beijing learned how to mosh.
4) (New) Yugong Yishan: The old Yugong Yishan by Chunxiu Lu west of Sanlitun was an okay place to gig from 2005 to 2006 or so, but the new place gets it just right: A great cross-section crowd where Beijingers and expats can all come to enjoy a huge range of genres of live music. I’m not absolutely crazy about the sound system — it’s better at places like Mao — but the atmosphere, the location (in the old Duan Qirui government offices), the size of the place, and the feel of the stage all make it about my favorite place to gig in Beijing today.
5) Star Live: I know there are lots of people who wouldn’t agree that this place belongs on any list of best venues. The sound system can be truly awful in the wrong hands, and ticket prices sometimes keep the real rockers away. But if you have the right sound guy and don’t set your prices too high, you can really get the crowd rocking here. This is the only live house in Beijing that’s big enough to draw a really big audience and one of the few places with a stage big enough to really move around on.