In quarantined China, concerts and clubs are going online as a safe place to meet

Even in the capital Beijing, once-crowded streets are now empty, as the 2019-nCoV coronavirus outbreak forces people at home. The solution for live musicians: turn to streaming.

Streaming was already a popular hangout for Chinese musicians and artists across the region, before the viral shutdown of public space. That already included experimental artists looking to reach one another in their niche. The difference is, now online interaction in China is essential because people are effectively all isolated at home.

Every streaming platform is full of music across genres, friends in China tell me. That includes major virtual nightclub-style events, one of which reportedly reached millions of viewers. Here’s a Chinese-language article on what happened, via Nan Tang aka musiXboy, at music tech site midifan:

https://mp.weixin.qq.com/s/EVtb5fTMhoGw1EI3MF9V2Q

Online rewards from viewers of a stream by nightclub Taxx Shanghai are seen here totaling 0.7 million Yuan (about $100,000 US dollars). The proceeds were donated to Wuhan charity. Via this news item, sent to us by musiXboy of China’s music tech site Midifan.
From the same story – streaming in China looks very different from streaming elsewhere. Eat your heart out, Boiler Room and YouTube stars. China raises you one Cinderella’s coach and a bunch of disco graphics. (Pictured, Changsha 0731MISSION, Hangzhou CLUBSOS, and ONE THIRD, from the Douyin Live Hour List.)

I caught some small window into this on the far more experimental end of the spectrum via Beijing’s Edward Sanderson, who has been sharing the streams of his friends. (To this I’m again indebted to C-drik and his Syrphe Facebook group on experimental music in Asia and Africa, as I wrote up recently.)

Edward writes, ” As group events in China have been curtailed because of the coronavirus threat, the online space has become more important for meeting up.” (Many of these events are also shared via Facebook even though that site is blocked by default in China; in experimental music circles, it seems VPNs are popular.)

So, for instance, via streaming, two experimental clarinetists can play together.

Zhu Wenbo played a concert from his home in Beijing:

In Dali, located in the southwestern Chinese province of Yunnan, clarinet player Ding Chenchen could join in a day later, as a duet:

You won’t see anything until a stream is active, but there’s a streaming space on Shanghai-based Bilili, with a URL like this one:

https://space.bilibili.com/505035552/

That’s a Chinese-only service that now boasts tens of millions of users, largely focused around games, animation, and comics, but evidently branching out into clarinet noise music. Some services are blocked outside China, though, and/or are tied to Chinese mobile numbers. But we can at least catch up on music via Bandcamp, etc., for time-delayed concerts, and I’m seeing what does and doesn’t work.

Artist Zhao Cong had announced a stream for today. I couldn’t locate it in time for this post, but here are some of her gorgeous textural compositions on Bandcamp – engrossingly fuzzy, lo-fi looped constructions:

五个作曲 by Zhao Cong

卡拉OK 我 by Zhao Cong

Plus as part of the “Practice” series, new live-streamed performances were just announced with music by Zhu Wenbo, Zhou Yi, and Li Song (Chinese-language link, but you can get QR codes for concerts coming up in the next week):

https://mp.weixin.qq.com/s/opP6L9YTtevuRtwvjchpTg?fbclid=IwAR3qgeJNGXj0DmT6YLCeZtxqxXcJw8wJUjR1Fxubvfwo9gWvDCUtryXGH9I

Instead of links, event promos heavily feature images, and even QR codes. The number below Bilibili represents a “space” on the streaming site; head there at the appointed time, and you get live-streamed music. So think more underground – less Facebook notifications from the Boiler Room page everybody and their dog subscribes to.

Just as China has led the way in expanding the uses of mobile chat, mobile-based streaming has taken off in the country even as the West embraces the tech in fits and starts. (I’d say the reason is, markets like the USA still split usage between desktop and mobile, and are dominated by Facebook and Google and their business models – including for how music fees are structured.)

Anyway, our Chinese readers now far more about all of this than I do (from streaming to the current state of Chinese quarantine). So, since we do have a large readership that’s now trapped in your houses –

Open call to Chinese artists and other readers under quarantine! If you do have some ideas for streaming concerts, go for it! I’ll be happy to share that across the readership here. We can basically create, for now, not Boiler Room, but a sort of Coronavirus Room for bored and isolated quarantined musicians. Working out how to stream might be tricky, but I imagine running simultaneous stream via VPN (if fast enough) would be one option; archived recordings after the fact are easy.

And to everyone dealing with life in the shadow of this virus, we wish you the best health. A big thanks to all the people working to contain its spread and doing research to help humans respond in ways that are well-informed and effective. I am not an immunologist and I don’t know that I would make a very good one, but what I imagine we can do as musicians is to help share accurate information across communities, bring people together, and to process emotions.

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