Boasting 24 million people, a buzzing financial district, and Blade Runner skyline, Shanghai is truly a city of the future. With a burgeoning young generation occupying its inner-city areas and lining their pockets with that wealth, you’d imagine Shanghai might spawn the sort of nightlife that’s all table service and CO2 cannons. While those spaces do exist (for minted businesspeople), there’s an increasing amount of venues that cater to a more diverse crowd with an appetite for more experimental sounds. Clash was lucky enough to fly to China with Huawei, and in the process visited two distinct clubbing destinations that the city has to offer.
China’s capital, Beijing, has traditionally represented grungier forms of alternative music, namely punk and indie rock, whereas the hyper-futurism of Shanghai has always lent itself to shinier, more club-focused sounds. But, sadly, 2016 saw the closure of one of the city’s best-loved underground clubs, The Shelter – a renovated bomb shelter that reached mythical status for its forward-thinking programming (plus the fact that it once kicked out the Backstreet Boys), with artists like DJ Premier, Madlib and Kode9 gracing its subterranean decks.
“Shanghai has been the epicenter of the most progressive and energetic fringes of [Chinese club music and nightlife],” says Josh Feola, China-based musician and writer. The Shelter was his first point of entry into the scene, its stark black interior allowing a glimpse into a growing DIY and LGBTQ+ community. “To this day it remains a high-water mark of underground creative energy for the different styles of music it smashed together, the artists, DJs and promoters from different sectors of the art scene who would mix in there in the late night/early morning and cook up new projects.”
The brains behind The Shelter, its co-founder Gaz Williams, hasn’t rested on his laurels since the club shut up shop, but launched a brand new venue last year – ALL. It’s a beautifully-designed concrete space that feels chic and boasts a very inclusive vibe, but its musical bookings are as bleeding edge as ever. When we visit, the decks are missing in favour of a giant cube, inside which a pair of musicians play noisy guitars and hardware, and a video of this is projected onto the outside of the cube, giving it a 3D feel. ‘Live interactive musical performances immersing the musicians in 2x2x2 meter neon led framed liquid metal covered cube and other interactive media,’ the event promotion read.
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The entrance to ALL (shot on Huawei P20 Pro)
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This type of setup is typical of the club, which continually books more avant-garde artists and world-renowned electronic acts. Some of the DJs who’ve graced ALL recently are some of the reigning artists of the UK’s electronic underground; Ikonika, Visionist, Dark0 and Brooklyn's flex dance music (FDM) pioneer, Hitmakerchinx. The night after we visit, Mixpak affiliate Florentino is spinning a set, making us wish we could extend our stay.
“Its programme is largely built up of younger promoters and artists who were first exposed to this music – or who first began gathering around this culture – at The Shelter, and now as they are coming into their own voice as musicians and artists, ALL is a platform dedicated specifically to them,” says Josh. He cites Shanghai-based label Genome as an example of this, as well as Shanghai Community Radio (SHCR) as a particularly influential platform for the city. While Gaz Williams's own SVBKLT label is also a looked-to imprint that pushes outsider sounds from artists like Tokyo's Prettybwoy and Shanghai's own Swimful.
“There's a mosaic of spaces catering to different, overlapping communities (for example, Elevator for house/disco, Dada for various kinds of non-commercial-EDM dance music, a handful of rock venues that'll host electronic musicians or DJs),” Josh continues. ‘The underground music scene in Shanghai at the moment has an intriguing porous quality where people are mixing across traditional genre or "scene code" lines which I find quite interesting.”
After visiting ALL, we hop across to another part of the city to hit the newly-opened SOS Club – a superclub that earned a slot on DJ Mag’s Top 100 clubs list after its Hangzhou version gained worldwide acclaim, and has already welcomed big international names like Ferry Corsten. The vast venue is a real feat of engineering, with sections of the room cornered off by lasers and visuals with lyrics that leap out in time with the music. The genres on offer are big-room and EDM, with DJs segueing popular hip-hop verses into drops of steely synth stabs at the touch of a button. The hectic music provides a stark contrast to the relaxed vibe of ALL, especially when we notice cheese boards being served in the club.
If one thing's for certain, it's that Shanghai's burgeoning nightlife scene is increasingly catering for all different types of clubbers, at a time that reflects a growing grassroots electronic scene in the country – if Shanghai is the future, then the sounds emanating from it are just as future-facing as its headturning skyline.
All photos were taken using the AI-powered triple camera of the Huawei P20 Pro. The perfect smartphone for those wanting to capture their night as it really happened.