Chengdu's Live Houses
So it might not be London or Los Angeles, and not even Beijing, but compared to most (if not all) second-tier Chinese cities, Chengdu has a kicking live music scene. Not only is it a fairly well-rounded scene, with everything from pop and rock to folk and experimental, with the occasional electronic-music act thrown in, it's also an active, vital community: Local bands perform regularly, and numerous venues around town provide places for bands touring around the country to show Chengdu what they've got. We take a look at some of those spaces below.
Make sure to take a peek at our events calendar and our What's on Chengdu posts every Thursday to see current event info for each of the spaces.
Little Bar (new)
The small venue in Yulin has been a pioneering force among China's rock-music scene since its opening in 1997, giving young bands from all over the country a stage to play on, promotion help, and so forth. Its new location opened in 2005, not far from the old Little Bar, which still serves drinks and houses archives of Chinese rock records.
Who's there: University students in their teens and early 20s as well as the occasional foreign music fanatic
When to go: Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays all see shows starting at 8 p.m. and ending usually by 10 p.m.; there are occasional weekday gigs as well
The kind of music you'll find: All sorts of live music, but most often local rock bands or rock bands on tour from other cities or even countries (including punk, metal, and all the sub-genres and prefixes that have ever been attached to any of those genres), folk, experimental, electronic, and occasional pop performances during the week
Good to know: Little Bar organizes "Forever Young," its annual New Year's party, held in recent years at the Kuanzhai Xiangzi Plaza. Days later, all local bands come together for unplugged performances to pay homage to the bar on its anniversary.
The folksy bar along the river opened in 2005 and has since been home to Chengdu's open jam sessions. Its cozy upstairs crawl space, wood furniture combined with colorful embroidered cushions, and outdoor patio make the bar much larger than it looks on first glance.
Who's there: Hanger-outers and musicians of all kinds, most in their 20s and 30s
When to go: There are spontaneous jams most late nights of the week, but Thursdays are the "official" jam sessions. Occasional rock and folk concerts are held on weekends.
Types of music you'll find: Usually anything-goes jam sessions drifting between rock, blues, folk, ska/dub, and experimental, oftentimes with vocals.
Good to know: Husband-and-wife Jah Bar owners Li Li and Zhu Ti are pretty much always on the premises, greeting guests with friendly smiles and bits of conversation in Chinese or English.
Nestled in a side-street neighborhood of Yulin alongside teahouses and massage parlors, the tiny Machu Picchu started out in 2004 as a daytime café with nighttime folk performances. Since its revamping in 2008, it has hosted more regular performances and grown in popularity as a regular hangout bar. The small bar took runner-up honors in the 2011 CHENGDOO Readers' Poll for best bar, and in February 2012, it opened a second location in Sansheng Xiang.
Who's there: University students, office workers, foreign bar-goers, usually with some sort of ties or interest in live music
When to go: Saturdays, but performances are sometimes held on Fridays or Sundays as well, starting at 9 or 9:30 p.m. Wednesdays are candlelight open-mic nights
Music: Usually live folk and world music, but also some unplugged pop and rock sessions
Good to know: Grab yourself a beer if the staff is too busy (don't forget to pay).
Occupying the corner of the New Oriental Plaza since 2005, the Hemp House is a holdout for the Rastafarian crowd in an area that's destined to become the city's new financial center. Hemp House was once the largest of the small-time live-music venues in Chengdu, but in 2011 it downsized back to its original two-story space, complete with terrace, foosball table, and annoying ceiling supports that always seem to be in the way.
Who's there: University students, office workers, hanger-outers, stoners, hipsters
When to go: Saturdays (roughly every other week) around 10 p.m., not earlier
Types of music you'll find: Rock, ska, electronic music, and of course, reggae
Good to know: The annual Marley in My Heart anniversary of Bob Marley's death party and the Hemp House's own September anniversary are perennially popular Hemp House events.
You'll also find occasional live music at...
• Shamrock (三叶草酒吧) Wednesday and Sunday open mic events, occasional rock concerts on Fridays or Saturdays
• Bookworm (老书虫) Blues/jazz on Fridays and Saturdays, occasional special performances on other days
• Lotus Palace (莲花府邸) and Music House (音乐房子) Chinese pop (national superstar Jane Zhang allegedly got her start singing as a teenager here)
• Sichuan Gymnasium (省体育馆), Chengdu Stadium (体育中心), and Jiaozi Music Hall (饺子音乐厅) hold big-name pop shows, such as Jay Chow and Li Yuchun
• Jinsha Culture Palace (金沙文化宫) and the Jincheng Art Palace (锦城艺术宫) hold classical concerts and occasional operas
• Hotel bars including Mooney's and Intercontinental lounge often feature professional foreign bands
• 37 Degrees (37度), Elephant (大象酒吧), and Morning Bar (早上好酒吧) hold occasional folk shows
• Le Rouge (酒窝) and Modz have occasional jazz nights
And finally, a handful of the venues in the new East Music Park (东部音乐院) feature live music of some sort, notably Mini Live and Xiongmao aka Panda Club, with its live DJ and other electronic-music sets.