Most nightlife capitals in the world share certain traits. In Berlin, a huge number of clubs exist that cater to every conceivable taste, serving as incubators for sub-cultural movements on the fringes of society. Places like New York, often called “melting pots,” benefit from the fusion of cross-cultural ideas to synthesize new and exciting forms of music and ways to party. And even in London, where the closure of major clubs have been well-documented over the past decade, music thrives because of the strength of a radio culture that includes licensed FM stations, online platforms and the ever-potent presence of pirate radio.
In Shanghai it appears to be a phenomenon in its emerging stages. Right now, it could be argued that radio has never been less important. Radio DJs, once the primary source for curated musical experiences, have been ousted by the algorithms—Spotify and the like. Yet, a recent surge in popularity for online radio has signaled that there is still a place for radio in the modern world. Radio remains unique in its ability to serve as the glue that holds together music scenes, group together music in interesting ways, and at the zenith of its power, even birth the idea of a sub-genre in the minds of audiences.
In the case of London’s Rinse FM for example, the choice of certain DJs to highlight a particularly dark strain of UK Garage music is largely the reason that dubstep and grime have now been brought to an international audience and become recognized in clubs worldwide. Here in Shanghai, efforts are already being taken to produce quality radio broadcasts, the most notable being Live from Shanghai, China Social Club’s exploration of music in the city. Broadcasting monthly from their bar Smash, via online station NTS Radio, a cursory look through their archives reads like an eclectic sonic bar-crawl around the city, from Hong Kong disco excesses to sparsely–arranged experimental improvisations. These one–hour snapshots often capture what is so exciting about going out in Shanghai, and as they are unedited live recordings from the bar, it’s even possible to drop in on the recording sessions on Sunday afternoons.
Shanghai’s online radio contingent looks to be strengthening further with Shanghai Community Radio recently establishing their brand with a live-streamed recording of Abyss X at their Pingwu Lu basement location. Loosely associated with longstanding art collective and gallery Basement 6, their format of live-streamed events could be compared to other community radio projects in Berlin, Hong Kong and Seoul that offer a visual accompaniment to their content. Their events are slated to be open to the public, with the recording room fitted with a window to allow the public to look and listen in on the shows live as they are happening.
With much of radio moving online, it is unsurprising that Shanghai’s broadcasters have begun their exploits in cyberspace as opposed to on the FM bandwidth. Where many stations in the past began life as pirate radio stations, the ease of starting an Internet broadcast, and the legal restrictions of unlicensed radio makes pirate radio in China an unrealistic possibility, even in a country where left-field sounds seldom find their way onto FM radio. But while there may be a wait before you hear drive-time techno or hip-hop in Shanghai, it is now at least possible to hear the sounds of the streets through the Internet.
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