Amplify Shenzhen: Hou Live is New Space for Local and Int’l Independent Music

Painting Home performing at Hou Live, Sun. Feb 24

Hou Live is an exciting new venue for showcasing local music and engaging current international acts with a new scene and culture. At Hou Live, beats hit hard, guitars shred, and rockers rage. It’s a dynamic space where the scene may shift from one night to the next. However, the consistent authenticity and creativity blends the diversity together and gives a sense of identity to the new venue opened in late 2018.  

The ambitious but down-to-earth event over the weekend of 23-24 February demonstrated how Hou Live takes artistic vision, cross-cultural connections, and young voices seriously.  Over the course of the two days, 18 bands took the stage, keeping the music playing from 2:30 in the afternoon to nearly 10pm at night with no advertisers, promoters, merchandisers, or party animals to distract the focus.

If there is one general critique of Shenzhen, it’s that it lacks culture. The city has exploded as its profited off globalization, manufacturing, and tech innovation. It earned the admirable nickname of “China’s Silicon Valley”, but this obviously may reinforce the idea that it lacks culture. Silicon Valley brings figures like Zuckerberg, Musk, Thiel, and Jobs to mind—creative business leaders who carved out a valley faulted for its narrow culture.

Hou Live is out to challenge this conceptualization, while at the same time encouraging the city’s artistic growth. The WeChat promo post for the weekend’s major event, 小明要打Band, was titled, “You Say Shenzhen Has No Local Music, But You Don’t Come Listen?”.

They were able to back up their bravado with plenty of local musicians and a passionate audience. The evening of music on the first night started off with the band 时间旅行(Time Travel). The group is a young and new band high in emotion and with zero irony. I was skeptical but then drawn in by the melodic solos, keyboard accompaniment, and the singer’s ability to pull off some sophisticated vocal melodies with closed eyes and a clenched fist. It reminded me why skater-emo music, which now seems dated, was once everywhere: it’s raw, fun, and can care less about what others think.

Varis at Hou Live

If there was one style that dominated the performances I saw during the two evenings, it was post-rock. The event showcased several local post-rock groups, including Varis, King’s Neo Outfit, 垮棚克, and Salty Air. The standout of the group was Salty Air, whose set included a visual multi-media element. The backdrop was an additional texture to the rich, flowing instrumental music and created a fully immersive experience.

Another distinct characteristic of the event, and Hou Live overall, is the addition of several international acts. On Sunday evening, two hardcore rock bands from Japan, Black Flies and Over Ages, took the stage. The audience and bands pleasantly bantered back and forth in fragments of Chinese, English, and Japanese. Once the music started, it was clear the message was to bring energy, get loud, and be free. Whether one could understand the lyrics or not was irrelevant.

It was a vibrant and talented mix of performances and well-worth the low-ticket price of 100元 (15 USD) for the two-day pass sold online, especially once I saw the quality of staff, sound equipment, and even added prize giveaways.

Upcoming shows look just as promising. Chinese-born rapper Bohan Phoenix, who received international attention with coverage in Billboard and Hypebeast in 2018 and 2019 for his solo work and collaboration with current sensation Higher Brothers, will perform on Friday, March 15. Then, the following night is highly acclaimed American indie rock band Cloud Nothings, who has worked with legendary producers Steve Albini and John Congleton and has performed at Coachella and many other of the largest rock music festivals in the world.

If Hou Live wasn’t on your Shenzhen music-scene radar yet, it certainly should be now. The venue promises to encourage even stronger growth of the creative community. It’s a young city and not known for its cultural maturity. But as Shenzhen celebrates its 40th birthday, it’s entering middle-ages and Hou Live is the best evidence yet that there is now something like a young teenager side of the culture here: something alternative with a voice ready to be heard.

Entrance to Hou Live

Connected to Xiasha Station (下沙地铁站)

Address: 9289 Binghe Rd. KKONE B112a, Futian District, Shenzhen

WeChat 公众号: HOULIVE

Written by Nathan Faber

Photos by Nathan Faber

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