Most visitors comment that the vibe is way more laid-back than comparable venues in the States, with a mix of foreigners and Chinese fans. Some bands sing in Mandarin (or another Chinese dialect), but most sing in English because it's the language of the rock music they grew up with and some say it's hard to write lyrics using a tonal language like Chinese.
Cited by Time Out Shanghai editor and influential music blogger Jake Newby as the “heart of the Shanghai scene,” this intimate venue hosts Chinese indie rock as well as touring international acts. You might catch local acts like stripped-down rockers Pairs or experimental art rockers Duck Fight Goose. Mostly standing-room, this is a place to see the future of Chinese rock up close.
English address: 851 Kaixuan Lu, behind the Yan'an Xi Lu subway station
Chinese address: 凯旋路851号天山公园小白楼，近延安西路地铁站
Phone: +86 021-5237-8662
|White+ at XP, photo by Jeff Yiu|
This small venue near Beihai Park focuses on noise, electronic music, improv, no wave, post punk, and as Josh Feola, who handles the booking, says, "any kind of 'difficult' music whenever possible." Founded by the same people as popular rock club D-22 (now closed), XP features an occasional rock show (often Sunday afternoon), but the schedule is rarely sent out to listings magazines in advance, so check their Douban for details. The experimental sounds aren't for everyone, but their stage regularly hosts some of the most avant garde young artists in Beijing.
English Address: Dian'men crossroads, southwest corner (behind the chestnut place)
Chinese Address:地安门十字路口，西南角 (著名的栗子铺“秋栗香”的后面)
Hidden Agenda, Hong Kong
On Hong Kong's grittier Kowloon side (across the bay from the main island), Hidden Agenda tops the list of local rock venues. From the album release party for local post-rockers Fragile, to Mainland rockers Da Bang (formerly known as Bigger Bang in English), to French duo The Inspector Cluzo—this small venue hosts a little bit of everything. But because of space restrictions in ultra-compact Hong Kong, gigs, especially with international bands, often take place in restaurants like Grappa's Cellar and Backstage. Check local English listings magazines like BC and Time Out Hong Kong to see what's happening when you're in town.
English Address: 2A, Wing Fu Industrial Bldg, 15-17 Tai Yip Street, Kwun Tong
Chinese Address: 香港牛頭角大業街15-17號永富工業大廈2樓A室
Phone: +852 9170-6073
Run by Chinese saxophonist Tianxiao, Jianghu is a cozy, tiny folk venue in a converted courtyard home, right off Nanluoguxiang. This is the place to see Chinese versions of Bob Dylan in action. While the performances tend to feature singer-songwriters and bands reviving Chinese folk traditions, you’ll occasionally catch a local metal band doing an acoustic set or something coming out of left field, like Mongolian hip-hop. Stick around after the main gig, when musicians in the audience often take the stage for a song or two.
English address: 7 Dongmianhua Hutong, west off Jiaodaokou Nandajie, Dongcheng district
Chinese address: 东城区交道口南大街东棉花胡同7号
Phone: +86 132-6922-7168
JZ Club, Shanghai
|JZ Club, photo courtesy of the venue|
English address: 46 Fuxing Xi Lu, near Changshu Lu subway stop
Chinese address: 复兴西路46号（靠近永福路口）
Phone: +86 21-6431-0269
|East Shore Live Jazz|
Run by the former saxophonist for Cui Jian (considered the godfather of Chinese rock ‘n’ roll), this jazz club takes up residence in an unlikely location: on the banks of Houhai lake, an area mostly known for tacky, neon-lit bars. The most authentic jazz club in town, the main room gets quite smoky, but you can hang out on the rooftop with a view of the action on the banks of the lake below: paddle boats, drunken revelry, and occasional musicians on traditional Chinese instruments.
English address: Second Floor, Building 2, Qianhai Nanyan, Dianmenwai Dajie, Houhai area
Chinese address: 东岸咖啡, 西城区地安门外大街前海 南沿2号楼2层
Phone: +86 10 8403 2131
|Xiao He at T: Union, photo courtesy of the venue|
Inside Guangzhou’s Sculpture Park, a green oasis dotted with hills, sculpture, and ancient architecture, this newly opened venue hosts folk, jazz, and world music concerts in a two-story seated venue with a pro sound system and a glass ceiling so you can enjoy the music under the stars. Recent acts have been diverse: Norwegian pop princess Annie, a drumming and dance group from Burundi, Paris-based multi-instrumentalist Matthieu Ha, experimental Chinese folk musician Xiao He, and a multiday international jazz festival.
English address: Inside Sculpture Park, 545 Xiatang Xilu, Yuexiu District
Chinese address: 广州市越秀区下塘西路545号雕塑公园内
Phone: +86 20-3659-7623
|Moonkey, in its previous location, courtesy of the venue|
While best known as the home of the Terra Cotta Warriors, Xi'an is also a university town where a fierce—if smaller than in Beijing or Shanghai—rock scene has been brewing since the 1990s. This tiny venue hosts live performances every night often featuring local punk and metal bands, along with occasional international acts and bands from other parts of China (Beijing's Hedgehog arrive soon).
English address: Dong Er Jie, Xincheng, near Shuncheng Alley, Shunjia Commercial Hotel
Chinese address: 东二路与顺城巷路口顺家酒店旁（解放路万达东、近东新街夜市街、小东门古玩市场)
Phone: +86 135-7244-7716 or +86 152-9181-2174
The Jazz Bar, Shanghai
First opened in 1929 on Shanghai's stately Bund, the refurbished (and now Fairmont-managed) Peace Hotel's Jazz Bar hosts nightly performances by the Old Jazz Band, specializing in jazz popular in the 1920s and 1930s and performing nightly at 7 pm. Sip one of the bar's specialty drinks—inspired by vintage cocktails from the '20s and '30s—while you watch the band decked out in black bowties and suspenders. With an average age close to 80 and some members performing since the 1940s, the musicians are true Chinese jazz legends who have performed all around the world.
English address: 20 Nanjing Dong Lu, near Zhongshan Dong Yi Lu, Huangpu district
Chinese address: 黄浦区南京东路20号， 近中山东一路
Phone: +86 21-6138-6883
NOTE: I initially wrote this two years ago for an editor at a budget travel magazine, who—unfairly! inconsiderately!—had me submit a list of venues, write them up, revise (jazz venues! do they sing in English? Xi'an is a must!), and call in art. Then she went silent for over a month before saying she wasn't interested anymore (they'd decided the magazine would only cover destinations with broader appeal), and I wouldn't be getting paid, not even the kill fee. But in anticipation of the upcoming talk on Chinese rock (Ran Tea House in Williamsburg tonight), I thought I'd dust it off.
What would you add to this list? My editor killed Vox in Wuhan and Little Bar in Chengdu. And if I could've added more Beijing venues, I would have listed Yugong Yishan and Mao Livehouse.