Under a year ago, Guangzhou saw the arrival of a new and heretofore unseen component of the local art scene – Soul, Funk & Jazz.
Down on Bingjiang Lu by the river, there resides a hip new vegan restaurant, art gallery and music venue called Brasston, unlike any other music venue in Guangzhou, catering for the tastes of all the cool kids who never wanna grow up.
One of the co-owners of the venue, Chong, is a long-time party planner in Guangzhou, having spent years abroad in London. His interest in music began around the year 2000, when he got into American Hip Hop from the likes of Tupac and Biggie. In the following years his hobby grew legs and moved towards Jazz and Soul music, much of which appears in the Hip Hop music he had been listening to.
I caught up with Chong and his friend Canto, a well respected local Music Journalist with Huadu Radio Station, to talk about Guangzhou, China and the future of music here in venues like Brasston.
*Chong helped to translate for Canto.
First up, could you introduce yourselves
My name is Chong, I am one of the owners of Brasston. I’ve been running this place for eight months.
Canto is a freelancer, writing articles about music and working for Huadu Radio Station as a radio station DJ.
How do you guys know each other?
We met four years ago in a party and at that time Canto worked for a radio station. He wanted to interview me about music, and about the parties I organised, because at that time I was running a party label called Full Time Job with some of my mates.
When we were young we both went to the same place in Tianhe to buy vinyls and CDs. All the CDs in this place were imported into China without tax, smuggled into China from Japan, Europe and Spain. We could find countless different genres of music, it was an ideal place for music lovers. We had that experience of digging through the bins and looking around for CDs to discover good music.
Do you guys share a similar taste in music?
We both like Lo-Fi, Hip hop, Jazz Hip Hop, Black music, Soul, Funk, Deep House and Jazzy House, and Japanese Music so we have a similar taste in this.
What was the name of the record store?
There was no name for the market, I shouldn’t say it really. It was a record market in a certain building in Tianhe, on the third floor of the building there were countless little stores selling Vinyls and CDs, so twenty different stores gathered together.
Is this place still open now?
I wish they were still in existence but this place shut like five years ago.
There aren’t many vinyl stores in GZ right now
Its very unfortunate, those CD stores are perfect, like heaven, you can get music from all around the world and very very cheap, 10 kuai for a vinyl and 20 kuai for a cd from Japan. And almost at the same time as it was released in Japan, maybe like five weeks after it was released in Japan.
What started your guys interest in funk, soul, jazz and all that stuff? And when did you become interested in that music?
Canto got to know SFJ through Mariah Carey, her album called Fantasy, and after that he fell in love with this music and he loved the groove and the vibe, it felt so warm and positive. Then he dug deeper to look for some new music like Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On, and he kept going deeper and deeper and he gradually began to love this music.
The way I learnt about SFJ, back to 2001, I was a Hip Hop lover, I collected a lot of Hip Hop cds from East Coast and West Coast factions, like Tupac and Biggie, and some underground music that I collected in the market, and during that Golden Age of Hip Hop they all sampled Funk and Soul tunes so I began to expand my musical tastes and began to listen to a new genre of music; SFJ.
What do you think of Guangzhou’s music scene now?
Canto thinks the Guangzhou music scene is getting bigger. More and more new places opened, such as Brasston, and there is more choice. It helps to enrich peoples musical lives in Guangzhou. If they have an interest in SFJ they can come to Brasston, or for Live Shows, they can go to a place like 191 Space. It’s a lot better than it was a few years ago but again compared to Shanghai and Beijing there is a long way to go.
This is also my perspective. Guangzhou is slowly getting better and more and more new places are opening in Guangzhou. We need unity, all the different places can co-operate together to make the scenes better. We can contribute more in this field. We can help each grow and make the market bigger. At the moment, Guangzhou compared to Shenzhen, Beijing and Shanghai it is not that good yet.
Can you tell a little about the Guangzhou music scene five years ago, when you guys first met? What venues and options were there for jazz and hip hop funk fans like you guys?
Five years ago there was no specific place for SFJ. There was a place called C: Union and there was a great variety there. It was like a Hotpot it had a whole variety of different music there.
There was also a place called JZ Club, but not many people chose to go there because it was a bit far away, in Party Pier. C:Union was located in the centre of Guangzhou so everybody from the city centre districts like Haizhu, Tianhe and Yuexiu can come together at that spot easily. Every weekend they had live shows and very occasionally they would organise Live Jazz, which we loved.
I was very interested to see people like Madpete and Cocoonics at Brasston
Because Groove Bunny Records is a great underground funk label, and Endy Chen obviously does a lot for vinyl in Shanghai, do you have connections there?
With Endy we spoke on the phone before I opened Brasston. I met him in Loft 345, and we have some friends in common in Beijing. And before Brasston opened I asked him to help me to bring some artists and to make Guangzhou a fun place. He does a lot in vinyl, he also sells vinyl on taobao through his Shanghai Daily Vinyl shop, he is also a show organiser and he goes to Japan often and he has a lot of connections with Japanese artists, so at that time I really wanted to work together to help to change the scene in Guangzhou.
The situation of Guangzhou compared to Shanghai is totally different, if I invite someone to come I have to pay for the travel and for the performance and there is no guarantee that I will make enough to break even because the demand for this music is not that big here. I could say that the market niche here is tiny. But if I were in Shanghai I think there is no doubt that I would be able to cover that money.
We have the motivation to carry on, we don’t see risk, we just follow our heart. We just want to do something and have fun at the same time. We made a very fun event called Brasston on Air, every Friday, me and Canto and some friends of mine we share some music via the radio DJ method. People can send a Wechat to us or an email to us to let us know what kind of music they play, and after approval people can come and have a drink, talk about music, have fun, laugh, all that stuff.
How has the response from people been so far?
The first Brasston on Air was two weeks ago, some people came and asked us how they can join it, and except that maybe not as good as we expected but if we carry on and never give up, definitely things will get better.
BRASSTON, No.246 Binjiang Xi Lu,
Haizhu District, GuangZhou
Huadu Radio Station: