Rumours have been circulating for months now, but the demolition of Morning Bar 早上好 on Minzhu Lu has finally become a reality.
Kiwese looks back on the old venue and forward to the new, ahead of Chunyou 春游 2016 this weekend.
When people ask where I learned to speak Chinese, there are two truths – I studied at Victoria University of Wellington, Beijing Language and Culture University and Sichuan University for five years in three programs. But it was at Zaoshanghao where I really found my voice.
Located on Minzhu Lu 民主路 (Democracy Road), a quiet old street off the First Ring Road in the city centre, Zaoshanghao was a little local bar run by owner Zhang Xin and his crew of can-do local bros. Driven by a DIY attitude, love of chilling and independent music, over the past seven years Zaoshanghao has become a staple venue in the Chengdu music scene as well as the hosts and collaborators of some of the city’s most memorable music festivals.
Zaoshanghao on Minzhu Lu is a five minute walk from my flat or a two minute bike ride. Many friends live even closer; some moved to Jiuyanqiao just to be near it. Stylistically speaking, the crowd is a real mixed bag – hip hop rap stars, rasta potheads, punk guitarists, computer engineers, wandering folk singers, poets, hairdressers, techno producers, experimental cellists, oil painters, and more. Zaoshanghao is the beating heart of our little community.
I’ve celebrated the past two birthdays and New Year’s Eves at Zaoshanghao. I’ve met almost all my friends there. Zaoshanghao and the community of friends that make it great are a huge reason I am living here.
Though not an official ‘livehouse,’ the low stage and banging PA system has spawned random jam sessions, afternoon reggae gigs, experimental shows and impromptu DJ sets. While the majority of shows are hosted at the garden venue in Flower Town, the Minzhu Lu stage has been graced by bands as diverse as Soviet Pop, Noise Temple, Kawa and Jurat T.T.
With a fairly loose chuck-on-your-own music policy, people would be constantly plugging their phones into the main system, filling the weekday airwaves with music to share.
Zaoshanghao catered through the seasons, providing a place of warmth and good company all year round. The courtyard out back is cold beer in the summer and roasting round the fire in the winter. Kittens and spiders scuttled about, the foozball table perpetually in motion. Patti Smith gazed over the space in her white shirt and blazer, while the giant wooden giraffe towered above the stage.
Climb the stairs to the rooftop and you’ll find yourself sitting on a platform among the haggard rooftops of the houses next door. Amidst everyone’s grief about the closure, many have cited the greatest loss as the two banana trees out back, which have grown into ginormous beasts over the past four years due to being smothered in a full bag of fertiliser.
The charm of Zaoshanghao also stems from the neighbourhood. Surrounded by trees, cheap eateries and dilapidated wooden houses, the kind where walls are insulated with compressed ferns and newspapers. Morning traffic consists of elderly folk biking home from the vegetable market, while in the afternoon the street is lined with three-wheeled snack vendors parking up to feed the outpour of students from the music academy.
The sound of musical instruments and school children can be heard floating through the air, punctuated by the distinctive clink-clink-clank of iron hammers from local sweet sellers – the Chengdu version of the Mr. Whippy tune. The buildings are built in the old style, with traditionally tiled rooftops, open balconies and patterned brick window fittings.
Minzhu Lu held the vestiges of the city people once knew, and while towering skyscrapers and identical apartment buildings sprung up like wild grass, Zaoshanghao was a little haven of sanity amidst the madness. People felt comfortable there. It was like home.
In a city that has experienced such rapid, unimaginable change over the past 20 years, it was in this familiar environment that the second Zaoshanghao found it’s roots. Although the buildings were rundown, they were full of character and history, traits which become scarcer and scarcer with every newly built shopping complex.
Minzhu Lu is a quiet residential street off the First Ring Road, properties from 1 through 13 were given their demolition eviction notices late last year. Zaoshanghao is number 13.
Word that Zaoshanghao was going to be 拆掉 demolished began circulating in conversation about a year ago – everything but the date was certain. The government wanted to build a music hall next to the music school, everything had to go.
On several occasions throughout the year, it was said the bar only had two weeks left. Weeks later, we’d still be sitting out back drinking beers.
In November, it sounded as if the news was certain – two weeks left, for 真的 real this time. Residents from the surrounding apartments were shifting out, the moving trucks were being piled up, restaurants pulled their shutters down and pasted notices of thanks to the community for their years of patronage.
Along with two architect friends, I began to film interviews with friends of Zaoshanghao and local restaurants along Minzhu Lu, with the idea of producing a documentary about the demolition of the street called ‘Goodbye, Democracy Road‘ 《民主路，再见》.
“How long have you lived here?” Yang Yang yelled across to a resident washing the dishes in their sink on the balcony.
“Since 1973,” they replied, “we’ve got to leave by this weekend.”
Everyone was shocked to hear that there were only two weeks left, and as with most Chinese bureaucracy, the issue was shelved for another few months.
All throughout the winter, we converged around the brazier out back, burning the remnants of the old community around us.
Winter was spent sifting through the vacated brick flats for wood, old furniture and pot plants. Some of the stuff the guys found looked like it belonged in a museum. Rescuing the old things before the bulldozers come in and nothing is spared.
With the neighbours gone, the sound system was pumped up to its full potential. New Year’s saw Hiroshi play hard techno until 6am.
Zaoshanghao didn’t officially open again after Chinese New Year.
Demolition of Minzhu Lu started mid-last month at the mouth of the street. A blue wall was put up around the perimeter before being replaced with a brick one, which will likely remain that way for another year or so.
The blue wall now sits around Zaoshanghao and it’s neighbours, marking the inevitable. While many of us are upset, the Zaoshanghao crew are already onto the next. This is the second venue owner Zhang Xin has been evicted from in four years and he is not letting it stop him from continuing.
I’ve been super emotional about the demolition of the old street and community. The evicted residents will be scattered into soulless high rises on the outskirts of the third ring road, forever separated from the neighbours they’ve played mahjong with for the past three decades. The abandoned buildings will be left to decay, then replaced by buildings of the homogenised, modern city blueprint.
For my local friends, the news is sad but commonplace. I listen to their stories about what Chengdu was like when they were young – full of teahouses with big wooden slide doors, street side barbershops, swimming in the river, roads full of bicycles and carts. Now it is enormous high rises, freeways packed with cars and billboard screens. I think about what Wellington was like when I was younger. It more or less the same now. Revisiting spots from one’s childhood is not a possibility that exists for the locals of Chengdu. People have a different perspective on change here, it has been a constant for as long as they can remember.
Sometimes I think that’s why people here like taking photos, as a way of preserving memories when everything has been destroyed.
However, in an endless cycle of destruction and construction, there is life, rebirth and creativity.
Zaoshanghao have started a new venue out in Flower Town: Morning House. Sunshine, fresh air, bird song in the flower-growing village in the south of the city. Moving into the old Xiwo, the crew have established two more stages on either side of the swimming pool. New beginnings, bigger and better. Shit just got real.
In true DIY style, Zaoshanghao have smashed down the fence at the back and expanded into some of the old houses out back, converting them into an electronic music room, rehearsal space and studios for local band Stolen 秘密行动 and folk singer Zhang Xiaobing 张小饼. At the front, they have built a beautiful wooden stage beneath a plot of tall, willowing trees. While the banana trees at Minzhu Lu will be missed, there are plenty more tree friends at the new venue.
The new Zaoshanghao is beautiful and inspired. This weekend it is gonna kick off, as the fourth annual Chunyou rolls around!!
Chunyou is going big this year, with 17 bands and 16 DJs playing on two stages. Making a return from last year’s Chunyou will be local faves Hiperson and Stolen!
Food/Alcohol/Multiple Stages/Open Jam Sessions/Film Screenings/Grassland Croquet/Taca-Taca/Texas Hold’Em Poker and more… Plus the electronic music stage is going 24/7.
See the details below:
Morning House 早上好
Juyuan Rd 112-Donglijuyuan, Sanshengxiang, Jinjiang, Chengdu
Get your pre-sales on Zaomengshe.
4月23日 DAY 1: BAND STAGE 乐队舞台
14：30-15：20 疆与他的朋友们 Jiang with Friends
15：20-16：10 亮子与乐队 Liang Zi
16：10-17：00 Pascal Pinon（Iceland）
17：00-17：50 Kingkong&The Chum（Thailand）
17：50-18：40 Apollo 20
19：30-20：20 海朋森 Hiperson
20：20-21：10 未之域 Terra Incognita
21：10-22：00 罗友生 Luo You Sheng
22：00-22：50 秘密行动 Stolen
22：50-23：40 声音玩具 Soundtoy
4月24日 DAY 2: BAND STAGE 乐队舞台
14：30-15：20 汪文伟 Wang Wen Wei（SH）
15：20-16：10 张尧 Zhang Yao（CQ）
16：10-17：00 黄晶与乐队 Huang Jing（CQ）
17：00-17：50 搞乐队 Gao Band
19：30-20：20 树子 Shuzi
20：20-21：10 Don Camilo（France）
21：10-22：00 说唱会馆 CDC
4月23日 DAY 1: ELECTRONIC STAGE 电子舞台
14：00-15：00 Eric Huang
4月24日 DAY 2: ELECTRONIC STAGE 电子舞台
03：00-05：30 Yang Bing（BJ）
07：30-09：30 Voko X
11：30-14：00 chill set
14：00-16：00 Cvalda & Ni Bing（BJ）
16：30-18：00 Summer & Nature Bao
19：30-21：30 Harry Ho
21：30-23：30 Mickey Zhang（BJ）
Kiwese is very glad to join the Zaoshanghao crew this year in making videos and doing interviews! Stay tuned for more soon..
See you at Chunyou!