Beijing Backpacking, Day 17: Regardless of the Contrast, Music is The Universal Language

Looks like a rock bar to me, but what sort?
Looks like a rock bar to me, but what sort?

MUSIC IS MY catharsis. Wherever I go, it is the bridge between experiencing the local culture and globalisation, the authentically local and the familiar. I’ve made it a habit to visit a music bar at least once, preferably at least twice, wherever I go. Often the genres are very similar: rock, classical, jazz; with the differences between cultures being very subtle.

The great thing about these places in Beijing is that they are not necessarily confined to the parts of town frequented by foreigners – although they are in close proximity. A friend and I sought out a rock bar in town, and casually happened to stumble across the end of the famous Nanluoguxiang food and retail alley. Sure, at the time where I had to take foreign friends around, I showed them small parts of Nanluoguxiang, but glossed over it; it’s the type of place I get over pretty quickly. But I was always curious about what’s at the end.

It’s that unique type of feeling of seeing things from a new angle, visibly manifested: when you are exploring a completely new place and suddenly encounter a part of an area that you’re familiar with. You instantly get your bearings but the place looks completely different.

Anyway, I digress – where was I? Oh yeah, music. But to be honest, a music bar is a bit like that; and that’s the feeling I got at this music bar two blocks away from the abrupt end of Nanluoguxiang. The music is an eclectic blend of punk, grunge and … ska. Most of the lyrics are in Chinese, but then comes an abrupt segue into an English-language song, which gets the foreigners going wild. It’s a trip into the unknown, the subtly cultural … and then the sudden encounter with the familiar.

The Chinese tenets are indeed subtle here. The bilingual menus. The intros in Chinese. The casual use of the ‘orientalised’ pentatonic scale in guitar solos. The décor and mise-en-scene. But Chinese or foreigner, one thing is clear: they’re having a good time, all to the same vibe.

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