It’s live: your guide to Shanghai’s best gig venues

From swinging jazz clubs and rock dives to sweaty heavy metal spaces – here’s a list of where it’s all happening for music fans in Shanghai

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 14 June, 2017, 10:50am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 14 June, 2017, 10:54am

From bars that aim to recapture the city’s 1920s and ’30s jazz heyday, to dive-bar live houses hosting regular rock shows, Shanghai has plenty to offer when it comes to live music. Here are some of the city’s best spots for gig goers.

Modern Sky Lab

“Soft-opened” in mid-May, Modern Sky Lab is the new kid on the Shanghai live house block. Set for a big “grand opening” in August, the venue in a Hongkou shopping mall is the latest venture from Beijing-based record label and promoters Modern Sky. The company behind Strawberry Festival opened their first Lab in the capital in 2015 before extending the brand to Kunming a year later.

Modern Sky say there’s space for around 1,500 but that includes two mezzanines and the main floor area isn’t intimidatingly large – a show need only attract around 300-400 to not feel awkwardly empty. Its location means audiences will likely be young locals, students and dedicated downtown fans of the acts on stage, but if organisers can put together some solid bookings once fully open, it’ll be a welcome addition to Shanghai’s gig venues.

3/F Ruihong Tiandi, 188 Ruihong Lu, Hongkou district

JZ Club

A Shanghai jazz institution, JZ Club was forced to vacate its Fuxing Lu premises last year after more than a decade in the same leafy part of the former French Concession, despite the considerable guanxi that has enabled it to put on one of the city’s longest-running and largest annual music festivals, JZ Festival. It’s since taken up residence in subterranean bar and restaurant complex Found 158, a less romantic locale but one that’s still managed to capture much of the classic jazz den atmosphere that made the former space so popular. Nightly performances and jam sessions offer a mix of locally based musicians, home-grown talent (JZ Club also operates a music school) and international guests.

58 Julu Lu, near Chengdu Nan Lu, Huangpu district

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Harley’s Underground

A decade ago, Harley’s was a biker-themed dive bar with a space out back for underground rock shows. But over the years the owners seemed to lose interest in the second half of this equation and, apart from a handful of sporadic gigs, the live music offerings dried up. Fast-forward to two years ago and new management vowed to bring the music back to this basement bar just south of the bustling Xujiahui shopping district. With shows every weekend, the venue is largely the domain of Shanghai-based rock and metal bands. Shows can be hit-and-miss and the sound quality isn’t the greatest, but when it’s busy it makes for a rough and ready good time.

Basement, 265 Nandan Dong Lu, near Caoxi Bei Lu, Xuhui district

Heyday & Shake

These retro-themed live venues don’t host as much original music as the other spots on this list, but they’re still a considerable cut above the standard cover-band lounges. Heyday serves up quality cocktails and a procession of talented jazz performers throughout the week in stylish digs featuring Art Deco-style nods to the swinging Shanghai of the 1920s and ’30s.

Shake has a similarly impressive drinks list and decor, but adds a more extensive food menu and live bands (Thursday to Saturday) with a classic soul slant to their set lists. Heyday is a great spot to relax with a drink and take in the music; Shake is the place for dinner and a dance.

Heyday: 50 Taian Lu, near Xingguo Lu, Xuhui district

Shake: 3/F 120 Jinxian Lu, near Maoming Nan Lu, Huangpu district

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Bandai Namco Shanghai Base

Flying Lotus, Godspeed You! Black Emperor and Swans are among the acts to have graced the main stage at the newly rebranded Bandai Namco Shanghai Base, while a second upstairs stage at the venue formerly known as Qianshuiwan has played host to the likes of Perfume Genius and Low. It’s the sort of space that can feel empty when the turnout is poor, but the quality of the set-up ensures it’s a regular go-to for promoters for whom Yuyintang is too small and the Mercedes-Benz Arena is too big. Located beside Suzhou Creek, this isn’t a venue to head to on a whim – some weekends go by without a single show – but if an act you like is passing through, you’ll be assured a memorable night out.

179 Yichang Lu, near Jiangning Lu, Putuo district

Inferno

The only venue on this list to boast a European branch (founder Martin Aamodt recently opened a sister bar under the same name in his hometown of Copenhagen), Inferno is dedicated to metal and the heavier side of Shanghai’s music scene. Having begun life in 2011 as a loud bar located right next door to a police station (who’d have thought that would be a problem?), the bar relocated in 2015 to the former Luwan district. The pay-off for moving to the ground floor of an otherwise distinctly un-metal shopping mall has been the addition of a full stage, and the venue has subsequently become even more of a haven for heavy music fans in the city. Hit Inferno on a weekend night and you’ll likely find a mix of Chinese and expat bands, and occasionally international touring acts, shredding on stage. It’s loud, uncompromising and not for everyone – but that’s how they like it.

Unit 6-103, G/F 658 Longhua Dong Lu, near Kaiping Lu, Huangpu district

Tivoli by 696 Live

This is now 696 founder Xiao Bai’s fourth attempt at a live music venue in Shanghai. Having worked at Yangpu’s Live Bar, he started out on his own with a small industrial space at the 696 Weihai Lu arts complex (hence the name) before he and the artists were turfed out to eventually make way for a shared office development. Bai subsequently encountered similar issues with 696’s two successor spaces and when his Hongkou iteration closed at the end of 2014, that appeared to be that.

But Bai recently took over café and occasional folk spot Yuncai Café inside Putuo district’s Changshou Park and gave it a refit, turning the intimate spot into his latest bar and regular live music venue.

So far it’s been home to mainly acoustic shows, but alternative electronic showcases are also booked.

Inside Changshou Park, 260 Changshou Lu, near Xikang Lu, Putuo district

Yuyintang

If you only go to one gig venue in Shanghai, make it Yuyintang. Emerging as a DIY promotion brand for rock shows in 2004, Yuyintang’s first incarnation as a venue came two years later and though it’s moved premises and expanded in the subsequent decade, YYT (as it’s often referred to) has maintained a strong community feeling. The start of the week generally sees open-mic nights and jam sessions, but from Thursday to Sunday local acts and touring bands (both Chinese and international) play a variety of genres, usually with rock leanings. It only takes around 300 for the divey spot to feel packed, but this often engenders the kind of sweaty, enthusiastic alternative live music experience that rock fans love.

851 Kaixuan Lu, near Yanan Xi Lu, Changning district