At a Time of Quarantine, Chinese Musicians Use Online Spaces for Performances

In a time where concerts are canceled, artists have found a way to play shows.

Zhu Wenbo
Zhu Wenbo making music as part of the "at home" series.
Zhu Wenbo/YouTube

For nearly all musicians, performing their music live is a central part of their work. It doesn’t matter if someone is a pop star headlining arenas or an experimental musician creating harsh noise; some things transcend genre. But what’s a musician to do when there are no shows to be had?

Musicians in China have discovered that this is far from an abstract concern. The first sentence of a new article by Krish Raghav at Hyperallergic spells out the situation: “There hasn’t been a live music show in China since late January.”

As one might expect from a massive country, China has plenty of notable musicians, from the underground to the mainstream. But as of now, there’s nowhere for any of these bands to play — the national response to the coronavirus outbreak has prompted the temporary closure of venues everywhere.

That might sound ominous, but you should never underestimate the ability of musicians to be resourceful. Raghav’s article documents the ways that artists, labels, and venues have used technology to turn online spaces into the next best thing to standing in a club and watching an artist play their songs.

Prominent indie record labels like Ruby Eyes and Modern Sky are streaming “showcases” for artists on their roster, and venues like Shanghai’s Yuyintang are even considering ticketed online performances. Many of these are hosted on the live-streaming site BiliBili, which contains a crucial social feature, Bullet Comments or 弹幕 (“danmu”), that make these events an active expression of community and social bonding, rather than just passive experiences.

Musicians’ reaction to the outbreak has also involved streaming live music from their homes. It’s an impressive and inspiring way of working around a more serious obstacle than most contemporary musicians have had to navigate — and it’s led to an interesting evolution of live music along the way.

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