Chengdu has one of China’s coolest emerging music scenes. Whilst it forges ahead as the epicenter of Chinese rap music, with thanks to big names like the Higher Brothers  – the underground live music scene is becoming a formidable platform to launch good local artists and draw the attention of foreign indie bands.

“All sorts of subcultures are developing here – part of it is that the pace of life in Chengdu is slower than China’s big cities, so people have time to practice the arts.” [sic] – Chengdu rapper TSD

With that being said, Chengdu still has a long way to come if you compare it to Shanghai or Beijing – with festivals cancelled and gigs hard to find or poorly attended – and underground haunts like Dojo and much of the Poly Centre a thing of the past.

Nevertheless they’re always something cooking, here some of the best music bars for jam sessions, live performances and reggae nights in the city:

 

Jah Bar 家吧 

I’ll start where it all began for me in Chengdu… Jah Bar. This reggae joint is on the south side of Jinjiang district near ‘the big ship’. Jah is run by painter Judy Chu and her husband. On most nights there are jam sessions and live performances.

Even on a weekday night the place is often packed, with people spilling out onto the terrace that almost overlooks the river. The tables are filled with an eclectic bunch in faded retro-patterned shirts taking in sessions by a newly formed indie get up, a jazz trio from Mauritius, and a Sichuan bongo ensemble with dreads.

The atmosphere is sticky, smokey and egalitarian. Going through the tattered lanterns and driftwood doors you are welcomed by a stage, which holds a drum kit, guitars and amplifiers.

When I was a little younger and a little dumber I attempted to pick up the guitar here once or twice, and no one complained too much – but with spontaneous jam sessions every night, you never know who you might see mount the stage.

‘One good thing about music, when it hits you, you feel no pain’- Bob Marley.

Old South Bridge, Huang Gate Road #36-118

成都老南门大桥黉门街36号附118号

New Little Bar 小酒馆 (芳沁店)

The birth of underground music in Chengdu is widely attributed to Little Bar – which cracked open the scene almost 20 years ago. Due to it’s success, the original little bar has since been retired for live music leaving way for ‘New Little Bar’ to hold more events and mid sized gigs with up to 100 people.

With two decades of building a cult following, the atmosphere is electric and they brings great names to the city. As you can probably guess, it is fairly small, but the alcohol is genuine and so is the music. This is the place to get down and dirty in the mosh pit,  leap off the stage into the crowd or if you’re lucky – witness the vocalist of ‘While She Sleeps’ dive from the balcony. The gig with mentioned English band, was honestly one of the best live shows I’ve ever seen.

The small venue creates an intimate atmosphere allowing you to get up close, sweaty and personal with the band.  New Little Bar – open 7 days a week in the evenings. Live shows Fridays and Saturdays.

87 Fang Qin Jie, Yulin Shang Wu Gang

成都芳沁街87号附5号丰尚玉林商务港1楼

Little Bar Space 小酒馆空间

Little Bar Space is the third and largest of the Little Bar group – in the MixC mall and is designed for large-scale concerts. The venue has an opened plan warehouse vibe and can fit more than 800 people.

Despite the large scale space –  it still manages to hold onto that intimate Little Bar atmosphere we know and love. It draws some great bands from both China and the rest of the world and helps to put Chengdu on the indie music map.

 

Monthly gig listings are published on their official wechat and on chengdubeer.com
You are almost guaranteed to wake up with a banging headache and a sore neck but you’ll have had a excellent night.

The second time In Chengdu I saw ‘While She Sleeps’ was here and I managed to make my own way off the balcony into the crowd! Health and safety you say….What’s that?

‘The worlds most famous and popular language is music’- PSY

8 Shaungqing Rd., East Sect. 3rd, Ring 2nd Rd

二环路东三段双庆路8号

Nu Space 少城有明堂

Nu Space, is just around the corner from Wide & Narrow Alleys and is a part of the growing artist community MiNTOWN 明堂. The original Nu Space has been open more than 2 years and previously hosted NuArt Festival – but has recently opened up a bigger live music venue (400 people) and are giving Little Bar a real run for their money.

Combining all things creative, they are establishing themselves as the sub-culture centre of Chengdu, giving stage to many emerging musicians, electronic performers and hybrid audiovisual performances from visual artists.

They are also bringing big international names like The Cribs and local heroes Higher Brothers to the city. Listings are published weekly on their official WeChat.

The venue has an epic sound system that will knock your hat off. The surrounding neighborhoods are where some of Chengdu’s best local food is, so leave time before (or after) the gig for dinner.

‘It’s never too late to do anything new when it comes to music’- Kygo.

9 Kuixinglou Street, Qingyang

成都市青羊区奎星楼街9号 NU SPACE

Machu Pichu 马丘比丘咖啡馆 

The Machu Picchu cafe is softly lit with rustic Himalayan furniture and eclectic musical instruments adorning the walls. Open mic night is every Thursday from 9pm where infamous jam sessions have taken place on the small stage near the rear of the bar. They also host acoustic, jazz, electronic and experimental music performances.

Whilst the original Machu Picchu closed in October 2016, and was loved by many – the new, larger venue has managed to hold onto it’s integrity and spontaneous energy. The quirky cafe and bar stock a selection of decent beers, at reasonable prices. If you’re not their on a night with scheduled performances, grab a board game and settle in… you never know who might pluck a guitar off the wall.

‘I like beautiful melodies telling me terrible things’ Tom Waits.

成都玉林北街1号

Yulin Beijie #1

 

Other Live Music

Steam Hostel

This hostel and bar provides not only studio space and lodgings for visiting acts to Chengdu but is also a relaxed space for spontanious jam sessions – it has a small stage, surrounded by whirling lights and art instalations.

30 Wuhouci Street

武侯祠大街30号

Morning House 早上好

Morning House settled in Flower Town a few years ago where owner Zhang set up the space up for local musicians to perform. These guys also organise yearly festivals like Punkfest CDC and Chunyou.

116 Lianhe Yizu, Hongsha Village, Flower Town

三圣乡红砂村联合一组116号(红砂村紫薇路的尽头)

Chinese Style Live Music Houses

Jiu Yan Qiao has a number of Chinese style live houses, which occasionally see decent acts and usually have a good atmosphere. Warning: You may have to endure Hotel California:

808 Live House

丝管路1号(九眼桥旁)

Long Live House

九眼桥, 太平南街

Music House

兰桂坊

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Jamie Lavery

Jamie Lavery

Jamie Lavery, from Northern Ireland is as passionate about Chengdu's underground music scene as the city's ever flowing craft beer. If it's between two buns, he's tried it.

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