"Culture Bureau" is an ongoing SmartBeijing interview series in which we take long, meandering strolls down memory lane with pillars of the Beijing cultural community.
Rounding out music week here at SmartBeijing, an in-depth interview with Pink, the manager, booker, hostess, reliable community bedrock solidly planted at Temple. Not the fine dining establishment, to be sure. Temple as in the 1:00am conversation: "Where are you going now?" "I don't know probably Temple."
What would we do without Temple? Where would we end up? Questions we hopefully will not have to answer for a while yet. The quintessential Gulou dive has passed through rough terrain over the last few years. Managerial changes abruptly enforced from on high, constant clandestine oversight and neighbor venues shuttering to the north and south. But Temple has persisted, and while there are a lot of cooks in the proverbial (and literal, burger) kitchen: we have Temple because we have Pink.
Temple's celebrating four years of eking out its grimy rock'n'roll existence in the Gulou zone with a string of gigs this week sure to bring out its regulars, its loyal tribe, and a wide range of Beijing bands new and old, punk and metal, post and whatever. It's Temple. It's a music place.
Show up at Temple any night from now to Saturday (specific listing info here), from 10pm on, for no entry fee. That pretty much extends to every night but this week's a special "Fuck you" to the uncertainty of maintaining such an improbable dream within this increasingly bristly social climate.
And here's Pink on how she got to Temple and where she's taking it:
SmartBeijing: Where are you from originally? Are you from Beijing?
Pink: My parents aren’t from Beijing, but I was born and raised in Beijing. My shenfenzhen is from Beijing.
SmBJ: So you were born here. What was your early life like? What did your parents do?
Pink: My parents are just normal, average Chinese. My Mom did some small business, my dad worked for a construction company.
SmBJ: Were you interested in music when you were growing up?
Pink: Yes, but it was China, you know? We were closer to Japanese music and culture. So I was more influenced by listening to Japanese music, J-Pop all the time. [laughs]
SmBJ: What did you study in school? What were your other interests when you were younger?
Pink: I can’t remember now actually. I think for me I always take whatever opportunity is in front of me, I’ll take a chance and start to work on it. When I was young I was kind of average, a nobody, whatever. And then later on I started to realize that I’m very good at maintaining a position in the middle, to maintain a balance, no matter where I am. So I guess I’m very good at adapting to my environment and maintaining it.
SmBJ: What brought you to Temple Bar originally? Were you doing other jobs before Temple?
Pink: I was working at another bar before, Salud in Nanluoguxiang. There I met [co-founder] Clement [Berger], and he introduced me to Temple when they were just starting to open the bar.
SmBJ: How did you start working at Salud originally?
Pink: That was also through another friend, they just said Salud needed people to work there. So I said, “OK, I can try.” At the beginning it was such low pay. They needed a waitress, so I took the waitress job at the time. Later on I went behind the bar. Then I met Clement at Salud.
SmBJ: So you’ve been at Temple since the very beginning, right?
SmBJ: Temple’s a pretty special music venue in Beijing. It established its identity very quickly, I think. What were some early shows that are particularly memorable for you?
Pink: I remember the opening night, it was packed. It was Devils at the Crossroad, and then another band, I forget… Even the yard outside was full of people. That was my strongest memory. It was a very cool night. Later, at the beginning, sometimes it’d be busy, sometimes empty. I remember at the time I was worried, I thought we needed to do something to get more people out. But a few months later it suddenly got more popular.
SmBJ: In the early days was it people from Salud or other bars nearby that were coming to Temple, or was it forming a different kind of community?
Pink: I think it was like this: when I was working at Salud it was a fun place. Very cool hanging out, it’s a friendly place, everybody knows everybody, you can make friends. But at the time we also felt that there was something missing from the area. And then the Temple project was going on, I think it filled that void, which is that we are music lovers and we need a music space. So I would say some people who really loved music started going.
SmBJ: So was it mostly Clement booking the shows in the early years of Temple?
Pink: Yeah, and also [fellow co-founder] Gao Xu [of Longshendao]. He also has the contacts of bands, and friends in bands.
SmBJ: What was your job at Temple early on?
Pink: At the beginning I did the same job that I did at Salud, I was a bartender. Also, at the beginning, we kind of started from the position of defining what this bar is, and what direction will we go in the future. It was sort of like being a detective. So that was the beginning. And later on when Clement got really busy, and the business was getting better, I took more jobs. I started to turn into a bar manager.
SmBJ: I’ve always thought what makes you different from bartenders at any given bar in Beijing is that you have a very strong and assertive personality, and I think maybe in some ways you made your own job. So over the first year or two, how did your own personality change in relation to your job at Temple?
Pink: Actually before I worked at Temple, I didn’t really know music that much, rock’n’roll. So at first I thought rock’n’roll music was kind of hard to get close to. And then after I worked here, I started to see a different way, a different side of rock’n’roll. I thought, “Wow, rock people are really cool, they’re very honest.” That feeling was getting stronger and stronger, so I felt this was a great place. You’re surrounded by cool people, surrounded by old friends and new friends. Later, more and more I felt bonded to this place.
SmBJ: Clement eventually left Temple Bar… Can you talk a bit about what happened after that? You took on much more responsibility for running the bar and maintaining its culture, right?
Pink: It’s like... I just had to do it. I had no choice. Gao Xu was busy on tour, so this was all laid on me. I started to take over what Clement did before. It was a hard time, for sure. Because I didn't know what the rules should be, how to book the bands and everything. At the beginning I just followed my instincts, checked what we had before, and tried my best to work things out. But after — I think it’s been a year now — it’s getting better. It’s in my character. I like to face difficult challenges.
SmBJ: What other challenges have you faced?
Pink: Well before I had no experience with Photoshop or any design things. And once a friend’s band needed a poster or something. I had learned a little bit of design at school, so I thought, “OK, I’ll do it.” So I started to do it, and now I can do it well. So it’s like that. I like face these kinds of challenges and learn new skills. I’m a fast learner.
SmBJ: You’ve drawn a lot of the Temple handbills right?
Pink: I wouldn’t say draw, I don’t have that much talent. But I design them, I try my best. If I have time I’ll draw it. I drew the fourth anniversary poster. I like to use a sexy lady on the cover of the monthly program.
SmBJ: Yeah, by now that lady is sort of like the unofficial Temple mascot. Why did you choose that?
Pink: Rock and roll! Booze and boobs. [laughs]
SmBJ: Haha… well besides those two things, what else does rock’n’roll represent to you?
Pink: You know, a lot of people ask me if I play an instrument. I’ll say I don’t play anything, but I love rock’n’roll because it’s a kind of attitude. You see a lot of rock’n’roll bands that really suck, but their lifestyle is rock’n’roll. If you know you’re cool, then you’re rock. That’s the spirit, I don’t know how else to explain it. There are a lot of people who say that to be rock’n’roll you have to do drugs, you have to do all these shitty things. Actually, that's not true.
SmBJ: One thing that I think is really rock’n’roll about Temple is that it’s created this community of diehard music fans. You can always count on seeing a familiar face there, having a drink with someone with the same obsession with rock'n'roll. What about the room or the space of Temple has helped to create this community?
Pink: I’m sure you’ve noticed, we don’t have a lot of seats. Just a few seats at the back for people to chill out. We leave a lot of space for people to stand and dance and watch the bands. This is the Temple area, something we were trying to do from the beginning.
Pink: But it’s the people that make the space, not the space that makes the people. There are always a lot of friends here, we know each other, we take care of each other, we respect each other. I always say, I repeat again and again: Temple is made by you guys. Without you guys, Temple is just an average bar, nothing really special. Because of you guys, every time you come to Temple, you see friends, say hi, enjoy music.
SmBJ: So you’ve been booking the shows for a bit over a year now. In the last year what are some of the best new bands you’ve seen in Beijing?
Pink: Wow, that’s a question… That is a question. [laughs] I will say it this way: I won’t give you the best, for me it’s hard to say the best. You see a lot of faces change, a lot of old bands break up and members get together with other bands. That’s cool, seeing really experienced musicians coming back in new bands.
I think the most interesting recently was Jajatone. I asked a lot of people about this band. Even the first time they played here, people thought they were really good. And they’re young, they’re still in college. This is the one recently that really impressed me.
SmBJ: Can you give a short introduction to Temple’s fourth anniversary shows?
Pink: Temple’s anniversary, you know... this is our fourth year, and this year a lot of things changed. I’m not just talking about Temple, also talking about Beijing venues, some disappeared. I think this year has been very different. It’s number four. We want to do something different. So we collaborated with some other organizers.
First is Wednesday, we’re doing a punk night, and Thursday we’re doing metal night. And then Friday night is post-punk night. Saturday night, the title is Live in Beijing, the live can be read as "live music" or “to live in Beijing.” That's a collaboration with Live Beijing Music, so there’s a lot of variety. There’s a band from Shenzhen, and there are also two local bands, one is new blood kind of. And then also Perpetual Motion Machine, an old band that still keeps it underground. So every day we have a different title, we do different music, and yeah… that’s about it.
SmBJ: After the anniversary, what is your plan for the next year?
Pink: I really don’t know. It’s a lot of question marks. We want to keep things rock, we want to keep everything working like it does now. Also we want to keep Temple as Temple. I think the simplest is the best. Temple exists as it is, we don’t want to change the style or anything. Whatever challenges come, we’ll face it. We’ll figure out it, we’ll try to adjust. We welcome new blood, new bands, different styles. We might have more poignant music in the future. We will keep the music, for sure. Keep it rock’n’roll.
SmBJ: Some small live music venues have closed recently, like Zajia and XP. Do you feel any pressure at Temple given recent events?
Pink: I think they closed for their own reasons. I don’t know exactly, but I’ve heard some things. I think it’s hard to keep things working. But we will keep doing it. We’ll try our best to keep Temple open.
Temple 4th anniversary poster art by Pink
After this interview Pink and I slammed a couple of coffee shots and we were off to the races, another classic Temple Bar late night. Plenty more of those coming up this week, consecutively, starting tonight. Full program:
TUE July 22: Don't Be a Bastard! (Punk Night)
WED July 23: Metal Night with Scare the Children and Galaxies in Coma
THU July 24: Post-Punk Night with Steely Heart, Pacalolo, Lonely Leary, and Death Narcissist
FRI July 25: Live in Beijing: The Eat, Pokemon Dad, and Perpetual Motion Machine