So I was pretty drunk on Wednesday at School and I said to Liu Fei, "Ok dude give me a beer and I'll do that interview right now, pardon the spelling mistakes, but quid pro quo, you gotta do an interview with me for SmartBeijing. Like, immediately. I need an article for Friday." So here's Liu Fei on School's illustrious five-year history of boozing, bashing, and bolstering the true spirit of Beijing rock'n'roll:
"Dr." Liu and his Human Centipede
SmartBeijing: Wow, hard to believe it's been five years since School opened. So can you tell the story of how it started? Who were the original co-founders?
Liu Fei: In the early days it was just about drinking every night. Eventually we realized we had already spent enough money at other people's bars and restaurants to open our own bar. So we opened School. The original founders are all still involved, all members of the old Joyside crew. As soon as the bar opened, a lot of our friends would come there to drink all the time. Because at that time the D-22 era had just ended, there wasn't a go-to bar for this group of the 21st Century's most ardent lovers of booze. So School could be considered a meeting place for these people. To this day, it's still the haven for these guys. But now it's also a hotbed for underground Beijing bands.
SmBJ: When School first opened there was no stage, just a DJ booth. Which I thought was really fucking weird because you guys are all punk dudes. Why'd you open as a DJ spot?
Liu Fei: Because at that time nobody had ever opened a bar, we thought a bar was just a place to drink alcohol. It didn't even occur to us to open a livehouse. We thought as long as we can listen to music we like, that's fine. At the time, we'd always go out to DJ clubs with our friends, like the old White Rabbit. Back then Beijing didn't have a genuine underground rock club. So we thought making a DJ booth would be pretty easy to do, and not require too much equipment to set up. We were just being lazy, haha.
poster for an event I booked at School when it was a DJ bar... weird times
SmBJ: I first heard about School from Nevin Domer, because it immediately became the after-hours drinking spot of the crew that always used to hang out at D-22 in the old days. What are some crazy late night drunk stories from the first year School was open?
Liu Fei: The first day of our soft opening, on the last Saturday of April, 2010. At the time we hadn't finished the interior design or decoration. We hadn't put cement on the floor, it was just packed dirt. And about 100 people came. Everyone got so wasted, a lot of people vomited an the floor. The vomit mixing with the dirt actually looked like cement!
SmBJ: There have been a few fights at School over the years, yeah? Have you ever felt in danger of having to close because of that?
Liu Fei: I think it's pretty ordinary to have fights in a bar. Certain bars in Sanlitun definitely have more fights than School, a lot of nightclubs in Beijing have fights every night. But why does everyone focus on the fights at School? To this day I still don't understand. CBGB's never had fights? I can't believe that's true. Drinking sometimes leads to conflict, that's just the way it works. Some people drink and then start to talk shit to the people next to them, of course this sometimes will lead to a fight. In 2012 a certain embassy officially declared School to be a Nazi bar, specializing in beating up foreigners, and said that we didn't want any foreign customers to come in to the bar. Why didn't they mention that the foreigner in question had gotten wasted at School and started to harass one of the female customers at the bar, and then tried to pay for his drinks with counterfeit bills? Or that the girl he was harassing was the girlfriend of one of School's employees? That was the only time that one of the School staff ever hit a customer, but, if a man doesn't do anything when his girlfriend is getting harassed, then you can't even call him a man. School is just like this, it's a rock'n'roll bar. We don't serve the industry. We just try to create our own little paradise. If you make people unhappy in this paradise, then you're not welcome. Actually, after School became a live music bar, more and more foreign friends have come here to watch shows, drink together. We're all very happy, there's mutual respect. This is the most important point.
your standard packed School Bar scene (photo by 四维雨相)
SmBJ: So you finally built a stage, and then School pretty quickly became one of the best punk venues in the city. Can you talk a bit about your method of booking shows? How do you choose bands?
Liu Fei: I want to say first that School is not at all exclusively a punk scene. It's a rock'n'roll scene, or, better yet, a live music scene. That would include folk, blues, funk, noise, experimental music, and much more. It's a pure scene, it doesn't have any posers or fakes. As for my role, more than anything else, I want to give new bands opportunities to perform. Young bands need this stage to reveal themselves, display themselves.
And of course we also host a few older, more established, or more famous bands, bands that have become more accustomed to playing at bigger venues or music festivals. From time to time these bands also have to return to the small stages where they made their names, to get back to the true spirit of rock'n'roll. At the end of the day, music festivals and corporate gigs make them money, but they also cause them to gradually drift away from their personal goals and spirit. So School is a place for these bands to come back to life, to come back with full energy.
I also do a lot of recurring concert series, and pick bands for those based on certain themes. For example, Pyong Yang Star emphasizes New Wave and instrumental bands, RIOT! is a series of free punk shows, Drunk is Beautiful is about selecting bands that especially make people want to drink, Keep Calm and Fly On is a series for post-punk and post-rock, and Bad Education is about assembling bands made up of Beijing's most wretched bastards……
MC David (photo by 四维雨相)
SmBJ: School has also become home to a lot of great third-party promoters, like DOG and Super School Fighter. How did you build this community of musicians, promoters, and event organizers?
Liu Fei: School isn't just a live music bar. I think it should be considered a small but fully intact ecosystem, a closed system where you can recycle and replenish yourself. We respect young organizers who want to do new things in the Beijing rock'n'roll scene and give them our full support. As regards live music in general, musicians, organizers or curators, venues, you can never separate these three fulcrums. We all have to work together, grow and mature together. I guess this is the most necessary point of running a venue. We incessantly push forward the growth of these young promoters and labels, and I hope one day they can support us like parents in old age.
SmBJ: What are the two or three best, weirdest, or craziest shows you've seen at School?
Liu Fei: Bonaparte, that was a show we put together at the last minute, but it vastly exceeded everyone's expectations. Before that, a lot of people would say that School was too small or too cramped to have a big show like that. At that show, everyone was stunned. They've kept their mouths shut since then.
One time, at a Diders show, one of the audience members set off a smoke bomb. The club was entirely filled with smoke, you couldn't see anything. I was really nervous, I thought it would become dangerous. Afterwards I scolded the members of Diders, but I actually think it was pretty rock'n'roll.
The show we did to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the release of Joyside's first record. That day the legendary band Eat Truck (original performers of "Sunday Morning", which Joyside later covered) played for the first time in 10 years. There were so many people crying, so much crazy pogo'ing. I don't need to say any more.
Diders (photo by 赵安琪)
SmBJ: Over the last two years there have been more and more livehouses opening in the Gulou area, similar in size and located not too far away from School. How does School stand out from all of these other venues? What do you offer the Beijing live music scene that's unique?
Liu Fei: School has one thing that most livehouses don't have, which is a spirit, an essence. School is not only an ice-cold venue, it's also a place for spreading the aura of rock'n'roll, inside and out. If you don't know what Beijing rock is all about, you can come here and understand it.
SmBJ: If you had to express School Bar's philosophy in four words, what would it be?
Liu Fei: One word will do: Real!
SmBJ: That's it from me. Anything else you want to add on the topic of School hitting five years?
Liu Fei: See you tonight! Always!
Celebrate School Bar's fifth birthday tomorrow (Saturday, April 25) in classic School Bar fashion: whole lotta booze, whole lotta bands. Live sets from Snapline, Jet Boys (Tokyo), Steely Heart, The Hot Wave, The Diders, and special guest South Acid MiMi Dance Team. FREE for all, 9pm start.
P.S. South Acid MiMi Dance Team looks real weird. Like, cultish. Check it!