In late November last year, members of the media and other persons crowded into a dark bar on Taikang Lu for a press conference touting the release of veteran pop-rock band Blue Garden's first album. Those attending represented a cross section of who’s-who in the Shanghai rock scene, present to support one of their own but also to chill in a favorite hangout, the laid-back rock dive 288.
Mellow and musical are often elusive qualities in Shanghai's hyperactive nightlife, but 288, or The Melting Pot as it is also called, manages both. "Other places, like 4Live, do things differently with big shows, while we are less formal," says 288 manager Vincent Hsiao"We are more freestyle than other music bars, with a low stage allowing more crowd interaction."
One of the only music venues in town with nightly performances by original, Shanghainese bands, The Melting Pot has been open three-and-a-half years, and is now going global. Well, at least to Hong Kong (and to Pudong and Hengshan Lu) albeit with different business models: the Hong Kong and Hengshan Lu venues will feature jazz, while Pudong hosts a "dinner-bar" with Filipino and local cover bands. The Taikang Lu location, however, remains true to its roots, with six to ten bands based there at any given time, recruited by musician Wang Hao.
The current line-up, along with Blue Garden, includes pop-rappers Crazy Mushroom Brigade, punksters Happy Strings, Mofang, jazz group Sour Fruit Juice and new metal act Xiao Wan Zi, but the offerings are constantly shifting, especially on Monday's jam nights. More than 100 bands have used the venue as an afternoon practice space since it opened, ranging from Shanghai Music Academy students to luminaries such as Luo Dayou and Li Yuan. "We're not a rock venue; we don't have a set style, and the music changes every day," says Hsiao.
The crowd and vibe are as much a part of 288's appeal as the music du jour, though. Hsiao, a 38-year-old Taipei transplant, describes the mix as "80 per cent white collars, mostly from media, culture and music industries; 60 per cent are mainlanders, 20 per cent Taiwanese, and 20 per cent Westerners." In short, the place has unique appeal and business is good.
The core clientele, however, are the musicians, who straggle into 288 late at night to jam, play or just relax after their own gigs at other venues. Following the Blue Garden press conference, the band and their friends played until 3 am. "Some nights the music lasts until 9am," says Hsiao with a grin.
The Melting Pot
Location: 288 Tai Kang Lu near Ruijin Er Lu