From label bosses and concert promoters to musicians, here are some of the most successful female leaders in China’s indie music scene, all of whom are helping to forge and define the future of the country’s music industry.
Listen to our playlist of songs by female musicians recommended by these interviewees while you read.
Founder, Ye Records
"If I can do my work well and put on good shows and tours, that’s all that really matters."
Lieselotte Wang has been an avid music fan since childhood, and in high school she developed a passion for NYC indie pop band The Drums. “I dreamed that one day I could own one of their records,” she says, “but then I ended up touring with them through China in 2014.”
With her music promotion company, Ye Records, Wang has carved a niche for herself even within Shanghai’s saturated music scene, beginning back in 2015 with a reunion tour for Japanese post-rock band Euphoria. In fact, Wang herself was the catalyst for their revival. A fan of their music, she emailed the individual band members encouraging them to end their five-year hiatus and get back together; they eventually agreed, and then she organized their eight-city China tour.
“At first I was trying to help my musician friends do some local bookings and promoting, and also fulfill my dream of seeing bands that no one was bringing to China yet,” Wang says of Ye Records’ origins. “Then I got to know the bands more (and the fans as well), and I felt like I could do more to help, so I just kept going.”
This month, she’s bringing lo-fi Brooklyn rock band Beach Fossils on a China tour, an especially impressive booking for an independent promotion company. Her 2018 calendar is packed with interesting bookings, from American pop band The Bilinda Butchers to her current favorite band, breezy and soulful Japanese trio Lamp.
Despite her string of accomplishments, Wang acknowledges some of her frustrations with music promotion. “It seems like sometimes male promoters get more respect, whereas female promoters still feel a bit like outsiders,” she says. “People sometimes judge you and gossip, but I don’t care about that stuff anymore. Now I think if I can do my work well and put on good shows and tours, that’s all that really matters.”
WeChat ID: yerecords
Booking Manager, NU SPACE
"It’s always nice to turn up at a venue and find women involved with the process of putting on a live show."
Kristen Ng’s introduction to Chengdu came during a backpacking trip in 2014, when her friend took her to an “insane pool party in a garden village with drum ’n bass DJs and fireworks,” she says. Smitten with the city, the New Zealand native moved there the following year to focus on her venture Kiwese (a play on ‘Kiwi’ and ‘Chinese’), which began as a blog discussing cultural identity and underground music, and then expanded into a touring label as Ng began putting down roots in Chengdu’s music scene. “It’s basically introducing cool New Zealand artists to Chinese audiences and vice versa,” she says.
Ng recently wrapped an extensive tour with The All Seeing Hand, an electronic noise rock group from New Zealand. The band trampled through 14 shows across the mainland with several supporting acts, including Ng’s own music project, Kaishandao. “It felt like we were this roaming circus troupe,” she says.
On top of this, Ng also works with NU SPACE, Chengdu’s main livehouse and hub for underground music, which her flatmate helped open in 2015. “NU SPACE is the place where artists can flesh out their ideas for stage design and visuals,” explains Ng. She manages the venue’s diverse bookings and also runs an audiovisual series called Blah Blah out of the space as a platform for emerging artists.
“I hope more women will get involved with performance and promotion, as well as the tech side of things like lights, stage and sound,” Ng concludes. “It’s always nice to turn up at a venue and find women involved with the process of putting on a live show. Support your sisters!”
Founder, Space Circle
Manager, Wang Wen
"I wanted to start a company where I could work with my favorite bands and give an opportunity to young people."
discovering promotion and artist management in college while organizing
concerts at a music venue owned by her friend, Sun Yi went on to found
Space Circle, a Hangzhou-based artist management company that also
offers tech support and stage crews for shows.
“I initially started with a small team, as per my experience in the last 10 years,” she says. “There is a lack of partners in the industry here in Hangzhou, but there is a good scene with good venues. I wanted to start a company where I could work with my favorite bands and give an opportunity to young people to enter this line of work.”
Space Circle provides a platform for small, up-and-coming indie bands, like Shaoxing instrumental rockers Little Wizard, who released an EP with them last year. The brightest star on their roster, however, is Wang Wen, the Dalian troupe that’s been active since 1999 and is largely considered China’s greatest post-rock band. Sun serves as the band’s manager, traveling with them on overseas tours and organizing their album releases. “Wang Wen has always maintained a steady positive creative streak,” she says. “Every time I work with them, it’s a new learning experience.”
Aside from their continued collaboration
with Wang Wen, Space Circle’s greatest achievement thus far has been
organizing a stadium show for Nanjing rapper Jony J in 2017, a major
milestone for a small company after only their second year in action.
“The [music promotion] industry is still pretty young in China and needs more excellent people,” she says, explaining that many of the other managers she knows and respects are also women.
“I haven’t thought too much about the issue of gender,” says Sun. “but this job is very different. I hope that many women consider working in this field.”
WeChat ID: SpaceCircleMusic
Co-founder, Daily Vinyl
“Once you get some people in, they’ll have their own connections with others, and that will inspire new people to come take part.”
On the racks at Daily Vinyl’s record store, which doubles as a hotel in an airy lanehouse on Dagu Lu in Shanghai, an album by 90s hip-hop troupe The Pharcyde lies next to Anderson .Paak’s 2016 collaboration record with Knxwledge and a 1977 album by a South Korean all-girl funk group called The Happy Dolls with a “rare” sticker on its sleeve.
These eclectic options are compiled by longtime cratedigger Cookie Zhang and her Daily Vinyl co-founder Endy Chen. Zhang’s collecting habits began with CDs when she was a teen. “I had listened to hip-hop for more than 12 years,” she says, “And at that time I was really into scratching and turntablism, so I started to buy records just to practice.”
Zhang then coped with an illness that left her bedridden for six months by spending her idle time delving into new genres and exploring the source material that her favorite hip-hop songs sampled from, giving her a deeper knowledge of the genres she works with today.
The Daily Vinyl concept began simply in 2014, with Zhang and Chen posting one album a day on Weibo to promote some records they were hoping to sell. It has since expanded into a recurring market, workshops and parties featuring occasional DJ sets by Zhang under her moniker ollo-MAM.
“Once you get some people in, they’ll have their own connections with others, and that will inspire new people to come take part,” she says, explaining Daily Vinyl’s relaxed and grassroots approach to spreading vinyl culture.
Now that the dust has settled, Zhang has several major plans for keeping momentum up in 2018. These include a second location of her hotel-cum-vinyl shop set to open in Guangzhou this spring, plus a new music label purposely focused on digital rather than vinyl releases.
“It will just be some music for people to listen to and have another way to be into what we do,” she says. “I don’t think about these ideas in terms of bad or good. I just think about what I want to do next.”
WeChat ID: DailyVinyl
Founder, Jrock30s (邦摇30s)
“If you like music, just do it.”
Hisana Yan has been buying vinyl records since she was a teenager, a habit that developed into a specific love for Japanese indie music. Now based out of Guangzhou, she began blogging via Weibo and WeChat under the account, Jrock30s, quickly developing a devoted following of fans.
Buoyed by the success of her first offline concert last summer, Yan is expanding into concert promotion, bringing quirky rap trio Enjoy Music Club over from Japan for a multi-city tour this month. “They have their own style, and their music is full of happiness,” Yan says of the band. “They are not very famous in China now, but I believe that they have the potential.”
Yan has found that the music industry in China is largely male-dominated, though she’s been able to operate with relative ease because she’s mostly anonymous behind the Jrocks30s brand. “There are some followers who believe that Jrock30s is run by a middle-aged man,” she jokes.
Though time management is her greatest hurdle when balancing a full-time job with her blogging, she’d recommend the DIY profession to anyone who has the passion to see it through.
“If you like music, just do it,” she says. “My real-life job is far away from the music industry, but I think the Internet enables all of us to speak out and share.”
WeChat ID: Jrock30s
Marketing Manager, Maybe Mars Records
"Most women nowadays don’t see themselves as weaker than men."
Lolly Fan’s relationship with music began not with albums, but with video games.
“I was obsessed with Counter-Strike when I was in middle school,” she says, explaining that she became particularly taken with a segment in the game that featured ‘It’s My Life’ as the background music. “I remembered I watched that video again and again. Then I looked up the song and found a whole new world outside of Chinese pop.”
Years later, she’s now the Marketing Manager at Maybe Mars Records, a core member of the three-person team behind one of the most influential labels in China. Fan describes her daily duties as a whirlwind of projects that anyone who’s worked in a small company will understand.
“I guess I do almost all the work, except production, designing and tour booking,” she laughs. “When you are in a smaller company like Maybe Mars, there’s a lot of space for you to learn and to do. It’s a great chance for me to reach every corner of the music business. Besides, our work day starts at 1pm!”
To Fan, the label’s greatest challenge is finding the balance between what she describes as “being ourselves, being avant-garde and selling well. How do we manage the expectations of our artists and the audience at the same time?”
When asked if she hopes her role at Maybe Mars will inspire other women to work in music, she agrees, but sees things a little differently.
“I think their passion is the key that will drive them into music,” she says, “I feel that most women nowadays don’t see themselves as weaker than men. There might be more male musicians and technicians, but when you look into the office, there are more females, especially in media-related jobs. Most band managers I know are female, and every venue I know in Beijing has female employees. Maybe they don’t need to be inspired by others.”
Founder, Say Yes Asia
"I hope to see other young women get inspired by what I do."
The name of Yvonne Chen’s promotion company, Say Yes, is a nod to the “Yes and…” improv concept, in which comedians accept whatever idea a fellow participant suggests and then adds on something new. For Chen, the concept resonates because of her desire to expand perceptions about electronic music in Shanghai
“When I started Say Yes, I hoped that more people could be open and accepting of the music and events we promote” she explains. “[The name] tells us that people all think very differently, but we should always be positive, polite and open-minded, instead of saying no to everything immediately.”
Chen started promoting after a four-year stint at an office job, taking inspiration from the nightlife culture she’s loved since she first moved to Shanghai.
“Back in the old days, I went to underground clubs like Shelter, which brought really good stuff from all over the world,” she says. “Those experiences on the dance floor – the music they played, the people I met – was totally different from commercial nightclubs, and it changed my life.”
Say Yes has made massive strides in the two years it’s been active, organizing tours for techno producer Paula Temple and Silent Servant in 2017, plus collaborative efforts that included a rooftop rave in Chengdu, a tour for prominent Austrian electronic act HVOB with Modern Sky and Xihu Festival on Hangzhou’s West Lake.
One of Chen’s long-term goals is to increase the number of live electronic acts that come to Shanghai, and female electronic musicians in general. “I hope to see other young women get inspired by what I do,” she says, “because I feel that we need more female producers, rather than just DJs.”
Chen doesn’t have a favorite memory or highlight gig, but she’s satisfied whenever she gets positive feedback from clubgoers in real time. “People have come up to me many times at the end of a Say Yes event and asked me when the next one is,” she says. “They already can’t wait.”
WeChat ID: SayYesAsia