Spotlight: A Q&A With Liu Jun (Owner of Sonic Candy)

By Sid Gulinck, February 9, 2018

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Ten years ago, Tianjin native Liu Jun – or ‘Black Bear,’ as he’s often called – was at the helm of  now-defunct live house NIC Club, which helped shape the city’s underground music following. Today, he owns a record store called Sonic Candy, Tianjin’s heaven for crate-diggers.

Where does the name Sonic Candy come from?
It was inspired by two of my big musical influences. One is Sonic Youth, the other is the album Psychocandy by The Jesus and Mary Chain.

You used to run a live house?
I ran NIC Club from 2008 until 2012, and put all my money in it. It was called Ni in Chinese, meaning ‘soil.’ Incidentally, nique means ‘f**k’ in French [laughs]. People still take pride in having attended gigs there. We were the first to book a lot of underground acts. Kode9 played there back in 2009 to 50 people, 20 of whom were my friends.

What do you listen to?
I’m a grunge-head, so I like grunge-influenced stuff: noise, heavy metal, punk, sludge, shoegaze, lo-fi. I’m also obsessed with old Chinese 78rpm records: swing jazz, rockabilly, blues, country... China had it all back in the day.

Who’s your clientele?
Most of my sales happen on WeChat. A lot of customers are friends who trust my judgment. I give them tips based on their preferences, much like a pharmacist prescribing medicine. Think of me as a pimp for music – I can hook you up with a lovely companion.

What’s the Tianjin music scene like?
I help support the scene, but there aren’t any bands of note. As a satellite city of Beijing, Tianjin got stuck in rock and heavy metal.

What’s your take on the resurgence of vinyl?
I think it’s a superficial fad. Vinyl shouldn’t have disappeared to begin with. A lot of forgotten gems exist only on vinyl. In China, the scene is really small though, because there’s no real money in it.

How did you amass your collection?
I began to buy tapes and CDs in the late 90s from vendors under the Balitai bridge, near the universities. I started my own shop in 2003. By now I’ve amassed over 200,000 LPs from all over the world. Most are stashed in a friend’s basement. In the summer of 2016, about 10,000 LPs got destroyed in a flood.

What’s your most prized record in the shop?
It has to be this one [pulls out a pristine vinyl copy of the Velvet Underground & Nico’s debut album]. In 1999, that pop art banana cover was all the rage. I was 14 and didn’t know the band, but I got the tape for RMB50, a fortune back then. I tried in vain to bargain 50 cents off the price, for my bus fare home. At first I hated it, because it was unlike my idea of rock. But it opened the door to a life of music.

What does the future have in store?
I might open a little watering hole where people can listen to records. Friends have suggested I branch out to Beijing or Shanghai, where the action is. These days, music is at your fingertips when you need it. But when music needs me, I’ll be right here in Tianjin. That’s enough for me. 

See a listing for Sonic Candy

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