- I could hear the distinct thump of techno coming from the third floor of a new-build shopping mall in Hangzhou, a tourist destination about an hour's train ride from Shanghai. Nestled between clothing stores and restaurants, in a curiously unfinished and industrial corridor, was Loopy, a small and loud nightclub with an all-day café attached. It seemed an unlikely spot, but the Shining City Lixing Mall is where most DJs who pass through Hangzhou play.
Loopy has a Funktion-One system and a 200-capacity dance floor, and last Saturday night, it was packed with locals chatting, smoking and sharing bottles of Scotch. The club was already hopping when I arrived at 11 PM, to the relief of club owner Yifei Shu, who started Loopy in 2016. "The people in Hangzhou don't really understand underground clubbing yet," he told me, nervously. "They've only had it for a few years."
In a relatively wealthy region of East China better known for its bottle-service culture than techno clubs, Loopy is a symbol of the country's tenacious, and growing, love of underground dance music. It's sprouting from big centres like Beijing and Shanghai and popping up in smaller cities like Hangzhou (which is still home to almost ten million people). Loopy is pragmatism in action. Can't open a nightclub in a conservative town because of noise complaints? Put it in a shopping mall, where all the neighbors are stores that close their doors after 9 PM. Can't subsist off clubbing alone? Attach it to a restaurant, which serves food all through the weekend, often until as late as 6 AM.
Saturday night was the fifth anniversary of LINEOUT, a techno party run by Shu that predates Loopy, back when he did parties in coffee shops and other places willing to host his then-radical idea. The theme of the evening, though, wasn't techno, but rather Pan-Asian artists, with local DJs backing up Shanghai's Scintii, Golden Pudel resident Phuong Dan and London's Flora Yin-Wong. The opening set, from Hangzhou DJs Juan Plus One and Guan—part of a local crew called FunctionLab—had whiffs of youthful over-exuberance, with the two DJs banging out hard techno well before midnight.
Thankfully, when Phuong Dan came on and dropped the tempo to a slow drip, no one seemed to mind. His set was a lesson in Balearic hypnosis, chugging along with smooth transitions that felt more like osmosis than mixing. Flora Yin-Wong threw more curveballs at the audience, with a blend of adventurous broken beats, sound effects and broken glass samples that had everyone rapt. Scintii took over with a more straightforward selection that still skewed leftfield. Like the best nights at Loopy, it stretched on well into the morning hours.
The mixed-bag lineup was typical of a young scene like Hangzhou's, where there are no rules and people are up for anything. This was especially true when I stopped by Loopy on Sunday evening for another party, this time featuring all local DJs, a sign that said "vaporwave" and a soundtrack that ran the gamut from nightcore and trap to 8-bit music. It's a place where everyone seems excited, even the bartenders—"normal people don't work at Loopy," Shu told me, "they're all aspiring models or actors or artists"—and though it's still a fledgling enterprise, it shows a keen understanding of what makes a good nightclub.
Running a club in China remains a risky enterprise: government oversight can strangle the culture, especially in places like Beijing, and the audience is small. (Another club opened in Hangzhou in October 2017 only to close three months later.) But tucked away in this resort city are signs of something new, young and distinctly Chinese, a small scene home to people willing to risk their livelihood to create their own underground dance music culture, all in the corner of a shopping mall.
Photo credit /