Beijing’s live music scene can feel like a tough nut to crack. But, once you know where you’re going – whether that’s to an enormous warehouse or a cosy hutong bar – you’ll be introduced to world-class venues that are fighting rising rents and strict regulations to keep China’s capital gigging.
Mao Livehouse was a pioneer of Beijing’s underground music scene, and after the original Gulou venue closed in 2017, a second instalment opened its doors in Wukesong in west Beijing. An acronym for ‘Musician Audience Organiser’, rather than a nod to the late communist leader, Mao’s new polished self still secures the same great indie line-ups.
One of the many music venues found among the hutongs of Gulou, Hot Cat Club is among Beijing’s most versatile live music venues. This homely bar hosts music, including rock and pop, and comedy, from domestic and international acts.
Another Gulou favourite, DDC is a tiny live house that prides itself on promoting up-and-coming Chinese performers, particularly in the jazz, folk and indie rock genres. DDC occupies an old-school siheyuan structure with trees entwined in the tables, a lantern-laden glass roof and an upstairs veranda bar, which attracts a crowd that sips craft beer and cocktails.
The journey of this live house began in the car park of the Workers’ Stadium, but when the 2008 Olympics rolled into Beijing, Yugong Yishan was forced to relocate to more upscale surrounds in the Dongcheng district. Taking its name from a famous Chinese proverb, Yugong Yishan is a 700-capacity venue in the 19th-century courtyard that once served as the headquarters of infamous warlord Duan Qirui – an interesting backdrop for the metal music rattling out of the speakers.
This New York jazz club – which has franchises in Japan, Italy, Hawaii and Slovakia – opened its Beijing venue in the summer of 2016. With its dimmed lights, the venue retains much of the original Blue Note Jazz Club atmosphere, and serves drinks and meals alongside a mouth-watering menu of live jazz performances by world-renowned artists.
The decor and menu at Temple Bar are simple; its musical offering is the star. As one of the best late-night haunts in the neighbourhood, Temple Bar guarantees a great atmosphere for rock’n’roll fans, who can watch gigs play from around 10pm until dawn. The best bit? Entry is always free.
Surrounded by the 24-hour pubs and clubs that light up Beijing’s university district, this Wudaokou venue attracts top-class punk and metal acts from across China and the globe. A no-frills bar hidden down an alleyway, 13 Club’s powerful sound system is legendary among headbangers in the Chinese capital.
The area west of the Temple of Heaven isn’t where you’d normally go to listen to live music, but Omni Space has changed that. Located in a basement below the Tianqiao Performing Arts Center, this warehouse-style venue opened its doors in December 2016 and has wasted no time in establishing a reputation as one of Beijing’s premier mid-size live houses.
Veteran jazzman Liu Yuan is a stalwart of Beijing’s jazz scene; he started performing the saxophone in 1984, ran the old City Cafe venue for a decade and opened this jazz café in 2006. East Shore is perched on the banks of Houhai Lake in the Shichahai area, and gives the stage to local jazz artists – including Liu Yuan’s quartet, of course – from Thursday to Sunday.
School has always appealed to international visitors keen to catch a gig in Beijing, but this crowded bar has started to attract bigger Chinese crowds to its rock shows. Sitting just around the corner from the Lama Temple on Wudaoying hutong, School is also popular with sports fans on the weekend, when football fans are glued to European matches beamed in on the TV screens.