Jef Vreys,成都小众音乐在变脸 Chengdu Underground Music is Unveiling New Faces

采访时间:2016年8月4日  Interview Date: August 4, 2016

Jef Vreys:比利时人,毕业于中国历史专业,曾在四川大学进修中文,2007年起开始居蓉生活。2009年,创办独立音乐厂牌NewNoise,为小而特别的中外乐队搭建海外演出平台,将诸多国外大牌乐队带来中国演出,尤其是成都。

Jef Vreys: Belgian, a Chinese history major graduate. He once studied Chinese in Sichuan University and has been living in Chengdu since 2007. In 2009 He founded his indie music brand NewNoise, which offered overseas performance platforms for small yet distinctive bands that are either from China or from other countries.  He has brought many big foreign bands to China to perform, especially to Chengdu.


Underground music may strike one as being dark, non-mainstream and rebellion. However, a more precise definition would be the music that circulates in small groups, rebels against commercial music and acts as a pioneer.


Independent Music Searches for its Soulmate


In 2007, a Belgian guy Jef came to study in China. He chose Sichuan University situated in Sichuan, which is home to many tourist attractions over Peking University and Tsinghua University – on one hand, he wanted to avoid the foreign visitors that flooded into Beijing for the Olympic Games in 2008 and on the other hand, he thought that he could experience  Chinese culture featuring the blend of the old and the new. During the study, Jef used to watch performance in small taverns. “Small taverns were the people’s favorite,” recalled Jef.

8岁那年,Jef随父亲看了第一场地下音乐演出,开启了对音乐不一样的偏好和感知。15岁时他在乐队The Maple Room担任贝斯手,并策划了人生第一场演出。Jef的音乐志趣与中国市场的发展潜力促使他成立了自己的独立音乐厂牌NewNosie,其名出自Refused乐队的一曲歌名,代表着一种鲜明的音乐态度——主流的电视广播和商业化使音乐趋同,我们应该创造不一样的音乐,新的声音。

At the age of eight, Jef’s father took him to see an underground music performance, which was the first time he had ever seen anything like this. Ever since then, he began to develop his unique preference and perception of music. At the age of fifteen, he was the bass player in a band called The Maple Room and planned his very first concert. Jef’s music interest and the development potential in the Chinese market urged him to found his indie music brand NewNoise, which got its name from the song of a band called Refused. It represents a distinct music attitude: instead of being assimilated by mainstream TV broadcast and commercial music, we need to create different music and new voices.


Jef became a band agent who shuttled through Chinese and foreign underground music circles and brought foreign bands to China, such as MONO and Iceland-based band Múm. He also brought Chengdu bands to Europe, such as Wang Wen. Similar souls are always looking for opportunities to collide and diversified music trigger mutual communication and exchanges. “Underground music is more of a movement. As much as it reaches only a small crowd, it is now being accepted and understood by more people. Yet it still distinguishes itself from more popular mainstream music,” said Jef.


As it turns out, it is not a piece of cake. The first time Jef brought a Belgian band to China for performance, it took him half a year to make it happen. Even now, Jef, a minor celebrity in the industry, introduced more about China and Chengdu other than himself, his company or partner bands in the first mail he sent to the bands. After all, China, especially Chengdu, a city located in Southwest China, is still a mystery in the eyes of many foreign bands.


Made in Chengdu – The Music Trend on the Rise


Since he settled in Chengdu in 2009, Jef  has completely experienced the changes in Chengdu’s underground music market. “Chengdu has a good music vibe; bands show up and root for each other, which together make a harmonious family. In the past few years, old bands, such as Asura and Sound Toy still did gigs while new generation bands like Stolen and The Hormones were booming. Most of the new bands have professional music background, whose development  drives old bands to work harder,” said Jef. Now, Chengdu’s underground music diversified – from new metal to electronics, Indie and many other genres. Performance venues are no longer confined to pubs; the artists begin to perform in various urban places. In 2007, Zebra, Big Love and Strawberry and many other music festivals came to Chengdu. The public got to learn more about “underground music” and grew to love this type of “minority” music.


Three years ago (year of 2013), Jef and his partners planned an indoor music festival called “Made in Chengdu”. It gathers Chengdu’s local bands, whether their fame is big or small. In the past two years, each music festival attracted more than 2,000 audiences.


It is difficult to get foreign bands to perform in Chengdu not only because of geological problem, but also due to the matter of money. “Foreign bands have to pay more expensive air tickets to come to mainland China, compared with Hong Kong. However, they earn less from ticket income. In addition, in terms of large-scale performance, renowned bands often raise higher demands for equipment and space, but Chengdu is not yet mature enough to meet such demands,” said Jef.

那么,如何吸引外国乐队?Jef 说:“我会告诉他们这将是一次全新的体验!”无论是演出本身、市场前景,或者是川菜入嘴那一口的辣,对外籍乐手都是与截然不同的经历。而且喜欢研究中国历史的Jef,还时常扮演导游的角色,给乐队介绍北京的紫禁城、成都武侯祠的三国文化等,也让乐队对中国的理解稍微深一点儿。

Then, how did he attract foreign bands to come? “I would tell them that it would be a brand new experience!” said Jef. Indeed, the performance, the market prospect and the spicy Sichuan food are unprecedented in their previous experiences. Moreover, Jef, who likes to study Chinese history, often acts as a guide to introduce Beijing’s Forbidden City and Three-Kingdom culture of Chengdu’s Wuhou Temple to these bands, who thus get to know more about China.


Jef also talked about an interesting phenomenon. “If a Belgian band becomes famous in their own country, they will seek to expand foreign markets. Their Chinese counterparts, however, don’t see things this way. They believe that they couldn’t go there since no one knows them yet. In fact, it should be the other way around.” Jef also knows clearly that strikingly different life habits and culture underlie this phenomenon. As the society keeps developing, people will focus more on life quality, culture and history. Chengdu, this inclusive city, keeps unveiling its many new faces on a daily basis.

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