'Sound Kapital': Beijing's rock scene through the lens of Matthew Niederhauser

'Sound Kapital': Beijing's rock scene through the lens of Matthew Niederhauser

Photographer Matthew Niederhauser's "Sound Kapital" tells the story of Beijng's growing rock scene in a series of stunning pictures
Matthew Niederhauser
"The first red wall portrait I took was of Hedgehog with the boxing gloves," says Matthew Niederhauser. "It is still one of the best and set the aesthetic for the rest."

On November 5, 2009, Matthew Niederhauser, 28, unveiled his "Sound Kapital: Beijing’s Music Underground" (powerHouse Books) to the world at Brooklyn’s powerHouse Arena. To celebrate the release, the most detailed and anticipated photographic chronicle of contemporary Beijing’s rock scene, Niederhauser brought Beijing’s underground to the United States, enlisting the likes of P.K.14, Carsick Cars and Xiao He, three of China’s most revered independent bands on tour in New York at the time, to perform at the event. 

Now, nearly five months after the initial release, after releases in London and Washington, D.C. and praise from the New York Times, NPR and PBS, Niederhauser is bringing "Sound Kapital" to Shanghai’s Dada Bar as part of the 2010 JUE Festival and Tim Franco’s monthly Shanghai Photographer’s Night.

I have to admit that trying to get a band up into the room to take a photo is sort of like herding cats. Sometimes I have to run all over the club to get them together. Otherwise, there has definitely been nudity, substance abuse, and other interesting material that can't be shown in the book.— Matthew Niederhauser

Prior to last November’s release, we spoke to Niederhauser as he was making his press rounds. Additionally, just a month ago, after touring the United States and Europe to promote "Sound Kapital," he reflected on his book and the experience. 

Before the melee

CNNGo: How long have you been in Beijing and how did your experience lead to the composition and publication of "Sound Kapital"?

Matthew Niederhauser:
I have evenly split the past nine years in either Beijing or New York. When I first came in 2000, there wasn't much of a music scene except for the random concert here and there. I got most of my live music fixes in New York at the time. I came back to Beijing in 2007 to work on a project on urban development when I found out my college friend, Justin Padro, was working the soundboard at D-22. It didn't take much convincing for me to stop by, and I was completely blown away the first few performances I saw including Subs, Joyside and Snapline

After the first week of heading up to D-22 I knew I wanted to get involved with the music scene and Michael Pettis was eager to get me on board to do a rigorous documentation.

The first red wall portrait I took was of Hedgehog with the boxing gloves. It is still one of the best and set the aesthetic for the rest. Since then, I have literally photographed hundreds of bands at D-22, Yugong Yishan, 2 Kolegas, and Mao Livehouse. Once I set myself on such a project I become compulsive. More importantly, the music rocks and most major media covering the scene have come to me for photographs.

CNNGo: Obviously Beijing, at this moment and for the last several years, is unlike any music scene in the world. What are your thoughts on being a part of this period of Chinese “pop” history and how do you think the city and musicians have influenced your work?

Matthew Niederhauser:
At this moment, I guess I am deeply embedded in the "myth-making" process, although I am not totally sure in what ways the city and performers have been influencing my work other than taking up all of my extra time and forcing me to drink on a nightly basis.

In most of the images I try to portray them in as straightforward a fashion as possible. Some of them like to act up, but the baseline I was trying to create a social document of all the bands. There are hundreds of photos that should be in the book. It was never about only shooting the best bands, but trying to capture everyone involved in this creative outpouring.

CNNGo: You've been published in many publications on various topics, why did you choose to make your first book about the Beijing rock scene? What is it about rock photography that has captured your attention?

Matthew Niederhauser:
My work on the rock scene is my first project that has really come to maturation. I will continue taking photos of new bands, but the bulk of the work is done, unlike my other documentary projects focusing on urban development and consumerism that I will hopefully wrap up next year. Plus the rock photography is a very easily accessible, visually rich, and captivating group of photographs that has mass appeal. It was a good entry into the book market and will hopefully allow me to publish my other, less accessible projects. 

CNNGo: Do you have any favorite anecdotes that occurred during the composition of "Sound Kapital"?

Matthew Niederhauser:
Nothing too crazy, but I have to admit that trying to get a band up into the room to take a photo is sort of like herding cats. Sometimes I have to run all over the club to get them together. Otherwise, there has definitely been nudity, substance abuse, and other interesting material that can't be shown in the book.

I have literally photographed hundreds of bands at D-22, Yugong Yishan, 2 Kolegas, and Mao Livehouse. Once I set myself on such a project I become compulsive. — Matthew Niederhauser

CNNGo: Do you think the world is ready to embrace Beijing rock? How can you and your book help introduce Americans/non-Chinese to what is going on in Beijing?

Matthew Niederhauser:
One of the most important parts of the book is the compilation CD that's included. It will give them a good overall feel for the scene. Plus the concert posters are a lot of fun.


In reflection

CNNGo: In what cities have you already had releases and distribution?

Matthew Niederhauser:
I had releases and exhibitions in New York, Washington, and London. There is distribution in many places around North America and Europe and can also be bought online at Amazon or powerHouse books -- I have also seen it for sale at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. In Beijing it can be bought at the Bookworm and Three Shadows. [There has been] no distribution in Shanghai, so this is the first time that people can buy the book.

CNNGo: How was the release tour?

Matthew Niederhauser:
The release tour was awesome. There were large crowds at all the shows and they responded well to the music. The book itself has also been well received. Check out the website for all the press that it received including the New York Times, Washington Post, Guardian, NPR, and PBS. The best part is having the CD in the book so that people can actually listen to the music while looking at the photos.

CNNGo: What has the reaction been to "Sound Kapital"? What do you have planned next?

Matthew Niederhauser:
Do to the success of the tour, the bands are now heading to South by Southwest. There is also a "Sound Kapital" book release and tour being planned for Australia with the support of the Australian Embassy.
"Sound Kapital: Beijing's Music Underground" is available in Shanghai during the JUE Festival on Shanghai Photographer's Night, March 24, Dada: 115 Xingfu Lu, between Fahuazhen and Pingwu Lu 幸福路115号, 近华山和法华镇路, free, 8:30pm.

Writer, front man, promoter and visionary, Dan Shapiro's a Renaissance man who's been covering Shanghai's music and nightlife scenes since 2007.

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