MINI LIVING Shanghai
3AM in Shanghai with director Roni Shao.
Ahead of the opening of MINI LIVING Shanghai, director Roni Shao takes us on a late night tour of the city he calls home.
China’s creative, commercial and industrial hub, Shanghai is one of the world’s most swiftly growing cities. As day fades, thousands of skyscrapers trace the outline of the city’s skyline in neon lights. In Jing’An District, home of soon-to-open co-living space MINI LIVING, a subterranean movement has been blooming beneath the shadow of night, pioneered by music labels and collectives spanning music, fashion, art and performance.
As this new subculture solidifies, it is being documented by a new wave of Chinese photographers, directors and visual artists capturing what it means to be young in China today. One such photographer is Shanghai local Roni Shao, whose lens makes concrete the shifting tides of youth culture in the city at a time when it feels particularly in flux. “I think youth culture is all around me because I’m from that kind of background,” Shao says. After leaving school, he became a DJ. “The main ideology of China is to go to university, get a job, get higher pay, do something formal,” he reflects. “But youth culture brings new thoughts, a new perspective. It’s exciting for me to be part of it.” An expert in capturing the here and now before it happens, we asked Shao to take us to three spots which sum up nightlife culture in the city today.
“I think Shanghai is very similar to London in a way,” Shao observes. “People go out at 9pm. The parties start around 11ish, and the main DJ plays at 1am. At the weekend, the party continues until 4am, sometimes 6am.”
Our evening begins at Lan Ge, a pool hall where Shao goes to escape and test out new ideas. “This is kind of a secret place for me and my friends,” he explains. “It’s not a popular place that people go. It’s more of a neighbourhood playground, a secret garden for us. Nothing too serious. We are happy to enjoy a bit of privacy in the middle of Shanghai to exchange our ideas.”
“All the venues are very close to here so people can easily go out,” Shao says. Despite Shanghai’s size (the city has a population of 24.24 million compared to New York’s 8.6 million or London’s 8.9 million), it is easy to move between the many restaurants, bars and clubs in the Jing’An and Changning neighbourhoods on foot or by car.
We order a cab via We Chat and drive over to the city’s French concession district. Found 158 is a mall where instead of shops, bars, clubs and breweries compete for attention. Here, in the year since it opened, bar and nightclub 44KW has been rewriting the rules of what Chinese music can be, with a minimal approach to techno which Shao terms “deconstructed”.
44,000 watts is a unit of power, and 44KW is a bar and club space which hosts local and international artists, DJ and producers from Berlin, Detroit, Amsterdam and New York in blacked out room lit only by neon signs and red lasers. DJs are playing stripped back live sets to accompanied by tripped-out visuals. The crowd is a mix of German techno enthusiasts and fashion world adjacent locals, perhaps friends of the club’s founder Charles Guo , a familiar face in the industry through his work as a photographer. “This place has become the most interesting underground techno club to go to in Shanghai,” Shao reflects. “A lot of my friends who have jobs in the creative industry go here.”
Several shots of baijiu later, we’re not quite ready to call it a night. “There’s no huge afterparty culture here,” Shao explains. “We don’t really have big houses, so house party culture doesn’t really exist.” Instead, he takes us to Jian Kong Ye She, a local restaurant in neighbouring Changning district where the owners dish up traditional Shanghai breakfasts from 8pm to 4am.
“After 2am or 3am you see a lot of young people here, a little bit dizzy,” Shao laughs. Steaming bowls of tofu soup and pork and prawn dumplings are presented with long baguettes of fried dough. “You don’t really eat this kind of thing at night, it’s a very early breakfast,” Shao explains. Serving up a traditional Shanghainese breakfast “from like 50 years ago”, the restaurant is a remnant of a city which no longer exists. Belly full, we hail another cab and enter the smog of a Shanghai dawn.
This is MINI LIVING. Stay open.