MANY PEOPLE BELIEVE THAT THE DEVELOPMENT OF ONLINE STREAMING HAS FATALLY PIERCED THE HEART OF MUSIC AS A PHYSICAL ENTITY, BUT THE SKEWER IS YET TO BREACH THE WALLS OF BEIJING’S MOST BELOVED RECORD STORE, INDIE MUSIC.
Found on the boho-chic Gulou Dong Dajie stretch not far from Temple Bar and School Live Bar, Indie Music is a haven of sound for lovers of vinyl, cassettes and CDs.
This is a place to talk to staff about music (if your Mandarin is passable), not just have them stare at their feet and reluctantly sell you records, à la High Fidelity. Indie Music was birthed at the start of the Noughties by two vinyl-obsessed friends, Guo Cheng and Zhou Yin. Initially they based their store in the shadow of Beijing’s famous Drum and Bell Towers, within throwing distance of the atmospheric Houhai Lake: the inspiration for Beijing rockers Queen Sea Big Shark’s 2016 album Beijing Surfers’ Adventure. The “clean-up” campaign that has seen many small shops close in the capital since 2017 saw that venue toppled, but they soon relocated up the road.
Walk among the store’s heavily stacked shelves and it’s clear that Guo and Zhou have a deep love of the local rock scene. There are piles of imported CDs and records by Western acts, but artists gigging around the Chinese capital are given equal prominence. New cassette releases by enormously mohawked Beijing heavy-metal types Hell City are proudly displayed while super-limited seven-inch vinyl releases by local punk tykes The Diders can be discovered nearby. Many of these local bands forged their sound by discovering music, both foreign and Chinese, among Indie Music’s trove. As such, the store’s pivotal role in gluing Beijing’s and Gulou’s music community together has helped it thrive in the tough digitally focused climate. Asked how they stay afloat as daily tales of woe about physical music’s decline are relayed by naysayers, Guo and Zhou have said that those yarns have been spun continuously over the past decade – and they’re still standing.
To stand, you need support, and Chinese bands such as Glow Curve, Nova Heart and The Big Wave have all played gigs in the capital to mark anniversaries for the store. They’re all part of a community that spills widely from Indie Music’s door.