Beijing Underground Legends: the #history of D-22

On the first day of May of the year 2006, in the Wudaokou area, at the Northern side of the city, a neighborhood best known as the University center of Beijing, a new space opened its gates, a space that was soon to become a major force behind the development of a true Beijing music scene, and the projection (not only locally, but even internationally) of numerous young and creative artists and bands, which lacked means to make their sound heard, a mecca for everything, sonically speaking, new, authentic, daring and exciting happening in Beijing and all across China. The name of the place: D-22.

The main man behind D-22, whose also one of the main voices promoting the Chinese music scene to the outside world, is a fifty years old ex-Wall Street bond turned Economics professor at Beijing University called Michael Pettis, who is known among Beijing music fans and artists as the “Godfather of Beijing Rock”.

In an interview to the December 2008 issue of the American magazine Dazed and Confused he describes his impression of Beijing upon his arrival as that of “a big provincial city”, which “didn't really had a great scene”. But he adds: “One of the things that struck me though was the amount of talent”. And it was this talent, it seems, that drove him to establish a live venue: “I figured, if I could set up a New York-style club that's not so worried about whether people come or not, than maybe in three to five years we'll have a great scene in Beijing. It took one year”.

The secret to success seems to be the attitude of the people behind D-22 towards the musicians and their music. "Anything that brings money or attention to our artists we'll do" says Pettis, defining his guiding philosophy as “to take care of musicians”, which means “we can turn it over to our musicians they can do whatever they want. 

If they play something that's popular and a thousand people show up great but if ten people show up we don't care. 
We're still going to do it". 

The most important is to give to creative bands of Beijing, means and space to create and expose their sound, without consideration to the possible commercial revenue. "We do want to be on the cutting edge, we want experimentation," says Saliba, another of the co-owners of the club. The music heard inside the walls of D-22 is usually Rock in all its shades, from all of forms punk and alternative, to the most experimental and noise sounds, with some of the most exciting names of the Beijing scene, such as, Carsick Cars, Ourself Beside Me, The Gar, Demerit or 24 Hours, becoming house bands and playing at least one or two times a month. But every other night you can still hear other kinds of music, from folk or electronica, to Jazz and Chinese Opera. Red Hand Jazz Band, a local Jazz combo, was once one of the house bands, and Thursday nights were for some time, under the organization of local critic and electronica artist Yan Jun, dedicated to electronic music. Nowadays, Monday nights are dedicated to the promotion of the local Folk Music scene, and Wednesdays is University Night, giving the opportunity for the younger bands to practice their stage acts and develop their music.

But the club is not only a place for the local bands to play their sound, since it often receives the visit of many foreign bands, presenting the Chinese audience some of the best music being made outside borders, and many of the big names of the international music scene, such as Sonic Youth or These are Powers, have already stepped the club's stage. Having built a house for many of the more creative bands in town to play their music and promote their names in the local scene, the people behind D-22 went on for something bigger.

Confronted by many of the house bands complaints about the poor quality of production and engineering of the local music albums, by the end of the year 2007, Michael Pettis along with Yang Haisong, singer and frontman for the band PK-14, and one of the most important and influential artists of the Chinese music scene, decided to create the record label Maybe Mars (Bing Ma Si) bringing from abroad well known music producers to produce the label's discography.

The first release, Snapline's debut album “Party is over, Pornostar” was produced by ex-PIL and Pigface drummer Martin Atkins. Demerit first album for the label, “Bastards of the Nation”, was produced by Public Enemy's bassist and producer Brian Hardgroove; Einsturzende Neubaten frontman Blixa Bargeld produced White's debut album. The production of Carsick Cars second album “You Can Listen You can Talk”, was made by the renowned producer Wharton Tiers, who already worked with such bands as Sonic Youth, Swans, Dinosaur JR and Nick Cave. Behind the production of PK-14 fourth release is the Swedish Grammy winning producer-duo Henrik Oja and Mats Hammarström who have worked with bog names as Mats Gustafsson, The (International) Noise Conspiracy, The Perishers and David Sandström, and was mastered by Greg Calbi, whose credits include Sonic Youth, Television, Talking Heads, Bob Dylan, John Lennon, David Bowie,  Blonde Redhead, Patti Smith, Yo La Tengo, Strokes and Interpol. Yang Haisong himself proves that his talent doesn't resume to the creation of great songs, being responsible for the prodution of some of the labels albums, such as the already a classic Ourself Beside Me debut album.

The quality of the sound produced by the label and its bands gave the Beijing scene and its artists an even bigger projection outside borders, with many of its artists touring Europe and America and making headlines in the western press, giving credit to those who believe - like the people behind D-22 and Maybe Mars - that in today's Beijing, one of the world's most fresh and exciting music movement is taking place.

Early this year, D-22 closed down at the peak of its popularity
The legend lives on.