It is midnight and the usually busy streets of Beijing are silent, but Dada Club, a small music venue hidden in an old narrow hutong, or alley, is just about to come alive with an electronic music feast for restless night-crawling hipsters.
“I don’t like catchy pop music or mainstream Billboard remixes that they play in most clubs,” said Wang Xinzi, 27, a Dada fan, said outside the crowded club.“I prefer music that excites me and I can dance to.”
In China’s culture hubs of Beijing and Shanghai it is not rare to see electronic music venues such as Dada Club packed on weekday nights, especially when the venue has foreign guest DJs performing.
Though pop dominates the market, it seems that China’s music scene is changing and becoming more diverse. In May, thousands of music lovers climbed the Great Wall for an electronic music festival, ignoring pouring rain, and danced to music by DJs from home and abroad.
The annual Storm Electronic Music Festival, held since 2014, generated 388 million yuan (£44 million) in profit for five cities last year with more than 150,000 tickets sold.
However, to break into a market dominated by pop music is not easy. Netease Cloud Music is one of China’s mainstream music websites, and said one of its most popular electronic music song lists has been clicked on more than 83 million times.
But among the 120 songs on the list, there is hardly any Chinese producer. And, Netease said, a third of the users prefer pop.
This is something even artists can relate to. In a promotion film, Eason Chan, well-known as a pop singer, said that though he would like to go beyond pop into electronic dance music he is unsure how his fans would react. “I would love to try a different genre and I can definitely dance. But most of my fans love my slow pop songs and they want me to sing such songs.”
In the promotional film, Mr Chan plays a barman who guides the main female character to release her inner wild side and enjoy life through electronic music.
In China, electronic music is still a young genre. Tracing its background, Shen Lijia, 29, the founder of Ran Music, a Beijing electronic music label, said electronic music was introduced to China in the 1990s and was “popular only with those who had lived abroad before.
“And many people still see it as simply messing around with tapes, and the audience dance like it is disco. It is not easy to run a young independent music label.”
Mr Shen said he has to work as a producer and DJ to keep the label running.
Electronic dance music is becoming trendy for Chinese youth, said Elaine Liu, of the beverages concern ABInBev APAC North, which sponsored the Storm Electronic Music Festival. “Electronic dance music always inspires and encourages people to unleash themselves, which is the spirit that we hold dear.
“It’s great to witness the growing popularity of electronic music among Chinese youth; more young people are starting to unleash their true selves.”
Last year tickets for the Storm festival sold out in minutes and the limited-edition aluminum Storm bottle became a fashion icon among electronic dance music fans. Separately, Eric Zho, the chief executive of A2LiVE, the promoter in China of the Storm festival, said this year’s event was a way to take Chinese electronic music abroad.
“For a long time the domestic electronic music culture relied on other countries,” he said. “This year we will expand the market into Sydney so the world can listen to the music of China.”