The Shazam Diaries: Shanghai

Do you remember the first time you heard your favourite song, or your favourite artist? Where you were, how healthy you felt, who you were dating? For the most-part I find the answer to this question to be ‘no’, because the context tends to always be the same; I was sitting at my laptop, or lying in bed. This is a pity, because music is far more exciting to revisit when it’s attached to memories.

Fortunately, if you use the right means, it’s easy to curate your own experiences. Apps like iPlayer Radio and Apple Music let you download music en masse, so you can have more control over your first listen’s setting. Alternatively, when these audiovisual experiences come up organically, Shazam and Notes let you latch onto them, provided you’re not too fucked to type your passcode.

The idea of The Shazam Diaries is that its writer – I’m more than happy for others to try it out – shares the music they’ve been loving of late, coupled with the context that helped it sound so good. The main focus of this article is my time living and working in the centre of Shanghai this summer.


During my first week in Shanghai, I shared a room with a 26 year old Scottish guy, who had decided to quit his job and go travelling for a year. We bonded over lagers and Lord of the Rings, and talked about how we were both beginning the longest time of our lives so far that we would be completely separated from any of our social groups or communities.

I’d spent some of my time in the office looking up candidates for my first Friday out on Resident Advisor, but when he said he’d found a drum’n’bass night that a bunch of people from the hostel were going to, I thought I may as well join, even if the music would probably be so-so. To my shock and excitement the club night that we went to was probably the most musically diverse and experimental I’ve ever visited, with local djs spinning everything from cinematic techno to abstract hip hop. Above are a couple of the best ‘wait what?’ moments of the night, both of which come from great albums that have soundtracked my subsequent jogs around the city.


An ‘Independent Label Market’ is the kind of thing that may sound deliriously pretentious, but in reality it’s a lovely place, where people so dedicated to sharing unheard music that they get the records pressed themselves, get to enthuse about artists they’ve discovered. Both of these bands pricked up my ears at the market in peoplesqBristol. Neither are fashionable or edgy in the slightest, but they both sound perfectly honest and genuine, in the same way that Coldplay’s Yellow does when the band headline Glastonbury.

My first listen of the Man Can’t Fly track was lying on my bed the morning of an exam, and the simple harmonic rush of its chorus were the perfect tonic for my nerves. As for We Show Up On Radar, I listened through his entire album in one go, whilst walking around an enourmous park in Shanghai at midnight. One of the strangest and most unexpected things I noticed about the city was that people seemed completely content to just lie down and sleep in its parks, with no fear of being mugged. There seemed to be none of the paranoia of dark dealings and dangerous men that is associated with British city parks in the night. This made them feel like tranquil oases in the endlessly noisy, affronting city, and the perfect place to listen to one of the most intimate, personal records I’ve ever heard, one that feels like a revelatory conversation with an old friend who is beginning to see the light after a deep depression.


So the first thing I did upon settling down in Shanghai was have a night-time walk around the area. I was feeling a bit funny, as one does when heavily jetlagged, separated from everyone they have ever met by thousands of miles, and plonked in the biggest city in the world, the inhabitants of which all seem to be staring at you. So I decided to listen to an episode of Sian Anderson’s late night 1xtra show, which for the uninitiated is basically a 3 hour exploration of the word ‘dutty’, in the best way possible.

These tracks stuck out in particular as empowering in their intensity, though the real hero here is Sian, who has absolutely perfected the technique of hyping up a track before revealing its artist, with the perfect balance of showmanship and genuine enthusiasm for the music (she also does loads of live mixing on the show, and sources most of the music herself). Her justification of the Dappy track – something far less ‘credible’ than what she would usually play – was particularly brilliant and hilarious, managing to completely transition guilty pleasure to straight up pleasure.




“Chang Yi’s work shines the light on nature and the layered brushwork of Song painters. Cloud, fog and  New Microsoft PowerPoint Presentationwaves meet and part and flow in the space between coming and going, between presence and absence, between abstract and representational. Air bubbles serve as traces of movement while the three-dimensional space displays accumulated layers, of what was, an eternal tough of red.”

Not gonna lie, I don’t totally ‘get it’. I think to appreciate this kind of abstract art, you need to shake yourself free of your everyday logic, and read things in terms of feelings and colours rather than words and numbers, so it begins to make sense that a slab of coloured glass could be just as meaningful and descriptive as a Wikipedia article. This isn’t easy, especially if you’re working an office job, or studying an academic area defined by logical rules and specific definitions (believe it or not, most of Philosophy falls in this bracket). But walking around a dimly lit exhibit with my headphones on – listening to a radio show whose nerdy zen vibe is a sonic Ying to Sian’s badman riddim Yang – I think I got it. A bit. (If you like ambient music, I heavily recommend the recent Gigi Masin compilation Talk To The Sea, it includes some of the most relaxing audio I’ve ever experienced)


Before releasing his album ‘Nothing Was The Same’, Drake said in an interview that one of his fans had asked him to ‘tell more of the story… you’re telling people your story, but give them more details, talk about these individual women, talk about your family’. A couple of years later he’s at the point where he can sell a million copies of a mixtape with no radio-ready singles and no promotion, because he took that advice; he tells his story in specific, idiosyncratic detail, putting his own voice front and centre, and people want to hear it. The same can be said of the two biggest musical successes of 2014, Ed Sheeran and Taylor Swift; at a time when whatever genre or sound you want is a few clicks away, the personal aspect of music is more valuable than ever; it’s easy to copy an artist’s sonic style, but copying their personality is impossible.

Besides being gorgeous, well written pieces of music, the two tracks above are exciting for me for that very reason; they’re the sounds of people I know, expressing themselves. This kind of stuff hits particularly hard at a time when your only other contact with the people you know comes from pixelated text. The former track is by a girl I’m not intimately close with, and the awareness that people like me could hear her personal revelations at the click of a button really threw the whole thing into perspective; whether you’ve got a few listens on soundcloud or a million album sales, sharing your fears and insecurities with the wider world is a very brave thing to do. I first heard her singing voice on her similarly fantastic cover of Lianne La Havas’ Gone, another breathtakingly cathartic song that I’ve had on repeat ever since.