Louis Vuitton’s first-ever guide to Chengdu

Feels like forever ago that I embarked upon this project but I recently received print versions of the Louis Vuitton City Guide: Chengdu, which was published last year.

It’s the first-ever edition on Sichuan’s capital, meaning myself and the team I led had to build it up from scratch. It comes on the back of guides to Beijing and Shanghai in the same series.

LV’s City Guides “propose fresh and personal perspectives on a variety of destinations across the globe” and that’s certainly what we attempted to do here. And in addition to the luxury content you’d expect from such a prestigious publication, we made sure to include plenty of hole-in-the-wall eateries and off-beat culture sites as well to give a full picture of one of the best cities in China.

A bit more about the guides, from their official blurb: “Featuring independent writers and guests with wide and varied backgrounds, each guide spots trends and reveals unique insights: from grand luxury hotels to charming boutique inns, top-tier restaurants to neighborhood bistros, antique shops to fashion boutiques, along with iconic must-sees and little‑known places. Special guest contributors, secret places, walking tours, cultural events, recommendations from savvy journalists, photographic portfolios – the spirit of the Louis Vuitton City Guide is constantly evolving, taking its unique approach in new directions.”

Go here for more details on the Louis Vuitton City Guide: Chengdu.

I’ve started a Substack

It’s called Concrete Avalanche and is about music from China.

It’s a work in progress, but so far it’s been shared by Taylor Lorenz, Chaoyang Trap and Bill Bishop (of Sinocism) and been highlighted in Semafor’s ‘London Review of Substacks’.

The hope is it’ll help keep you up to date on new releases from China and/or introduce you to new music and artists you might not have found otherwise.

I had reservations about starting this newsletter. In addition to the usual concerns about whether I’ll be able to sustain it etc, I want artists from China to be judged on their music rather than where they’re from. Yet at the same time, there is a real lack of coverage of those artists in English and it can be difficult for non-Chinese readers to find extensive information about new music from the country.

So here we are. Concrete Avalanche is still new and still finding its feet so please be patient with it, but I welcome any feedback, tips, questions or Bandcamp subsidies.

Find the first issue here and the latest one here.

“We’d like to be able to reach people in far off corners of the world”

I profiled Hualun for issue 450 of The Wire, ‘the world’s greatest print and online music magazine.

I spoke to the band about their journey from leading China’s early post-rock scene to exploring ambient soundscapes, via soundtrack work for the likes of An Elephant Sitting Still.

They also told me about the significance of creating the music for Wuhan Wuhan, a documentary on the early outbreak of Covid-19, after the pandemic locked down the city where they formed and trapped them in their nearby hometown of Yichang.

Read the full story in issue 450 of The Wire ($).

Photo: Li Zhengde for The Wire

Pop star Lexie Liu: “I broke out of my own vocal range”

The K/DA idol and influential pop singer talks about her new direction, making music for the gaming world, and exploring Gregorian chants

It’s been two and half years since RADII first interviewed Lexie Liu. Back then she was a 19-year-old contestant on The Rap of China. Today, she’s an established star. And while her new EP is entitled Gone Gold for other reasons (more on those below), it’s a name that fits well with her ascent to the upper echelons of Mandopop.

Rap of China, where she made the final four, may have helped propel her towards stardom, but she’s never really been a rapper. Even backstage at the show she told us, “Rap is not my main thing to do. I’m more focused on the R&B side,” before listing Rihanna, Michael Jackson, Black Eyed Peas and Lady Gaga as her main stylistic references.

After a stream of sleek R&B tracks, Liu’s latest single — “ALGTR,” which dropped on January 11 — saw another change of direction. Gone was the sultry, slow-burn swagger of her 2019 album Meta Ego. In its place was high-energy electro-pop.

“When it came to making this EP, I was already dissatisfied with what I’d done before,” she says. “I was tired of singing those songs. With ‘ALGTR,’ I gave myself really high requirements and was in the studio for four days; I switched up my timbre and broke out of my own vocal range.”

Read the full article at RADII.

Why remote work didn’t last long in China

In late January of last year, my wife and I took a high-speed train from Shanghai to Fuzhou, four hours away, to visit her family home in the countryside. Travelling a few days before the Lunar New Year – the largest annual human migration in the world as millions of people in China make the journey home – we were concerned enough about rumours of a new flu in the city of Wuhan to wear masks, but not so worried to cancel our plans. Days later, Wuhan was placed under ‘lockdown’, a term that would soon become familiar to everyone on the planet. 

Working for a digital media platform that focuses on Chinese youth culture and sharing stories from sides of the country that are rarely explored, in theory I could do my work wherever there was an internet connection. So we decided to stay put and work remotely until the virus situation improved. People across the country were similarly assuming that a return to the office wasn’t going to happen any time soon. 

China often has a claustrophobic, micromanagement-heavy work culture, and nothing like this had ever happened before. There were headlines from international media outlets about the country’s ‘nationwide work-from-home experiment’. Management consulting firm McKinsey called it ‘a blueprint for remote working’ and predicted it would ‘leave a lasting impression on the way people live and work for years to come’. 

But since then, how much has really changed?

Read the full article at Courier.

Behind the scenes with Chinese idol group SNH48, unauthorised AKB48 spin-off

Having controversially split from their Japanese founding partners, the Chinese management of SNH48, BEJ48, GNZ48, SHY48 – and soon CKG48 – seem set on creating a lucrative idol universe of epic proportions

A key election took place in Shanghai last weekend – at least as far as Mandopop fans are concerned.

SNH48, mainland China’s first “idol group”, and its three sister units held their fourth annual election to decide the top-ranking idols. The process saw nearly 300 girls from across the country perform for baying fans at Shanghai’s Mercedes-Benz Arena as part of a marathon six-hour event on July 29.

In the end, the top three positions in the massive popularity contest went to the same three girls who finished top of the pile last year. But there was still plenty of melodrama along the way, while the concert confirms the growing confidence of the Star48 Group, which manages all four idol units, since a controversial split from its Japanese founders.

Read the full article at South China Morning Post.

Meet the winner of the first ever Mr Gay China competition

Meng Fanyu may have only been crowned Mr Gay China a few days before we meet, but he seems to have settled quickly into the role of champion. Before sitting down to chat on the plush sofas of So Café & Lounge (a lower key venue from the same people behind the adjacent ICON nightclub, the scene of Meng’s triumph), we ask if we can first take a few photos. With no further prompting from us, he immediately works his way through a repertoire of pouts and Blue Steel-like looks as the camera clicks away.

He laughs it off when we suggest he’s already well used to having his photo taken, but having appeared in his underpants on stage at ICON throughout the Mr Gay China competition in front of hordes of cameraphone-wielding young men, it’s safe to say that we’re not the only ones in the city to possess images of Meng.

Organisers of the competition – the first of its kind to be held in Mainland China after a 2010 contest was nixed by the authorities before it even got off the ground – have been keen to emphasise that it was about more than just pretty faces, with a focus on sexual health. But there’s no denying that 27 year-old Meng is strikingly handsome.

Read the full article on Time Out Shanghai.

Expensive imports: What Didier Drogba can expect in China

Signing Didier Drogba has given Shanghai Shenhua fans hope that the side’s so far disastrous 2012 season can be turned round, writes Jake Newby. But we’ve been here before, of course – a mere three months ago in fact.

Nicolas Anelka’s much trumpeted arrival led many to predict that Shenhua might win the league even though they had endured their worst season in nearly a decade in 2011, finishing 11th in the 16-team Chinese Super League (CSL).

It took Anelka just 40 seconds to score his first goal for Shenhua on Chinese soil (a pre-season friendly against Hunan Xiangtao), an apparent sign of intent before he made his competitive debut against hated northern rivals Beijing Guoan, in the Chinese capital’s Workers Stadium. He scored against them too, celebrating by vaulting the advertising hoardings and running towards the small group of away fans who had travelled more than 1,000km to see Shenhua play on a Friday night.

The supporters, who had been made to wait in the ground for four hours before kick-off with no food or water, were enraptured.

Read the full article at the Financial Times.

VR is the New Reality for China’s Online Shopping Portals


Virtual reality is currently big news in China. While the high costs involved relative to perceived returns continue to deter many brands in the West from wholeheartedly embracing the technology, Chinese companies are racing ahead buoyed by a consumer base that is eagerly devouring all things VR. Once the limited realm of the gaming community, virtual reality technologies are now being used in China by everyone from art galleries to music festivals to hotels— and the fashion and luxury industries are keen not to be left behind.

Read the full article on Jing Daily.