Grime and style in Shanghai’s underground

It’s 10pm on a Friday night in December and Shanghai’s temperatures are plummeting. Along the winding streets of the Former French Concession, late-night commuters rush  to catch the last trains home or bundle up in multi-layerd coats atop their scooters. For nearly everyone in the city, it seems,  the night has come to an end.

But on 115 Xinfu road, life is just beginning to stir. Outside of what looks like a dilapidated alleyway tarnished with graffitti, the youngsters of Shanghai’s undeground scene come out of the shadows. They smoke outside of the inner city warehouse littered with tattered couches, exposed brick walls and amateur grafitti. This is Dada, a club that has joined the skimpy ranks of scattered spaces in a 25 million people city where an unhranassed creative energy is palpable and  anything goes.

Students and techno heads gather to dance and make friends in this cavernous space that feels oceans away from Xi Jinping’s people. A space like Dada should never have existed in a place like Shanghai; yet somehow, it’s been flourishing for ten years.

A group of friends, all hip-hop fans who frequent nearby clubs, smoke outisde Dada. They don’t come here often, they say, because Dada usually plays techno and house music- but today a DJ was mixing hip hop with electronic dance music and the friends decided to check it out.
Shanghai is for the most part an early-night city; by 10pm, most commuters are rushing home to see their families. Exlcuding the metro, scooters and bikes are the most popular way to get around, as seen from a street corner in the Former French Concession.
Dada is impossible to find unless you know what you are looking for. After walking through an alleway that appears to lead onto a private residence, you will stumble upon the club’s colorful entrance promoting past and future events.
NaDa, as he likes to call himself, is from Shandong province. His name is the word for “nothing” in Spanish, which matches his calm, care-free demeanor. In his free time, he likes to practice photography with his dad’s film camera. Where did he get his outfit? “Taobao erryday,” he says.
Crystal Desai is a university student from New York, in Dada for the first time. She has worked for record labels in New York in the past and loves to go out. How does Dada compare to the club she goes to back home? “Everyone is having a good time, and no one is being pretentious,” she says. “Nothing like the ones in Manhattan.”
A mixed-breed dog, called “Wait for me” (or “留下” in Chinese), waits outside of Dada
Gina (center) and her two friends Norman (left) and Leo (right) were walking Wait for me for a friend, but also felt like partying. When I asked to take their photo, they couldn’t stop laughing. But as soon as I took the picture, they all stopped smiling. I asked Gina why she likes to go out. “I like hip hop,” she said. “And popular black culture.”
Although Dada’s main room is filled with big speakers, flashing lights and a projector that displays graphics to enhance the music, there are plenty of calm areas. Under this lantern, a couple was leaning against each other and having a quiet moment. “Please don’t take our picture,” one of them said.
Dada is often heralded by the city’s young partiers as an unofficially designated “no-judge” zone. Tattoos and piercings are a common sight here, and people are free to experiment with the boundaries of style. These two friends said they were inspired by Korean, Japanese and American street wear.
Most nights at Dada end with a trip to the club’s infamous cramped, grafitti-stained bathroom. In the early hours of the morning, abandoned beer bottles litter every flat surface and the strong smell of urine lingers even beyond the squat toilets- a smell that reminds ravers that it’s time to go home.

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