Mosaic of China Season 02 Episode 16 – The Metal Head (Cassandra CHEN, Inferno Bar)
Not all Chinese people are into pop music. Especially not Cassandra Chen, who owns 'Inferno', the one and only bar that's 100 percent dedicated to heavy metal in China.
CC: We welcome everybody. Until they get so drunk and try to break stuff.
OF: Welcome to Mosaic of China, a podcast about people who are making their mark in China. I'm your host, Oscar Fuchs.
It's been a short while, but we're back with the second half of Season 02. If you're a new listener, welcome, and here's a quick recap of how the show works. There are three parts to each interview. The first part is a straightforward two-way conversation, which starts with the guest introducing an object that in some way describes their life in China. In the second part, I ask every guest the same 10 China-related questions, all on the theme of their personal experiences, tastes and opinions. And the final part is just one extra question, where I ask each guest to nominate someone for the next Season of the show. And this is how each interview represents a connective tile which builds out into a Mosaic of China.
The show has also been designed to include a visual element, so please follow the images on Instagram or Facebook, or head to https://mosaicofchina.com. In last week's bonus episode, we discussed that there are transcripts of the show also on https://mosaicofchina.com, for anyone who is hard of hearing or whose first language isn't English. Actually there's a new update to report, in the last couple of weeks, YouTube has made it easier to upload captions to videos. So I tried it out, and managed to upload all the transcripts for each episode there. So if you have access to YouTube you can now listen to the regular version of the show while reading the subtitles in real time. I would do the same on 微博 [Wēibó], but they've stopped allowing me to post there. Thanks for nothing, 微博 [Wēibó]…
Now that you're caught up, let's get on with today's show. And it's quite an embarrassing one for me, because you can tell that I have absolutely no idea about the subject matter we're talking about. I can just about fake my way through most subjects, but not today! So be prepared to roll your eyes at me a lot in this one. On top of that, my guest Cassandra is just too cool and too nonchalant. So this combination of ignorance and intimidation is apparently enough to turn me into a nervous giggling child. Which I hope will at least bring you some amusement.
OF: I'm with Cassandra Chen. Hello, Cassandra.
OF: Nice to see you.
CC: Nice to see.
OF: And you are a bar owner of the bar called…
OF: Inferno. People might have a clue about what this bar is, just by the name, right?
CC: I hope so.
OF: Inferno is a heavy metal bar.
CC: Yes, that's right.
OF: Well, we're going to talk about the bar. But before we do, the first question I will ask is, what object did you bring that in some way describes your life here in China?
CC: Well, I brought an Inferno T-shirt. It's a T-shirt made up for a Viking Night.
OF: Oh, can I take a look?
CC: Yeah, sure.
OF: OK, here we go. OK. Well, it's as I expected, it is dark. It is slightly scary.
CC: Yeah, it's Odin on his horse.
OF: Tell me what this signifies. What is Viking Night?
CC: We basically do some Viking metal, like from Scandinavia. And people sometimes can even dance to it, It's not really brutal music, it's kind of happy. Right now, we're doing this two or three times a year. And basically, our customer would put on helmets, wear leather outfits, and drink from horns.
CC: Yeah, they bought tonnes of horns online.
OF: Oh, so they bring their own horn.
CC: Yes. It's actually very pretty.
OF: And where did this idea come from? Is that something which is connected with heavy metal?
CC: Yes, actually, it is. These people are barbarian.
OF: Yeah, right. When I think about heavy metal, I do think of Scandinavians with maybe big bodies, big beards, kind of aggressive…
CC: Yeah, that's exactly what we have. It's really like home for the metalheads to hang out, like a family, giving ideas for events, and sometimes helping out to wash the dishes.
OF: The customers help out.
CC: Yes. It's still a very small scene, a very small community, and it's kind of a risk to open a heavy metal bar. I know a lot of live houses, they have some heavy metal shows. But as a bar that only plays heavy metal, no. You need to know enough people who have the same hobby. It's a big move.
OF: So could I accurately say that yours is the only heavy metal bar in China?
CC: Yes. Yes, you can say that.
OF: That's pretty special.
OF: I am really interested to hear more about this because… I mean look at me, I am not a typical heavy metal fan, right?
OF: In fact, I get quite intimidated.
CC: Well, we accept everybody. I mean, different colours, even if they speak in different languages, different thoughts… It's fine. We welcome everybody…
CC: … Until they get so drunk and try to break stuff.
OF: It sounds like that does happen sometimes.
CC: Yeah, it does.
OF: So who are these people? Who are your customers?
CC: Um, designers, engineers, English teachers, even karate teachers, all kinds.
OF: But are they mainly male?
CC: Um, mainly, yes. We still have some girls. But they cannot drink that much. I was just joking, we have both. I realised that most of them are nerds. They like video games, they play D&D, they even watch animation, and they love music. These kinds of people can bring good ideas on the table, very creative.
OF: So was it one of these nerds who first came up with the Viking Night?
CC: Yes, that's right.
OF: Oh right. So you're already planning the next one as well.
CC: Yes, we are planning the next one. Hopefully, like, end of the year.
OF: Great. Maybe I will come.
CC: OK. Yeah.
OF: Do you have a very small horn for me?
CC: Only for shots, right? Not for beer.
OF: There you go. Maybe I can fill it with a very small pink cocktail.
OF: So maybe I shouldn't be intimidated by you guys.
CC: Not at all, not at all. Like, on a Sunday - the slowest night - you'll have 10 people watching some horror movies that we play all the time.
OF: Well, it sounds to me like your entire community, your entire life, has some connection to this music.
CC: Yeah, you can say that. The metalheads - our small community, as I know them - most of the people are honest people. Not aggressive at all, not as you imagine. You can easily talk to them. Then the second time you go, you know somebody.
CC: Very easy-going people.
OF: So how did you get into it? Were your parents musicians of any kind?
CC: No, not at all. My mom was like a sales manager, my dad was a chemist, in the lab. So nothing related.
OF: So what do they think of your life now?
CC: Of course, they never agree, from the beginning. But they've somehow accepted my choice. So here we are.
OF: Exactly. And when did you first get into this style of music?
CC: I think at the end of high school, I listened to Linkin Park. Then I was like "Hmm, maybe I want to play in a band when I get into university." Then I just started to listen to new metal from the beginning. Then my tastes just got heavier. I like the heavier side, like heavy riffs. Again, you always can find your own type of people, so we had this small community. You just start to hang out with them, go to concerts, drink with them, talk about bands. New Urbans. After I graduated, I got a designing job. But that was boring. Then I tried different things. A few years later, a heavy metal bar opened. And I started to drink there.
OF: And that was Inferno, was it?
CC: Yeah, that was Inferno.
CC: One year later, one of my friends died. So it reminded me that life is short. I should do something that makes me happy. And makes me care. So I quit my daytime job, and I started bartending at Inferno.
OF: OK, how old were you then?
CC: I think that was 26. I was pretty scared and shy. There were a lot of people. Everybody's requesting drinks, expecting you to do something about it. And I was basically just running around. I didn't even look into the customers' eyes.
OF: And then, I think the noise problem closed down the first Inferno. We had a neighbourhood like maybe 100 metres away. So…
OF: So they complained.
CC: Yes, they complained. Then we changed to the second place. Then the second Inferno was much bigger, around 400 square metres, with a stage, with a kitchen. But then that meant a lot of work. I lost one partner, because my partner left to Denmark.
OF: Oh, I see. So until then you were in a partnership.
CC: Yeah. Also, I had another partner, who was a Dutch girl. And the Dutch girl barely had time to help out.
OF: Oh so you're basically running it by yourself?
CC: Yes, everything's on my shoulders. All the events, the stage equipment, the bartending, the kitchen. At that time it was more like a live house. So every day I needed to contact bands. Mostly local Shanghai bands, but sometimes I got some bands from Beijing. And then we had some international tour bands. We had Nightwish, Carcass, Lamb of God, As I Lay Dying...
OF: And these are pretty famous bands right now?
CC: Yes. That was a lot. For me, all I remember was just work. I had three years of insomnia.
OF: Oh, insomnia.
OF: Oh, wow. So it looked successful from the outside. Like, you still had big bands coming and you were still running the place.
OF: But then on the other side, it didn't work for you.
CC: It was just simply too much.
OF: Yeah. That's, I think, the thing people don't realise about running a bar, right? They see the sexy side, like "Oh great, you're surrounded by friends, you're surrounded by alcohol, you can see bands."
CC: Yeah, that's right.
OF: But the running of the bar is something else, right?
CC: Yeah, that's a totally different thing. I didn't even want to step my foot into that place anymore. Eventually, we decided to close down the place. But I it took me, like, half a year to process this idea.
OF: Right. Because it would be hard to let go, right?
CC: Yeah, that's right. That was my baby.
OF: And I guess you also felt some kind of responsibility to this community.
CC: Yes, that's right. On the last night, some of the people just cried. I think at that time, I really, really needed a break. But I also really, really didn't want to let it go. It was a complicated feeling.
OF: Yeah. Well, I can imagine why it took you six months to pull the trigger.
CC: Yes, yeah. Then I went to Beijing for a few weeks. And our regulars always reminded me about this place, how much this place has been loved. So then I started looking for a new place. So the third Inferno, I targeted it in a different way. We removed the kitchen, removed the stage, made the bar smaller, more cosy. People still can make requests for music, listen to whatever they want, as long as it's heavy metal. And people just chill.
OF: So, less about live shows.
CC: Yeah, the stage was difficult to run. Not enough local bands. And the choice of music is very narrow.
OF: And this is what you meant by "It's a risk to start a bar like this".
CC: Yeah, that's right.
OF: Well, let's move on to Part 2.
OF: OK, Question 1. What is your favourite China-related fact?
CC: I really admire the first Empress in the 唐 [Táng] Dynasty, who was the only Empress in Chinese history.
OF: Ah, 武則天 [Wǔ Zétiān], right?
OF: Tell me why.
CC: She was fighting from the bottom to the top of her life. And running the country, and making it strong. So as a woman at that time, it's very impressive.
OF: Do you try and live your life in the same way?
CC: Not really. I think nobody could. In the 清 [Qīng] Dynasty, one of the Empresses tried to do the same thing. But I think she destroyed the country instead of saving it.
OF: Right, this is 慈禧 [Cíxǐ], right?
OF: Do you think you are more like 慈禧 [Cíxǐ], or more like 武則天 [Wǔ Zétiān]?
CC: I hope more like 武則天 [Wǔ Zétiān] but I don't think I'm as wise as her. So…
OF: Nice. Do you have a favourite word or phrase in Chinese?
CC: 苦尽甘来 [Kǔjìn gānlái].
OF: 苦尽甘来 [Kǔjìn gānlái]. OK, what does that mean?
CC: That means 'after suffering comes happiness'.
CC: Most peoples lives have this growing experience, learning experience. And they turn into the person that they want to be.
OF: Right. Is that what happened to you after Inferno 2? And then now you are in a place which is much happier?
CC: Yes. Yes, I think so.
OF: 苦尽甘来 [Kǔjìn gānlái]. I'm just trying to think, '甘 [gān]'?
CC: '甘 [Gān]' is '甘甜 [gāntián]'. Sweet.
OF: So the sweetness comes after. Yeah, yeah, yeah. That makes sense. OK, I'm going to use that.
OF: What's your favourite destination within China?
CC: I like 三亚 [Sānyà], lying on the beach. I like 莫干山 [Mògànshān], which is close to nature in the mountains. And I'm very interested one day to go to Tibet and 新疆 [Xīnjiāng], which I think is very exotic.
OF: Yeah. You spent a lot of time in Beijing. What do you think about Beijing?
CC: It's big. Lots of bands. People are more easy. Nice people, very nice people.
OF: Right. They're more straightforward, right?
CC: That's right.
CC: Yeah, like that, yeah.
OF: I think people in Shanghai, they have a reputation for being a bit more complicated, right? They don't always say what they mean.
CC: Yeah, that's right.
OF: Yeah, I haven't spent enough time in Beijing. I still need to do that. So maybe I will ask for your friends next time.
CC: OK, yeah.
OF: If you left China, what would you miss the most, and what would you miss the least?
CC: I think I would miss the most is… this very convenient lifestyle. At 2 o'clock, if you want to buy some beer, you can get it delivered in China. Other countries, probably not.
OF: And have you ever left China? Did you ever go overseas?
CC: Yeah, I went to Germany. When I was in Germany, I really missed vegetables.
OF: Because they have a lot of meat in Germany.
CC: And I think, for them, potato is a salad.
OF: Right. Is there anything that still surprises you about life in China?
CC: A lot of things can surprise me. Ten years ago, we didn't even have smartphones. And now everybody does.
OF: Mmm. This is gonna be an easy one for you, what is your favourite place to hang out in Shanghai?
CC: Well, of course, I hang out at Inferno most of the time.
OF: And if there was a second choice?
CC: I would go to Latina. It's a Brazilian Steakhouse buffet. All you can eat. It's a pretty good deal for me.
OF: Nice. What is the best or worst purchase you have recently made?
CC: The best thing I bought is probably the drinking horn.
OF: Did you buy it on Taobao?
CC: No, I got my friend to buy it in America, at a place which does those Viking things.
OF: Ah, so actually, you can't use that one because that wasn't in China.
CC: In China
CC: Oh, I have this… you know like, Chinese or Japanese, they have this cat in the shop, and it tries to ask for more money. Yeah, instead I have one that gives a middle finger. And we drew some makeup on it and made it look like a black metal cat.
OF: Oh dear, yeah that sounds pretty cool. Did you buy that on Taobao?
CC: Yeah, I bought it on Taobao.
OF: How did you even search for that?
CC: I don't know. It just popped out. And I saw a cat with a middle finger, and I was like "That looks great."
OF: That was designed for you.
OF: Next question. What is your favourite WeChat sticker?
CC: So it's two of our regular customers drinking from a horn and doing cheers to each other. Yeah.
OF: And this was at one of the Viking Nights?
OF: Yes, they look the part, I must say. What is your go-to song to sing at KTV?
CC: Oh, 'Sweet Child o' Mine'.
OF: That's a classic.
OF: But you wouldn't call that 'heavy', right? That's obviously…
CC: No, no. But it's pretty enjoyable to sing the song.
OF: Yeah. And finally, what other China-related media or sources of information do you use?
CC: There is a magazine called Painkiller.
CC: Yeah, it's like a heavy metal magazine. It's still the only one in China. And they help the Wacken festival.
OF: What's that?
CC: It's like a German heavy metal festival. They do it once a year, it's one of the biggest heavy metal festival in Europe.
OF: OK, so has there been a china band at the Wacken festival?
CC: Yeah, there have been a lot actually.
OF: Well, thank you so much, Cassandra. If there was one band, where it's like for beginners, which band or which song would you recommend would be a good entry point?
CC: We have a black metal band in Shanghai. They were founded in 2006, so it's already a 14-year-old band. It's called 惊叫基督 [Jīngjiào jīdū].
OF: 惊叫基督 [Jīngjiào jīdū].
CC: Yeah, they are basically the best in Shanghai.
OF: Hmm. Cassandra, the last thing I would ask you before you leave is, out of everyone you know in China, who would you recommend that I interview for the next season of Mosaic of China?
CC: I think one of my best friends, also my karate teacher, Telly.
OF: Telly. Where's he from?
OF: OK. I look forward to meeting him. Karate in China, that's an unusual combination.
CC: Yeah. I know, right?
OF: Thank you again, Cassandra.
CC: My pleasure.
OF: If you're a metal head, please get in touch to berate me about all the questions I didn't think to ask Cassandra. But let me try to appease you by inviting you to check out the photos on social media, where you'll see Cassandra posing with some very famous international metal bands. There's 'As I Lay Dying', 'The Ghost Inside', 'Finntroll', 'Insomnium', 'Equilibrium', 'Suicide Silence' (please don't make me say that one again), 'Carcass', 'Harakiri for the Sky', 'Vader', 'Hate', and 'Thy Disease'. You can also see Cassandra's Inferno tattoo; her best purchase, the amazing beckoning cat that's... definitely not beckoning; her object, the Viking Night T-Shirt, her favourite WeChat Sticker; and loads of other photos from events at past and present incarnations of the Inferno bar.
The biggest connection between Cassandra and Season 01 of the show would be Nini Sum, the independent artist from from Episode 16, who also ran rings around me with her coolness. They both have a very similar vibe, and they both also mentioned Linkin Park, actually. There's a more direct connection with the Chinese comedian Maple Zuo from Season 01 Episode 02, who also mentioned the story of Wǔ Zétiān [武則天] as her favourite China-related fact. When Cassandra mentioned the 清 [Qīng] empress 慈禧 [Cíxǐ], this links to the brand naming expert Vladimir Djurovic from Season 02 Episode 13, and his story about 老佛爷 [Lǎofóyé] and the Chinese branding of the French company Galleries Lafayette. Cassandra would miss vegetables if she left China, which was exactly the same answer as Jovana Zhang, the handicrafts designer from Season 02 Episode 08. Cassandra's favourite destinations in China were 三亚 (Sānyà) and 莫干山 [Mògànshān], which connects her respectively with Emily Madge, the aquarium conservationist from Season 01 Episode 14 and Sean Harmon, the craft beer business leader from Season 02 Episode 09. And can you believe it, Cassandra's go-to song to sing at karaoke was Sweet Child o' Mine by Guns N' Roses, which makes it the first song that has been mentioned 3 times on the show. The other two times were Lissanthea Taylor, the pain management expert from Season 01 Episode 28, and Louise Roy, the childbirth expert from Season 02 Episode 06. So with all that said, even though Cassandra represents such a niche interest group, I think she might be the most connected piece of the Mosaic so far.
Mosaic of China is me, Oscar Fuchs, with artwork by Denny Newell. There follows a catch-up chat with Yang Yi, the broadcaster from Season 01 Episode 21. And guess what, when I got home from the studio after my chat with Yi, I discovered that the recording suddenly cuts off halfway. So please enjoy this further example of basic incompetence, and I'll see you again next week for some more!
OF: Are we recording?
YY: Yeah, I'm recording.
OF: Is the magic happening?
YY: Yeah, it's a magic moment.
OF: Yi, great to see you.
YY: Hi, Oscar. Very nice to meet you again.
OF: What a year it has been.
YY: Yes. It's really… I think it's a very special year. Yes.
OF: We've had COVID, of course, but then for you, your life has taken a big 180 since we did our recording.
OF: When we recorded, you were already a podcaster. But I think you had a day job still in broadcasting?
OF: And then since then, you've quit that. And we are actually doing our interview in your studio. And it is a beauty. So it's called JustPod, your company, right?
YY: Yes, JustPod is a podcasting company. And my partner is an entrepreneur. So we co-created this company. I quit my television job, and the podcast has become my full time job.
YY: Yeah. Thank you. So since then, it's been at least one and a half years.
OF: Tell me about the new lifestyle, then. It's a more entrepreneurial lifestyle, there's no salary, you are running on your own wits at this point, right?
YY: Yes. I have to say, you know, doing your own business is a very difficult problem, because I have different roles. I am a producer; I have my own shows under my company; and I'm also the co-creator of this company, I'm the COO, the Chief Operating Officer. So I have to do a lot of things to handle this company. I need balance. And of course, I have a boyfriend this year. So I have three different roles: a creator, a businessman, and a boyfriend. I still feel confused at this moment about these things, because I like to produce the show, I like to talk to people. At this moment, I think, usually in the daytime I'm a businessman. But at night, when I'm alone, I'm a podcaster. So I have no phones, I have no meetings. So I think "OK, it's time for me, myself, to edit the shows". But at this point, another issue, my boyfriend.
OF: The boyfriend. I was going to say…
YY: Yeah, he says "Oh, you spend too much time at work."
OF: Mmm. That's when you start to bump into your other responsibility.
OF: OK. Well, you look calm, even though you're juggling all these things. You look smiley, you look happy, so something's going right.
YY: Yes, I think it is. I'm very happy at this moment. I still feel challenge. Our company has 11 original podcasts.
OF: Now it's 11, OK.
YY: Yeah, it's still booming this year.
OF: Well, this is what I wanted to ask, because we had a similar conversation during our interview.
OF: And so I wanted to know, what has happened in the last year? Has there been one show that was a breakout show? Has there been a boom in one particular genre? Tell me what's happened in the last year?
YY: Yes, of course. I think the year 2020 meant a lot for Chinese podcasting. During the pandemic, he had a brand new application for podcasting…
OF: 小宇宙 [Xiǎoyǔzhòu].
YY: Yes. 小宇宙 [Xiǎoyǔzhòu] in Chinese, which means a little cosmos. Yeah. The first localised podcast application in China. So it brought a lot of attention, it brought a lot of audience into this area.
OF: Interesting, because you were the one who told me about that in the run-up to PodFest, because you are one of the organisers behind PodFest, that's where I met you first of all.
OF: This is now two, two and a half years ago. You had 小宇宙 [Xiǎoyǔzhòu] as your sponsor.
YY: Yes. So they're very passionate in this area. And they want to more and more customers to know them. So PodFest China is maybe a good stage.
OF: And just seeing the photos from PodFest… Because I was thinking, when we first went to PodFest, it was very much an international event, because most of the knowledge about podcasting was from outside of China.
YY: Yes, and it was more like a salon.
YY: It was in a very small conference room.
OF: Yes, it was small. It was half English, half Mandarin.
OF: And then this year, it was a full-blown, massive event. And just Chinese. So it shows that the domestic market has really gone places.
YY: Yes. But of course the pandemic is a reason, because it was very difficult to invite foreign guests to China.
YY: So yeah, but you're right. Podcasting in China is booming this year, so more and more people become podcasters, more and more people become listeners. So we already had enough topics to talk about.
[At this point the rest of the audio was lost]