On October 23, Taihe Music’s Weibo official account announced that Li Zhi will be joining the label. The relationship between the label and Li Zhi will be a strategic partnership and Taihe will be providing Li Zhi with professional assistance at every part of the value chain.
As one of the independent artist icons in China, the decision to join a major label seems unexpected, but Li Zhi said it’s a perfect match.
Two days before the announcement, Taihe’s Weibo posted one of Li Zhi’s song captioned “what if”, which hinted at a partnership between the two. In light of recent events such as Lao Lang, Li Zhi’s longtime friend getting appointed as the head of Taihe’s sublabel, Taihe Rye Music, and Li Zhi’s longtime manager Chi Bin leaving his team, this union just made sense.
A week after Taihe announced the relaunch of its sublabel Taihe Rye Music, Li Zhi was half way done with his “Three Three Four” tour in Shandong province. Lao Lang and Zhang Weiwei went to Tai’an to guest perform at his concert. When they meet at the hotel, Li Zhi was so happy to see his old friends that sat up from the couch and clumsily poured alcohol for them. This is the second time that the Lao Lang and Zhang Weiwei guest performed at Li Zhi’s “Three Three Four” tour.
Li Zhi’s Physically Exhausted
Comparing to Li Zhi’s partnership with Taihe, the cancellation of his New Year’s Eve concert, a decade-long tradition, was more shocking to his fans. Li Zhi hosted a small-scale, invite-only fan meeting instead. On October 13, Li Zhi communicated this news to his fans through his Weibo account and Wechat official account that the reason his cancelled is as follows:
Li Zhi’s New Year’s Eve concert has been running from 2009 to 2018, so the cancellation was a huge disappointment to many fans that have been looking forward to it all year. One of the fans posted on Weibo: “For the past eight or nine years, I would go to Nanjing every New Year’s Eve. It has become more of a gathering of old friends, chilling and talking, having the best time in a whole year than just a performance. I remember every single one of these concerts, from the 2009 one in Jiangnan Theatre, to the one at Hu Bu Jie and Yan Ling Xiang. It felt like it would never end. But everything comes to an end at some point. When there’s a beginning, there’s an ending. And with every ending, there’s a new beginning.”
During an interview with Ma Shifang in Taiwan in January, Li Zhi said that the New Year’s Eve concert tradition started by accident. The live houses in Nanjing were not up to his standard, and he wanted to have his concert somewhere nicer, maybe just once a year. And there was there came the first concert in Jiangnan Theatre. He put in a lot of effort every step of the way to make these concerts great every single year and without realizing how time flies, he had done it for nine years in a row.
But the tenth year isn’t the same for him.
Li Zhi’s team has been on tour from February 2017 to August 2018. He and his team spent more than 200 days on the road in the past two years. They started the tour in good health and high spirit but now they just wanted this dreadful drag to end. And it finally ended in Qingdao on a late summer night.
According to our own research, starting from March 3rd this year, Li Zhi hit 15 live houses in Yunnan province, and starting from July 6th he made 16 stops in Shandong province as part of his “Three Three Four” tour. While touring, he performed at 9 different music festivals in Shanghai, Beijing, Suzhou, Chengdu and Shijiazhuang, of which five was in May. And since his tour ended in August, he already performed at another 6 music festivals.
In a documentary about Li Zhi’s “Three Three Four” tour, he compared the tour to running a marathon. “People becomes very vulnerable and very fragile. Everyone has been operating at 40% of their normal capacity since the spring. It’s very hard.”
In the past few years, Li Zhi completely sacrificed his personal life for music. The only two vacations he took in the past several years is a 4-5 day Cambodia and a week-long trip in France a couple years back.
Li Zhi is Mentally Exhausted
On the evening of July 31 in Laiwu, Yu Ganning, the leader of Li Zhi’s live band kicked the backstage dressing room door open and walked out on the team. Li Zhi explained that Mr. Yu was unhappy with the improvisation he did on stage, saying that he displayed no respect for live music by essentially playing randomly on stage. “I never received formal education in music. My entire musical career is random,” he said.
A few hours before that incident, Li Zhi played the national anthem on stage on his guitar out of nowhere and his band didn’t know how to react. The fans reacted very well to this improvisation, cheering loudly and dancing to the music. He did this in complete disregard of the local government official from the culture ministry who warned Li Zhi that if anything inappropriate happens during the show, he’s going shut it down immediately.
He didn’t care about what awkward situation he put his band in. He didn’t care about the government official placed at his shows to censor him. He needed emotional catharsis and the stage is where it happens for him.
In the past few years, Li Zhi’s music styles have evolved and became hard to define. He began to draw on classical, electronic, and jazz elements. He also collaborated extensively with Qi Haiyin’s orchestra. This year, Li Zhi released two albums, Electronic and Orchestral Music and New Jazz and Unplugged 12.
Touring constantly while producing a large amount of music started to take a toll on Li Zhi and his team. During the Ma Shifang interview mentioned before, Li Zhi already expressed his tiredness. He said that he debated for a long time whether to host the 2017 New Year’s Eve concert or not because he can’t find interesting new music to perform or new interesting guest to collaborate with but he also doesn’t want to perform the same songs over and over and over like everybody else.
Li Zhi had way more enthusiasm back in 2010. He invited many famous folk musicians to his 2010 New Year’s Eve concert, including electric guitar player Zhang Weiwei, drummer Guo Long, bass player Ma Tiao, singer Wan Xiaoli to sing harmony, Zhou Yunpeng and Lao Lang. After the 30-minute performance in Suyang ended, Li Zhi jumped back onto the stage in his outdoor jacket and began singing the song “Suddenly.”
Of course, it’s not just music that’s draining Li Zhi and his team’s energy.
After one of the stops in Shandong during the Three Three Four tour, the excited fans wouldn’t leave. They gathered at the entrance of the venue and sang Li Zhi’s songs together. That made Yuan Ye, the touring manager, very nervous because the gathering drew the attention of the police and he had to tell the fans to leave before they get into further trouble with the police. Li Zhi knew about all of these efforts. He said in the documentary: “Yuan Ye is just a kid. And he had to deal with all these difficult things. I feel bad for him.”
Li Zhi toured a total of 16 cities in Shandong this time. Finding suitable live houses was difficult so he had to perform in a theatre in a few cities.
In addition to the hardship on finding venues, Li Zhi also got reported to the regulatory authorities many times.
Hayakawa Yoko, the lighting technician of the Three Three Four tour showed Li Zhi an email from her Japanese friend expressing support for him. Hayakawa even cried and asked Li Zhi: “The foreigners understand what you’re doing. You changed their perception of China. Why don’t Chinese people understand you?”
Li Zhi smiled and replied: “If they understand, China wouldn’t be China anymore.”
A Perfect Partner
In Li Zhi’s team, many people call him “boss”. For an independent musician, that seems like a very unlikely title.
However, he is in fact a seasoned businessman. As the head of his company, he organized his tours, he invested in Ola Art Space, a live house in Nanjing with his friends, and he worries about the day-to-day expenses and leading his team. He once said with anxiety: “What is my team going to do if anything happens to me?”
On September 28 this year, Li Zhi and his manager, Chi Bin, ended their working relationship. Li Zhi’s official Weibo account posted: “We believe a single manager is not sufficient to support Li Zhi anymore, so Mr. Chi Bin will step down as Li Zhi’s manager and take a back seat as a consultant. A management team with multiple people will take over.”
Although in a recent copyright infringement lawsuit against Wajijiwa Entertainment, Chi Bin displayed impressive professionalism as a manager, the signs of his departure have been there for a while.
On September 8th, Chi Bin published a long article on Weibo to review the whole process of Li Zhi’s “Three Three Four” tour. In the article, he remarked that he didn’t go to many shows because he felt like there was nothing he can do. Clearly, Li Zhi needs a more capable management team to handle his touring business.
Many fans worry that after Li Zhi signed with Taihe Music, he wouldn’t be able to continue unprofitable operations like the “Three Three Four” tour. However, the agreement between Li Zhi and Taihe is unlikely to be limiting but enabling. His bargaining power as a successful independent artist, his friendship with Lao Lang ensures that.
Less than 80 days before 2019, Li Zhi, believes that he has been doing the right things all these years. “Or when I die right now in my 40s, I think I’ve mostly done what I think is right.”
Li Zhi once wish to tour all 334 prefecture-level cities in China before he turns 50 nine years later. We don’t know if this partnership with Taihe will make his wish come true but there’s no doubt a whole new chapter of his life is starting now.
Copyright © 2015 China Music Business News