Article and Illustrated by Lionel Rakai
Once you’ve lived in one place long enough, you end up going through the motions of adapting to everyday life and just being able to fit in. In retrospect, there may have been times I’ve tried so hard to fit in and to understand the different types of people around me that it eventually broke away pieces of my old self, leaving me longing to hold on to the things I’ve loved doing before. One of the things I always found comfort in was playing the part of an audience to a live musician or band, regardless of how big or small a following they had.
I read that people often search and gravitate towards reflections of themselves in others, whether it be a mood or experience and due to the follies of my consistent language barrier, I’ve relied heavily on the expressions and painted emotions on the faces of others. There’s a small comfort in watching the bleeding emotion of a street musician, alone with his or her guitar in hand and streaming out lyrics to a song about remorse, unrequited love, or a fading romance.
Reminiscing over the past few years, I remember walking through the stretch of Datang Bu Yue Cheng during a cold Chinese New Year and coming across a band playing familiar Chinese songs which I stopped to sing along to. Eventually I became acquainted with the band members and through learning my personal musical interests they began to perform Taylor Swift songs (which eventually became a regular on their playlist). Since then, there are times I wander the streets of Xi’an alone or with friends and my attention would unconsciously be in search of an indie musician busking on the street side or playing in a small bar.
Recently, a friend and I were walking along the streets of Tian Shuijing and we came across a bar called “Panting Dog”, about a five minute walk north of the Xi’an Tanghuang Wall Hanguangmen relic site museum (on the south side of the city wall). Decorated with a woodland warmth and wall shelves dripping with dried candle wax, we walked into the vacant craft beer bar (ordinary for a Monday night) and was greeted by one of the bar owners, Lei; English name Peter. Through his apologies of not having an English version of the drinks and food menu, I felt a deep humbleness. He continued to explain the speciality beers available and offered to mix any cocktail we were eager for.
As I sipped on a smoky pear-flavoured craft beer brewed behind the bar itself, I noticed a small stage area with a stool, microphone stand and sound system. I asked Lei if there would be a musician playing that evening and he casually confirmed that he himself would be playing before sitting on the wooden stool and strapping in an acoustic guitar for a quick sound check. With an audience of two, he commenced with a playlist of both English and Chinese songs and I distinctly remember my friends face being hypnotised by the haunting acoustic string sounds of the guitar and gut wrenching vocals of the musician. It was in this moment I couldn’t pass the opportunity to learn more about him as an independent local musician and bar owner with a list of questions to feed my curiosity.
- Tell me about yourself.
My full name Lei Yaodong and I come from Xi’an. I began to sing in bars when I attended college to study English, which was helpful for me to sing English songs well. My career started with standardised translation of foreign trade insurance but I always insisted on singing and writing songs. Later, my friends and I formed a scarecrow band to take part in some national competitions. After some exposure and winning awards, I quit my job and devoted myself to music. Though it didn’t bring me fame, I stuck to it because I liked it. Then I learnt about refined beer in 2015 and started making beer with my partner Zhang Jian and opened the first bar in 2018.
- What’s the meaning of your bar name “Panting Dog”?
The term “panting dog” is a method of practicing breath in Italian vocal music. It also vividly shows the state of exhilaration when experiencing a good beer.
- When did you open the store? Who are your business partners?
We opened the bar on May 20th, 2018.
My partners are Zhang Jian and Xiao Wu. They, have also been chasing the road to music like myself.
- How long have you been a musician? What’s your musical background?
It has been 21 years since I started played music. I’ve never studied music formally because it started from pure love. Others may call it the “wild way” but there is still a little talent that shines more than anything else.
- What kind of craft beers does your bar offer and where are they made?
Our bar mainly offers craft beer that is brewed by our partner, Zhang Jian, where all the raw materials are imported. The brewing equipment is sourced domestically and built in the shop. This equipment is placed in the operating room of the shop and guests have the opportunity to see the process of our brewing.
- What was a memorable day for you and your team?
For our team, a hallmark day was when we got first got our lease and we were ready to start this new venture.
- What sets your bar apart from others? What makes it different?
The most unique thing about our bar is the feeling of being free because there are a lot of very good musicians in Xi’an. They often improvise on the stage to play solo or sing a song and the level is very high. It’s heart-warming to see how it amazes the guests.
- What’s one thing you think customers should know about your bar that they may not know about?
The geographical location of this bar is not very good, so a lot of people come here through word of mouth from other people. We actually have a lot of delicious food here, such as fried chicken, rinsed tripe, soy sauce dishes, roast chicken, and so on, as well as good cocktails. Our refined brewery specialises in offering refined beer and regularly has some famous local and national musicians to visit..
- What type of song styles do you prefer to sing?
At present, I still like some Funk retro music.
- Who are your favourite musical artists?
My favourite is Goat Skin, a British rock band that’s not very popular now.
- How do you find other local musicians to play at your bar?
Because there are many accomplished circle of musicians, we became part of this circle and it was relatively easy to find and invite local Xi’an music players to perform through mutual friends.
- What are your future hopes and plans for you and your bar business?
For the future of the bar, I hope more friends with musical interests can visit and try performing. Let’s play music and drink beer together. I think we may have more plans for the future because the refined wine is bound to encounter a bottleneck in the production of wine, so we may consider building a factory outside to improve the production and build more variety for the bar to increase sales.
A sincere thanks to Lei Yaodong in offering his time for the interview. As I left the bar, he’s musical skills and kindness only resounded my encouragement to offer an opportunity (in what little way possible) of letting others know about this blooming establishment; a cosy space for a good drink accompanied by a soundtrack of Xi’an local musical talent.