China’s Replica Paris And Jamie xx

Eight months after I visited Tianducheng, China’s Replica Paris, British music producer Jamie xx released the music video for “Gosh.” I was a fan of his recent album, “In Colour,” but was struck by the video’s unmistakable use of Guangsha Real Estate Group’s fake Eiffel Tower.

I didn’t have a great opportunity to write about the music video originally, as after its July 2016 initial free release on Apple Music, it was put on iTunes for five dollars. Only after it was released on YouTube in mid-October 2016 did I really get to thinking about my own experiences in the Replica Paris village. To read about my visit to this odd place, see my previous post.

Veteran director Romain Gavras‘ video initially caught my attention when 400 bleached-blond Chinese boys dressed exactly alike ran down the same fountain I saw on a rainy day in November 2015.

Tiandu Park Fountain as seen in "Gosh"
Tiandu Park fountain as seen in “Gosh”
Tiandu Park fountain as seen during my 2015 visit.

With clear shots of the Haussmann-style apartments, the replica Eiffel Tower and surrounding unfinished apartments, “Gosh” generated the same disorienting feeling I experienced on my own trip to Tianducheng.

Many images were near identical to those I captured during my own time in the village. While I didn’t have the backing of a professional crew or expensive drone, I still felt that I was able to capture the same apocalyptic quality of this unique locale.

Tianducheng Thoroughfare as seen in “Gosh.”
Tianducheng Thoroughfare as seen by me in 2015.

Gavras, who is known for his controversial videos for Justice and M.I.A., avoided his usual obvious political statements in “Gosh”, perhaps to ensure a complete production in China. However, the dream-like qualities elicited from the VR equipment in the opening scene begged many first-time viewers to ask if this bizarro-Paris was real, or a digitally-augment version of the real Eiffel Tower.

Filming in Tianducheng

The Behind the Scenes video accompanying “Gosh” shows many of the techniques used by Gavras to create the surreal feeling of Tianducheng. With that being, the video also showed some commonplace things in China that many outsiders certainly found novel. Scooters driven indoors, constant smoking and the infamous dancing grannies make an appearance as the boys learn their routine. As someone that lived in China for almost three years, this video really captured the controlled chaos of modern China I experienced first-hand.

Based on my own visit in 2015, I can see that Gavras and his production crew shot the entire music video in the neighborhoods surrounding the eighth largest Eiffel Tower replica in the world. The unfinished apartment blocks, karaoke rooms, church and hotel used by the crew are all within a few kilometers of the tower.

As I am a fan of Jamie xx’s music and Gavras’ previous work, I was able to appreciate the native Parisian director’s perspective on Tianducheng. In his interview with Dazed, Gavras said,

Well, it felt very fucking psycho. The whole trip was really weird. I stayed a month there. The fake Paris had a fake Versailles hotel which we were staying in. It was supposed to be an upper-middle class heaven, but it never really took off. It’s half-inhabited, like a ghetto (version of) central Paris – like if the estates of the outskirts of Paris were brought next to the Eiffel Tower, you know? I don’t know what to make of it.

“Gosh” DVD Cover

One of my favorite things about this music video wasn’t even featured on screen. The promotional packaging for the music video sent to media outlets nodded at other aspects of China’s knock-off culture, known as shanzhai.

With clear evocation of the cheap 10 yuan (~$1.60 USD) pirated DVDs found on many of China’s city streets, the DVD cover actually names Tiandu (in its original simplified Chinese) and features the flat, cheap cardboard found all around China. Likely, this DVD sleeve was part of Gavras’ overall vision, especially given the fact he spent so much time in Tianducheng prior and during filming. He appears to be knocking-off Chinese knock-offs in a sort of modern meta-ironic way so common these days.

Screenshot 2017-04-01 15.48.16
View of the base of tower at the end of the video.
Same ramshackle shack as mentioned in my previous post.

The music video will likely put Tianducheng on more China visitors’ day trip lists, but I think it will likely remain a faraway Chinese eccentricity to most. With that being said, Gavras and Jamie xx’s video brought an oddity to the global stage that was often relegated to niche travel sites like Atlas Obscura. “Gosh” was covered by major news organizations like NPR, architecture magazines, urbanism blogs and major music publications all looking to find meaning from this music video and location.

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