We’ve been blogging a bit about the Converse Love Noise tour, which wrapped a few weeks ago with a free grand finale show at Mao Live House in Beijing that incorporated all the supporting acts from the previous 10 days on the road. Converse brought a reporter and photographer from London’s Dazed Digital (the online offshoot of Dazed & Confused magazine) over to cover the tour, and the fruits of their labours are now available here.
by Stephen Zhao
It was in 1908 that the Chinese first proposed hosting the Olympics on their home turf, so the 2008 Olympics bear the weight of a 100-year-old national dream. Though we’d like to issue a moratorium on tired journalistic tropes, it’s undeniably apt to call the Beijing Olympics a “coming-out party” for a newly prosperous China.
Despite the government paying lip-service to the directive that we “should not link Olympics with politics,” of course the Games have been politicized. The maxim to “do the nation’s utmost to lead up to Olympics,” particular to China and the Chinese notion of saving-face, have made the Games both a topic of giddy fascination and a source of tension. An official with China’s Ministry of Public Security warned that “anti-China powers” and other “hostile cliques” are intensifying their campaign to destroy the Beijing Olympics, giving Chinese authorities the mandate to enact heavy-handed security measures in Beijing and supporting cities.
And so, live music venues began to feel the heavy hands come down…
Last week Beijing rockers P.K.14 and Queen Sea Big Shark hit the road with Split Works for a cross-country odyssey, the Converse Love Noise tour. The two groups are living out of buses and playing five Chinese cities over a ten-day period. For your viewing pleasure, a few pictures from Converse’s official tour blog: Continue reading
by Ryan Kellett
Major Olympics sponsors are known to treat their clients not only to premium tickets to the games but also to a set of lavish corporate events, and Beijing this summer should be no different. At past Olympics, everything from the invite-only cocktails to the blow-out branded outdoor event all include live music; but in post-Bjork China, with music festivals and concert venues dropping like flies, will the Beijing Olympics’ musical offerings be limited to a Party-approved iTunes playlist and some speakers?
Cramping Beijing nightlife’s style is the fact that the latest round of government regulations requires every single performance, foreign or local, during the Olympics to have a license from the Ministry of Culture. Rock music enclaves D-22 and the Stone Boat Bar have been shut down due to licensing issues, though fortunately D-22 has now opened its doors again. But other venues including Mao Livehouse, 2 Kolegas and Yugong Yishan look to have escaped trouble. Hortense Hallé, Director of Operations at China Creative Connections, is not worried about her projects, many of which include corporate events. “You simply need to have the IDs on file for all personnel and performers,” says Hallé, “as well as a signed statement saying you are not employing people with criminal histories.” She noted that many five-star hotels and venues are personally working with Public Security Bureau officials to ensure all regulations are met. Continue reading
Today marks the launch of Songs for Tibet, a new compilation album from some heavy-duty superstars, including Alanis Morisette, Dave Matthews and Sting. Following its global release on iTunes — just three days before the August 8 Olympic opening ceremony — the album will be made available through other retail channels.
A project of the Art of Peace Foundation in Washington DC, Songs for Tibet also features touchy-feely artists John Mayer, Vanessa Carlton, and Damien Rice, among others.
The Art of Peace Foundation is one of many groups who see the Olympics as a flashpoint to rally support for a cause and push the Chinese government on sensitive issues. The AFP reports:
China’s government censors have banned from shelves the June issue of Time Out Beijing‘s English addition, a valuable entertainment and nightlife guide, according to this article from the Times. While we have reason to doubt that Beijing’s live music venues will be allowed to operate normally in the coming months, Time Out‘s pulled plug means that foreigners will find it difficult to learn about what limited concerts are taking place in the capital for the forseeable future. The Times’ Jane McCartney reports that:
The ostensible reason given by the General Administration of Press and Publications for pulping the June issue was that the magazine lacked a proper licence. But Time Out Beijing has published ever since its launch without completing the proper paperwork and this had never raised eyebrows among the censors who were well aware of one of the most prominent of the tiny number of English-language publications in the capital… But magazine insiders said that they thought it unlikely that an edition would be available until after the Olympics as nervous censors move to reassert control over all publications before an expected flood of foreign visitors for the Games opening on August 8.
Burger King has the £85 Kobe beef burger, we have the RMB 100,000 (£7,350) entry visa. That’s not a typo. Sources tell CMR that this is the new cost of a visa for a foreign musician who wishes to perform in China. A club owner in Beijing notes that, from a government perspective, the astronomical fee is “a much more politically acceptable way to restrict foreign performances than simply to turn them down, because except for the biggest acts, this all but assures that organizers will take losses on any shows they organize, especially for bands that involve several people.” Let’s say for example that Tokyo Police Club wanted to come over and do a China tour: It would take a whopping RMB 400,000 just to get the four band members through immigration. That’s roughly the same price as 40 round-trip airfares from New York to Shanghai. For anything other than the most mainstream acts, this visa fee ensures a net loss on touring that will be too much to bear.
The irony, as the Beijing club owner mentions, is that this exorbitant new fee (which will hopefully deflate after the Olympics) won’t affect the Maroon 5s, Celine Dions and, ahem, Bjorks of the music world, “since a few hundred thousand additional RMB are probably well within the normal budget” for these international idols. Meanwhile, Chinese fans of more independent, under-the-radar music should gear up for a moratorium on international artists for the time being.
On a similarly foreboding note, we hear that last Friday a popular Beijing eatery “that had recently started a summer outdoor music series, had its show halted….According to one of the managers, a police officer simply walked up to [the] stage without saying a word to anyone in the restaurant and pulled the microphone out of the hand of the singer and said the show was over. He gave no explanation…” The silenced band, a folksy garage trio, are by all accounts apolitical. Still, authorities are keeping a close eye and a tight grip on any public setting that draws a crowd, no matter how innocuous their reasons for assembly.
Admittedly, Kenny G’s hair has generated a fair bit of controversy over the years. Still, the polite, successful, Starbucks featured artist and investor seems like the type of well-behaved saxophonist you’d like to bring home to mom and dad. Or rather to the Chinese government.
But the government didn’t take any chances at their April 30 awards ceremony for the 4th Olympic Songs Competition as part of the “100 Days Countdown to the Beijing Olympics.” The event in Beijing’s Forbidden City featured performances from Chinese pop stars and celebrities, including Liu Huan, Han Hong and Jackie Chan. Meanwhile, the musical stylings of Mr. G, who is currently in the midst of a China tour, were conspicuously absent. Rumour has it that due to the recent restrictions on international artists, the world-renowned saxophonist was not allowed to perform at the pre-Olympic event. Instead, he appeared on stage hoisting a Beijing 2008 Olympics placard for a photo op with all of the Chinese musicians and celebrities who had performed at the event.
So, the government meetings following Bjork’s outburst at the beginning of March are continuing. The following is a summary of a report on the behind-closed-doors discussion on March 18:
Additional measures (not yet approved) from SH Cultural Bureau re foreign performers in China:
1. Organizers must sign additional guarantees that performers will not comment on political issues from stage, etc.
2. A 50% of the total potential box office must be paid as a deposit on the show to the Cultural Bureau. Should performers break the law, this deposit will be retained by the government. Additional fines may be levied.
3. Artist performances will be closely monitored to conform to the government pre-approved set-lists.
4. Artists will not be allowed an unapproved encore.
This will make it a whole lot harder for us, particularly number 2. For bigger shows, this may be near to impossible…
P2Pnet recently picked up some of our Bjork Backlash ruminations, including a couple CMR quotes in an article titled, “The Bjork Effect, echoing still.” A heated (and at times vitriolic) discussion ensued in the comments thread. We’ve posted some of the more colourful comments below.
5 Responses to “The Bjork Effect, echoing still”
- Mostly Harmless Says:
March 26th, 2008 at 11:15 am
This story is so full of hypocritical doublespeak it makes my head swim. The Chinese Government is an oppressive dictatorial regime. THEIR position is completely indefensible, right along with the money grubbing promoter who would try to defend them. It is plainly obvious that this guy sees his cash cow as being threatened. I do not believe for a second that the government of China wishes to move towards a more open, free society. If they are loosening up at all, it is out of economic necessity and the wish to appear so, all the while maintaining the tightest of grips on Chinese public perception, opinion, and behavior through brutal oppression, censorship, and propaganda. Is government sanitized art going to bring anything to the Chinese people other than some lite entertainment, and most notably, wads of filthy lucre for those slimy enough to take it? To me this promoter, and ironically the artists who take the gigs are on par with the companies that did business with the Third Reich during WWII. At least Bjork spoke out, if you can call it that.
As the guy with a “cash cow”, I think you should try to be a promoter before you wax lyrical about something you know nothing about. My company has currently “invested” (i.e. lost) considerable amounts of money bringing good, influential bands to China. We are here because we believe that the power of music can help this country to develop in a positive way. We work with environmental organisations in an attempt to increase knowledge amongst the Chinese of all the harm that they are doing to our planet. We invest significant amount of ticket revenues into the migrant worker communities (if you don’t know about migrant communities, you have no right to comment on what’s happening in China) and we are doing our best to make China a nicer place to live.
You do not believe that the government wishes to open up? This may be true, but what when the next generation (who will have been exposed to these positive influences) get into power? Perhaps they will want to change things for the better because they know better. Or what happens when the middle class increase their clamour for freedom of speech and choice? We help this process in a very small way…
Do you think Western sanctions will work here? China owns the USA, so the world’s most powerful country does not actually have a particularly powerful bargaining position. We are arguing that Bjork’s actions were ill thought out and will benefit no-one but herself. The Chinese here don’t know or care what she said…
So please wind your neck in before you accuse any of us of working with the likes of the 3rd Reich again…
It’s a difficult time for me to be in China as I feel morally involved with everything happening at the moment. Problems in the Sudan, Xinjiang and most recently, Tibet are causing schisms within the international community living in China. Can we live and work in this country with a clear conscience or are China’s interests best served by us just getting our heads down and trying to facilitate change from within? A recent incident involving Bjork has set tongues wagging…
Instinctively, I doubt whether the alleged call to arms by Icelandic singer Bjork at her recent Shanghai concert (3/3/08) has anything to do with the events currently unfolding high on the Tibetan plateau. Whilst her outburst seems timely in hindsight, it is more likely to have just been a case of opportunism that has done more for singer’s own publicity machine than for the people of Tibet. The singer allegedly closed her set with a song unauthorised by the Chinese Ministry of Culture. “Declare Independence” was seemingly a dedication, ending with the word “Tibet”, twice. I allude to doubt because of the 10 or so people I knew at the show, only one was certain that she said the word. Whatever the truth may be, the controversy has come at a time when tensions over the Beijing Olympics are beginning to run high. Steven Spielberg’s conscience has deprived us of his hand at the opening ceremony and now the Tibetans themselves seem set to keep the attention of the world’s press firmly on Beijing in the run up to the summer games.
As to Bjork, my view is simple. As music promoters in one of the most closely monitored societies in the world, we have a duty to ensure that international artists buy into the belief that the long term benefits to this country are better served by increasing exposure to external influences, rather than soapboxing and risking complete shutdown. One of the things that we do here is bring real diversity and choice to young people. Artists coming into China will leave a longer lasting legacy to their fans and newcomers alike by encouraging the Chinese kids to embrace creative thinking, diversity and individuality within the confines of both positive thinking and rhetoric. Having the chance to see role models week in, week out, from dubstep DJ’s to self funded Belgian turbo folksters can only be good for a youth obsessed with money, celebrity and materialism.
Increasing competition in the media means that Chinese youth can actually choose what to read and, although official publications still have to go through extensive censorship procedures (monthly editions must be submitted to the authorities by the 15th of the previous month), reportage is on the up in both quality and variety.
Further, many local promoters work with incoming artists to spread knowledge. Masterclasses from Beatboxers, DJ’s & producers are given free to local artists, local bands are given chances to support and learn form more experienced international ones and venues and music infrastructure are improving.
Finally, the growing music scene gives rise to increased awareness of charitable organisations. See the Midi Festival linking (and giving prominence) to Greenpeace, Shanghai’s The Shelter doing a monthly night called the Shelter Foundation where takings are donated to children and environmental charities, and Split Works taking LA based band Ozomatli to a migrant worker community for the day (and inviting some migrant workers to the show afterwards) plus extensive support for the Jane Goodall Foundation at the 2007 Yue Festival.
So, where’s this all going? In short, there are problems in China as there are in all countries, but especially so in one undergoing such an enormous development in such a short time. Problems are not sorted (or even helped) by high profile rants that frighten a government whose primary concern is an orderly society. This causes renewed repression and a reversal of many of the positive changes that we have seen recently in our industry. Change has to initiate from the ground up, with China’s citizens starting to understand the problems they face and taking account for these themselves. Change comes from education and increased enlightenment. Shouts of Tibet at a concert for the privileged (tickets were US$50 – $250) will turn back the clocks on our industry and make it harder to facilitate this change, which would be tragic in it’s own way.
–Archie Hamilton, Split Works’ Managing Director