This clip from the Fuse reality show NOFX: Backstage Passport recently made its way onto youtube, filmed during the band’s April 2007 trip to Beijing to play Star Live. The show itself is off the hook: Frontman Fat Mike gives the audience some much needed stage-diving lessons, later observing that the gig “felt like a 1982 punk show.” Jason Magnus, president of the show’s Beijing promotion group Rock For China, pronounces the concert — Beijing’s first performance by an American punk band — “historic.”
Unfortunately, the video makes for an effective public service announcement warning foreign artists to avoid playing in China. The segment gives the clear impression that the California punkers are being bamboozled by Rock For China, who cavalierly inform the band that they are powerless to regulate counterfeit ticket sales. Despite a packed 1,000+ capacity venue and tickets selling for RMB 150-180 (US $20-25), NOFX doesn’t see a dime.
The band members are sure they’re being taken for a ride, and after watching the clip we were inclined to agree with them. It’s the responsibility of professional promoters to ensure that no one gets in for free, and an extra RMB 5,000 is a small price to pay for reliable security at a venue of this size. But the cringe-inducing video also seems slanted to make Jason Magnus and Shan Wei of Rock for China look as shady and buffoonish as possible. We thought we’d talk to the promoters directly and give them a chance to set the record straight. When reached for comment, Shan Wei told us that the footage had been cleverly edited to suit NOFX’s purposes, and added that:
Anyone who has been deeply involved in China/Beijing’s live music scene, should know how much money the Star Live’s rental is, how many a free tickets a promoter has to provide to medias, venues, government…and how wild the blackmarket is….the cost of the show was big because we do everything professionally and legally—permits, working visas, custom declaration, full securities, good production, promotion and hospitality, and additional costs on the HK-BJ round trip for their asian tour support act…since there were no cash sponsor on this show, at last we also lost money.
It also seems like some of the logistical nitty gritty got lost in translation. Midway through the video, NOFX’s manager is incredulous that the venue rental costs “50,000 dollars.” In reality, Star Live’s cost is RMB 50,000 (US$ 7,200).Whether you side with the band or the promoters on this one, perhaps the only aspects of the video that aren’t open to debate are the enthusiasm of the audience and the cultural (if not financial) success of the gig itself. A fan base for alternative music is growing in China, along with an evolving concert promotion business. Building relationships between musicians and trusted promoters is one key element of moving the scene forward. NOFX’s adventures in Beijing are a reminder to musicians to approach China cautiously but optimistically.