The sudden cancellation of 330 Metal Fest (330金属音乐节) yesterday alongside speculation that Midi Beijing and Strawberry Festival Beijing are off (alongside their counterparts in Shanghai, which was somewhat expected following the aftermath of the Bund stampede) leave us to question the extent of the impact this is going to have on small-medium sized creative businesses attempting to operate in China. It’s a question of degree: how far should the state go to guarantee the safety of the public, and at what point does the need for control become overreaching to the extent that it impedes domestic creative expression?
A Facebook post from the organiser of 330 Metal Fest shows the morbid, troubled expressions of music fans and musicians after being notified that the festival had been shuttered by local authorities. It was speculated in the comments thread that this was due to organisers overselling the event. As below, the organiser Mr. Kou from thrash band Suffocated sunk around 13,000 USD in the event.
As far as Midi and Strawberry go, Smart Beijing claims that festival organisers are struggling to obtain the proper permits to launch their events; an outcome that will surely leave a gaping whole in the year’s events calendar.
These are events that go far beyond the scale of passion projects, and at times it seems difficult to justify such moves. Despite this, we as an industry need to come to terms with the fact that the state will intervene as and when it sees fit – especially in cases where there is a perceived threat to public safety and/or the potential for disorder. Strawberry festival has been known to oversell to the point that allocated crowd control measures were barely able to cope, and once again, the Bund stampede recalibrated the level of the state’s scrutiny of any sort of large-scale congregation.
It’s too easy to look at our situation and to claim that the powers that be here are unjust, and intent on controlling and repressing any opportunity for creative expression. It’s a question of degree – there is a degree of leeway, and a (at times opaque) process in place for enabling entrepreneurial individuals to host events. If organisers deviate from the prescribed list of do’s and don’ts, then they bear the risk. And if they check all the boxes, they still bear the risk.
On the other hand, the cancellation of 330 (one of many casualties), the shutting down of venues, and even spot raids collectively set a precedent for the next generation of creators, who from the outset are faced with the burden of proof. The reams of bureaucracy and the hoops all aim to level one question at the Mr. and Ms. Kou’s of what could one day become one of the world’s most vibrant creative nations: “how do we know you’re not up to no good?”. This isn’t a starting point; it’s a toxic paranoia.
*Header image by DM-Simon