The day dawned rather hazy on June 6th, the day of the Dragon Boat Festival holiday in China, and the second day of the first Kama LOVE Festival in Beijing. Produced by Beijing Lovinc Culture and held on the green south of the Olympic Park, the festival attracted big-name international talent including Eels, Nouvelle Vague and Cowboy Junkies as well as stalwarts of the Chinese scene such as Wu Bai, Convenience Store, Huang Yaoming and Super VC. China Music Radar was there to take in the latest entry into China’s ever-increasing music festival scene.
In terms of location, Kama LOVE Festival has been the most centrally located one so far this year. The area by the Olympic Park is close to the center of town and readily accessible by car, bike or public transportation. Unfortunately, that accessibility suffered once audience members came out of the subway. A lack of signage plagued the perimeter of the festival grounds, and we were turned away from multiple would-be entrances before finally finding the correct gate. Your Radar correspondents may have spent the majority of Nouvelle Vague’s set walking around the entire perimeter of the grounds, looking for the way in.
Nevertheless, once we bought our tickets and finally made it inside, the grounds were, dare we say it, pretty cool. There was a respectable distance between the stages, copious seating in the concessions area and plenty of open space for the brand displays. And Kama got one of the most important aspects of a successful music festival right: readily available cold draft beer. Sure, we quibbled over the cost (RMB 20 was a little steep…), but the fact that the organizers had managed to obtain all the relevant licenses for beer and mixed drinks where so many had been foiled before is certainly cause for recognition. In addition to the beer, the Kama folks scored a coup (at least in this correspondent’s estimation) in finding Cheers, a new-to-the-scene wine distributor who offered RMB 8 glasses of perfectly drinkable Spanish Temperanillo and RMB 50 bottles, with a special 6 bottles for the price of 5 deal at the end of the night. Suffice to say, Kama kept its audience members cool and happy through beverage concessions for both days of the festival.
Another refreshing aspect of Kama was how good it sounded, at least to the audience. Yep, you heard right, in a city where our ears have truly gotten used to sound engineering most charitably described as “barely adequate,” the technicians and equipment at Kama LOVE Festival were top-notch. For example, the Eels backing band included a brass section and a flautist. All the instruments, whenever featured on a particular song, could be heard loud and clear from the very back of the grounds. Additionally, the ample space between the Love and Hope stages meant that sound pollution never plagued the acts performing on either stage. All in all, sound at Kama had to have been among the best we’ve heard at an outdoor festival in China.
Brands were a huge presence at Kama this year, from the big players of the Chinese market including Sina, Tencent, Renren, Taobao, Youku and Baidu to equally big international brands such as Mercedes-Benz, New Balance and Starbucks. Reactions from audience members to the brands’ presence and execution were decidedly mixed. While some attendees we spoke with appreciated the separation of the brands’ tents and displays from the main festival stages, others thought their isolation from the bulk of the audience meant that the brands were unsuccessful in penetrating their target market. Points have to be given for creativity though: besides the typical displays of cars from Mercedes and coffee samples at the Starbucks tent, New Balance furnished three life-sized sneakers for curious festivalgoers to put on and subsequently race each other 50 meters down an artificial track. Too bad the prospect of donning a sweaty, dirt-encrusted giant shoe in 30-plus degree weather was a little too much to ask of most bystanders, but hat tip for a genuinely engaging idea.
The Radar nearly physically collided with a roving pack of Kama Police somewhere between the animal ear-vendor and the beer tent. Groups of beautiful women in über-skimpy spandex outfits weaved in and out of the crowd, passing out odd stick-on glow lights to attendees. They were ostensibly representing Kama Classics, but served mostly as eye candy and camera fodder for the curious onlookers. But seriously, how did they manage to stay upright in those 4-inch heels in the sandy environs of Olympic Park?
Somewhat curiously, the Kama organizers only chose to publicize the artists on two of the four total stages at the festival. Besides the main Love and second Hope stages, there were also two electronic/DJ stages, Kama and Cloud Nine. Many artists also playing the festival had DJ sets on the minor stages, as well as local talent. Interestingly, Zhang Youdai, Kama Love’s main curator, was scheduled to close out both nights in the Cloud Nine Bar, but due to the time constraints plaguing each night, we can’t be certain he spun at all.
Short, early sets were an issue throughout the entire weekend. We heard that festival openers Afrokokoroots played only one song before exiting the stage, citing sound issues. Also on day one, audience members encountered the unexpected issue of sets running early. Canadian band Cowboy Junkies, a large draw for both the foreign and local crowd, played a full 45 minutes before their scheduled 6 pm start time. For reasons not entirely made transparent, the festival also concluded each night promptly at 9 pm. On the second and final night, Hope stage headliners Super VC played for less than 30 minutes before announcing they had to finish up. The early end put a bit of a damper on an otherwise festive atmosphere.
For their first year, the organizers of Kama LOVE Music Festival put on quite a good event. Though there were hiccups – a not terribly well-marked entrance, low attendance and premature conclusion come to mind – but all in all, we extend a hearty congratulations to LOVINC and the rest of the organizers for a job well done. To conclude, a few unsolicited suggestions from your friends at the Radar: one, where was the English-language advertising? You brought Nouvelle Vague, Cowboy Junkies and Eels, three groups all with fervent foreign following. And though we saw some foreign faces there, there was no English-language website for the festival. For that matter, there wasn’t really an easily-accessible Chinese-language website either. Well, thank goodness for Douban, at least. Two, maybe next time, schedule your festival so that it doesn’t coincide with China’s nationwide gaokao…the looming college-entry examinations were cited as one potential reason the festival’s curfew was so early both nights. Besides these minor quibbles, Kama LOVE was a thoroughly comfortable and enjoyable festival experience. We’re looking forward to next year!