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…
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.
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.
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