An industry insider presents a crash course in the basics of each of China’s 5 existing music festivals:
Midi Festival: China’s longest running festival, Midi was established in Beijing in 2000. Run by the headmaster of the Midi School of music and his wife
The Midi Festival was founded as and remains a platform for the school’s students. With a non-corporate focus and a policy of generally not financing band fees/flights, the festival’s music standards have always fairly underwhelming, with essentially the same bands year after year (probably also due to a lack of depth in the alternative Chinese music scene). The lineup is mostly playing metal! However, with a ticket price of 50 RMB (US$7.1), Midi attracts an estimated 50,000 Chinese over its 4-day duration. In 2008, Midi is planning to come to Shanghai for the first time. The organisers eschew overt corporate branding and strive to keep ticket prices low and leverage relationships to allow for increasingly better production standards. 2008′s headliners are Mando Diao (who were a second-stage act at last year’s Beijing Pop Festival) and Danish band Raunchy. Midi do great work for Greenpeace and should be applauded for their commitment to the grassroots of Chinese music.
Beijing Pop Festival: Started in 2004 by the son of an (English) Hong Kong-based property magnate, BPF has always been hampered by having a small staff and a boss who started the festival more as a hobby than as a purely professional enterprise.
BPF’s lineups have always been more about names and less about exciting live acts – the 1st year featured Ian Brown and Common, the 2nd year Supergrass, Placebo and Sebastian Bach. Year 3 was Nine Inch Nails, Public Enemy, Marky Ramone and the New York Dolls. Nine Inch Nails bucked the trend and put on an incredible performance, although they shipped in most of their own gear out of frustration at local “deaf ears” to their requests. Production is bare-bones and attendance is solid but tempered due to late announce dates and lack of strong promotion, which is ironic considering a rumoured US$1.5m sponsorship war-chest and a ticket price of RMB 200. The venue (Chaoyang Park) is problematic, as the local police demand a 30m “golden circle” around the front of the main stage. Rumour has it that BPF may not happen in 2008, due to timing concerns surrounding the Olympics and the organiser’s conflicts with local authorities.
Modern Sky Festival: Modern Sky Records is China’s only serious indie record label and home to many superstars once alternative music gets more of a hold in the mainstream.
Modern Sky Records has been operating for 10 years and has continuously supported the underground scene. The inaugural MS Festival was set up to commemorate the record company’s 10-year anniversary, and was considered a success. With the bulk of performing bands made up from Modern Sky’s roster of artists, there was also one foreign headliner: NYC’s the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. Production was done on a shoestring budget, but the vibe was good. The ticket price was RMB 60, and thousands of Chinese kids showed up. Word from the horse’s mouth is that 2008′s headliner will most likely be Blonde Redhead.
Yue: Shanghai’s first international-class music festival, Yue was feted for its good vibe and the high quality of production and talent on display. A slightly disappointing turnout of around 3,500 can be attributed to late promotion and a headliner unsuited to Chinese audiences. (Faithless have a huge following globally but have very little recognition in China.)
The event was officially endorsed by the Shanghai Tourist Board (as part of the Golden Week Festival) and was held in Zhongshan Park – a large and high-profile park in the centre of the city. Yue received sponsorship from Bacardi, Converse and Tiger Beer, as well as significant media partnerships. The festival also supported the environmental education group Roots and Shoots to the tune of 5% of gross ticket revenue. 2007′s bill included Faithless, Ozomatli and Talib Kweli, with many Chinese bands supporting. The second iteration will feature a change of venue, a larger format and more regional headliners.
Lijiang Snow Mountain Festival: A 2-or-3-day festival set in the mountains of Kunming, about 100km from the Tibetan plateau, LSM is curated by Chinese rock legend Cui Jian. The first festival was held in August 2002; the second festival was held in October 2007.
Featuring almost an entirely Chinese roster, LSM is fairly inaccessible location-wise. It is approximately 3 hours by plane from the Eastern seaboard.