Same Time, Same Place: Strawberry Festival 2012 in review

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Words + Photos: Ami Li

Hilarious: note the huangniu ticket seller in the foreground

Your faithful Radar correspondents repeated a May holiday weekend ritual once again in 2012 by going to Modern Sky’s Strawberry Festival in Beijing. The overarching feeling of the whole weekend was repetition: same routes, same festivals, same artists. Same sponsors, even.

Located at Tongzhou Canal Park (despite our claims to the contrary – sorry again) eight stages vied for sound supremacy over the park grounds. New this year was the A Cappella stage, where co-ed voices blended mellifluously over new classics including “Dancing Queen” and “I’ll Be There For You” while the mysterious Chǎ stage played host to only 4 acts per day, including the ever-popular MC Stone (石头). Headliners for the main Strawberry Stage included Blonde Redhead, Queen Sea Big Shark and Xie Tianxiao, whereas other foreign acts invited included Laura Jansen, Jeans Team, Pitchtuner, The On Fires and Tahiti 80. Other festival favorites such as New Pants, Hanggai, Convenience Store, Carsick Cars and Hedgehog rounded out the lineup. Metal stalwarts Voodoo Kungfu, Army of Jade Kirin, Twisted Machine and Liquid Oxygen Can kept the Overdrive Stage rocking all weekend long and young blood in the form of Wanderlust, CAssette, Steely Heart held it down in the early afternoon slots.

Fresh flowers in abundance at the Veet Tent

Although there was no car on stage this year, branding was big once again at the festival. Dairy company Yili presented the Love Stage, while gaming computer brand Alienware took over the Electronic Stage. Q Magazine’s Chinese version had the Planet Stage, with an eclectic combination of local and foreign talent. If festival goers tired of the noise emanating from the stage, they could pose in Ray-Ban’s Plexiglas cage-cum-photobooth or in front of Veet’s wall of fresh pink roses (which have exactly what to do with razorless hair removal?)

Before the lights went out on Laura Jansen

We’ve long since abandoned the notion that anyone goes to a music festival to actually see bands, but some standout performances of the weekend included a foot-stomping, rousing set by Hanggai, New Pants’ infectiously fun laser-light show and sparkling electro-pop, and a set by Laura Jansen where the lights went out halfway through. Undeterred, her fans whipped out mobile phone flashlights as she serenaded the captive audience in the dark. Sound bleed was a major issue once again this year, as riffs and bass competed with guitar and vocals between stages located sometimes less than 200 meters apart.

Overall, Strawberry is dependable in both its merits and faults. It seems like it will always be in Tongzhou, always have sound issues and lack alcohol, but always invite bands that appeal to their core audience both local Chinese and foreign. However anticlimatic it was to see Blonde Redhead back headlining a Modern Sky festival so soon after their last China appearance, we won’t lie – we parked ourselves in front of the Strawberry stage all day on the first day to see Hanggai, Cao Fang, Re-TROS, Blonde Redhead, and New Pants all in succession. And it was a damn good time.

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