By Jay Mark Caplan
Photos of Strawberry and CMV by Haidi Lun
Photos of MIDI by Li Le Wei
Another May holiday, another bevvy of music festivals beckoning Chinese youth to get outside and let loose! Here are some festival snapshots of youth experiences and our own impressions and insights.
With the cheapest price of entry and most picturesque grassy grounds, Strawberry attracted a broad audience curious about this new festival thing they have heard about in the news.
As usual, there were plenty of extroverts peacocking around the sponsor tents and flea markets in their coolest or most outlandish outfits.
But this year’s Strawberry left many Beijing leading edge youth grumbling about the event’s diluted counterculture spirit; even the bands seemed a little bored.
Out-of-town alternative youth making pilgrimage to Strawberry for the first time were still impressed with the vibrancy of Beijing youth culture.
But first-time mainstream visitors following the hype were only modestly pleased, not quite sure what all the fuss is about.
WANG PENG, 23, from Shandong province, working in Beijing as a government clerk.
China Youthology Why are you here today?
Wang Peng: I just want to relax and spend some time with my girlfriend. We heard about this last year, a report said this is the place where everybody is going.
CY: So what do you think?
There are too many people. Whenever there is a holiday, all parts of Beijing will be too crowded.
CY: What about the music?
We are sitting down relaxing actually; we didn’t really listen to the music.
CY: What kind of music do you like best?
Nothing in particular, as long as it is relaxing.
CY: Does today’s music festival live up to the expectations that you had before you came?
Well, the air here is not very good, but other than that not much different. My main purpose in coming here is just to relax.
ZHANG YI LIN, 23:
“I thought it was a festival for eating strawberries! Why am I here? I dunno, just going where the people are.”
YAO YAO, 22, B2C Management:
China Youthology: Your whole group is from Tianjin?
Yao Yao: Yeah, we met on a BBS and came down here together.
CY: Any feelings or thoughts from watching such performances?
I feel happy.
It’s a form of release. Work is too tiring, it’s relaxing here. Bands I like give me a sense of freedom, liberation and comfort.
CY: Do you think that environments like these that allow you to feel free and relax with your friends are too few in China?
Yes, they only happen a few times a year.
But China music festivals are becoming worse. Sure, the atmosphere now is better and there are more people, but the festivals are less pure because they are becoming increasingly commercialized. Last time, the people who came are more of pure music lovers. Now, there are more people, things are messier and many come just to join in the fun.
More festival madness after the jump.
Beijing’s original music festival, MIDI continues to target diehard rock, metal, and punk fans, maintaining a subcultural community spirit.
MIDI’s dusty, muddy festival grounds were bombarded by heavy winds and bereft of sponsors or concession stands. The small crowd had to deal with a lot of dirt.
But the fans didn’t care, checking the daily schedules and eagerly rushing from stage to stage to see their favorite bands.
The filthy chaos and noisy performances left mainstream visitors feeling uncomfortable. But for youth that feel a tribal sense of belonging to this community, MIDI remains an anticipated annual event, the rough edges a welcome deterrent to outsiders.
红发RYAN, 28 (not pictured) from Douban page:
Every time MIDI returns, it makes me feel like a soldier
The scratches a dog suffers are tantamount to medals
And dusty ruined shoes are our badges of honor
As I get older, pogoing makes my knees swell
But I can still break my bag’s shoulder straps as I jump
Can release my frustrations of the entire year
Can release the volatile passion of youth
Strawberry is a music festival, but MIDI is a holiday, a real utopia
When a band that you have seen countless times in a bar appears on stage
You rush forward with the heartbeat of an 18-year-old
With the excitement of when we first heard rock and roll
The sun sets, and everyone was dancing in a sky full of smoke and joy, full of happiness
CHINA MUSIC VALLEY
The latest addition to Beijing’s music festival offerings, CMV did not have any alternative community ties, and no lifestyle offerings like flea markets and sponsor tents. What they did have was the season’s blowout marquee performer, Avril Lavigne.
Avril is has a strong fan base in China, and for devoted Avril fans (as in the entire audience), this was an epochal moment. Fans sang along to lyrics about disenchantment and rebellion in a powerful moment of collective expression.
These ordinary Chinese youth were not your usual music festival crowd, but they sure had a lot of passion for their idol.
It was a great night, but without Ms. Lavigne, CMV has not built much of its own culture or community.
BANNY, graphic designer and long time Avril fan:
“I think its friggin awesome! I’m so glad I’m here.
I’m the designer for this show, we did all the flyers and posters. I’m so glad to be part of this team, it feels like I’m doing something great.
This is the most special festival, not like those other little festivals, this is BIG! I mean I can see Avril, and the equipment is really good, and there are so many people here.
Avril, I’ve liked her since I was in college, since 2003, and when I see her I feel like I’m younger again! Really excited, I’m so excited!”
MA YIN QUN, 23, teacher:
“We’re here with a group from our school, we live at the base of the mountain. This is great, we all love Avril. This is my first time at a music festival, and I like it! It’s good, very liberating from daily pressures, it’s very good!”
THE KIDS ARE ALRIGHT…
The explosion of the music festival industry in China is probably because Chinese youth are eager for group experiences that liberate them from daily pressures.
But there seems to be a tension developing with the increased appeal.
The core music festival audience wants spaces where alternative communities with a common interest gather, to seek refuge from mainstream Chinese society.
But mainstream Chinese youth just want a cathartic experience, and that sense of community is lost on them.
At the end of the day, everybody wants more than just a couple of days lost in the crowd. The challenge is how to create accessible experiences that still preserve the excitement of a powerfully collective cultural moment.