Friday, December 17, 2010

Industry Interview: How Midi Festival Is Leading China's Live Music Boom

Shan Wei with his all time favourite band from Germany, Deine Lakaien

After the successful launch of of the Changjiang Midi festival in October, I had the pleasure to speak to Deputy General Manager Shan Wei about the growth of Midi Festivals since 2000, the role of music festivals in nurturing and expanding China's rock and metal scene and their importance to today's bands, labels and music companies.

This year was the 12th Midi Music Festival aka Changjiang Midi Music Festival. How has the festival evolved over the years?

Midi is the first festival in China to ever bring the concept of an open air rock festival to Chinese people. It started on a very small scale (one stage only with a gathering of approximately two thousand) inside the Midi music school in the early years until this year in 2010 when it was held twice - in May in Beijing and October in Zhenjiang. Whether it was held in a downtown park or in a countryside field, it was successful enough to attract around twenty thousand festival goers each day with multiple stages and music genres. A lot of people look at it as a miracle, but I think the point is that Midi and its team, its acts and its fans continue to grow with China's rock scene and live music market - the success of one increases the success of the other.

For example, during the first Midi festival in 2000, I was there just for fun as a rock fan as well as a music editor for China Radio International. Muma, a well-known Chinese rock artist was there too when he was just one of the Midi school students and an inglorious young performer. I kept going to the Midi festival and would see Muma play at the Midi festival year after year, but we didn't meet until 2005 when I started to manage festivals elsewhere (Beijing Pop Festival, for which I certainly took some inspiration from the Midi festival). Then I became Muma's manager and we worked together and shared the festival experience. I joined Midi in 2009, and Muma continued rocking and headlining different festivals in addition to the Midi festival. Whether you believe it or not, I believe every rock music fan in China has his or her own personal story of Midi and the story must go on. We are all like one big happy family through the Midi festival, which is ever evolving.

The Beijing Midi Music School signed a 10 year contract with the Zhenjiang City Administration to support the festival. How important is the role of local administrations in logistics and marketing for festivals in China today?

Working with local government will definitely make festival management much easier and much smoother. There can be still challenges, but they can be worked out as long as we keep the spirit of the music in mind and know how to communicate with authorities, with a little patience. With the support of local administrations, the work with the venues, media, and government offices, etc., will be more effective in practice than previously. Moreover, the festival and rock artists can get more and more exposure through mainstream media.

The Changjiang Festival had an impressive list of foreign acts, such as Loudness, Soulfly, and Shadows Fall. What are some of the challenges in assembling such a line-up? And how have festival goers' tastes, perceptions and attitudes changed toward foreign acts over the years?

Shadows Fall(美国)
Sure, we got a quite loud and heavy line-up for this Changjiang Midi festival. As you know, China's rock scene emerged in the hard/thrash metal era, and its growth was inspired by western grunge, new metal, pop punk, British-pop and even some extreme music. With more and more festivals coming out in the last two years, we believe it is time to provide a paradise for the many metalheads in China. We realized, after doing weekend showcases in Zhenjiang, that everyone from local citizens to officers all love hard rock and heavy metal! The most challenging thing about working with this type of line-up is the technical part involved in production - balancing and fitting different technical requirements for those metal headliners who utilize the same stage.

As for foreign acts, I believe festival goers all love to see foreign artists especially for those they are really into, as well as constantly giving their great support to many of the Chinese bands.

The number of music festivals in China has literally exploded over the past two years. What is contributing to the sudden growth and how has it impacted the way music fans discover music? All in all, has the impact been positive for the live music market?

I think there are several reasons for the festival explosion in China:

1) The live music market is becoming the major way for music companies and record labels to raise awareness of bands, make profits and keep the music business going; that's why more and more companies and even individuals are becoming involved in music festivals.

2) Local governments, enterprises and media are starting to have open mind about rock music and culture. They realize that music festivals will be a good channel for promotion, cultural exchange and tourism.

3) For more and more young people, especially urban youth, being a festival goer is synonymous with being cool, fashionable, unique, and being seen as having a certain lifestyle.

With the live music market growing, it does change the way music fans get their music. The older generation listens to music first, and then goes to see a live performance. Younger generations prefer going to live performances where they find their preferences with respect to bands and music. They then begin to find out more about the bands they like and may even join the band's fan club online! I think that is definitely positive for the market.

What can we expect from Midi in 2011?

Bigger, Better, Cooler, More!

By Eric de Fontenay

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