Beijing music festivals in may: a Wave of Music

Beijing music festivals offer an opportunity for Chinese music lovers to get up close to their favourite musicians from abroad. The spacious venues, the tremendous atmosphere and the total immersion of music give music festivals a charm that other live concerts do not have.

Beijing music festivals

Confucius Institute Reporter
Li Chengcheng.
Photography by
Chaoyang Cultural Center
On the last day of the 2014 Strawberry Music Festival, Tongzhou Park was still packed. Rushing to another stage with my friends, I was suddenly distracted by a redhead coming towards us. “Gus!” I shouted.

“Hey Cheng!” he also called out as he ran over excitedly and gave me an Aussie hug. Gus was younger than me, but  he and I studied at the same school in Melbourne. After high school he was admitted to Australian National University, the top university in Australia, and majored in Law and Chinese Studies. Now he is studying Chinese at Beijing Language and Culture University. We have known each other for seven years and it is not the first time that we have run into each other at a music festival. Five years ago we bumped into each other in the pogoing crowds at the Melbourne Soundwave Festival. Ever since then we have been amazed by the extraordinary magnetism of music that brings people together.

Restless Expectation

After studying abroad for ten years I would call myself an avid fan of music and moreover a devoted music festival-goer. Each year when the major Beijing music festivals.

in Australia started their promotion campaigns, I would immediately list the bands I wanted to see and keep a close watch on the ticket release dates. Once the tickets were released, I would fight for them on the internet with millions of other music fans. Sometimes I had to ask for leave so that I could attend a festival in order to enjoy the musical festivities with young people from across the country. Gus was the same, so were many other music lovers. Music festivals were where we looked forward to partying. As a kind of gathering, music festivals are a way of life. Cui Jian, father of Chinese rock music, said in 1995, “A music festival is a Utopia. I hope to organize a music festival oneday, to have millions of people get together and enjoy music freely.” At that time what the Chinese knew about music festivals was limited to the Woodstock Music & Art Fair held in 1969 with an audience of 500,000 people, where many legends were born. It was the Holy Grail for many rock musicians with a Utopian dream.

In 2000 China had its first real music festival – the Midi Music Festival, where more than ten school bands of the Beijing Midi School of Music drew an audience of around 2,000. Some music bands who attended the first Midi, such as Tongue, Miserable Faith, GALA, have now become patriarchs of Chinese rock music. Since then more music festivals have appeared in China, including Zhangbei Music Festival, Snow Mountain Music Festival, Strawberry Music Festival, etc., drawing audiences numbering in the tens of thousands. Gradually, music festivals have formed their own culture in China.

Beijing music festivals  - Strawberry Music Festival
Passionate music fans set up tents at Strawberry Music Festival.

Beijing music festivals offer an opportunity for Chinese music lovers to get up close to their favourite musicians from abroad. It is at the festivals that Chinese music lovers have been able to get up close to bands like Suede, Metallica, Korn, etc. that have greatly influenced generations of Chinese musicians. The captivating festivals also draw many Chinese music superstars. At the Strawberry Music Festival this year, Maggie Cheung (Zhang Manyu in Mandarin), an award-winning film star, presented her music career debut in front of thousands of people.

The spacious venues, the tremendous atmosphere and the total immersion of music give music festivals a charm that other live concerts do not have. More and more people are falling in love with Beijing music festivals and are happily joining the throng of revellers.

Music festivals are a combination of concerts and parties. It turns personal music appreciation into a group experience. With the development of technology, devices for listening to music have changed, from gramophone to walkman, iPod, mobile phone…, but music festivals, the most primitive and direct way to enjoy music, have always been the most popular medium for music fans. The booming waves of sound pumped out by the large sound systems are able

Beijing music festivals

Festive events

Since 2010 China has replaced “the golden week of May”, a seven- day holiday, with a three-day holiday around International Labour Day on 1 May. Many people have had to give up their long-haul travel plans and find alternative recreational activities closer to home. For pop music lovers, to spend their short holiday attending a music festival is something to be savoured.

Beijing is known for being a much crowded city, more and more people are moving into the city and moreover, its residents are always rushing in a hurry to save time. Without exception, there is always a huge crowd at a music festival, but it feels very different in this kind of crowdedness. Since they are held during a short holiday, festivals like Midi, Strawberry are more relaxing, compared with the famous music festivals abroad. People chat in groups under the trees; some put blankets on the ground or set up a tent and relax on the grass to enjoy the sunshine, listen to the music and have picnics with family and friends.

For the past nine years the Music Waves Festival has been held at Chaoyang Park in the centre of Beijing. The tickets are quite affordable, so people can enjoy music directly with ease. This year the Festival not only encouraged participation by local musicians, many Latin-American and Caribbean musicians were also invited.

Another feature of Beijing music festivals is the mix of music with other art forms and creative activities. Popular craft fairs have become a part of the festivals. Almost everything you would expect to find at a festival is available, from hand-made accessories and creative T-shirts to organic drinks. There are also stalls selling antique clothes and second-hand vinyl records, attracting the young hipster crowd. The increasing number of stalls from festival sponsors at recent festivals might be a sign of commercialization, but o  the other hand these stalls also bring a lot of enjoyment to the revellers, who can be the first to try the latest products from worldrenowned brands and win generous souvenirs through following relevant Weibo (the Chinese equivalents of Twitter) and WeChat. The fans at Beijing music festivals offer a golden marketing opportunity for the sponsors, and in turn the sponsors’ lightly dressed sexy models have become spectacle of the event.

A music festival is a medium to  bring people together. For the past nine years the Music Waves Festival has been held at Chaoyang Park in the centre of Beijing. The tickets are quite affordable, so people can enjoy music directly with ease. This year the Festival not only encouraged participation by local musicians, many Latin-American and Caribbean musicians were also invited, which filled Chaoyang Park, a familiar place for Beijingers, with an exotic South American atmosphere. At dusk the park resounded with the sound of Soul and Jazz. People danced to the artists’ beats and kids on their parents’ shoulders also clapped in time. The sound of the bass and applause reverberated throughout the scenic park.

Music has the power of transcending all boundaries and barriers, which is testified by the fact that Gus and I met at music festivals on both sides of the Pacific Ocean, and that countless strangers gathered for the sake of music. Music festivals bring together all sorts of music and allow them to be on different stages, but at a single venue. Therefore, you can find people of different ethnicities and different musical interests at one place. There are hard rockers clad in black and desperately thrashing their heads in time with the electric guitar; there are also electronic trendsetters dressed in bright colours. Most participants, of course, are people from all over the world, singing along with the pop performers and waving their hands. All these festivals have turned Beijing in May into a festive sea of music.


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Published in Confucius Institute Magazine.
Number 32. Volume III. May 2014.

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