Festival high notes
Updated: 2011-07-26 11:14
By Mu Qian (China Daily)
Music festivals, like Ocean Midi Music Festival in Rizhao, Shandong province, are more than just about music. They represent a lifestyle that appeals to youths. Li Xiaolong / for China Daily
Like many other Chinese rock bands, Hanggai is in the fortunate position of being able to decide which music festival invitation to accept and which to turn down.
"This year's schedule is busy, as we will play at more than 10 music festivals in China. We could play at more if their dates didn't overlap with each other," says Ilchi, vocalist and multi-instrumentalist of the band.
The increase in Hanggai's festival dates has to do with not only the band's success, but also the growth of music festivals in China.
There will be more than 100 music festivals held across the country in 2011, a remarkable figure compared to 10 years ago when music festivals were largely unheard of in the country.
During this year's May Day holiday, four festivals were held simultaneously in Beijing alone. More were held in other cities.
Many festivals are held in July and August to target students and young urban people, such as the InMusic Festival in Zhangbei of Hebei province (July 29-31), Ocean Midi Music Festival in Rizhao of Shandong province (Aug 4-7), and Peach Island Music Festival in Zhoushan of Zhejiang province (Aug 5-6).
Nowadays music festivals are held on almost all Chinese public holidays, and the climax comes during the National Day holiday, which lasts for seven days, from Oct 1-7.
Apart from established festivals like Midi and Modern Sky, this year's National Day holiday will see a number of new festivals.
Big Love Music Festival, to be held in October in Mianyang, Sichuan province, will feature US band Extreme's Gary Cherone (first from right) and Taiwan singer Dick and Cowboy (left). Jiang Dong / China Daily
"We expect to attract an overall audience of 200,000," says Chen Shu, director of the Big Love Music Festival, a new festival that will be held in Mianyang, Sichuan province, from Oct 2-5.
"We hope our festival will be a part of the holiday events for residents of Sichuan and Chongqing, as well as people who travel to this area during that time."
The festival will present more than 80 acts on three stages, dedicated to rock, pop and electronic music, in an effort to provide more choices for audiences, Chen says.
As many music festivals will be held at the same time during the National Day holiday, a lot of musicians will be flying around China to play at different festivals.
In a country where a mature commercial system for live rock shows has yet to be developed, music festivals have become an important platform for Chinese rock music.
With the increase in the number of festivals, the competition for good bands has led to a surge in musicians' fees. In the last three or four years, most bands' performance fees have doubled or even tripled, according to one insider who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Xu Xiaofeng, president of China Music Industry Park, believes that Chinese rock musicians were underpaid, and music festivals are correcting this situation.
"In the past, China's music market was dominated by pop singers who performed with recorded accompaniment. Now, music festivals are providing opportunities for rock bands and helping the development of China's live music," Xu says.
In competing for audiences, Chinese music festivals are also trying to put on more international artists. Sinead O'Connor played at Holisland festival in 2010, and Mr. Big performed at Midi festival in May 2011, among others.
The upcoming InMusic Festival will feature UK trip-hop star Tricky, while the Big Love festival will have American band Extreme's frontman Gary Cherone as its headliner.
"I'm very excited about my first China show, and it is all the better that it's a festival, because you get to play to a lot of people at a festival," says Cherone, who will perform at the Big Love festival on Oct 2.
"I think this is the beginning of something that will become bigger. When other Western bands see us playing to big crowds in China, they will come over."
Cherone is already planning to come back to China next May for a five-day tour to promote his new album.
"There are not enough local bands to satisfy the growing demands of Chinese music festivals. I believe more international big names will come to perform at festivals in China," says Li Hongjie, founder of the InMusic Festival.
The InMusic Festival has formed agreements with Japan's Fuji Rock and Summer Sonic festivals, which are held around the same time as InMusic Festival, to share international artists in the future.
Apart from music, Xu believes the selling point of music festivals is a lifestyle that is novel and attractive to Chinese people, and he believes this is an important factor for the prosperity of China's music festival industry as a whole.
China Music Industry Park will invest in 15 to 20 festivals in 2011, and Xu hopes the number will reach 50 within three years.
"China's music festivals are only beginning to enter a phase of industrial development. There is a lot to do in the future," he says.
Xu estimates the roughly 100 Chinese music festivals in 2011 will attract about 3 million people.
"When music festivals have really become a part of Chinese people's lives, they should reach at least 10 million people, which means about 300 festivals," he says.
Eric de Fontenay, founder and president of Music Dish, a United States media company that has been working to provide Chinese music festivals with exposure to Western markets, believes the number of China's music festivals will grow until it reaches an unsustainable level - where there are too many to attract a decent audience, then there will be a stage of consolidation.
"I have no idea when that will happen though. In China, everything is compressed. What might take decades to develop in the West happens in years in China," De Fontenay says. "It is one of the things that makes the market so exciting."