Saturday, August 21, 2010

Another new Music Festival?!

I hate to say this, but we're in danger of having almost too many music festivals in and around Beijing these days. I could get to miss those simpler days of yore when we just had Midi in May and the (usually eminently missable) Chaoyang Pop Festival in October.

The latest entry in the field - the enigmatically titled Max Star Festival - has been on at Ditan Park this week.

There are a number of curious things about this event:

1) It runs all week, rather than the usual two, three, or four days of any of the other festivals. However, it's only got the one main stage (the DJ area at the north end of the park doesn't really count, as far as I'm concerned) and it's playing in the evenings only (well, the advertised start time is 4pm, but when I went yesterday it seemed as though nothing had happened before 5.30pm), so overall it's probably a similar number of bands to the other smaller or mid-sized festivals.

2) It's running in the evenings only. You'd think they might be tempted to extend the schedule on the weekends, at least - but no. It's strictly a 4pm-10pm (well, 5pm-9.30pm seems to be more like it) deal.

3) It's running during a regular working period, not linked to any of China's national holidays. A bold move - but how many people are going to turn out regularly on a 'school night'?? Well, OK, maybe it will work. I suppose most Beijing rock fans are students, who are on their summer break now, or rich kids who don't really have to work for a living, or fellow members of the demi-monde - musicians, writers, artists, poseurs who tend not to have conventional employment, or at least not to work very conventional hours.

4) It's being held slap in the middle of August, when the weather is usually appalling (sweaty and rainy); and when a good 30%-40% of foreigners, and just about all of the full-time Mandarin students (who are a huge demographic for this kind of thing), are away on holiday. For me, this ends up being a plus: it's nice to go to a festival for once where at least 90% of the fans are Chinese (although I worry about how many Chinese fans can afford an 80-kuai asking price for a ticket even once, let alone on a series of nights throughout the week).

5) It's had just about ZERO publicity. I'm sure it's had postings on Chinese music sites like Douban, but there seems to have been nothing in the way of posters or flyers, nothing in the way of word of mouth. I go out to small music bars around my 'hood - Jianghu, Jiangjinjiu, Zui Yuefang - just about every week, and nobody in these places has mentioned that this festival was about to happen. It certainly hasn't achieved much awareness in laowai circles (although that might be partly because Time Out and The Beijinger have got such circulation problems these days: these past few months it's been just about impossible to find a copy of either of them anywhere inside the 2nd Ringroad). The latest bi-weekly edition (and therefore most up-to-date of the laowai rags) of City Weekend has listings for the event, but no feature story. That's the only reason I knew it was on at all. Well, that and Beijing Daze (Badr's usually pretty well tuned in to the jungle telegraph, but even he didn't seem to have much advance warning of this one).

And 6), it's in Ditan Park. And not just the little enclave inside the north gate where they've run the Ditan Folk Festival the last few years; actually in the main altar enclosure, right in the middle of the park. Now, I LOVE the idea of a festival that I can walk to. And it's quite a fun space: the elevated altar platform is a good height for a stage (and plenty big enough to provide adequate backstage facilities for the performers, too); there's lots of room around the periphery for merchandising stalls and such (although only two or three refreshment stalls in evidence, which wouldn't have been nearly enough if the weather had been hotter), and for crowd overflow, if that should ever be an issue (the altar precinct is a huge, double-walled square, with a wide avenue between the outer and inner walls, from which - in the front half of the enclosure, at least - you can still hear and see the stage reasonably well); and there are four large exits, at the points of the compass, allowing for fairly speedy evacuation if necessary (although I question the wisdom of putting the sole entrance directly in front of the stage: I think that could have led to a few problems if the crowds had been bigger). On the other hand, the optimum viewing area in front of the stage really isn't all that big: by 8pm on Friday, it was starting to feel pretty packed - with probably only 1,500 or 2,000 people there.

The organisers haven't been well served by the weather, either: it's been coolish but oppressively humid for most of the week; and today, it's pouring down - which presumably means that tonight's lineup will have to be cancelled. Frankly, it wasn't looking much good to me anyhow: Xie Tianxiao was the only significant talent on the bill, and he seems to have gone all drippy-hippy in his middle age, deserting Kurt Cobain in favour of Bob Marley as his major influence (I love Bob, I really do; but XTX is a rocker, not a folker; reggae & co. doesn't work for him). Sunday's roster doesn't look much better (although there's a rumour that the always fun swing band DH & The Hellcats are going to be on, which would jolly things up no end; the City Weekend listing did not include this); Tang Dynasty are an interesting band, but not worth sitting - er, standing - through three or four hours of dross for.

So, the Max Star Festival has been an interesting if somewhat quixotic experiment. I doubt if ticket sales have been terribly impressive this week - but I hope they'll give it a try again next year. It is - potentially - a great venue. And it's certainly - for me! - a great location.


Beijing Daze said...

hiya... The festival has been on the Radar for a while now. I first wrote about it back on August 9th:

I made it saturday night for XTX and he is as rock as it gets when playing live. he might have released that reggae album but fear not, he still screams like his old self.. stay tuned for a video of the closing song from saturday

Froog said...

One week's notice is only "a while" in China, BD! Not really a lot of time to promote an event as big as this.

Saturday went ahead?? Several people told me it was cancelled, and I assumed it must have been, because it was pissing down all day. They must use undersea cables these days, huh?

XTX played the old stuff? I am sorry I missed that. I saw a Cold Blooded Animal reunion gig at WuMing GaoDi several years ago, which was awesome; but seeing him solo a few times since has been just a little disappointing by comparison.