Monday, October 11, 2010

Notes on the Haidian Festival

A week late, but so it goes.

I spent the whole of last Monday at the October Modern Sky Music Festival in Haidian Park.  I'd had considerable misgivings about it beforehand, after the widespread panning that their May event out in Tongzhou received from just about everyone who went to it - even the normally affable and forgiving Badr.

However, Zhang Fan's MIDI Music School has been running events in Haidian Park for so long now that I imagine this has become pretty much 'Festival In A Box'; other promoters can get together with the park authorities and just try to copy everything that MIDI did this May (and in several previous years).  And so it seemed to be.  The festival area fenced off from the rest of the park was similar, though  just a bit smaller (and lacking the funky 'Folk' and MAO Live stages that we had this May).  The fence was made of flimsy-looking plywood rather than the usual corrugated metal construction-site stuff, and there were no bao'an in evidence around the perimeter - so it was probably relatively easy to get in for free, but I had no wish to try.  The food court was somewhat abbreviated too, though it covered most of the usual choices (no Pizza Hut-ripoff pizza or Subway-ripoff sandwiches?  maybe it was a token 'China respects IPR' thing??); and everyone was displaying their prices this time, which is A HUGE PLUS.  The ticket-selling booths were set up at the entry to the ticket-check lines (rather than in a separate - and, at Midi, somewhat hidden! - area), which actually worked rather better, so long as traffic was light; I imagine it might have caused a few logjams at peak times, especially on Day 1.  The portaloos were far too few, and not very conspicuously signposted (hidden away at the back of the festival area, behind the Converse shoes tent); on the other hand, the proper toilets at the side of the Changchunyuan Club amphitheatre were highlighted by such a huge sign that unpleasant queues (and blockages) occurred, especially for the ladies (at Midi this May - the first time I can remember this part of the park being in use - this facility was signposted inconspicuously or not at all, and thus remained a pleasantly underused 'secret' for the benefit of small numbers of the more sharp-eyed or exploratory festival-goers such as myself).  And the booze..... well, there was a Jager tent pushing shooters and an Absolut tent selling 'cocktails' of unspecified content, but neither, mercifully, was attracting very much business.  The ban on draught beer - inexplicably introduced this May - continued, so only lukewarm canned Tsingtao was available (served in paper cups, with the option of ice cubes added - at least until the ice ran out after a couple of hours): canned Tsingtao is at least preferable to the bottled crap, and the asking price of 15 rmb perhaps isn't so unreasonable at a festival... but we're still goaded by the memories (the very pleasantly blurred memories) of the 'good old days' of LARGE cups of draught being on offer for just 10 kuai.

In general, prices - for booze, soft drinks, snacks, merchandise - all seem pretty reasonable... perhaps even a little bit down on a couple of years ago.  But, my god, the entry fee is getting expensive: 150 rmb for ONE DAY??!!  I can't remember how much this year's Midi was, but I don't remember paying more than 100 rmb for an event like this before, and even that seems kind of steep compared to the 60 or 80 rmb we were paying just a few years ago.  And I'm pretty sure that the first Midi I went to (back in '04, I think that was) was only charging around 150 rmb for four days.  The times, they are a-changing, indeed.  And not for the better.

Blanket vendors seemed to have been outlawed (or just couldn't be bothered to come?) this time around... and I'm not convinced that that's a bad thing.  Most of the stuff they're usually pushing is the most godawful, pointless tack; and they do get in the way of foot traffic between the various stages quite badly at times.  However, as at Midi this year (especially on the first day!), the pitching of tents seemed to be entirely unregulated, which led to much of the rear of the main stage area becoming hopelessly cluttered, impeding access to the sponsor's tents, refreshment stalls, and toilets.  I have some sympathy (not much, but some) with people bringing tents at the start of summer, as occasional shelter from the strong sunshine.  At this time of year, that's not an issue.  If people are worried about rain - well, if it rains, you get wet: deal with it.  If you're going to retreat inside a tent at the first sign of a shower, you're not really at the festival any more, are you?

Main criticisms I'd heard from Days 1 and 2 were about the technical set-up, with numerous sound breakdowns said to have seriously compromised a number of sets.  They seemed to have got that - mostly - sorted out by the last day, although some of the changeovers and soundchecks were still a bit laborious.  Sound pollution from stages too close together was still a bit of a problem at times; although there was no folk stage to worry about this time, and the (I still say, irksomely UNNECESSARY) DJ stage was much less noisy than in May, and at the back of the festival area and facing away from the main stages (the one really welcome innovation of the Modern Sky setup).  Having a third main stage, though, was perhaps a case of overkill: the crowds just weren't big enough to support it.  That was a shame, because a few of the bands playing there sounded really quite good, but none of them seemed to be drawing an audience of more than a few dozens.

So, overall, congratulations, Modern Sky - I'd been fearing you'd f*ck it up big time, but you managed not to.  Quite the reverse: a very decent festival - though not quite matching the turnout of the Midi events (mainly because of the cooler weather at this time of year).

More on the music... a little later in the week....


Man in Black said...

Went on Friday and it was pretty cool. The blanket vendors were out that day and there was a folk stage (to the right of the 'modern sky stage' in the back.) Sound was pretty good though I only saw 4-5 bands and I thought the breakdown/set-up was done really well. It rained Friday as well but, as you said, most of us just put up our collars (1985 fashion!) and soldiered on.

Froog said...

Ah, I don't think it was designated as a 'folk' stage throughout. Mostly rocky stuff on Day 3.

Maybe the blanket merchants just sold out of their tack. There was a lot of that in May as well: the last day of Midi was much better for it!

Actually, I find I don't have much fortitude to endure the cold and the wet at outdoor gigs any more. But if it rains too much, I just go home. You either put up with the wet and continue to listen to the music, or you go home. You don't cower inside a tent and GET IN EVERYONE ELSE'S WAY.

Hope you caught some good stuff.

I wasn't greatly enthused about most of the stuff I saw on Monday - except for the rock'n'roll guqin player. I must try and find out who that was.

And Omnipotent Youth Society, of course. Now that Ziyo and SUBS have gone off the boil rather, I think they might have become my new favourite Beijing band.