It was just a few years ago that the cancellations of some of China’s music festivals and the rumors that followed caused concern that the country’s growing underground rock ‘n’ roll scene was doomed. This year’s MIDI Music Festival proved that its recipe for great times and new experiences is here to stay and moving south.
The May 17-19 festival took place unhindered by nothing but a few ominous storm clouds that stayed away until the last hours of the event. Chris St. Hilaire, drummer and founder of what could have been the best band of the event, and a definite up and comer on American tours, The London Souls, believed that, considering the festival was in its first year in Shenzhen, the staff and festival logistics was well done. “The stage manager was right on top of it once it started raining. May have saved our lives,” he said.
Being China’s biggest music festival, it was founded in 2000 on the campus of Beijing Midi Music School, the first school teaching courses in blues, jazz and rock ’n’ roll. Since the fest’s humble beginning it has recorded crowds of 80,000 fans.
Walking among the predominantly black dressed crowds of youth, it was easy to be carried away with the enthusiasm present at the festival. If a Chinese music festival has not yet been checked off of your bucket list, you may not know that some of the customs there are unlike the rest of the world’s festivals. As far as I’ve seen at least. The stereotypical reserved demeanor fades away when the group mind hears the music from the main stage thump to life. They put together the world’s most organized mosh pits, opening up space in the center of the massive crowds and beginning a vortex of sweaty metal fans running in a large circle with flailing, stomping people throwing themselves about in the center.
“The reservations are deep in the culture, through years of conditioning. But I tend to think that music can transcend any conditioning and open people up to new ideas. It can be very powerful,” said St. Hilaire. His New York power trio travelled without their bass player, but they were definitely different than the predominantly hardcore lineup. “They weresuperamazing,theonlybandwehadto come to the festival to see,” said Iullia Burlak, who travelled from Guangzhou for the festival.
But not only are the Chinese fans changing, creating their own rock ‘n’ roll culture, the system too is showing signs of increased leniency. “We played at the Tanglewood Festival at the Great Wall in 2010, and at a few small places around Beijing. The reception was always very good, although they were a little reserved at the festival, probably due to the armed guards blocking the stage,” said St. Hilaire.
There was still the typical show of force at MIDI, but the only time they made any attempt to get between the fans and their music was after China’s “godfather of rock” Cui Jin (pictured above) invited a stage full of young women to dance and sing backup, which turned into a mass of fans of either gender pilling into the photographers’ pit for a dance off. But even then they let it go on until the finale was coming to its end, then politely pushed the crowd behind the barrier.
Ingo Dassen, guitarist for Dutch rock metal band Lesoir, confirmed the changes in fans. “They are open to each other and more willing to show their emotions,” he said. “It’s very easy to make the audience do what you want. You say clap, they clap and dance. If you interact they will interact back. Our bass player went into the crowd and they went crazy.
And that is how it works, MIDI moves south and rock ‘n’ roll moves souls.