The Music Trend in Beijing: Beware over-milking the sacred cow

ya ya ya… festival this, festival that special performance this, special performance that…. Something strange has been happening all around China and in Beijing more specifically!

The whole thing about overdoing it with festivals has been touched upon ad-nauseam all over the blogosphere including here: Yes, it’s great having access to so much music but lately, a lot of said festivals are organized by amateurs, recycling the same lineups over and over again… it’s not the dedication that MIDI or even Modern Sky show in terms of bringing music to the masses. Two upcoming festivals are actually worth my time and yours: The hanggai festival out in shunyi next week as well as the autumn edition of the Ditan Folk Festival.

Anyways, these counties/promoters/whatever are not the only ones on that Music-for-promotion-banwagon business:

Zippo has been on this for months now organizing their Zippo Hot List at yugong yishan with pretty darn good lineups that make sense. Tickets are easy to come by and you can get in for free by buying a Zippo! This is one case of branding that is great for the bands as far as I hear because they get paid well, play to decent crowds and Zippo gets their exposure. Making it a monthly event goes a long way into making Zippo’s efforts and dedication to live music credible. They’ve had 4 editions so far with a 5th on the way and they’re keeping it up!
It makes sense for them as far as branding goes. Their target audience in this case is the lost generation of twenty somethings who are willing to stay hungry as long as they got booze n cigarettes. They’ll be buying Zippos for a while and when they get jobs/become respectable members of society, they’ll still be Zippo customers.

Puma and Dickies are both jumping on board the banbwagon and organizing their own promotional events this weekend at Mao Livehouse in Shanghai with somewhat decent lineups according to Jake Newby and Andy Best of Kungfuology. It’s interesting to see how he refers to choices available this weekend:

Which shows will you go to this weekend:
Fri: a) BCR b) Dickies event
Sat: a) Streets Kill b) Puma event
Sun a) death metal show b) some swanky wine bar

If you answered all a’s: You are a music fan who likes to see the local scene thrive, you have strong sense of independent music as an extension of the human endowment of freewill. You are a wonderful human being.

If your answers include any b’s: You are a c*nt.

Back to Beijing, Time Out has been at the forefront of the association with the music scene! A few months ago, they started their ill-fated association with Obiwan before the later shut down. They also had chairman Ka design one hell of a cover inspired from The Beatles sergeant pepper album. They’re staying with it with regular gigs now like supporting the upcoming hanggai festival, the Hang on the Box reunion show a few weeks ago and this weekend’s Generation 6 showcase.

More and more promotional events are taking place with music as the main entertainment.. it seems Mr. Corporate decided that was the best way to spend their money as far as advertising and getting exposure… are they right? is it sustainable?

For musicians, it makes a lot of sense: Someone else is paying for the venue/promotion and they get to pocket a decent amount of cash for turning up and playing their usual set. Compare that to having to book a venue, make their own promotion and deal with low attendance and low revenue at non-corporate gigs..

Talking to people out there, one can already notice a little tiredness in Beijing with too many acts and too many competing events that end up being more or less the same. So how long will people go or care? We know they’re around and they’ll be playing again shortly….. for now, it’s all rosy and pink and beautiful until it all goes south again!

It seems like the early 2010’s are starting to look a lot like the early 1990’s with a huge interest for Chinese bands and what not… Damon Dash is running around Beijing often enough looking for new talents, record labels are snooping around for the next Tang Dynasty or Cui Jian… Chinese rock was at the forefront of SWSX in Austin this year… maybe it’s all happening a little too fast.

let’s just hope that this time around, it’s managed properly and translates into a good longevity for said bands… because the end of the 1990’s were not kind to them. A lot of these kids are being hyped up as the next best thing since sliced bread… here’s hoping they don’t start believing in their own propaganda and understand that they’re just the flavor of the year… here’s hoping!

1 Response

  1. Josh Feola says:

    excellent post, b. couldn’t agree more. my 2 cents:

    it’s a double-edged sword. some bands get a lot of cash for very little effort, which is great for them and legitimizes music as an acceptable career/pastime in its own right. this can’t be underestimated as a positive force for future generations of musicians… i recently overheard a conversation between an older (post-80s) music writer friend of mine with a younger (post-90s) guitarist in one of these “up and coming” BJ bands. the older friend was shocked that the younger musician’s parents were ok with him staying out on a sunday playing a show at a tiny bar (you can guess what bar i’m talking about) for virtually no money. i would think this kind of parental approval is largely a product of increasing corporate sponsorship of the music scene, ie a potential payday at the end of the tunnel.

    on the other hand, this is only true for SOME bands. in my (admittedly limited) experience a few bands/labels/fests get put on a pedestal and this generates an ecosystem where bands spring up trying to be just like that band/get signed to that label/get booked on that fest. creativity suffers when there’s such a strict end goal in mind. it’s no accident that each new fest looks like an increasingly cheap clone of the last. money being made is like blood in the water and it’s going to be very tricky to extricate “legitimate” support of the music scene from players who are ultimately only interested in their own bottom line. i haven’t gone to any of the zippo’s events, i’ve only been to one fest this year and i’m wary of anything with a big brand name attached to it, so i’m not in the best position to comment on these specifically. your points here are well taken but i am going to wait for my skepticism to subside a bit, hopefully time will take care of this.

    one last comment: the burden ultimately rests on the consumer. i think this Generation 6 show is going to be great, it’s wonderful when a band gets a break and plays a bigger show or fest or gets a deal with a prominent local label, but there needs to be a feeling of support at the most grassroots level of the community for the scene to thrive. not that this doesn’t happen already, obviously there are lively shows almost every night in beijing. but the more people there are who will go out on, say, a tuesday and simply go up to one of the bands that played that night, thank them for playing and maybe buy something they’ve put out themselves, the healthier the scene will be. in my opinion this simple act goes much further for bolstering local music than buying a zippo lighter to see a band that will headline 10 fests over the next 12 months.

    blowing up the corporate music bubble will only end in disaster and cause this amazing world of new music to buckle under its own weight if it’s not counterbalanced by people who support the bands that will never get “big.”