Festival’d out? No way! Long Live Rock in the Grasslands!

There’s been a lot of talk about the over abundance of festivals in China this year. Jon Campbell and China Daily, both have interesting posts on this. I agree 4 festivals competing in one weekend in Beijing is just stupid, but this my year of seeing more of China, and taking advantage of festivals and shows outside the city is a great way to see a little more of this country. BD went to the West Lake Festival to see his beloved Concrete Blonde last month and last weekend’s In Music festival in Zhangbei was my perfect excuse to escape the oppressive heat in Beijing and chill out under the blue skies in Hebei.

XTX playing the guzheng (Photo: Grace Lee)

My at first eager friends were all put off by reports of last year’s mud fest, trash & transport problems and bailed on a three day camping trip, but I managed to find one metal-head buddy willing to go for one day, so we planned to make our way out on the direct bus put on by the festival on Sunday morning. We arrived at the long distance bus station 5 mins too late and watched the first bus pull out as we walked in, meaning we had to wait for enough people to arrive to fill the next bus. By the 2 hour mark there was a group of angry festival goers arguing loudly with the organizers to let us on the bus, finally they caved in and the bus took off at 12noon.

We made it to Zhangbei easily at 3.30, with none of the traffic nightmares that Friday & Saturday arrivals faced. Worried we’d missed Nanwu who were scheduled to play at 2.45, as we walked in the gates we heard the familiar sounds of the flute, woodblock and beijinghua and were relieved to find they’d just started – the festival was running nearly an hour late already! Nanwu are always crowd pleasers and they didn’t disappoint. Their songs are just so catchy, you can’t help singing and dancing along with them.

Nanwu's lead singer (Photo: Grace Lee)

After Nanwu we set up our camp spot and assessed the food situation – not great, chuan’r or pot noodles, but we’d brought plenty of snacks to keep us going; and more importantly the drinks situation – beer RMB10 a bottle poured into cups, water RMB3 surprisingly given out in bottles. Once we got up the front later in the day those bottles where being thrown around the crowd, soaking and injuring many people. I was surprised to see some brave parents still with little kids perched on their shoulders to see the bands. One lesson for next year – don’t give out bottles!

Steely Heart rocked the crowd, I’ve sent these guys a couple of times in Beijing and they never really caught my attention, but they were great in a festival setting with the crowd clapping and singing along. Josie Ho and the Uni boys from Hong Kong came on after them. Stanley Ho’s daughter, is a model, and movie star trying to prove herself as a singer as well. Well, my first advice would be take some singing lessons! Her band was actually not bad, but she ruined it by attempting to sing, not even resorting to screaming like most wannabe singers.

Steely Heart gets the crowd clapping (Photo: Ruby)

The three stages were set up side by side, with the set alternating between them, so there was no down time, the crowd just moved from stage to stage. Our spot back from the middle ‘Highlight’ stage meant we could enjoy the music from all three without moving from the camp at all. It was really apparent at this point that this was a definitely local festival, with my red hair attracting more than the normal amount of photo opportunities and calls of “laowai, laowai!”

XTX stirring up the crowd (Photo: Grace Lee)

Finally came the act I’d been waiting for – XTX. I’ve seen this guy hanging out and jamming at 2Kolegas, I have all four of his albums, but I had never managed to catch him actually performing with his band. We got as close to the stage as we could. The roar of the crowd as the lights came up to show the guzheng on stage and XTX walking on was deafening! Almost immediately water bottles started being thrown into the air and we got soaked pretty quickly, but it was worth it . They played all the old songs, the crowd getting more and more fired up, moshing and screaming along to ‘Wo bu ai ni”. If I wasn’t converted already, I’m now a huge XTX fan and can’t wait to see him play again at Tango for the Tiger Translate finals later this month.

Up next was Tricky, I didn’t really know what to expect with this one – how well is he known here? It was an OK set, but not my style of music and the sound wasn’t great. He played too long in my opinion, and many people, myself included, wandered away before his set even finished.

Tricky (Photo: Grace Lee)

BD has accused me of wearing my ‘ruby coloured glasses’ on this one, but I wasn’t expecting a Midi/Strawberry type of festival in the grasslands, this one was always going to be down & dirty deal. I’m no stranger to festivals – I’ve camped in the rain at Meredith, gotten a cracked rib from moshing to QOSTA at V Fest, survived 40+ degrees refusing to lose my front of stage spot at Big Day Out – compared to those this was tame. James Tiscione has an excellent write up of the lack of organization the bands and fans faced. I wasn’t there the first two days, but I really enjoyed the last day. The wild passion of a moshpit is what makes a festival great! The bottles of water I could have done without, but I just copied XTX himself, pulling up my hood to the shield the water.

Cuijian fans (Photo: Ruby)

The offer of a ride back to Beijing meant we decided to pack up and hit the road before Cuijian to beat the crowds. But I’m sure I’ll catch him again at some other festival … after all there’s no shortage of them this year right? So, anyone wanna go to Rizhao this weekend???


a kiwi, a music lover, a traveller & an IT geek hanging around in the 'jing planning her next adventure.

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2 Responses

  1. Grace says:

    from Midi’s weibo posts, the Ocean Midi Festival is looking very very good. I’d like to stay in Beijing for a weekend for a change, not many of those left until I start travelling like crazy in September and October. Hope you find another metal head for Rizhao. 🙂

  2. Beijing Daze says:

    rizhao sounds pretty good but i’m looking forward to the Punk festival at Mao instead… too many cool bands in one spot and hard to pass on.