Three cheers for the new frontier: This summer China launched three astronauts on a mission to a space lab for the first time. And last week the first rock band of Chinese nationals played a tour of Mongolia.
Somewhat less impressive in a sense, but the astronauts didn't have to deal with obstacles like meals accompanied by massive quantities of vodka and venues without guitar amps. So it's all relative.
The rock band in question is Banana Monkey, a Shanghai garage rock band that has been playing shows for five years and has consistently been one of Shanghai's most popular and critically acclaimed live acts.
The music shows were a part of Rock Naadam, the annual music/philanthropy tour I organize to promote cultural exchanges between Mongolia and China.
This year, Chinese bands are touring internationally more and more, giving greater international exposure to contemporary arts from the Middle Kingdom. And while much of the focus is on tours of the United States, with a number of acts playing the South by Southwest Festival in Austin, Texas, plus Rainbow Danger Club of Shanghai touring New York as this column goes to print, bands playing Mongolia might be just as important.
By playing in Mongolia, Banana Monkey is able to show a different side to Chinese people and culture, than what's wrapped into economics and politics.
The clearest moment of this came at a performance in Sukhbaatar Square in Ulaanbaatar. Sukhbaatar Square is the wide open center of the capital city, the equivalent to Tian'anmen Square in Beijing. The annual performance there on July 11 on the holiday of Naadam is a big event, with thousands attending and many more watching live on national TV.
As we stood backstage before Banana Monkey's designated set, peering over to see 3,000 people, there was definite tension. Mongolian crowds can be tough, and there was no guarantee they were going to respond well to the only international band performing, especially a Chinese one. We had security in place for protection, but security can't guard against boos.
When it was finally their time, the band went up and plugged in their equipment.
Meanwhile, the host - a local music promoter known to everybody as "Rock Master" - introduced the band. He did an amazing job of hyping the crowd, explaining in Mongolian that the band came all the way from Shanghai for them and that they should be very appreciative. He giving a roaring "Banaaanaaaa Monkkeeeey!" and the band began playing. After some initial skepticism, the crowd got into it, with many dancing and cheering.
Banana Monkey went where no rock band of Chinese nationals has gone before. And hopefully this won't be the final frontier.