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Music festivals bubble over
By Nie Xin

CHINA'S first open-air rock festival, the Midi Festival, was kicked off in 2000 and today there are as many as 200 music festivals throughout the country, three times as there were around five years ago.

Midi, first organized by the Midi music school in Beijing, has been held in many cities including Shanghai and Zhenjiang (Jiangsu Province).

May is time for Midi in Shanghai, from the 3rd to 5th this year, at Century Park where three stages - Tang, Qing and Yuan - will feature bands and musicians from China, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, the UK, the US and Switzerland.

On the first day, the Tang stage will present D-A-D from Denmark, Amoral from Finland, Emergency Gate from Germany, Hogan Band from the UK and Manceau from France. At the Qing stage, the Swiss band Bubble Beatz will perform.

Chinese bands include Miserable Faith, Yaksa, Tomahawk, Suffocated, SMZB and Ordnance. Groups from Shanghai and Hangzhou will perform at the Tang and Qing stages, including Mercy and Sorrow, Daydreamer, Mr Fireworks, Memory Piece, SNC, Moshushi and 5 Pennies.

Midi is followed by the annual JZ Festival in Shanghai.

As Midi approaches, there's always talk about the "bubble" of music festivals in China, the proliferation of festivals and problems in turning a profit.

Strawberry, another famous music festival, sold five to six million tickets last year, but was unable to cover the cost, according to founder Shen Lihui. The proliferation of festivals, the imbalance between investment and profit are problems for organizers and musicians.

"Many people are worried about the 'bubble' of music festivals in China, but the future is still bright because music festivals are a new kind of creative culture at a time when music concerts have reached a limit," says Wang Xin, a noted music critic and performance organizer. He has published books such as "A Sketch of European Jazz" and "A Century of Jazz."

Wang joined a discussion at "Sino Swedish Sounds," an event held last month in Shanghai to create more musical cooperation possibilities for China and Sweden. The event brought together international and local music industry professionals and musicians to discuss current trends in the music and music video industry in China and Sweden.

But part of the discussion was devoted to the music festival scene in China.

"It's better to have more than less and it's even better if some can survive. The key to success is how to customize and personalize a festival," Wang says.

Zhang Fan, the founder of Midi, attributes the success of Midi to its insisting on the styles of rock & roll, never changing the gene, guaranteeing the standards and quality.

Organizers sometimes have difficulty selecting bands and music styles. "Be clear about what you want. Don't be stubborn and keep an open mind," says Ren Yuqing, founder of Shanghai's famous jazz club, the JZ club. He is director of the JZ Group and was art director of the first Shanghai International Reconstructive Jazz Festival in 2004.

Ren runs the Jazz Festival every year (this year in late September). Since jazz is not mainstream in China, he keeps jazz as the central element and invites musicians, bands and singers whose music combines jazz elements.

"We attract the audience with high-quality mainstream music, while preserving jazz. We have to do music for the market, not just to make ourselves happy," Ren says.

"I believe that all success comes from perseverance. When people complain that we cannot earn money through music festivals, I tell them it's an investment," he adds.

Last year, about 35,000 people showed up at the Midi Festival.

All music festival organizers contend with the difficulties of local conditions, local governments eager to make money and impose requirements, police directives on crowd control and safety and other issues.

Zhang, the founder of Midi, got into the music festival business in 2000 and says the only thing that hasn't changed is the passion of audiences.

"Generally speaking, size of the audience keeps expanding," says Shen Lihui, founder of the Strawberry Festival. Shen, a vocalist, founded the Modern Sky Festival and established the company Modern Sky USA in 2007. It's now the biggest music festival operator in China. He organizes Strawberry, Strawberry Xi'an, Great Wall Tanglewood Forest Music Festival and Zoo Electronic Music Festival.

"Music in China is growing up and so is the audience. Some years ago when we talked about jazz, most of the audience only knew Lisa Ono, but now audiences can accept more," say music critic Wang.

"Both of the organizers and musicians should have faith on music festivals and remember that Maroon 5 (famous American rock band) grew up from small festivals."

In the upcoming Midi in Shanghai, six Chinese bands from Shanghai and Nanjing will bring "newborn rock" to the stage Qing.

"Music festivals are the most pioneering aspect of the music scene, the first in the music industry chain. It's a good platform for young musicians to practice and win an audience," says Zhang, principal of the Beijing Midi School of Music.

As the first modern music school in China, Midi School has provided talent for the contemporary Chinese music industry for 20 years.

"For us, every May and October are harvest season - the incomes are the highest of the year because of music festivals," says bass player and band founder Mei Er. Three to four festivals are held in Shanghai and these help with musicians' living expenses, he says. Since 1997 Mei has founded various bands, including Top Floor Circus that has toured extensively in China.

Li Dalong, founder and general manager of Mao Livehouse, says he has problems every year at festival time because festival performers want to use his space for rehearsal.

2013 Strawberry Music Festival

Date: April 29-May 1

Venue: Expo Park

2013 Midi Festival

Date: May 3-5

Venue: Century Park

2013 Jazz Shanghai Festival

Date: September 20-October 19

Venue: Expo Park

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