Beijing Beat blog with Mark Godfrey

Beijing Beat

No Fun Summer For Beijing Rockers

Jul 8

Written by:
7/8/2008 4:40 AM  RssIcon

Beijing Pop Festival is latest in a line of outdoor music events to be cancelled by authorities nervous about Olympics, crowd control. We talked with Yang Yu, impressario and local hard rock luminary

I always enjoy chatting with the inimitable and irrepressible Yang Yu, founder of www.rockchina.com. He titles himself 'webslave' on his business card. Another of his roles however is founder-manager of Painkiller, China's admirably successful metal magazine. Painkiller has been turned into a cottage industry of gigs and merchandising by mild-mannered and helpful Yang, and the experience has made him one of the more forthcoming and infomed go-to people on the local industry scene.

Proof that there’s a market for music, even gothic metal in China. The German band Lacrimoso was the biggest earner: 1,000 local fans paid up to RMB670 (VIP tickets) to see the German metallers in Beijing’s Star Live. The organizers only cleared RMB4,000 profit (after paying band flights, hotels and visas) but that’s more than normal: “it’s so hard to make a profit, we usually only break even.”

Yang’s own festival, Metal Battle, has been affected: Canadian and German artists couldn’t get visas. After Bjork’s pro-tibet chant during her concert in Shanghai this year the local government culture bureau which gives out performance licenses and approves visas has played things extremely safe and effectively barred any shows – certainly anything outdoors till after the Olympic Games. They’re worried about protests or similar outbursts by visiting artists.

Nothing is said directly – the local police met with Midi chief organizer to effectively tell him it was off, only a week before the festival. The face-saving official reason was a train crash near Beijing and thus worries about youths travelling to the show. There was a vague compromise suggested: the festival would happen in October, unhindered. That has apparently, and understandably, annoyed the organizers of the separate Modern Sky festival, timed for October. Now they’ll be squeezed together and cash-strapped students will likely be forced to choose between one.

Local organizers have shaved any foreign names off planned events – indoors or outdoors – for fear of the show being shut down entirely. The shutdown period may be a time for reflection for everyone: Yang believes the local foreigner gig presence may if anything have grown too fast too soon.

Foreign bands want to come to China for the same people run marathons: to tick it off the list of challenging things to do. But China is not that challenging: small punk bands come on tourist visas and play dive bars on a seven day train tour of China’s largest cities, do a youtube video and a blog on their website. They won’t earn much but they don’t spend much either: hotel rooms can be had for 10 euros in most Chinese cities.

Yang is sure the Rolling Stones didn’t make any money off their gig in Shanghai last year: to get the symbolically important gig and the headlines that went with it (the band’s 2003 gigs were cancelled by the onset of SARS) the Stones dropped their fee and settled for a smaller indoor venue. Unfortunately only about 5 percent of the crowd was Chinese - the rest couldn't afford or bother to go.

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