Rock music tunes up for smaller cities

Updated: 2013-07-30 11:29

By Caroline Berg in New York (China Daily)

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Rock music tunes up for smaller cities

As the music festival scene grows in China, organizers are looking to go beyond first-tier cities like Beijing and Shanghai because they aren't the only places where people want to rock.

"We have seen festivals go from purely on the coast to further into the interior," said Eric de Fontenay, owner of MusicDish. "I think there is really untapped demand in these other regions."

MusicDish*China, a media company with a history of sponsoring China's leading music festivals, announced on Monday that it will be a sponsor of the Play Rock Music Festival in Hefei, China. Hefei is the capital of China's eastern Anhui province, and Play Rock has become China's third-largest music festival in only its third year running.

"One reason why I think [Play Rock] has been able to grow so fast is it faces a lot less competition," Fontenay said. "If you're a festivalgoer in Beijing, you have so many festivals."

Fontenay said when he was in Beijing in the spring, the Midi and Strawberry festivals - China's largest rock music festivals - were scheduled at exactly the same time in the same city, Beijing. Play Rock is the only large-scale music festival in Hefei.

"You come to the point where there's so much competition that they're actually splitting the festival audience of the city," Fontenay said. "For Play Rock, there's not that problem."

People are talking about second- and third-tier cities, as well as more interior and provincial regions, as the new horizon for growth in China's music festival industry.

Rock Play will be held in Hefei's Three Ruins Park on Aug 23-25 with a lineup of 25 Chinese acts. In the past two festivals, a number of well-known musicians and bands have performed on the festival's two main stages, including Cui Jian, Tang Dynasty, Yip Sai Wing and MC Hotdog.

This year, the festival's organizers will introduce a third stage - the Small Stone Stage - to provide student bands and new bands an opportunity to perform. During the festival, tryouts will be conducted and the winners will be able to perform on the big stage.

"For me, the big difference when I go to these festivals in China is truly in the festivalgoer," said Fontenay, who is based in New York. "I know a lot of people who have been to the Midi festival, but claim to not like rock."

Instead, Fontenay said a large majority of the Chinese go to music festivals purely for the festival experience.

"But through the process, they are being introduced to other forms of music, even if it's done natively," he said.

Most acts at these festivals are homegrown rock, punk and hard metal bands.

Fontenay said rock music is not very present on Chinese television or radio, so accessing this kind of music mainly comes by searching the Internet or by attending festivals.

"I think festivals have really led to the growth of independent music in China," Fontenay said. "Whereas radio was the big way for people to discover new music in the US in the old days, festivals in China are the big way to do it."

Fontenay said he has also noticed a change in everyday youth culture.

"You've got punks, you've got metal heads, you've got - oh! a diversity that I would suspect 15 years ago these people would have seemed really weird and really would have been marginalized," Fontenay said. "Today, you can walk down Gulou Road in Beijing and see [people wearing] spikes, and it's almost become acceptable."

Fontenay said China's rock is still more of an underground phenomenon that he believes will change in 10-15 years.

"Rock makes people individuals," Fontenay said. "You want to look different. That's the whole core of rock. At its core is a rebellion."

(China Daily USA 07/30/2013 page2)