A curious thing happened this month at the Midi Music Festival, China’s oldest and boldest agglomeration of rock, funk, punk and electronica. Performers took musical potshots at the country’s leaders, tattooed college students sold anti-government T-shirts and an unruly crowd of heavy metal fans giddily torched a Japanese flag emblazoned with expletives.
Curious, because the event, a four-day free-for-all of Budweiser, crowd-surfing and camping, was sponsored by the local Communist Party, which spent $2.1 million.
The city cadres also provided an army of white-gloved police officers, who endured bands with names like Miserable Faith and AK47 while fans slung mud at one other.
The incongruity of security agents facilitating the sale of cannabis-themed merchandise was not lost on the festival’s organiser, Zhang Fan.
“The government used to see rock fans as something akin to a devastating flood or an invasion of savage beasts,” said Zhang, a handful of whose events have been cancelled by skittish bureaucrats since he pioneered the Chinese music festival in 2000. “Now we’re all part of the nation’s quest for a harmonious society.”
The shift in official sentiment has led to an explosion of festivals across China. In 2008, there were five multiday concerts, nearly all in Beijing. This year there have already been more than 60, from the northern grasslands of Inner Mongolia to the southern highlands of Yunnan Province.
Without exception the festivals have been staged with the help of local governments that have come to realise that pierced rockers are not necessarily interested in upending single-party rule. More importantly, the governments have decided, for now, that music festivals can deliver something that even seasoned propagandists cannot spin out of thin air: coolness. NYT