Society

China Faces A Sudden Case Of Rock & Roll Fever

As they develop a passion for pop gatherings, Chinese music enthusiasts are creating new market opportunities for organizers and sponsors. Authorities are allowing the shows to go on, but with a discrete presence of state police. And state censors.

Midi Festival in Shanghai, May 2011
Midi Festival in Shanghai, May 2011
Brice Pedroletti

In Tonzhou, a fashionable new suburb southeast of Beijing, Canal Park is getting ready to host one hell of a party: a rock festival called Caomei (pronounced "tzaomai"). Surprisingly perhaps, the festival's organizer, Shen Lihui, had no trouble securing access to the public space. In fact, the local government approached him. "We came to see and found that the place had potential," says Lihui, who also heads a music label called Modern Sky.

Sporting trendy sunglasses and squeezed into a long, fitted jacket and leather boots despite the heat, curly-haired Shen is running a booming business. Tens of thousands of rock fans are expected to come. A long list of companies have eagerly agreed to sponsor the event, from Ray-Ban to Dell to Yili, a Chinese yogurt producer.

But the prized Beijing-area land offered by the Tongzhou municipality did not come for free. Instead it had to be rented – at quite a pretty penny. Instead, in more distant corners of the country, local governments shower the Caomei festival and its competitor, Midi with hefty subsidies.

China, it's fair to say, has rock and roll fever. More than 50 cities welcomed rock festivals in 2010, with that number growing to nearly 100 this year. Among them are large provincial capitals such as Chengdu and Hangzhou, as well as some lesser-known cities such as Zhenjiang, in the Jiangsu province, which is the first to have offered a small fortune to bring the Midi festival in October 2009. Last year's edition drew nearly 100,000 fans. This year, Shunde in Guangdong is one of the cities paying the highest fees to musicians.

The Chinese festival frenzy may seem surprising given the regime's wariness of any gatherings involving young people. The scent of subversion usually emanating from the spirit of rock music is mostly diluted in Chinese festivals that usually feature a grab bag of mandopop (Chinese pop), folk or funk music. Miserable Faith, one of the more popular bands, is a case in point. A decade ago they sang about rebellion. The group now prefers nostalgic pop rock.

Inside Tongzhou's Canal Park, rock lovers – who had to pay 80 yuan (9 euros) for a ticket – are gathered around the five stages where Chinese and foreign bands perform. During some of the more lively shows, a spectator will bounce off the arms of the crowd as if on a trampoline. Caomei, which means "strawberry" in Chinese, is for "people who want to have fun in life," says organizer Shen Lihui.

When Chinese-style rock festivals first started taking place about 10 years ago, organizers had a rough time. China's largest rock festival, the Midi festival, was first hosted in 2000 by the rock school with the same name, driven by a young fan of Chinese rock icon Cui Jian. Starting in 2004, the festivals moved to the Beijing parks with the blessing of the city's authorities. Back then, the negotiations were long, and the cancellations frequent.

Then, things suddenly got better, explains Léo de Boisgisson from a Beijing event-organizing company called 8633link. "In the mid-2000s, there was a real enthusiasm for musicians. And the brands looking to reach young people began using them," she says.

But the real turning point came in 2008, the year of the Beijing Olympics, when sports-footwear giant Converse sponsored the bus tour of two independent bands, P-14 and Queen Sea Big Shark, in five provincial cities. Heavy advertising and marketing did the rest: thanks to publicity, Chinese rock was now profitable.

In Tongahou, the feeling of freedom is only relative: all song lyrics must first be approved by the censors. Both uniformed and plainclothes police survey the crowd everywhere. When wild slam dancing erupts in front of the stage where the Mongolian group Hanggai performs, a man in a white shirt places himself in front of one of the most rowdy spectators and calms him down.

Despite these precautions, Shen Lihui, the head of the Modern Sky label, was unable to prevent the city of Suzhou, in Jiangsu, from canceling this year's Caomei festival. The gathering was supposed to take place at the same time as the one in Beijing, but the authorities cancelled it without providing an explanation.

The organizer suspects it was because the slogan "Free Ai Weiwei" appeared in English on a giant screen during a festival Modern Sky organized the previous week in a neighboring city. Ai Weiwei, a well-known artist and activist, was arrested last month. The provocative message appeared just as Zuoxiaozuzhou – a sort of Chinese Tom Waits who is also a friend of Ai Weiwei – began singing.

Who was responsible for the subversive slip? Shen Lihui blames the sponsor in charge of the computer system relaying messages from Internet users. Either way, it was a chance for the spirit of rock to flash through – albeit only momentarily.

Photo - JSolomon

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Spencer Tunick Nude Installation in Israel

Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

👋 Salam!*

Welcome to Monday, where the UK pays homage to slain MP David Amess, Myanmar frees thousands of prisoners, and Facebook gets ready to build its "metaverse." Please fasten your seatbelts: Worldcrunch also takes stock of the long-lasting effects — good and bad — the pandemic has had on the air travel industry.

[*Azeri - Azerbaijan]

🌎  7 THINGS TO KNOW RIGHT NOW

Myanmar to free political prisoners: Myanmar's junta chief Min Aung Hlaing has announced the release of 5,636 prisoners who had been jailed for protesting the coup that ousted the civilian government in February 2021.

• Powerful Haiti gang behind the kidnapping of U.S. missionaries: The notorious 400 Mawozo gang is believed to be behind the kidnapping in Haiti of a group of Christian missionaries, including 16 U.S. citizens and one Canadian. The brazen kidnapping on Saturday comes as crime is spiking since the killing of President Jovenel Moise in July.

• UK to pay tribute to David Amess: British lawmakers will pay homage in parliament to colleague David Amess, who was stabbed to death Friday in what was described by the police as a "terrorist incident." Officers arrested a 25-year-old suspect whose father, Harbi Ali Kullane, worked as a media adviser to a former prime minister of Somalia.

• COVID update: Russia has registered more than 34,000 cases of new infections in the past 24 hours, a new record since the start of the pandemic. Meanwhile, police in the northeast Italian city of Trieste used water cannons to clear striking dockworkers protesting Italy's new requirements that all employees be vaccinated.

• At least 26 killed in floods in India: Torrential rain has triggered floods and landslides in India's southern coastal state of Kerala, killing at least 26 people.

• Facebook to hire 10,000 in EU to develop "metaverse": The U.S. social media giant plans to hire 10,000 workers in the European Union over the next five years to build a "metaverse," a virtual reality version of the internet that the company touts as the future.

Punishing parents for children's bad behavior: After limiting gaming hours for minors, China is now considering legislation to reprimand parents if their children exhibit "very bad behavior" or commit crimes.

🗞️  FRONT PAGE

Colombian daily El Espectador dedicates its front page to Alex Saab, "owner of the secrets" of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro. The Colombian businessman, wanted by U.S. authorities for allegedly laundering money on behalf of Venezuela's government, has been extradited from Cape Verde to the U.S. where he is scheduled to appear in court today.

#️⃣  BY THE NUMBERS

4.9%

China's economy registered its slowest pace in a year as the country faces a looming energy crisis with power shortages and increasing pressure on its property sector. Gross Domestic Product (GDP) for the period between July-September rose 4.9%, the weakest numbers since the third quarter of 2020 and significantly lower than forecasts. The world's second-largest economy faces a debt crisis linked to the China Evergrande Group debt crisis, while energy shortfalls have dropped factory output to its weakest since early 2020, when heavy COVID-19 curbs were in place.

📰  STORY OF THE DAY

7 ways the pandemic may change the airline industry for good

Will flying be greener? More comfortable? Less frequent? As the world eyes a post-COVID reality, we look at ways the airline industry has been changing through a pandemic that has devastated air travel.

⛽ Cleaner aviation fuel: With air travel responsible for roughly 12% of all CO2 emissions from transport, and stricter international regulation on the horizon, the industry is increasingly seeking sustainable alternatives to petroleum-based fuel. In Germany, state broadcaster Deutsche Welle reports that the world's first factory producing CO2-neutral kerosene recently started operations in the town of Wertle, in Lower Saxony. The plant, for which Lufthansa is set to become the pilot customer, will produce CO2-neutral kerosene through a circular production cycle incorporating sustainable and green energy sources and raw materials

.🛃 Smoother check-in: The pandemic has also accelerated the shift towards contactless traveling, with more airports harnessing the power of biometrics — such as facial recognition or fever screening — to reduce touchpoints and human contact. Similar technology can also be used to more efficiently scan physical objects, such as explosive detection. Ultimately, passengers will be able to "check-in" and go through a security screening anywhere at the airports, removing queues and bottlenecks.

✈️ The billion-dollar question: Will we fly less? At the end of the day, even with all these (mostly positive) changes that we've seen take shape over the past 18 months, the industry faces major uncertainty about whether air travel will ever return to the pre-COVID levels. Not only are people wary about being in crowded and closed airplanes, but the worth of long-distance business travel, in particular, is being questioned as many have seen that meetings can function remotely, via Zoom and other online apps.


➡️ Read more on Worldcrunch.com

📣 VERBATIM

"The crimes committed that night are unforgivable for the Republic."

— Emmanuel Macron became the first French president to commemorate the killing of as many as 200 Algerian independence protesters by Parisian police in 1961. For 40 years, French officials ignored the massacre, which took place a year before Algeria gained its independence from France after an eight-year war. In 2012, French President François Hollande acknowledged the killings for the first time on a visit to Algeria, and Macron took it further by attending Sunday's commemoration at the site where the events happened in the French capital. Still, many had hoped the French President would go further and take responsibility for a "state massacre," for a crime many historians consider the most violent repression of a peaceful demonstration in post-War Europe.

📈💥  IN OTHER NEWS

​Low trust, high risk: The global rise of violence targeting politicians

The deadly stabbing of British Parliament Member David Amess confirms an ongoing study on trust and governance in democracies around the world: It's bad. In The Conversation, James Weinberg — the study's author and a lecturer in Political Behavior at the University of Sheffield — writes:

⏪ The assassination of Amess, who was stabbed to death in his constituency on Friday, is a tragic moment for democracy. What makes it even more devastating is that such a catastrophic failure is not without precedent or predictability. Labour MP Jo Cox was shot at her constituency surgery in 2016. Before her, another Labour MP, Stephen Timms, survived a stabbing in 2010. And Andrew Pennington, a Gloucestershire county councilor, died in a frenzied attack in 2001 while trying to protect local Liberal Democrat MP Nigel Jones.

☝️ Beyond these critical junctures in the public debate about politicians' safety, elected representatives must live with an increasingly insidious level of popular cynicism that threatens violence on an almost daily basis.

🇬🇧🇳🇿🇿🇦 Not only are these experiences of abuse or threats of physical violence felt across both sides of the political aisle in the UK — they also appear to be growing more common in other democratic contexts where the climate of politics has been presumed to be both calmer and more volatile, from New Zealand to South Africa.


Read the full piece from The Conversation, now on Worldcrunch.com

✍️ Newsletter by Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

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