BEIJING — Before 2000, public space in China dedicated exclusively to young people was basically non-existent. Rock-loving youngsters, for example, had nowhere to go except for a few small, dark bars. Woodstock represented an unattainable dream.
But times have changed since then. First the Midi Music Festival, one of China’s largest rock music festivals, was created in Beijing. Many others followed suit. Since 2007, solid festival brands such as the Modern Sky Music Festival and the Strawberry Music Festival, a three-day carnival, have toured different Chinese cities, introducing fashion elements and breaking down the boundaries between underground and pop music.
Within a dozen years, the small rock coteries have grown into gigantic outdoor musical parties attracting millions of young fans. The audiences are no longer only die-hard rock-loving literati but also college students and white-collar office workers. Meanwhile, local brands such as the Chengdu Heat Wave Music Festival, Hangzhou West Lake Music Festival and Changsha Orange Island Music Festival have mushroomed.
Estimates suggest that nearly 100 music festivals of different sizes have emerged one after another all over China over the last three years. Fans now have more choice, and young people from outside Beijing no longer have to backpacker to the capital for annual music pilgrimages.
Not just music
Apart from becoming an urban public space for young Chinese, live music venues have also evolved beyong music. Office workers are getting in on the fun. Overwhelmed by long hours and mortgage payments, they too are enjoying the release and relaxation of live music.
Music festivals are also a feast for the eyes. Attendees pull out all the stops with clothing and hairstyles. This is particularly true at the pure rock Midi Music Festival, which has turned into a gigantic costume party. Vintage clothing of the 1960s and ’70s have become unambitious compared with a Han dynasty costume or a Kasaya robe. People don super-sized false eyelashes and mottled stockings.
The idea is to offer urban young an unconventional, unusual and unique cultural ambiance — without cliché — and to abandon mainstream fashion.
Amid loud music and wild dancing, the spectacular masses enjoy a real high. Where else in real life, apart from a cramped karaoke club, can young people enjoy themselves with abandon?
In the name of music, different groups of people gather together and are simultaneously swaddled in a tremendous sense of warmth and belonging. This explains why the majority of young people who have attended a music festival have since become loyal followers.
It’s also at these festivals that young people can express their value system. What matters here is not who is richest but who knows best how to have fun and be cool. The music venue becomes a platform for self-realization and self-expression, where everyone is equal.