JUE Festival 2010: Ending China's cultural 'dry spell'

JUE Festival 2010: Ending China's cultural 'dry spell'

Split Work’s JUE Festival is back, twice as big with 70 new events from local and international musicians, artists, photographers and lecturers
Dead Elvis & His One Man Grave
Dead Elvis & His One Man Grave is just one of the international acts to watch out for at this year's 2010 JUE Festival.

Archie Hamilton, director of Split Works, ought to be a gibbering wreck. The rate at which events involving underground or overseas acts stumble before they’re out of the blocks here is scary, and over the course of 17 days this month, Split’s JUE Festival will feature more than 70 events in Shanghai and Beijing, showcasing up-and-coming artists and musicians from China and abroad.

The cultural, music, and art communities are works in progress here in China, and we just have to roll with the punches and keep assimilating knowledge and applying it. — Archie Hamilton, director of Split Works

Yet Hamilton, who was inspired by the multi-genre, multi-venue cultural festival he grew up with in Edinburgh, is dismissive of the suggestion that he’d be better off putting his feet up at home. “I have a deep and abiding love for music and increasingly art,” he says. “I love being able to share this with a country that has experienced a bit of a dry spell in terms of culture in recent times. Shanghai and Beijing are two great cities deserving of great culture. I just hope we can provide a little bit of it.”

From Yue to JUE

Not that doing so has been entirely straightforward. In fact, the JUE Festival concept was itself born out of the problems of putting on a one-off show; Split’s own day-long Yue Festival, held in Shanghai’s Zhongshan Park in 2007.

“It was amazing,” says Hamilton, of the event that included international headliners Faithless and Talib Kweli, “but extremely high risk. The weather in Shanghai is unpredictable throughout the year, and the festival culture of going out into a field for a couple of days, getting down and dirty and listening to music, isn't as popular in China yet.” Nevertheless, he reveals that “Yue will come back, probably this year, bigger and better than before.”

The solution, beginning with last year’s inaugural JUE Festival, was to put on more events, over a longer period, in smaller venues, “so we could experiment a bit more with the artists involved.” It certainly seems to have paid off. In a little over twelve months, the festival has more than doubled in size.

Local music blogger Andy Best applauds the move. “Splitting the events across small, city-wide venues that have their own established support, captures what the scene is all about anyway.”

Causing a scene

Label boss and band frontman Han Han goes even further. He thinks that, over time, events like the JUE Festival will help that scene “to become real in outsiders' eyes, attract more casual listeners, and offer more chances of collaboration.”

St. VincentSt Vincent (aka Annie Clark) will play at Yuyintang on March 10 as part of the 2010 JUE Festival.

Such chances -- what Hamilton calls the “cross-pollination of appreciation of culture” -- are no accident. He explains, “We want people to understand that this period in March is for everyone -- promoters, gallery owners, venue owners, artists, musicians, both Chinese and Western. We want all disciplines to be represented. And the more people get involved, the bigger it can get.

Rolling with the punches

For Sean Leow, founder and CEO of creative hub Neocha (who are partnering with Split again for this year’s festival), it’s precisely this “inclusive community spirit wherever you travel in the city over the period of the festival” that makes the JUE Festival so important. He acknowledges that it may “take a few years before JUE hits a critical mass” and that “to grow into the festival we all envision, it will require the support of the entire creative ecosystem in China,” but is optimistic about where it might lead.

So too is Hamilton. “We're learning all the time,” he says. “The cultural, music, and art communities are works in progress here in China, and we just have to roll with the punches and keep assimilating knowledge and applying it. The growth in these industries here over the last five years has been astounding. And I think it will keep on going in this manner, which is the most exciting thing of all.”

JUE Festival is on between March 12 and 29 at various venues across Shanghai and Beijing. More information on the JUE Festival website.