MIDI Festival fever hits Shanghai

MIDI Festival fever hits Shanghai

China’s legendary festival brand debuts in Shanghai’s Century Park
Shanghai Midi festival  2011 -- Good 4 Nothing
Japanese pop-punk band Good 4 Nothing helps ring in the first Shanghai MIDI Festival with their melodic, high energy skate anthems.

For the first time in its 11-year history, MIDI, China’s oldest and best-established music festival brand, is heading to Shanghai. Its arrival marks an end to a three-and-a-half year drought that saw a complete absence of any multi-day, multi-stage rock festival in China’s most populous city.

After several years of misfires and false starts, Shanghai MIDI has finally confirmed its maiden foray for the first weekend in May. Local rock fans and musos are both ecstatic and optimistic about the potential of the festival, which will be headlined by 1980s pop-metal supergroup Mr. Big and feature some 25 bands and 23 DJs on two stages.

“It's been a long time coming, and it's been so much nail-biting work," says Michael Ohlsson, founder of Shanghai electronic music collective Antidote, who are booking and promoting MIDI Shanghai’s electronic stage. "If [Shanghai MIDI] goes well, it's going to be brilliant for the city.”

“It's ironic that the rest of China has been going festival crazy the last couple years, but Shanghai lags behind. Hopefully MIDI can come along and change that.”

Shanghai Midi festival  2011 -- Angry JerksNanjing-based Angry Jerks -- one of China's only psychobilly bands -- is in town for the first Shanghai MIDI Festival.

A long way to the top

While the 2011 Shanghai MIDI Festival has already been approved and sanctioned by the local government, the initial reports of the festival’s arrival were met with collective cynicism, in part due to the failed launch of the 2009 Shanghai MIDI Festival.

“In 2009, there was not enough time to pass the necessary fire inspection,” explains Shan Wei, MIDI executive vice president of operations and project development.

“We [had] to suspend the festival. For the past two years, we have been striving to hold the MIDI Music Festival in Shanghai, and finally found Century Park, which is an ideal venue for this outdoor music festival.”

With the venue secure and line-up finalized, MIDI is using this opportunity to promote Shanghai -- a city often considered an afterthought in terms of artistic development and achievement -- in terms of the cultural milieu.

“There's a new generation of young Shanghainese that have never experienced hanging outside on the grass during the day with rock music, or DJs,” adds Ohlsson. “I think, and hope, that some minds are opened.

Best of both worlds

It's been a long time coming, and it's been so much nail-biting work. If [Shanghai MIDI] goes well, it's going to be brilliant for the city— Michael Ohlsson, founder of Shanghai electronic music collective Antidote

Since 2007, the last time Shanghai hosted an outdoor rock festival, multi-stage music gatherings have been popping up all over China -- in Beijing, Chengdu, Xi’an, Qingyuan, Nanjing and Hangzhou -- mostly as government-funded cultural events.

Competing brands like Zebra and Modern Sky have fuelled the rise in festival popularity, but MIDI has always relied on imported foreign talent to secure its place as the top rock festival in China.

This year appears to be no different, with acts like Mr. Big (United States), Mongol 800 (Japan), Hibria (Brazil), Good 4 Nothing (Japan), Your Favorite Enemies (Canada) and Ming’s Pretty Heroes (Holland) all playing the festival’s Tang Stage. Chinese acts include Reflector, Free the Birds, Top Floor Circus, The Mushrooms and Angry Jerks.

While many of these bands seem to be obscure, MIDI has a very specific directive to appeal to the tastes of their loyal followers.

“We select and invite famous bands from abroad like Mr. Big,” says Shan. “Chinese rock fans are familiar with them and love them.”

If this event is well attended by average citizens or kids who haven't been exposed to this kind of music it will really impact the dissemination of this kind of music in society.— Jordan Small, singer and guitarist for Boys Climbing Ropes

In addition to this cross-cultural musical exchange on the Tang Stage, MIDI’s Antidote electronic stage features 23 DJs, most of them based in Shanghai and of various national affiliations; Ben Huang, B6 and Cavia, all hail from China, Acid Pony Club and LON come from France, Heatwolves! and Mau Mau from the United States, and there's also R3 (Australia), Trix (Canada) and Patrick Mai (Taiwan).

Saving the bears

Aside from its main goal of raising awareness about independent music and festival culture, MIDI is using the 2011 festival to educate the public about the evils of “bear farming,” a practice which involves the extraction of bile from caged bears for commercial use.

In order to complete this public service mission, MIDI enlisted the help of the Animals Asia Foundation.

It’s unclear how effective these efforts will be, but MIDI, who has previously worked with Greenpeace, regularly uses its festivals as platforms to increase understanding of environmental and humanitarian issues.

Shanghai Midi festival  2011 -- Top Floor CircusPunk act Top Floor Circus finally get to take a MIDI stage in their home town.

So far, so good, so what

As the festival draws near and MIDI organizers make their final preparations, there is still some lingering local cynicism concerning the festival’s ability to spark an actual lasting change in a city that is widely regarded as culturally void.

“I don't really think festivals here help the underground music scene much, if at all,” says Abe Deyo of Legal Grey, an independent concert-promoting and tour-booking vehicle.

“Festivals here tend to be more of a draw for the atmosphere than for the music.”

Despite Deyo’s legitimate claim, local musicians are on edge, awaiting the arrival of the first ever Shanghai MIDI Festival; whether or not there will be any significant cultural impact remains to be seen.

“Festivals are all about big audiences and big sound,” says Jordan Small, singer and guitarist for Boys Climbing Ropes.

“If this event is well attended by average citizens or kids who haven't been exposed to this kind of music, it will really impact the dissemination of this kind of music in society.”

More music festivals on CNN

Tips, the experts reveal their picks: MIDI staffers and artists participating in the 2011 Shanghai MIDI Festival tell us the acts they’re most eager to catch.
  1. Jordan Small of Boys Climbing Ropes (May 8, 5:50 p.m.) -- pick: Free the Birds (May 8 at 6:50 p.m.)
  2. Helen Feng of Free the Birds (May 8 at 6:50 p.m.) -- pick: Top Floor Circus (May 6 at 4:40 p.m.)
  3. Michael Ohlsson of Antidote -- pick: Caliph-8 (May 8 at 5 p.m.)
  4. Le Zi of Sonnet (May 6 at 2:50 p.m.) -- pick: Mongol 800 (May 6 at 5:10 p.m.)
  5. Shan Wei, MIDI VP -- pick: Mr. Big (May 6 at 7:30 p.m.)
Shanghai MIDI Festival 2011, May 6-8, 1 p.m.-9:30 p.m., Shanghai Century Park (世纪公园), 1001 Jinxiu Lu, near Minsheng Lu 锦绣路1001号, 近民生路, +86 21 3876 0588; tickets: May 6, RMB 150; May 7-8, RMB 80; RMB 200 for a three-day festival pass

Writer, front man, promoter and visionary, Dan Shapiro's a Renaissance man who's been covering Shanghai's music and nightlife scenes since 2007.

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