The Midi Music Festival 2010 was held from May 1st to 4th at Haidian Park in Beijing. Here’s a preview of an article set to appear in the upcoming issue of Arteffect (No. 10, May 10) regarding the author’s impressions of the festival.
Impressions of Midi Festival 2010
Walking up to the park, congratulating myself on having found the place, got here on public transportation, subway to subway to bus, keeping in with the theme of the fest, low carbon life. Not that I knew that or anything, I just don’t drive. Asking my way around a strange city, it’s neat how the subway is laid out out past the 2nd ring road, when I got out here, first impression, it reminds me of an American suburb with big box stores like Metro and a sports equipment store I have never heard of, Rayspo. Getting off the bus and walking in the packed parking lot of the consumer temples (it is a Sunday after all), I hear music and think, hey I found it that easily. Soon discover it is the stereo speakers beckoning (repelling?) shoppers. I ask the parking lot security guard where the park is, you know the music fest today, he knows it and points to the municipal looking structure that I suspected was it anyway. Walking away thinking, see, people in the big city aren’t so bad, he was a nice guy. Approaching the park, there’s aggro in the air, maybe it is the heat, today’s hot, they said 31, there’s a guy at the gate who stopped his mini car in the middle of traffic, he’s screaming at another idiot who’s shouting back, being held back by his mate. Seems funny because the gate is not the official one, there’s no ticketing here, just some 19 year old short shlep in an ill fitting grey blue green bao’an outfit, and he’s not doing anything other than grin dumbly like the rest of the onlookers. The dumb ass driver has now backed up traffic a few clicks, and enraged, goes to the trunk for a weapon. He throws aside a box of bottled water (too soft) and digs out a screwdriver, storms back the few paces to the pseudo checkpoint gate and is hopping up and down, banging his metal shiv on the fence, “come out, I’ll teach you a thing or two”. Anyway, I skirt the skirmish to the right of the hut that marks the porous first line into the park area and hope no one gets angry inside, myself included. Initial signs are good, the festival atmosphere is thick in the air, and there’s a few tents set up with signs: VIP Reception, Band Reception, Media Reception. I toy with the idea of walking over to the media reception and asking to be let in as a rep for Arteffect or Yellow Rock, but I know that we’re not on the list, and it’d be a waste of time to try to save the entrance fee. Going over to the booth to buy tickets, I think about supporting the efforts of the Midi school to bring people to the music, and though I fleetingly doubt that my 80 kuai makes a difference, I know that I need to pay it anyway, that’s how it works, cause this ain’t Woodstock.
On the way to the main entrance, I pass a vendor with CDs on a cloth tarp on the ground. I glance through and notice they are all foreign artist CDs, and feel disappointed, I wanted to buy some Chinese bands records. Oh well, inside maybe they’ll have a CD or two I can pick up as a souvenir. Entering, walking down long cattle guiding tunnel barricades, thinking, hey, they got it down, this a pro set up. Security looks tough, metal detector, x-ray machines and scruffy kids waving wands like at the airport, but they are not really taking it too seriously. The crowds are out. Midi is known for fashion statements and “creative types”. There’s a long haired photographer who reminds me of my friend in Qingdao. He’s got all the requisite gear, outfitted in khaki shorts and low cut hiking boots, he’s got the look and the long lens. This guy will later try taking my photo as I watch Zhaoze on the Tang stage, with my hand over head to ward off the discomforting rays of sun, and catching him I block the shot with my hand and step behind the couple next to me. He gets the message and moves on.
More crowd notes: there are teenage girls in combat boots and mini skirts, young coolios in Fuck Off Nazi Punks t-shirts (couldn’t agree more), a lot of college students (we are in Haidian after all), and some chicks in heels strutting their stuff and looking hot, but it’s just the look when you look close. It cracks me up to see girls in high heels and Gucci bags at a rock festival, but hey, welcome to the brave new world: All bets are off and it’s all a joke but no one is laughing. I get on the main path and start heading towards the stages, and notice that a lot of people are holding booklets that appear to be the festival programs. I stop a 20 year old guy who is busy trying to figure out where his friend is, and ask where I can find the band I came to see. He’s a little distracted, and just gives me his booklet – sure, sure, we have lots, go on take it. Xie xie ni, and I am on my way across an increasingly dusty field where the lawn has been trampled into brown grit. Walking around the Tang stage circumference, there’s quite a few people here today. It’s sunny, and windy, every once in a while a gust blows up a mini sandstorm. On one side of the stage there’s shade, and tired couples squat on the slope for a respite. There’s a small crowd at the other side stage entrance for the bands, and a wannabe pretty girl in a bright yellow wig poses for photos with the foreigners from the last band that was just on stage. There’s 2 hotties in slick pants jostling to get closer and the guitarist lifts one up and over the barricade and squeezes tight for the ’qiezi‘.
I realize I have to use the facilities and start to wonder how terrible the porta-johns will smell. Then I see the vending alley, the signage calls it the Flee Market, reminds me of Monty Python, run away! It almost looks and feels like a Grateful Dead show, a little Shakedown Street in action, and the vendors fit the bill too. Tattoos and incense abounds, but the bangles and bracelets and t-shirts on sale are not what I am in the mood for. I come across another CD tarp, and, disappointment once again… this guy is selling Kenny G for Christ’s sake. No Chinese CDs. Wonder why. Whatever the case, I am not getting my fix of local prizes, and since I don’t want the cheap plastic cultlery whose pitch is save the forests (ya right), I head over to the structure I saw from outside, which is surprisingly open and, looking like an abandoned exhibition space, must have a WC. Sure enough, and though it is pretty messy, there’s no one around, it’s pretty new and hey, there’s water on tap to wash up afterwards. Such a deal.
Walking back to the stage area after spelling relief, there’s tents set up on the greens. Cutting through off the path, I pass a young couple laying on a blanket in semi seclusion (that’s relative here with thousands of folks around). The lovers are facing each other and totally oblivious to the outside world, googly eyes, the guy is stroking her forehead, man are they infatuated. The sweet glow of puppy love radiates, it makes me smile and believe in the power of love once again. I was starting to forget that feeling but watching them, I think back to Pixie and how it felt to be so totally enveloped by a gaze. The moment cracks and I am reeling, man, that is gonna hurt when they break up. They’re so young, and so in love, there’s no where to go but heartbreak from here. At least the depression diet will take off a few of the freshman fifteen from the girl, but woe to them both as they learn what a cruel and completely worthy thing it is to have loved and lost rather than never loved at all.
All of a sudden, I hear The Boat in the air, feel the thumping of bass and drum, the driving strength of this song is making me tap my fingers as I walk towards it. This is my favorite song by Zhaoze, and HZ is on guitar, slung over the ax in joyful intensity. The sound is decent, not great, but getting the message across. There’s a much larger crowd now that the music is in earnest, and the multi angle video on the huge screen behind the band is creating a wonderful mirror effect. The Boat builds and crescendos, wafts and waivers, pounds and crashes, this is a bad ass tune. But the dust is a blowing, and the sun blazing, so I wander around the stage again, find the shade, and feel a bit dismayed at the overlapping noise coming from the DJ stage one over. Then I think, ya, it’s part of the sound, and I guess the band would really kind of like it in a disconnected dada kinda way. Here on the side another benefit is I can escape the knifing of the wall of sound on my eardrums while avoiding the burn of the fireball in the sky. And I can see the drummer directly, kind of like being backstage and getting a lateral view, totally unobstructed. Noticing that the gear here is damn expensive, all pro speakers and stages and tons of cables. The stage is protected by black mesh, and plastic roof, and we’re all lucky it didn’t rain, although I flash on how kitschy and cliche it would have been to get rain at the festival whose promo materials reference the guitar neck and head from the Woodstock poster. Wonder if the original artist would be flattered or annoyed. Zhaoze goes from a slow guqin centered number into The Flying Pig, and it’s full on sound with a mind for zen replacement of all other senses, the musical zone is thrown around the perimeter like a sonic lasso, tightening as the band builds again to intensity and goosebumps, heads are shaking and nodding, feet are rocking, I can feel the band is climaxing and this is the last of the set.
Wandering over to the band entrance on the other side of the stage, I wait for them to come out so I can say hi. I’ve seen these guys at La Villa, and I feel like a groupie. When they do make an appearance, there are but a few waiting, seems like all friends from back in the hood of Guangzhou. Talking to them, I think, they’re more real than people in Beijing, it’s undefinable but like someone I’ve known for a long time, and there’s a whole range of emotions, expressed and non. Handshakes and back pats later, the band has to run off to the interview area. Reminds me of the Wilco song Hotel Arizona (“made us all wanna feel like stars”). I shake each of their hands in turn, say bye, and walk off, back onto the grid of the Beijing Subway, in time to catch the airport express for my flight to Qingdao. I would have liked to stay and see Free The Birds on May 4th, but that day is reserved for our city here, and I need a rest after a long day of Beijing air, as Jeremy Goldkorn and others have described it, one big bong hit. And that fits the festival atmosphere. No brown acid, but lots of brown acid. You just had to be there and there’s always next year.
Photo Credits @ Zhaoze