Back in January, we created a list of the Top 10 Music Festivals to check out in 2010. China’s MIDI Music Festival got an honorable mention because, at the time, we didn’t know if it would be in Beijing or Zhenjiang, or even when it would occur (cough*government*cough). Happily for everyone, the festival was back on track in Beijing and off to fantastic start! MTV Iggy special correspondents Mary Dennis and Rian Dundon (photos) report from the front lines…
May 1, 2010. Outside the gate to Haidian Park a mass exodus of hippies, punks, rockers, and hipsters are making their way into the gate of Midi Music Festival. It’s the first truly hot day in Beijing this year, and the festival – back from a one year government induced hiatus – is full of bare skin and smiles.
Just inside, on the smaller Song stage, Xi’an rock band 24 Hours are crooning out a somewhat painful cover of Bang Bang. A small crowd is huddled under umbrellas, staring unenthusiastically. Its early in the day, none of the main acts have gone on yet, and the real scene is still centered around the stalls and vendors.
Kids are selling everything from rubber chickens, to People’s Liberation Army red star caps, to t-shirts with slogans like “Thank the Government,” or “Never Stop Just Rock.” Pirated CDs are selling for about a dollar, with box sets of Michael Jackson and Nirvana displayed over a top 40 fish pool: Jack Johnson, Jonas Brothers, Lady Gaga, Linkin Park.
Ullens Center for Contemporary Art has set up a pit filled with a web of multi-colored string, which a few girls are playing in it like oversized kittens, while WWF is passing out panda playing cards to anyone who signs up for their volunteer mailing list.
One thing about this festival, it often feels it is more about the fashion than the music. Lots of people pay no attention to what’s going on onstage – girls rocking neon leggings, high heels, and matching sunglasses, guys in denim jumpsuits littered with holes, or pink bowler hats and tweed vests. Camera’s are firing in every direction, with members of the fashion freak show posing every few seconds, seemingly dazed into striking stupid poses by the attention. I see one girl in a short skirt and high heels trying to climb a tree. With her heels on.
As I make it to the back of the festival grounds, I finally find where all the punks have been hiding: at the MAO Livehouse stage. The stage is in a separate area from the other four main festival stages – the punks have cloistered themselves off in a ocean of leather, studs, mohawks and unnecessary zippers.
Ni San Dao (蜜三刀) has just taken the stage, and a cackaphony of oi’s is flying back and forth between the band and the crowd like a strange punk bird mating call. Soon the lead singer, a large skinhead with red suspenders and a deep, guttural voice, launches into their first song, “Chinese Rudieboy.” The fist pumping oi-ing begins in earnest. The crowd moves back as a spray of sweat flies through the air, giving the space a delicate mist of eau du punk.
Behind the mayhem, a row of civilian kids with cameras held over their heads stand filming the whole thing, documenting what their friends might otherwise never believe. As the song ends, shouts of niubi! erupt from the crowd, meaning literally, the female genitalia of a cow — the highest compliment a Chinese youth can throw at you. The lead singer yells back, “nimen yea niubi!” You guys are also cow p**sy! Next to me, an excited punk turns to his friend and throws his fist into the air, yelling, “Women shi zui niubi!” We are the most cow p**sy of all!
Back at the main stage, Mr Turtle (海龟先生), a reggae/ska band from Guangxi, is in the middle of their set, and the crowd has swarmed the stage. Their lead singer strums on a purple guitar, singing with his eyes closed, shoulder length hair blowing in the breeze. Behind him a reincarnation of Slash is churning out twangy bass lines, sending the crowd into a sweaty frenzy.
A few brave youths have begun crowd surfing, getting slammed to the ground as they reach the edge of the crowd. People have their dazed, drunk from music faces on, and a buzz of peaceful energy vibrates through the air. The band is playing one of their half English half Chinese songs: “Like a rolling stone/Mama take me home,” the singer croons.
“Its our first time here at Midi!” yells the lead singer, and the crowd roars. “Remember to watch out for the people around you, and if you’re too hot go sit down for a while.” Having warned the crowd, the band launches into a fast ska beat, and people grabs hands, beginning a part mosh, part hippie twirl, spiral conga line. Bare feet and converse sneakers pound music into the earth, kicking up dust and reveling in that similar energy that exists at every good music festival, everywhere. As the afternoon moves towards evening, the heat fades but the energy stays: Midi 2010 is off with a bang.
– Mary Dennis
Photos Courtesy of Rian Dundon