Over at Beijing Daze, Badr posted a video of the scene that opens Red Rock, which made me realize that my search for footage of that event had been too-long dormant. The Scene takes place on May 4, 2010, the final day of the Midi Music Festival, when heavy rains forced the festival to stop the action. By this time, Midi was claiming to draw upwards of 20,000 people per day to the festival; a long, strange march from their days of a few hundred students and their friends back in the inaugural 2000 edition.
The weather forced most of the crowd out of the university-district-Beijing park, but there were many people not yet ready to abandon their posts. Later, these hearty souls would be dubbed “Titos” and they would be thusly dubbed with an aura of respect: The name refers to the late-nineties/early-aughts ‘iron henchmen’ (铁托 tietuo), which is the literal translation of the former Yugoslavian leader’s Chinese name, who were the hardest of hard-core Midi Festival fans, back in its earliest days, when it was held on the campus of the school of the same name. The Titos wouldn’t leave and spent the early evening trying to sing the festival back to life.
(Spoiler alert: It worked.)
The six-plus-minute clip below has one (Chinese-)talking head, and that is the head of Xiao Nan, founding member of Cobra, a band that, from the late eighties through the nineties remained atop the yaogun pile. Xiao Nan is also one of the best things to happen to Midi; as stage manager, she is the only thing keeping the festival from slipping into the ever-present fiery pit of chaos, and as a member of yaogun’s pantheon (and a player, still) she gives the festival the kind of cred you can’t get any other way.
Here, Xiao Nan recalls how moved she was by the audience that remained; it was a pretty easy call, she says, to give them what they wanted. First, once the weather cleared up enough to allow people on the stage, a rotating cast of the festival’s biggest local names employed megaphones, flashlights and acoustic instruments to appease the masses. Finally, the crowd got what they’d really been waiting for: Miserable Faith, who, like in so many Midis prior (and since), closed the night – though had to do so unplugged, literally, with only vocal mics providing amplification.
If you’ve got 79 minutes or so to spare, you might want to check out this video here, which takes you through the rain, the megaphone-powered singalong (including an audience-led version of Miserable Faith’s tune “Wherever There is Oppression, There Is Resistance” at around the 32-minute mark), and Miserable Faith’s festival-ending set.
There is also this video, which combines footage from that rain-soaked day with footage from 1998, when a train-car full of Midi Music School students – the original yaogun Titos; though you might not want to describe the innocent-looking youngsters in this video that way, they were certainly worthy of the name – headed south for an adventure that never seems to be made clear. Regardless of what they were up to, they represented a large chunk of the millennial yaogun scene and either had already or were about to form bands that would go on to national recognition.
You will likely note that the video is basically a nostalgia-inducing commercial for the Midi Music Festival’s then-upcoming 2010 October installment. The song, “Highway Song” by Miserable Faith (and, in the video’s intro, by a couple of crooning ladies), features the chorus “Always heading south” – so went the Midi Festival, which began in Beijing, and branched out, not only thanks to the unwelcoming celebrations of the People’s Republic of China’s 60th birthday, in 2009, but also due to an invite from the southern city of Zhenjiang. There has been a festival at Zhenjiang since 2009, though these days, it’s not Midi behind it anymore, thanks to a saga that I’ll not go into here.
With Midi’s most recent foray into the southern half of the country, Yoga Midi, in Guiyang, now over, music festival season in China is just about done. With a government transition slated for October’s 18th National Party Congress, large-scale events like Midi and other rock fests normally hosted in October are not even bothering to apply. Though all is not lost: In Shanghai, the jazzy JZ Festival will go ahead in late October, and, in Beijing, the mostly-classical Beijing Music Festival will feature not only Michael Bolton, but also yaogunner #1, Cui Jian.