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.
Midi ain’t just for young punks any more… Or: It is, as long as we tweak our definition of both “young” and “punks”
In celebration of Children’s Day (June 1; yes, a bit late, but worth the wait, I’m sure), Midi, the people behind the eponymous rock and roll school in the suburbs of Beijing and those that brought you many-a music festival in various Chinese locales over the past dozen years, held a kiddie event in Beijing: Midi Kids.
There has been a lot of talk of China’s soft-power muscle-flexing, with a Confucius Institute for every college, city and town in the world (and let us take a moment to marvel at the CI English website address: english.chinese.cn – and spanish.chinese.cn, or russian.chinese.cn). Even a quick look at the offerings of these Institutes reveals a China that barely resembles that which exists now: Acrobatics, the traditional comedic stylings of ‘cross-talk,’ kung-fu, ancient scroll paintings, traditional opera. I can sympathize, to a point: After all, it’s what people assume China has to offer. I’ll never forget that one jackass French viewer who, during industrial-rock act Tongue’s first French set, in Rennes back in 2004 (go 86/33 Link!), shouted, inexplicably, “Jackie Chan!” I was also asked, during one of Subs’ Nordic tours, if the band hung out much with the 5, 6, 7, 8’s, the Japanese band then in vogue, thanks to Quentin Tarantino and a guy named Bill.
But hard rock is starting to find its way into soft power. While Beijing-based Mongolian folk act Hanggai – who, I am ecstatic to once again announce, are coming not just to my hometown, Toronto, but to my danwei, or work unit, Harbourfront Centre, for our Planet IndigenUS festival in early August – have received governmental support for tours to North and South America.
The biggest governmental headbang thus far in yaogun’s history sees the Ministry of Culture sending three Chinese heavy metal bands to metal’s biggest event, the Wacken Open Air festival in Germany. The China Daily, for one, was happy about this latest trend.
As lineups are announced at music fests around the world and as summer music festival season encroaches, a look China-ward reveals that it’s just about festival time. In glorious China-fest fashion, lineups are only just being announced, at t-minus barely a month to the big fests – e.g. Midi and Modern Sky’s Strawberry Music Festival, both of whom are doing Beijing and Shanghai versions. Meanwhile, new-ish-comer China Music Valley Festival is set to have some big names, though not yet officially…
This time of year, folks make lists. One list to which Chinese-rock-watchers will be paying special attention is the list drawn up by Midi Productions, hander-outer of the Midi Music Awards. This year marks the third time bricks will be bestowed upon the “top” artists across several categories of yaogun.
Midi, you’ll perhaps recall, began as a music school in 1993, drawing those about to rock from the four corners of the Middle Kingdom. In 2000, the school hosted what was less a festival than a showcase for the bands formed by students. Four years later, it outgrew its campus quad moving into a huge park; by the Olympic year, ‘festival’ and ‘Midi’ were synonyms and the festival expanded to other cities.
I’ll pause here to say that in addition to having played at and worked on several years’ worth of Midi Festivals as well as having worked with Midi on getting several artists on their stages, I have, since 2009, been one of the awards’ hundred-plus judges.
See Rock in China for the 2009 nominees and winners;
Beijing Daze has the 2011 short-list.
The Midi Awards are like the Festival itself: On the surface, all is fantastic. But a look deeper reveals a state of affairs not so much sad as it is disheartening; sad and disheartening in the way that awards generally are, but also in other ways. First, the standard awards narrative: One bemoans the exclusion of the ones one deems worthy of inclusion, damming the spectacle as a result. Until, that is, one’s personal favourites are included, in which case there’s the short-term celebration, sometimes skipped over completely, in the face of the bittersweet experience of the effects of that attention: That morning-after feeling that defines the way many watch their favourite movies, bands, authors cross over in the mainstream. Of course, there’s no risk of pop-co-optation resulting from the Midi Awards, but it’s a feeling with which, I think, anyone who’s felt like they’ve discovered something is familiar.
There is, though, a disheartening element of the awards that goes beyond the standard awards-are-bunk experience. If Midi is yaogun’s judge, Midi needs to be up to snuff, or else yaogun suffers from their mistakes. The short-lists tend to look like the line-ups of just about every Midi Festival since day one: AK47, who won the first Metal award, appeared at all but one of the Midi Festivals; ditto for Miserable Faith, who swept four of the eleven categories at the Awards’ first instalment. Categories are messy as well: XTX and Miserable Faith were nominated, in 2009, for both Rock and Hard Rock band of the year; in 2010, Miserable Faith was nominated in Rock and Hard Rock; 2011 sees Ordnance and Yaksa nominated in Hard Rock and Metal categories. And though I’m jazzed that Omnipotent Youth Society is back on the list again this year, how does a song qualify for Best Song two years’ running?
I was convinced by the argument of influential critic, and one of the eight members of the awards’ Standing Committee that oversees the awards, Hao Fang, that these awards were something Midi ought to do. Movies, he said, weren’t taken seriously until the industry started the Oscars. “Eventually,” he says, “they got respect as a form. After you’ve respected your own form enough, others will too.” But then, the Midi Awards have given many reasons for others to hold off on that respect, the most blatant of which was bestowing upon themselves, in 2010, the award for biggest contribution to Chinese rock. Have they contributed greatly to yaogun? Most definitely. Is handing themselves an award for their work the way to get the rest of the world to notice, care or, well, not point and laugh?
This year, judges were sent upwards of thirty albums, and given thirteen category options. That new categories over the years have opened up – folk, album art – are treated as news that the awards are getting more inclusive. I’d argue they’re like the rush to add stages at the festival: Just because you have them doesn’t mean they represent a collection of artists that should be celebrated. Am I saying that there are no worthy folk acts or album art? No, I am not. But the rush to expansion is made at the expense of examining what one has.
It hasn’t all been bad news: I was personally glad to see Perdel, the Gar and Wang Wei get noinatd in 2009. 2010’s acknowledgement of Omnipotent Youth Society also brought joy. This year, Zhaoze, a mesmorizing post-rock band, and Long Shen Dao (LSD), a reggae/dub collective, are highlights; they stand far above the pack of upwards of thirty albums judges were sent (I found very few worthy of even a full listen). But my picks didn’t make the cut. Judges don’t vote on the short-list, their votes help create it. A Standing Committee of eight makes the final decision, announced at a concert on December 10.
I haven’t given up hope that the Midi Awards will live up to yaogun’s potential, but I also recognize that, like the festival, it’s going to be a long time until that happens. Fortunately, nobody’s making music just to please the Midi judges, so I think that yaogun will do just fine – even if the Midi Awards don’t notice.
Here are my picks:
(First: A note on the translation, which was done by Midi. “performance” doesn’t refer to a particular show; it refers, rather, to a band or musician. So Best Metal Performance is actually Best Metal Band)
最佳年度摇滚专辑 (Album of the Year) Zhaoze: Cang Lang Xing
最佳年度摇滚歌曲 (Song of the Year) LSD: “Sway”
最佳年度摇滚乐队 (Best Rock Performance By Group With Vocals): Omnipotent Youth Society
最佳年度摇滚男歌手 (Best Male Rock Vocal Performance ) Deng Pei (Lonely China Day)
最佳年度摇滚女歌手 (Best Female Rock Vocal Performance ) Sun Xia (Dear Eloise)
最佳年度硬摇滚乐队 (Best Hard Rock Performance) Rustic
最佳年度金属乐队 (Best Metal Performance) Voodoo Kungfu
最佳年度摇滚乐器演奏 (Best Rock Instrumental Performance ) Han Han (Duck Fight Goose)
最佳年度摇滚现场 (Best Live Performance ) Lonely China Day
最佳年度摇滚新人奖 (Best New Artist ) Bad Mamasan
最佳年度民谣音乐奖 （Best Folk Music）Guo Long and Zhang Weiwei
最佳年度专辑设计奖（Best Album Art）Omnipotent Youth Society
中国摇滚贡献奖（Contribution to China Rock） 2 KOLEGAS (a Beijing venue)