Here’s a recap of what went down.
Long story short: Yeah, it was pretty good!
Biggest concern going into the thing was how nice the weather was going to play. This past Mid-Autumn festival, Shanghai was gripped with fear in the face of several typhoons scheduled to be making appearances in our city right at the time this and a few other music festivals were going down. The weather had already claimed one casualty in the Moma Festival, pushed back a month due to “bad weather”. (Although, the prevailing rumor is inclement ticket sales was perhaps more of a factor.)
On Day One, grey skies eventually broke into a massive thunderstorm in the evening, with a huge downpour happening right at DJ Premier’s set, which went on anyways as it was a tented stage. The typhoon put the kibosh completely on Zuriaake’s set on Stage Left which was cancelled outright and Canadian pop punks Silverstein were reduced to just a few acoustic numbers as well. Crowds thinned out at that point, with just the diehards splashing around in the water-logged tented stages to Ben UFO in the Yurt and DJ Craze in the Woozy tent.
On Day Two, it was a lovely day. Can’t complain at all. Throughout the afternoon, crowds and talent were gifted with one of those rare and all-the-more-beautiful Shanghai blue skies, replete with rolling clouds, and a technicolor Gone With The Wind sunset as Steve Malkmus and the Jicks played on the one big stage and The Cribs ushered in the night on the other. Day Two was really something. Nothing but posi-vibes on Day Two.
Maybe God doesn’t hate Split Works so much after all. Or at least, She’s coming around to their quirky little festivals.
Little bit of drizzle as HEALTH closed out the show entirely on Day Two, but the LA band seemed to literally fight off the rain as the trickled out.
Better attendance than last year’s Echo Park Festival, which was the first version of this yearly event. Attendance-wise, it’s still feels like a festival event in its infancy. To combat sound bleed, the stages were set up a bit far apart from one another and so it was two days of trekking across these huge grassy expanses. For a few of the key, larger acts, decent crowds were in attendance. Father, A$AP Ferg, Little Sims, and Primo played to a full tent at the Woozy stage. A thousand people maybe? China post rock titans Wang Wen played to several thousand across a grassy field on the main stage on Day Two. Horrific Japanese pop band Sekai No Owari drew the biggest audience of the event; several thousand screaming tweens for a set of utterly nonsensical bullshit at the end of Day Two.
Other less well-known players did sets in front of thinner audiences. HEALTH played to a several hundred at the end. Machine Drum played to under 150. From what we saw, the Yurt Tent never got more than 80 ravers or so. But that stage was meant to be small and intimate, so I guess that’s the point.
Overall... I’m bad at making these estimates… I dunno. 3000? 4000? 5000 people on each day? Something like that. No doubt the weather kept away a few people. There’s room for growth, sure, but it didn’t really feel like a disaster attendance-wise. They've got to be happy with the turnout, considering both the weather and the somewhat left-field nature of the the event itself.
Sound quality varied on the stages but, mostly, it was pretty acceptable. The two main stages were decent enough, with bands afforded some depth and clarity at the front of the stages, and not too much drop off as the music traveled out in the fields. Steve Malkmus’ noodle-ly guitar solos were just fine. (Hey, Steve, when did you turn into Neil Young?) Some complaints could be voiced about the Woozy stage, which was real thin on the mids and could have been straight-up louder overall. When you’ve got A$AP Ferg going on and on and on about ho’s and titties, you kinda want the full experience. At the end, though, complaining about the sound quality and cursing the outrageous incompetence of event organizers is all the fun about these large scale events. It’s the spice, my friends, it’s the spice.
The rest of it was enjoyed without a hitch in my experience. Great food and drink stations, with good representation of our resident Shanghai F&B heroes. Although not much variety in the booze department, the lines were fine, and the prices not too bad. Absolut Vodka was the order of the day with Goose Island slinging their IPAs.
Thumbs up on the shitters. Or so I heard. I’m not a goddamn peasant so I blagged my way into the VIP section to use theirs. C’mon now.
One more thing: Organizers also did a pretty good job in handling the rain on and after Day One. They put down planks across muddy stretches and straw thatch, to make traveling around easier.
Line-Ups and Highlights
As mentioned in that festival preview article, you’ve got to applaud Split Works for putting on something different; for hosting “A Place Less Ordinary” as they were saying in their promo material. Too many Chinese festivals trot out the same six or seven big-time Beijing acts to headline their events and it just becomes so tedious. The years bleed into each other as much as the sound on the stages do. A refrain you often hear if you spend any time out there at the shows is that the China music industry market "needs to mature". Sure, but no one seems to be willing to step out of older, tried-and-true large-scale festival paradigms into newer, more “relevant” directions to instigate said maturation process. On this scale anyways.
For Concrete & Grass, the only somewhat august China festival mainstays playing were Wang Wen and RE-Tros, but both of those acts offer the benefits of not sucking shit either, so that’s okay. The programming at the Woozy Stage was really good, particularly on Day One, with the solid block of hip hop late afternoon and evening. On the whole, the programming was really random — Edison Chen and HEALTH on the same bill — but it created a quirky, unusual, idiosyncratic sort of concert experience wherein you were discovering things you’d never seen. Like…
-Little Simz, making her Shanghai debut — fantastic, heartfelt, and energetic performance that was met with an emotional and enthusiastic response. For many people I talked to, she was the highlight of the whole thing.
-HEALTH destroying a 15-second encore to close out the festival entirely
-DJ Premier representing the Wu
-DIE! DIE! DIE! making it into the crowd during their early set on Day Two
-Ben UFO on Day One and Machinedrum on Day Two.
-Steve Malkmus dusting off “Summer Babe (Winter Version)” at sunset
Also heard good things about French act The Algorithm and MHP’s live sets on Day Two. Missed those ones.
Yeah, it was good, man! it was alright! Thumbs up. Two thumbs up. Eight thumbs up. Fifty thumbs up.
Same time next year, yeah?
Pictures with this article ganked off the Split Works Facebook feed for the event. Our photographer lost his camera to thunder storm on Day One, alas....