Sign In


[Festival Review]: Echo Park

By Sep 22, 2015 Nightlife


When news spread that Mos Def had missed his flight (twice) and would not perform with Talib Kweli, no one I talked to seemed to mind much. By 8.30pm on Sunday, everyone was feeling too good from the weekend in Echo Park. As Skinny Brown put it:

"My entire time there, I was never asked to scan a QR code, no one handed me a flyer for anything, I didn’t see a bunch of hot girls all dressed in ultra-branded race-gear, I never saw a Red Bull flag, Budweiser was nowhere in sight, neither was Heineken, nor Adidas, nobody was pushing agenda, and even the actual sponsor Harbin was pretty much restricted to backstage, where I honestly enjoyed ice cold beer."

Nova Heart on Stage Left

Echo Park was not Black Rabbit. That festival -- the Split-Works x Oppo precursor to this fest -- felt bigger, more sponsored, and just crazier. Maybe it was my lack of sleep on that weekend in 2011, but the crowds for Ludacris and Hebe seemed vastly bigger and wilder than those for Gerard Way and Kelis, who continued the festival's theme of dedication by showing up and performing while completely pregnant. Unfortunately, her song repertoire beyond a few hits is not great (Santogold might have been a better booking), and her relentless chants of "light up the sky, like the 4th of July", promoted your correspondents to wander to the food courts and chat with a young hippie named Jerry, who had just returned from Lockn' Festival, arguably the biggest jam band festival in the world.

"The thing about this festival that's suuuuuper chill, is the grounds. Like, it's completely flat. There's nothing you could hurt yourself on, even if you were totally spun. This fest could grow into something really special down the road." - Jerry

Definitely a family-friendly festival

Indeed, it would be almost impossible to get injured at Echo Park, no matter your state (well, maybe if you tried to jump into the moat and fight one of those giant ducks…). The weather helped, too. The sun shined perfectly on Saturday, and though Sunday brought grey skies, the moments when Metro Line 6's trains whizzed by in the background while streams of hysteric girls chased Korean pop star Jay Park as he sped away in a golf cart flanked by security were pure magic. The organizers said the crowd size was around 5k per day (permitted capacity) but felt smaller in the spread out space. Most of the attendees seemed like the same kind of people who work at the Split Works office -- music lovers rather than crazy party people.

The biggest moments weren't even on stage, as many have pointed out. Rather, they were the times spent sprawled out in the grass with a few stars above, listening to Envy ride a tinnitus-tsunami of post-hardcore, or Bok Bok play a juke set in the Wooozy stage and give a shout out to "R.I.P DJ Rashad" that a bunch of local kids cheered for. How often in Shanghai can you just lay in the grass and listen to one of your favorite bands or DJs? Maybe Yuyintang in 2008.

If anything, some might complain the festival was too chill. Aside from the people dancing to anything in The Yurt, no one was really getting turnt up. As for other criticisms, some DJ sets could have benefited from MCs and more energy (Star Slinger was kinda phoning it in, at peak time), and some members of Shanghai bands I spoke with complained about the lack of local bands in the fest. More craft beer involvement and a few nice Chinese food options (gourmet baozi or roujiamo?) would have been a bonus, too. Visuals on the stages could have been better (e.g. some Shanghai imagery).

As for the most disappointing acts, both Howie Lee and Young Fathers were trying way too hard (the latter have zero on Death Grips or one song on Yeezus, and Howie Lee should turn down the "swag" and dig a little deeper into that Chinese Samples kit). But We Are Wolves and Vibronics killed it, Jay Park surprised a lot of heads, Envy slayed, and Talib Kweli rapped hard enough that Mos Def saying "fuck it" to not one but two flights (what kinda sociopath is this dude?) did not even matter.

The Yurt. Bumping soundsystem in there...

From the amount of acts to the crowd size to the amount of food options and toilets, Echo Park was smaller than other fests in number, but much bigger in terms of quality. The audience knew the music. The stages sounded great. Food and drink was incredibly cheap. Litter was non-existent. Most of the staff smiled. The toilets stayed clean, and some even played Chinese pop music softly when you locked the door. "Open air, not overstimulating, nice breeze", as Katy Roseland, who worked the art "Garage" area, put it. Indeed, no one asked me to scan a single QR code. Somehow, the lack of advertising was almost on the North Korea level, yet the ticket price remained at 200rmb per day, or 300rmb for the weekend. Not life-changing, but an undeniably good fest.

And to think, this whole affair almost got shut down on day two after one of the drone operators accidentally flew their craft into a forbidden area. If Echo Park can hang on to that sponsor money, get a bit more local involvement on the lineup, book a few bigger headliners, and build their audience for another 3-5 years, this will be the one.

Photos by Brandon McGhee & Rhiannon Florence. More photos in our two galleries.



Please register to reserve a user name.
  • 4 years ago Pinball Lizard

    Hey Smart Shanghai
    In the main, a good, balanced review. A few things that I’d like to note

    1. I think whomever you spoke to about Howie Lee and Young Fathers can’t have actually been there. Young Fathers were the standout of the festival according to every single of the 1,000+ people that were in that tent and everyone I spoke to thought Howie was great. I get that there is personal opinion, but this does definitely feel like an outlier

    2. We had plenty of “turnt up” people at the festival – in fact, too many for my liking. One drunken expat thought it would be cool to scrawl a massive FUCK across the mural that 2 of our Japanese friends had spent the whole day working on. Seriously, what pushes any person to do something like that over something like this?

    3. Following on from this point, we felt that having a slightly calmer crowd (than our old friend Black Rabbit) reflected the increased proportion of Chinese on site. Ultimately, that’s what we’re aiming for the longevity of the festival, and we know that our Chinese fans prefer the slightly more laid back festival atmosphere that we created.

    4. Kelis has a great repertoire – one of the greatest around. Multi genre, always exploring, always innovating. Check out her album from last year – Food – one of the best of the year, and tell me she doesn’t have a good repertoire.

    5. I feel proud of this quote: “Most of the attendees seemed like the same kind of people who work at the Split Works office -- music lovers rather than crazy party people.”. Aren’t those the people you want at a music festival? The article makes it sound like a negative.

    6. We would have loved more local bands on the bill (I assume you mean by local bands Shanghai bands?). The question is, who? There is a pretty decent scene going on in the hardcore and metal arenas at the moment, and we did consider Chaos Mind and Machinery of Other Skeletons, but it seemed too early in the festival’s life to throw those bands in. We had about 15 local DJ’s and producers feature on the Yurt Stage, which we feel is representative of where the music scene is in Shanghai. Duck Fight Goose headlined Stage Left on the Saturday. What else could we have done? Happy to hear suggestions?

    7. We tried hard with Chinese food options – the trouble is that Chinese food vendors rarely if ever get down with outside catering, unless it is chuanr, and all three of the ones that we had pulled out in the last week, but yeah, we’ll keep pushing there.

    Thanks for the review – good to have your support. We put our best foot forward, and I think it showed. The reaction has been insanely positive, and we are already looking at artists for next year. You know 2016 is going to be a good one ☺

  • 4 years ago sal_hawk

    Best Festival I've been to all year! Respect out to Archie, Dostav, Mark, and everyone else who made thois festival happen. Huge Love!

  • 4 years ago zmann999

    Shit was solid.

  • 4 years ago TSkillet

    Couple more standouts - the Shocking Pinks at Stage left were groovy and fun. Swim Deep (also Stage Left) sounded like every thing I was listening to in the mid 80s in a power pop kind of way - I mean this as a complement. Really enjoyed their sound. Lots of fun.

    Half of Black Star was awesome . . . but I'm still pretty sad that Yasmin Bey didn't make his flight, because I had actually seen Talib Kweli in Shanghai before . . . was it 8 years ago at the yue festival in Zhongshan Park?

    Here's my big criticism two of the biggest names (Pennywise and Black Star) were on opposite each other. yeah I know festivals you have to make choices - but it felt like if you're flying these bands in from the US, people will want to see them. Sure, there may not be that many Southern California skate punk fans who also like East Coast backpack hip hop - but would it have killed you to stagger those two acts?

  • 4 years ago Pinball Lizard

    Honestly, we didn't think many people that wanted to see Talib would mind missing Pennywise, but the suggestion to stagger is a good one. Pennywise were meant to finish 10 minutes after Talib, but he went long........

  • Recent Articles
  • Popular