"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.