[Waving the "OK" flags for Satan to come through MIDI]
MIDI is one of China's oldest music brands, with a music school in Beijing for twenty years and this festival for over a decade. Traditionally rock focused, they've added electronic stages in recent years. It's raw. Mostly bigger Chinese bands and a few international acts about a decade past their prime -- Static X and Fear Factory this year. Almost zero promotion. The have a new social responsibility theme each year - 2014 was "Reduce Horn Honking."
Budweiser Storm, on year two, likely promoted harder than any festival in Chinese history, with the goal of creating the biggest electronic music festival in China. A year-long marketing campaign with 80 pre-parties all around China, and even a collaboration between Avicii and Taiwanese pop star Wang Leehom. Millions and millions spent.
[Slangin' that huanggua at MIDI -- straight from the farm, extra organic]
MIDI was 150rmb a day at the door, or about 100rmb from the scalpers, and they had more stages, a more diverse lineup, and cheaper drinks. Camping was free, though you had to rent or buy tents there.
Pre-sale tickets for Storm were 390rmb, with the expectation that door tickets would cost 490rmb. They had bigger, more expensive artists than MIDI, but all electronic except for Kesha. When I arrived I was swarmed by scalpers selling tix at deep discounts. Not only that, but the door price was 390rmb -- the same price as the pre-sales. I would have been pissed if I'd actually bought a pre-sale ticket.
[Sunsets at MIDI, where there be dragons]
MIDI happened way out in Pudong, north of the airport. Planes often flew right overhead, and a lack of tall buildings made for long, enjoyable sunsets. It was basically a huge field with a bunch of stages and tents. And as a bonus there was no rain this year either.
Storm went down at the West Bund, an underrated an-up-and-coming area in south Xuhui, near the Long and Yuz Museums. One big plus here is the location, easily accessible from metro Line 7 and just a few stops from Jing'an.
[Storm Festival 2014, where there be aliens...]
Production at MIDI was nothing special. Sound on the main stage where Static X raged was decent enough. For electronic music, they had two stages -- The Yuan stage, run by The Mansion, and a smaller tent run by Jagermeister. The sound in that tent, provided by Sennheiser, was banging. Some stage bleeding throughout the fest.
The sound at Storm's second stage was next-level good -- somehow better than the main stage's. Stage design was impressive but sterile. Their loose concept about aliens invading earth with EDM music meant stages with huge alien tentacles. But there wasn't much for people to do besides look at a stage, and that gets old, especially when some of the acts really sucked. At raves and festivals back home, there are all kinds of activities, from water slides and bouncy castles to face-painting and chill out zones.
MIDI had more in the activities department, like a giant room dedicated to pillow fighting. Plus, MIDI wasn't a rave, and they had nine stages and a lot of vendors -- and the vendors looked like actual music fans. And they had camping, so worst case you could just fuck off back to your tent and make love.
[A throwback to EDM's first appearance on the Mortal Kombat soundtrack back in 1995]
Neither festival paid enough attention to safety. Cables and holes all over the place at Storm, but basically every area was well lit. MIDI on the other hand had large swaths of land that were darker than Detroit at night, including bathroom areas. Could easily see someone getting robbed or worse out there.
[Shanghai-based producer Conrank at MIDI's Jägermeister stage]
MIDI had 200 bands and 50 DJs. Nothing mind-blowing, but something for everyone. Static X was rad. Throwback to 9th grade right there. For electronic music, it was all local. Jägermeister tent was better because they gave the DJs longer sets and the programming went from chill to heavy over the night. DJs on the outdoor electronic stage played more suited to a dark club at like 5am, not an outdoor festival. But even when the music sucked at MIDI you could still pound some beers and wander around.
Storm was all electronic music except Kesha and Bottled In England. Lineup on the second stage was pretty solid, but suffered from lackluster programming, and the stage peaked about three hours before the end of the festival. Timing is just as important as selection. Perhaps whoever programmed this stage paid more attention to their followers on Soundcloud rather than actually listening to their music. That said, the people booking stage two worked hard to get even better bookings, but fought an uphill battle.
[Y'all wanna see me piss glitter right now? Ima do it.]
Over on Storm's packed main stage, I caught four of Kesha's songs and quite enjoyed that drunken spectacle of dolphins and hippos dancing around her as she sung "Tic Toc." At one point she asked for a beer. Someone threw a can of Tsing Tao, she popped it and downed it. It was nice to see an actual live performer; Storm could've used more. Nevertheless, it was a pity the sound was so quiet during her set.
Both festivals could have benefited from more MCs announcing what the fuck was going on between sets and saying what up to the crowd. MIDI had commercials between sets, STORM had fifteen minutes of silence between Kesha and the next act. Also, while MIDI would have benefited from electronic headliner from abroad, Storm could have shown the local DJs a bit more respect and put them on later in the day. Also, most of the artists at Storm were young, much-hyped stars near the peak of their career -- a few throwback artists would have balanced this nicely.
[Managed to sneak into the VIP section at MIDI for some exclusive shots]
MIDI wins this one. Two tiger drafts for 20rmb, plus a 5rmb deposit per reusable cup. Cash accepted. Recycling. Boom. Dada was there serving up mixed drinks for 30rmb. Was easy enough to snag some free Jager shots.
Although Storm was a Budweiser event, it was near impossible to get a beer. They poured millions into this -- they should have set up beer stands all over the place. No beer to be found anywhere near stage two. That was a long walk and a longer wait in line away. Apparently you couldn't pay in cash either. That wasn't very clearly announced. I feel bad for anyone who waited 30 minutes for a beer only to be told they needed to buy coupons at another booth.
[Hey look, turns out Static X are still alive]
The crowd at both fests were predominately Chinese. MIDI didn't promote hard but they have a lot of name recognition and diehard fans after twenty years in the game. Maybe 4,000-5,000 people were there on the first day. Lots of young adults and aunties selling everything from homemade clothing to bootleg metal CDs and glow sticks. Also some families, white-collar rockers, and curious onlookers. Everyone seemed pretty into it, in an 80's montage kind of way.
[Guys, I swear...me and my laptop, together we can touch the sky]
Storm had a greater turnout--probably around 7,000 people on Monday evening. Average age there was a bit younger than MIDI, with some tweens getting down to the latest laptop jams. Rumor has it that 300 Chinese university students were paid to stay in front of the third stage all day so their DJ contest wouldn't look empty, but they looked like they were having a good time. Storm had more employees in general, and rumors say a few thousand tickets were comped. To be fair, they got a much bigger Chinese audience this year, but that's kind of expected given their marketing budget.
[Rock and roll, satan, and pillow fighting at MIDI]
One friend commented that Storm was not actually a festival, but rather a spectacle. For an electronic music festival, there was no feeling of unity or any of that PLUR shit. Basically, get the people there, give them something impressive to look at -- EDM stars and expensive stages -- and some produts to buy, and that's it. Quite like a Chinese nightclub, complete with VIP areas and champagne buckets. It felt weirdly contrived, whereas MIDI felt organic, if not random. So MIDI wins in the vibes department.
At festivals in Shanghai, I've really only felt a strong vibe at MIDI, the Antidote festival in Zhujiajiao back in 2009, JZ, and Black Rabbit in 2011 -- all organized by people deeply involved in local music. So while MIDI did almost zero marketing and had a smaller turnout, they cultivated a much better vibe. A more musically and geographically diverse lineup, better/weirder vendors and booths, and an even more local audience. And it was just way more fun. A weird, local adventure way out in Pudong, involving black taxis, metal bands, and cheap, accessible booze.
Storm had such a bigger budget; they could have done so much better. It's proof that social media hype doesn't always translate to vibe, and no matter how much money you spend, you can't just create culture with boardroom meetings and capital. I'm still waiting for Black Rabbit 2, and curious to see what the Top 100 DJs Festival and JZ Festival do on October 18.
Storm festival photos courtesy of Storm Festival, MIDI Festival pictures by Cecilia Chan.