Once more unto the breach my Shanghai friends. Hopefully everyone is feeling tip top after a weekend of beer festivals and endless disco parties. The numbers are in and last weekend’s beer festival attendance on the Cool Docks included nearly every one of Shanghai’s 173,000–strong expat population. Alright those numbers aren’t exactly solid but I’m sure it felt that way for those in attendance. Let’s see… we had Strawberry, MiDi, and JZ's Spring Fest in Jing'an two weeks ago, and Beer Festival last weekend, so are we finally done with festivals? Nope.
This weekend we have the second attempt at a MiDi Electronic Festival, hosted near Suzhou’s Taihu Lake. The first (and only) MiDi Electronic Festival happened back in 2012 in Pudong and was a one day affair, while this weekend has three days of non-stop DJ and live electronic performances. This is a really ambitious project from the Mansion crew, who have stepped up their activities recently with last year's Yinyang Music Festival up north and now have teamed up with MiDi to co-host this weekend’s festival. The site already got a test run with the main MiDi rock festival a couple weeks ago -- check out some pictures for a taste.
The Mansion crew’s backbone is Rainbow Gao, who funds most of the projects and is the head organizer. I talked with her boyfriend Tommy “Mansion” Hendricks who is handling booking and English promotion for the event. We went over some of the differences between the Mansion festivals and more corporate festivals like Storm. I also talked with Maurice and Danny who run a collective called TDM (Alternative Fashion Week) and have recently teamed up with the Mansion to release a 12” vinyl compilation of local based producers. I’ll also share a few of my favorite artists playing live at eMiDi.
Before we get into the rice and pork of Mansion MiDi, let’s take a minute to review some of the basics of the local acts booked at this weekend’s festival. A large percentage are DJs that play the Mansion club. Then there is also booking help from the bar Downtown, the Psy-Trance group Shalanaya, Nantong club The Void, and the techno party crew Eat My Beatz. By default there are some factions of Shanghai’s established electronic scene not represented which is going to cause some gripes. If the Arkham, Shelter, Lola clubs etc got together and did a festival, would they make sure to include the Mansion crew? Who knows. But more importantly who really cares. If you like the acts playing and respect Rainbow and her Mansion then go, if not then don’t go. Or better yet go pull a Wayne’s World 2 and start your own festival. One thing is clear -- this posse ain’t stopping anytime soon, with another Yinyang festival scheduled in June and more large events planned in the near future.
Tommy Mansion And Rainbow Gao
I’ve never been to the Mansion and I didn’t make it to the Yinyang festival last year so my knowledge mostly comes from word of mouth and their various themed event flyers. My main interest in the crew is about their DIY policies. When asked about the difference between the Mansion electronic festivals and the Budweiser STORM electronic festival, Tommy had this to say:
"Storm festival sees music as a business without any interest to educate the Chinese people, no moral responsibility. It's an extension of the Chinese commercial clubbing scene; same style, artist selection, VIP, Superstars, top 100 DJs...If you pay enough you can even buy the festival name like Budweiser did. Storm does a massive production, incredible stage design. So yeah that's pretty opposite to our festival which is build on interest, spirit, low budget with the goal to build a quality scene and to deliver a complete festival experience. I hope the Storm organizers and investors gonna join the Electronic Music Summit we organize during the Midi Electronic Festival!”
Tommy is talking about the Saturday and Sunday workshop portion of eMidi titled "Music Summit", which intends to showcase talks from leaders in the Chinese music community. These are extremely hard to pull off in a constructive manor and I’m very curious to see how these talks unfold. One thing I can’t stand is how the summit is listed in their official promotion packet:
"We will host the first electronic music conference in the history of China during Midi Electronic Festival. "
When the fuck will people stop randomly claiming they are the first do anything and everything in China, e.g. "I’m the first person to ever eat a taquito in China", "I’m the first DJ to ever play Sir-Mix-A-Lot in China", "I threw the first wizard staff party in China". That’s one of my biggest pet peeves. Semantics aside, there should be more talks and workshops in Shanghai so hopefully the Mansion crew continue to try and push such activities.
Besides the main daytime acts I’m also curious about these six individual "Night Time Houses", which are essentially six different clubs operating at the same time in the theme park's main street section. They will go all night long and feature more of the local DJ talent. There is a psy trance house, a techno house, and I’m sure a whole lotta tech tech tech house. Time will tell how many people actually stay for the full overnight MiDi Mansion experience but if any of the stories I’ve heard about the Mansion are true, shit is going to be bananas. You can rent or buy a tent or sleeping bag on site and there is ample area for camping. Rain is expected Friday but luckily Saturday and Sunday looks to be clear.
Another milestone of the week comes in the form of a new Shanghai based vinyl label who go by the name TDM (pronounced Tedium), which stands for The Dark Mattress. Alright it’s not quite a proper record label, as the group TDM has been operating various "creative" projects for the past year. Basically every month they switch it up, like last January they did an event with 10 artists live painting. Then in February they did an "alternative fashion week" featuring local designers.
This month is the vinyl release, a collaboration with the Mansion featuring six Shanghai-based producers / Mansion regulars. Next month TDM is doing a project that involves journalists / writers so if you want to to participate / know more then hit them up directly via email (TDM@thedarkmattress.com). Check out their Facebook for a little taste of the TDM. Despite being so spread out, The Dark Mattress does plan to release more vinyl later this year.
Alright back to the record concept. TDM are a self-proclaimed anti-money group and are giving away all 300 copies of the 12” vinyl sampler for free. 100 copies will be given away at eMiDi. The first 50 will go to people who buy their festival tickets via this specific link. Another 25 will go to DJs and organizers, and 25 more will go to -- and I quote: “the coolest people we spot in the crowds”. The final 200 will be given away on a Mansion x TDM tour that will be hosted in secret venues announced via WeChat the day before. I asked the TDM crew if future releases will be electronic as well, and founding member Danny had this to say:
“We have our roots in punk and rock actually! But we’re also hardcore electro and maximal fans. This first record, titled The Road to failure is littered with success includes mostly electronic genres: minimal, techno, deep house & maximal. In the future we’re definitely going to be releasing punk, rock and Scrunge records!”
If you’re curious what Maximal Music means I’m way ahead of you buddy -- Answers.com.
Even though TDM is all over the place, releasing vinyl in China is no easy task and making it a free concept is commendable. Before, Shanghai artists like AM444, Duck Fight Goose, and Next Years Love have given away their vinyl free at release shows. Hopefully these TDM kids can keep up that business model.
Now let’s move on to my top five picks from the main stage of eMiDi.
Brandt Brauer Frick
BAM! For the third time now my favorite German acoustic techno gods Brandt Brauer Frick return to China. I saw them both times before and was simply blown away on how much these guys kill it live. Known best for using classical instruments in the place of synths, these highly trained musicians make techno without the tech. I’d even go so far as too compare the group to Kraftwerk in terms of the innovation they’ve brought to a sometimes stale electronic dance scene.
Brant Brandt Brauer Frick play everything from big name festivals like Coachella to underground dance clubs all the way too jazz festivals with your mom. These three Berlin boys really make some thought-provoking and catchy but complicated and sometimes contradictory music. Don’t miss their set.
Brandt Brauer Frick – "Caffeine"
The Subs (Belgium)
What’s this? Two bands named Subs at the same festival? That’s a little strange but I’ll go ahead and play along. You have Belgium’s The Subs, who are crazy popular across Europe, and then you have SUBS, who are equally popular in China. Actually since SUBS were formed in 2002 -- nearly four years before their Belgium counterparts started -- I would have to have to rule in their favor. The Beijing band will play a live electronic set without their drummer at eMiDi, then a full live show at Mao on Saturday. Let’s just hope this festival is big enough for The Subs to electro rock your hearts away.
Getting their start in the underground Belgium dance scene, The Subs' early days of way back in 2008 saw them getting play from famous DJs like Boys Noize and Tiesto. Fast forward a couple years and they received a gold record for their album The Pope of Dope. Their mid-afternoon set on Saturday should be a festival delight.
The Subs – "Trapped feat. Colonel Abrams"
Not to be outdone, our favorite punk rock band from Beijing SUBS" (杀不死 – "unkillable") are stripping down their set and going electro. Yes they are switching out drummer (and SmartBeijing writer) Josh Feola for a trusty drum machine and performing a special electro version of their music. I’m expecting Kangmao & Wuhao will bring that same punk rock energy to this techno SUBS version.
Rocking arenas since 2002, SUBS have maintained their respect by never signing to a record label despite numerous offers from heavyweights like Modern Sky. Not that they're against a little branding, as you can find SUBS swag all over China. Stick around Sunday for a little taste of the China’s own SUBS in a whole new light.
Subs – "We Won’t Have to Wait Some Day"
Well what do you know, more Belgium delights, this time in the form of Mumbai Science who are playing the main eMiDi stage on Saturday. Maarten Elen and Jonas Kiesekoms make up the young duo of ultra-hip indie electro producers that is Mumbai Science and they have been killing it across Europe for the past five years. Initially signing with hard hitting label Lektroluv Records, they released four EP’s (Woof EP, Ancova EP, Gold EP and Lotus EP). That’s when the support from big names like Tiga and 2 Many DJ’s started to flow in.
Just non-stop techno fun, the duo have been moving into an acid and electro sound and I’m sure all the kids at eMiDi will just eat Mumbai Science’s wobble wobble up.
Mumbai Science - "Déjà Vu"
Conrank, what can I say. You are a man among men and I’ve never seen you in the same baseball hat twice. How does that even work -- do you have a hat a day service? In a mass oversight, I’ve never featured any of Conrank’s music in my little article here, but luckily this mad dog is playing Friday at eMiDi.
Luckily there is no shortage of Conrank press in the world so he’s doing just fine. Conrank’s legend of bringing that bass like no other has been growing over the past five years in China but his tracks actually get lots of play in Europe and America. No easy feat to do for a Shanghai based producer. Lucky for you I got a hot new release all cued up right here. Show up early on Friday for that sweet bass in your face that is Conrank.
Conrank – "Not Without"
Well there ya go. A tiny taste of all that is eMiDi. One thing abuout this festival that does appeal to me is going Scooby Doo crazy in this run down theme park all night long. How is this even being allowed? It’s a government approved 48–hour rave. Something interesting is bound to happen.