January 2012

Playing Out

By Brad Steiner

With surging demand for live music, China’s music festivals are proliferating

Popular rock music is relatively new to China, and so is the idea of spending a weekend camping in a park listening to it. But the concept of music festivals has taken off in China, first around major cities, and now increasingly in the interior. The number of festivals is growing almost as fast as the attendees, which means some newer projects struggle to turn a profit.

Midi Festival

Beijing, Shanghai

One of China’s oldest music festivals, Midi was started in 2000 by the Midi Music school in Beijing as a forum for its students to perform. Genres include rock, blues and jazz. Within a few years, the event drew thousands and began featuring national and international performers. Today it is seen as the most respected and admired for its dedication to music. This year, the festival expanded outside of Beijing for the first time to Shanghai and Rizhao. For more information, visit www.midifestival.com.

Zebra Music Festival

Chengdu, Hangzhou

Zebra started in 2009, and is the first large festival to launch outside of a first-tier city. It puts the focus on national and local artists, with fewer international acts than larger events in Beijing. The festival benefits from Chengdu’s laid back attitude, as well as the low number of competing events in central China. The event takes place each May in Chengdu and Hangzhou. For more information, visit www.myzmf.com.

Strawberry Festival


The Strawberry Festival is a spin-off project of the organizers of Modern Sky. It is aimed at a quieter audience than most big summer events, focusing on folk and alternative acts. Some have even called it the Chinese Woodstock. Held in Beijing, it is scheduled to coincide with the larger Midi Festival each year. For more information, visit festival.modernsky.com.

Black Rabbit Festival

Beijing, Shanghai

Black Rabbit is just a one-day festival, but it has quickly made a name for itself with high-profile international acts such as Ludacris, 30 Seconds to Mars, Yellow Card, and Grandmaster Flash. Get in on the action each September in Beijing and Shanghai. For more information, visit hei-tu.com.

Intro Music Festival


The Intro Music Festival is the largest outdoor event in China dedicated to electronic and dance music. For many, this is a welcome change from the host of rock festivals which often feature the same acts. The event is organized at the 798 Art Zone in Beijing, by the music production group Acupuncture. They get underway each May, just in time for the warmer weather. For more information, visit www.acupuncture-records.com.

Modern Sky Festival


Since 2007, the Modern Sky Festival has been hosted by China’s largest independent music label. Held in Beijing during the national holiday, the event features a variety of national and international performers including metal, punk and indie-rock. For more information, visit festival.modernsky.com.

Jz Music Festival


The Jz Festival features performers from all genres of jazz, both nationally and internationally. It is Shanghai’s longest running music festival, and one of the largest jazz events in Asia. The event features six stages, and takes place at the site of the World Expo in Pudong. For more information, visit www.jzfestival.com.

Golden Beach Festival


While it may be considerably smaller than it’s Beijing competitors, this festival offers an ocean-side view and a wide variety of performers. The atmosphere is decidedly more relaxed, with attendees enjoying the sun, beach and beers as much as the sound system. Check out the action in early September.