On July 7, I headed to Ch-Indie Fest II, an outdoor independent music festival with a name you could only get away with in China. Accompanied by my friends Andrew, Frances, and Alex, I can tell you that the solemnity of the anniversary on which it fell (seventy years since the Marco Polo Bridge Incident) was out of sight, out of mind.
The fest was held at 2 Kolegas, one of the more popular venues in the Beijing music scene these days, from my understanding. The club of my Beijing youth, Scream Bar, relented to the bulldozers over five years ago, and I still don’t think I’ve recovered. For a few months, I held a Thursday night residency there, playing for fifty RMB and all the Tsingtao beer I could handle. Tsingtao is a light beer and it goes down easy. Which is all to say, I could handle a lot back then.
The fest was sponsored by Tag Team Records and Modern Sky, two of the half-local-half-international labels who support independent music releases both in China and abroad. We arrived at soundcheck, just in time for the kegs to be tapped. The rest of the early afternoon was spent in a mixture of casual conversation (Frances and Alex are old friends from my first visit to Beijing in 1998), zhapi, and those “cigarettes which don’t really count” (for us non-smokers, any cigarette we take in while in China doesn’t technically change our official designation – it’s in the U.N. Charter, but I can’t recall which chapter).
The music was… well… loud. From my albeit cursory introduction to independent music in China, my impression is this: starting from at least a decade ago, it is essentially second-hand punk. Almost all of it. Somewhere along the way (the part I missed while I was off in New York) it forked into two branches: punk and Brit, heavily influenced by the pulsing bassline and the vocal delivery of Joy Division. I’m sure I’ll receive a lot of responses to this, telling me that I have it all wrong. To that I respond, wonderful! Show me where!
About one hour into the fest, bad luck came our way in the form of apocalyptic skies, dust storms and, finally, torrential rains. The crowd shuffled inside, the crews set up the indoor stage and, within about one hour, the music was back (and louder still).
After the rain subsided, I relocated back outside. I met some very kind and interesting folks during the event, mostly expats who have been based out of Beijing for upwards of one year. Mandy from Australia spoke of her work as event coordinator, describing clients with billfolds fat enough to purchase Mercedes Benz’s on a monthly basis. On the other end of the financial spectrum, I met two teachers at the CET program, based out of Capital Normal University.
I went home tipsy and pleased, ready for an early morning round with my new nylon-string guitar. To give my ears a rest, I played extra soft. Not very Ch-Indie of me.