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Beijing Ready for Rock Onslaught

More than a month ago, rock fans throughout China swarmed to north China's Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region for a Grassland Rock Festival. A year ago, they were headed to the Helanshan Mountain in northwest China's Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region, and three years ago, the destination was the snow-covered Yulong Mountain in southwest China's Yunnan Province.


China has a large urban community that is very much into rock music. But Beijing, home to many of China's prestigious universities, hosts many cultural events every year except for a large-scale rock/pop festival, forcing young rock enthusiasts to travel hundreds of miles to savor the music they love.


Even the few commercial gigs in Beijing feature mainly mainstream or out-of-date artists, presenting audiences with a narrow view of Western pop music.


The rock and pop music void in Beijing prompted Jason Magnus, the young managing director of Rock For China Entertainment Ltd, to conceive the idea of an annual Beijing pop festival when he met Yu Long, artistic director of the Beijing Music Festival two years ago in Hong Kong.


"Since growing up in Europe and the United States, I have been exposed from an early age to the wonders of rock and pop culture," said Magnus, whose thesis at Harvard University was on the impact of Bob Dylan in today's world.


"Now living in Hong Kong and Beijing, I have noticed the gulf in cultural awareness and appreciation for pop culture. This is the fundamental catalyst that sparked my enthusiasm to create a pop festival in Beijing."


That idea has now finally come to fruition. Rock for China Entertainment Ltd is collaborating with the Beijing Music Festival to present the first Beijing Pop Festival at Chaoyang Park on September 17. It will bring together some of the big names of contemporary Western music as well as the best in Chinese rock for an intense one-day musical experience.


"As a classical music conductor, I know little about pop and rock, but believe this festival could introduce more genres and artists of pop music to Beijing audiences who might be fed up and limited by pop singers from Hong Kong and Taiwan," said Yu, who started the Beijing Music Festival in 1998. Held each year from October to November, it has now become the foremost musical carnival for fans of classical music.


"I like to try different things and hope the pop festival is somehow an extension of the Beijing Music Festival, both providing local people opportunities to appreciate different music," Yu added.


"This event, debuting three years before the 2008 Beijing Olympics will act as a necessary precursor to the Games and prepare Beijing to become the 'world stage,' when a global community of all ages will converge on the city expecting to see world class performances," Magnus said.


While the event is being planned as a one-day extravaganza for the first year, it will be developed as a full-blown, non-stop, two-three day weekend festival later on.


"We look to the cultural appreciation of an event like Glastonbury or the Lollapalooza tour or Ozzfest," Magnus added.


The festival will present a range of genres such as rock, pop, heavy metal, jazz, hip-hop, techno and reggae.


Diverse genres


Ian Brown was the frontman for Stone Roses, one of the most revered British bands of the 1980s and 1990s. After the band members went their separate ways in 1996, Brown inaugurated his post-Stone Roses career by locking himself away to learn various musical instruments, and returning in 1998 with his first solo album "Unfinished Monkey Business."


The album was a great success and Brown soon launched his first solo tour of Europe, appearing at the Glastonbury Festival, the Fuji Rock Festival and Virgin's V98. He built up a huge fan base, independent of his Stone Roses history.


The Detroit-born Derrick May is considered one of the fathers of Techno and precursor of the Detroit scene in the mid-80s. May debuted as a solo artist in 1986 and soon founded his own Transmat label. He has released numerous Techno classics such as "Strings of Life," "Freestyle," "It Is What It Is" and "Kaos."


The 33-year-old Common, originally named Common Sense, is one of the top rappers in the United States. His name is Common, but his sound is anything but that.


Lex is a black and Jewish hip-hop singer who rhymes in English, Spanish and Chinese mandarin.


As for Chinese stars, fans will get to see Tang Dynasty (arguably the first heavy metal band in China and an icon of Chinese rock), Chang Chen-Yue and his band from Taiwan, Gao Qi and his band Overload, which emerged in 1991 as a heavy metal band but later turned softer and has tried different genres in its last album "Life is a Magic Encounter," as well as two new bands the rock MuMa and hip-hop Kong Fu.


(China Daily September 15, 2005)

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