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Midi Riffs Exposed to the Masses
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China's largest outdoor rock festival the Midi Music Festival will become bigger and better than ever this year. Altogether, 90 bands and 57 individual musicians will perform at five stages at the festival this week.

Last year, a daily audience of some 10,000 people attended the festival, and it is estimated that the turnout will be even bigger this year. Zhang Fan, headmaster of the Beijing Midi School of Music and founder of the Midi festival, said he hopes that within 10 years, the event will become one of the biggest in Asia.

However, he disagrees with the term "Chinese Woodstock" that has been coined by some in the media.

"Woodstock was the product of a certain time and social condition that will not and cannot be repeated," Zhang said. "We are together with Woodstock spiritually, and we salute it, but what we are doing is a Chinese festival called the Midi Festival."

Compared to last year, a new stage for hip-hop will be added for this year's festival, featuring 25 local and overseas acts. The other stages are: the main stage, where rather established and well-known bands perform; the Gibson Guitar stage, reserved mostly for hardcore and punk bands; the Mini Midi stage for electronic and experimental music, and the Yan Dance Music stage.

When asked whether too many stages would be distracting, Zhang said he hoped audiences would walk around and get a taste of everything on offer.

"For the festival-goers, half of the time is spent wandering around," he said. "The festival is not only performances but rather, a relaxed lifestyle."

This year's main stage will feature 44 groups. Some of the better-known Chinese bands are: Brain Failure, Su Yang & Band, Subs, Re-Tros and Zi Yue. International groups will include Cruxshadows from the US, El Caco from Norway, Minoru Niihara and Friends from Japan, Hatesphere from Denmark, Liquido from Germany, Mohair from the UK, The Soundtrack of Our Lives from Sweden and Wulfgang from Iceland.

Invited by Greenpeace, which is a co-sponsor of this year's Midi festival, Dave Stewart and Rock Fabulous from the US will perform their new song "Greenpeace" at the festival. "Greenpeace" is also the theme of this year's festival.

While the main stage gathers the most people at the Midi festival, the Mini Midi stage also has its followers. The 27 acts on this stage will present experimental and avant-garde sounds that are usually not favored by the majority.

Yan Jun, host of the Mini Midi Stage, said that last year there were about 100 to 200 people watching performance at the stage at the same time, which is already many more than the audience at the 2 Kolegas Bar, a hub for such music in Beijing.

"I don't necessarily want to promote experimental music through the Midi festival, but I think it's very comfortable to play our music in the festive environment," Yan said. "The audience needn't listen to our music attentively. They can lie down and sleep. It's a festival."

At the Mini Midi Stage, the fourth day will be a "Folk Day," when 12 bands/musicians from across China will perform their contemporary folk music.

"Folk music has been developing well in recent years, and I think it is time to have a special stage for them," Zhang said. "The 'Folk Day' will be a regular part of the Midi festival."

Among the 12 folk singers/bands to perform on the Folk Day, the South Music Group from Guangzhou will present their southern style of folk music, which is rarely heard in Beijing.

Founded last year, the South Music Group aims at promoting folk music and new folk musicians from south China. Group members Ye Lang and Wei Jiayuan, both from south China's Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, will perform folk songs.

Though the performance fee provided by the Midi festival cannot cover their travel, the group decided to take this chance to show their music to the largest festival audience in China, and they will play some other gigs in Beijing to make ends meet.

"This will be the biggest occasion for our performance, and we think it's a good opportunity to demonstrate folk music from south China," Ye said.

The list of performers on the Folk Day will also include Zhao Yiran, Zhao Muyang and Band, Zhang Weiwei and Dongzi.

Apart from the five stages in Haidian Park, there will also be a stage outside the park, the Apres Midi Stage at the Star Live of Beijing, which will present three Chinese and international bands from the Midi festival on May 1, 3, 4 and 5.

The Midi festival started in 2000 as a free event. No tickets were needed for the first four festivals, and the musicians didn't get any performance fees.

Since the festival began to sell tickets in 2004, only some musicians were paid to perform at the Midi festival. This year will be the first time that all the performers at the festival get paid, though for different amounts.

Zhang said that because of a lack of major sponsorship, the festival depends heavily on ticket sales. A ticket for all four days' performances costs 100 yuan (US$13), while a ticket for a single day costs 50 yuan (US$6.5).

When the Midi festival was held at the Midi School of Music in its early years, festival-goers from other parts of China often brought their own tents to camp on the campus. Because of security concerns, police forbade audiences to camp at the Haidian Park at night, but people can still go to the Midi school to camp after the festival.

"I hope that in the future we can have camping areas at the site of the festival," Zhang said. "That's my last dream for the festival. If it is realized, people will feel really free at the festival."

Midi festival 12:30 PM to 9:30 PM, May 1 to 4, Haidian Park.

Four-day ticket 100 yuan, single-day ticket 50 yuan.

Inquiries: +86 (10) 6259 0101. 

(China Daily April 28, 2007)

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