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Strawberry Festival Cancelled
May 3, 2011
As a major music festival is cancelled, a look at the tricky business of putting on music events in China
- Text by Toby Skinner
The Strawberry Festival in Suzhou, near Shanghai, was meant to be one of the musical highlights of the year around here. Put on by Modern Sky, China's biggest music label, the May Day weekend festival was set to host some of China's biggest bands, from electro-poppers Queen Sea Big Shark to prog-rockers Re-TROS and Cui Jian, the 'godfather of Chinese rock'. But less than a week before it was due to start, it was cancelled. Around the same time, Nanjing's Blossom Festival was told that it wasn't allowed to host foreign acts, including Shanghai-based expat bands.
The official reason for the Strawberry Festival being cancelled was that a thunderstorm affected the power supply, though there are rumbles on the web that it has more to do with Ai Weiwei, revolutions and a general sense of official unease.
These aren't unfounded if the recent history of big music events being cancelled is anything to go by. Many of the problems started in March 2008, when Bjork shrieked 'Tibet Tibet' during a show in Shanghai. In the following months, a Celine Dion show was cancelled and even 'ol Blue Eyes Harry Connick Jr was forced to play a revised set in Shanghai. In March 2009, Oasis weren't allowed to come, on the basis that Noel Gallagher once played at a Free Tibet concert, and in 2010 Bob Dylan shows in Beijing and Shanghai were canned (though he did finally play this year).
Though official reasoning for the cancellations is usually opaque, the timing usually gives a sense of where the problems are. In October 2009, Beijing's Modern Sky Festival (the same label behind the Strawberry Festival) was scheduled just days after the 50th anniversary of the founding of the Peoples' Republic of China. Less than a week before the first day, it was announced that no foreign acts would be allowed to play, so the likes of The Buzzcocks, The Futureheads, Radio 4 and Shonen Knife, who'd already arrived in town, watched from the crowd but didn't pick up an instrument.
There are countless more examples which could show that it's a precarious business putting on major music events in China. Let's just hope that the Midi Festival and World Music Shanghai Festival, both due in Shanghai over the next three weeks, go off without a hitch.
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