The date is April 6th. It is overcast in Guangzhou, and the temperature is in the teens (Celsius, that is)–in other words, almost perfect. It is dusk, and stage lights and graphics are dancing next to the Guangzhou Tower. The crowd is going crazy over the beats of progressive house, waving flags and glow sticks in their hands, following the DJ in the center of the stage, screaming with abandon.
This was a scene during the Creamfields festival. In December of last year, the UK’s biggest electronic music festival landed in Hong Kong, and it continued to expand this year to many cities in mainland China, including Guangzhou, Chengdu, Beijing, Taiwan, Shanghai, Hong Kong and Xiamen.
In a way, Creamfields’ landing in China reflects a current trend of electronic festivals in China, and that is the influx of internationally renowned festivals around the country.
Similarly, one of the largest festivals in the world, Electric Daisy Carnival–otherwise known as EDC–was rumored to enter China as early as 2016, which came to fruition in the past year with the announcement from its Chinese partner, Zebra Media. Preparation for EDC China 2018 is currently underway, coming off of the success of its collaboration in February with NetEase Music to choose and promote its theme song, as well as its “Top 10 Singles” competition in March. It’s safe to say that electronic music is quickly finding its footing in China, and the future of the Chinese electronic music industry is entering into an era of rapid development.
At the same time, native electronic music festivals are also on the rise. “The R3HAB set the other night really had me shook,” Hugo, an EDM fanatic, recalls, “You know how we used to be so excited to sing along with the artist at a concert? This is pretty much the same, but just with electronic music. I think this indicates the wider adoption of EDM.”
In the past couple of years, international big names in the festival industry have started eyeing the Chinese market, and China’s own festivals are also thriving, albeit a bit “underground.” Maybe this influx of outer influence can combine with the country’s own culture to create a wave of development in the music festival industry.
Electronic music’s sudden rise in popularity can be largely attributed to its target demographic. After last year’s hip-hop explosion in China, electronic music followed closely to become the “next big thing.”
According to a national survey, Chinese citizens’ average annual spending in education and entertainment takes up around 11% of their annual income. Another survey by an EDM media outlet indicates that 44.3% of their users are willing to spend 5% of their annual income on EDM-related matters.
In 2017, 90.4% of music fans indicated that they are willing to go to 1 to 5 EDM festivals each year. The younger generation is increasingly willing to spend their money on live music entertainment, just as the same generation is transitioning from students to the working class, further helping the development of electronic music in China.
According to our data, there were 51 EDM festivals in China last year with the majority being held in first-tier cities between the months of April and September, showing a lot of potential for future expansion. One of the major festival promoters said, “following the market trend, more niche-genre festivals such as electronic music festivals will be in much larger demand in the foreseeable future.”
One of the main elements that are consistent throughout almost all festivals is the prominent presence of overseas DJs. Let’s look at the most recent ISY festival as an example.
Since its announcement in December last year, the ISY festival has garnered a lot of attention thanks to headlining artists like Tiësto and Martin Garrix, which eventually led to the near-instant sell-out of early bird tickets and the 50,000+ daily attendance during the festival.
“These world-class DJs really know how to excite the crowd,” says Hugo, “Like Dimitri Vegas and Like Mike; their Patser Bounce starts with an 8-bit style intro, and combined with the VJ’s footage of Tetris pieces slowly falling into place. I remember a couple years ago, the VJ would only play some abstract footage, but they’ve learned to actually integrate the visuals with the context of the song, allowing the audience to feel more immersed.”
A2LiVe’s founder and CEO Eric Zho also spoke with us about the future of EDM in China. “In terms of festivals, we will definitely see more collaborations between Chinese promoters and internationally renowned names.” This point is buttressed by Mai Music’s CEO Song Yang, that “the world is turning its attention to the Chinese market, looking for opportunities to collaborate. On the other hand, Chinese labels and brands are also looking to expand outside of the greater China region, seeking a broader audience.”
Aside from heavyweight DJs, the influx of international festivals was also a trend in the past year.
Starting from 2015, EDM-related events have been growing at a steady rate in China, allowing it to become one of the most attractive and lucrative markets in the world. In 2017, Ultra officially entered China, launching the wave of international festivals entering the Chinese market. In additional to Creamfields and EDC, we’re also expecting names like Ultra, LIfe in Color, and Transmission to land in China this year.
“These international festivals don’t need much effort to market because most people are already familiar with them, which actually can help us save a lot of time, energy, and money,” Zebra Media’s CEO He Shijie tells us. Zebra was the main reason behind the successful “import” of EDC into China.
Obviously, it’s also important to accredit China’s own electronic festivals.
ISY marked the beginning of Chinese electronic music festivals’ international expansion. During its “pre-party,” ISY worked with some of the top clubs in Asia to warm up for the main event.
Founded in 2013, China’s first major electronic music festival, Storm, used only 2 to 3 years’ time to bring the music genre to the Chinese mainstream.
In 2017, new names like Electronic Jungle, Bougainvillea, INTRO, and Great Wall Run have started to emerge, pushing the popularity of electronic music even higher.
The emergence of these different festivals also helped with the diversification of the electronic music market.
He Shijie says, “We hope to integrate more interactive and conceptual elements into our festivals so that they are more than just eye and ear candy.” After successfully bring EDC to China, his team is busy thinking about diversification. Zebra has its own idea when it comes to stage setup, artistic design, and management, and since it knows the Chinese market best, the company is trying to adjust the festival to further suit the market’s needs.
Of course, the market’s needs are mainly based on the consumer behaviors of the younger generation. “A couple of my friends have told me that their dream is to propose at EDC,” said Hugo half-jokingly. “I mean, think about it: expressing your love to your girl while firework is flying and your favorite DJ is playing your favorite music–isn’t that the most romantic thing ever?”
Young people are no longer going to festivals just to enjoy the music; it is the experience as a whole that attracts the attendants. Conveniently, establishing a “theme” has become almost an unspoken rule for all electronic music festivals, so those who attend can enjoy a much more immersive experience.
However, there are also problems that lie ahead for EDM festivals. In 2017, as the number of electronic music festivals drastically increased, so did the accompanying problems. In 2018, as EDM starts to gain even more momentum, these are some of the important problems that we have to address.
Problem 1: Import of International Festivals
International festivals face many localization issues when it comes to the Chinese market, such as lower-than-international-standard licensing fee expectations, approval from the government, and hardware limitations at venues. Zebra’s CEO said that these problems are inevitable, but his team is working hard to address the issues to encourage a long-term partnership and excite growth in the local market.
Problem 2: International DJs Hurting Local Artists’ Market Share
While it is true that there are more than plenty of new electronic music festivals, under the surface, many promoters are in such a rush to bring a festival to the market that they spend very little time to discover talented local musicians. Combined with the fear that local DJs may not have the same amount of attraction compared to internationally renowned ones, many choose to invite the latter, further hindering the development of local artistry.
Furthermore, because of this, many international DJs (or their team in many cases) have significantly raised their prices over the years for the Chinese market. “This is scary. They (foreign DJs) have mostly increased their fees anywhere from 20% to 50%. In South Korea, Japan, Thailand, and Taiwan, their artists charge a lower fee while the audience is willing to pay a higher ticket price. In contrast, we can’t indefinitely raise prices because of market constraints,” says Xu Xubin, CEO of Tianmiao Entertainment. According to him, large EDM festivals are not profiting at all, which cannot be sustainable in the long run.
Problem 3: Investment and ROI
When it comes to investing, since electronic music is still relatively new in China, most festivals and shows rely heavily on sponsorship. Most festivals have a hard time making a profit, if at all, as 60-65% of their income is from ticket sales, 30%-35% from sponsorships, and the remaining 5%-10% from ancillaries, where traditional concerts make the most money.
Artist fees are also making a big dent in promoters’ pockets. Due to the unregulated nature of the market, many artists charge fees purely based on how much “clout” they think they have. Promoters are also to blame here, as some, in order to attract international big names, offers to pay certain artists much more than what they usually charge, which often leads to the same artist charging even more in following festivals.
Problem 4: Poor Live Experience
As a festival, it is really the audience that has the final say in the overall experience. However, this aspect has always been an Achilles heel in Chinese electronic music festivals. According to a survey, fans expressed higher levels of satisfaction with digital streaming platforms than with live performances. In fact, in both small-medium sized shows and large festivals, less than half of the surveyed fans expressed any level of positive satisfaction.
To those who aren’t festival fanatics, the main reasons of dissatisfaction include: inconvenient location/accommodation, unreasonable ticket prices, overwhelming crowd size, poor phone reception, and even shortage of water–In 2016, Storm Festival in Shanghai quickly ran out of drinkable water and beverages, forcing many to pay ridiculously high prices just to buy water from scalpers.
Also, there hasn’t been a shortage of equipment problems either. At 2017’s Storm Festival, the audio clipped in the middle of DJ JAUZ’s session. In April at the Creamfields Festival, many also reported that the audio sounded “mushy,” questioning the abilities of the live sound engineer.
For secondary and tertiary cities in China, festivals with 10,000+ daily attendants isn’t really a viable concept yet. Hugo told us that many of his friends would never spend thousands just to travel hours to a festival, unless it’s a planned group trip or if it features one of their favorite artists. “That’s simply just too much for most people to spend. It’s a lot more economical and convenient for them to just watch at home.”
Hugo’s girlfriend also expressed another concern of hers: “most girls go in groups. If there aren’t a group of girls or male friends, there’s no way I’ll go to a festival alone.”
Sexual harassment has also become an issue in recent years. Due to the shoulder-to-shoulder nature of a festival crowd, it is common for those will ill intent to prey on unsuspecting individuals, male and female alike. This, in turn, has discouraged many female fans from attending.
Moreover, due to approval complications, some festivals end up being canceled without further explanation. For the most part, festivals held in major cities need to go through a heavy vetting process, meaning that there is a higher chance of the festival being rejected. In 2017, Shenzhen’s Rabbit Hole music festival was canceled on the day of the event, resulting in angry attendees nearly causing a riot.
It is safe to say that the EDM festival market is headed towards the right direction as players in the industry continue to solve these problems and operate in a more regulated manner. 2018 will be an interesting year for electronic music festivals, and we will follow it closely to bring you the latest updates.
Translated by Kane Ge
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