STRAWBERRY Music Festival – The World is Virtual, You are the Reality

Article by Dave Wright

It’s a weekend in late spring; is there any better place to be than outside, enjoying the sunshine, listening to some sick tunes and rocking out? Once again, the Strawberry Music Festival is upon us, and while Xi’an may not get the big name foreign bands one might see in Shanghai or Beijing, the festival doesn’t leave much else to be desired. Over the course of two days, 36 bands will appear on three different stages.

The Festival

With styles running the gamut from folk to metal, with everything in between, there should be something on stage for everyone to enjoy. However, on the off chance none of the three bands playing at one time strike your fancy, the festival is being held in the expansive Da Ming Gong Park and will include a market for local artists, as well as a beer garden and dining area to help you pass the time while you wait for something more your tempo.

And if that’s not excitement enough for you, this year for an additional fee you can purchase a virtual reality headset. This will be the first outdoor music festival in China to incorporate virtual reality as part of the overall experience. The headsets will be synced with cameras onstage so you won’t have to make your ears bleed to get a good view of the show; you’ll even be able to see the festival from the artists’ perspective. “We believe the technology will enhance the experience for our customers without changing our original intentions, that the music is the key,” Modern Sky founder Shen Li Hui stated. “We want to create a music festival that resonates with the younger generation.”

The History

It wasn’t overnight that Strawberry became the largest chain of festivals in Mainland China. In 2002 Shen Li Hui traveled to Sweden where he attended the Hultsfred music festival; he quickly realized that this was a direction Modern Sky should pursue. In 2006, when the recording company began to turn a profit, he brought the idea to his employees and the following year they made their first attempt, the Modern Sky Festival in Beijing. It was headlined by an American rock band, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and supported by several Chinese rock bands; this was the first music festival in China to feature a foreign band. However, it was not a financial success, losing around 1,000,000 RMB.

Shen Li Hui didn’t give up; it was clear that although the festival had lost money, there was a market for this moving forward. He and his colleagues came up with the idea for Strawberry, a festival held outside during the springtime and featuring a wider variety of musical styles, thereby attracting a larger audience than had been present for their first rock festival. Spring 2009 was targeted for the inaugural Strawberry Music Festival.

It was a massive success. In 2009, it was held only in Beijing, but the following year Strawberry was expanded to several other cities, including Xi’an. By 2014, it was being held annually in 30 cities across China, bringing good music and good times to people all over the country. The Xi’an Strawberry Festival is currently the largest music festival in northwest China.

The Music

It would be impossible to introduce every band worthy of your attention that’s playing at this year’s festival; if you parked yourself in front of any of the three stages you’d be in for a day of great music from every genre you could think of. But if you want to hop around trying to catch the best of the best, I’ve included a list of a few bands I’d suggest seeing. (Note that I’ve elected not to include headliners; everyone knows they’re going to be good.)

Best of the Stages

Strawberry Stage

Saturday 14:00-14:40 旋转保龄 (Rollin’ Bowlin’)

A rockabilly band for the ages; see these guys for the bassist, if nothing else. He’ll be thumping away on an old school double bass and will not be shy about it. As great as the music is (and it is great, walking basslines, whammy bars, etc.), their stage presence is key to the appeal.

Sunday 15:00-15:40龙神道(Long Shen Dao)

What’s better for spring weather than reggae and ska? 龙神道 burst onto the scene in 2011 with the extremely well received album, Tai Chi Reggae. Their tracks are generally chill, although tunes such as 点亮爱 will have everyone rocking. Recent work has seen an increase in synthesizer use, but the reggae undertones remain.

Love Stage

Saturday 17:30-18:30 重塑雕像的权利 (Rebuilding the Rights of Statues)

Fans of Joy Division, rejoice! Post-punk is alive and well here in China. Best known for their 2009 album, Watch Out! Climate has Changed, Fat Mum Rises, Rebuilding the Rights of Statues have the sound of a band that have played together forever and know their craft inside and out. Expect to be sucked in.

Sunday 16:30-17:10 五条人 (Wu Tiao Ren)

五条人 are a Cantonese-singing folk trio who periodically incorporate elements of dissonance into their otherwise sunny presentation. These brief forays give the music a depth it might otherwise lack and set them apart from other folk acts performing this year.

Xi’an Stage

Saturday 17:00-17:30 怪人房间 (Weirdo Room)

Xi’an is renowned for its post-rock, and Weirdo Room shows us why. Though they have released only one EP, 2014’s We Will Be Back to Sea, they are extremely talented musicians with a stage rapport worthy of much more experienced bands. It’s music you can get lost in.

Sunday 19:00-19:30 裸体注射 (Nude Injection)

Here’s one for the moshers. Nude Injection has been a staple of the Xi’an music scene for years and always draws a large and enthusiastic crowd. Their most recent EP, 带国陷落, introduced greater contrast, balancing calmer sections with their usual potent riffs.