Upon arrival I’d had no intention of reviewing this third installment of China’s biggest music festival Modern Sky so if I leave something out, feel free to throw up your arms in impotent rage and storm out of the room.
My initial impression was great, blue Beijing sky, the next generation of cool looking Chinese youth arrayed over the grass of Haidian park, a lake, markets, tents, festival stuff.
Fortunately this year, the “unforeseen circumstances” which led to the “mysterious cancellation” of all the “foreign bands” did not “eventuate” and the program was able “to” begin as advertised. One thing that did impress upon me early was the lack of overbearing corporate sponsorship that seems to be a stalwart of music events in the Middle Kingdom. Off to a good start.
The electronic stage was positioned awkwardly in the direct line of the main-stage sound-system and henceforth had to deal with varying degrees of cross-talk. That aside, some great DJ sets and some volume adjustments were enough to turn a slightly inadequate space into a good, old-fashioned electronic dance-party.
R3 was the pick for me, playing smooth and melodic acidy tech-house up into some pumping but sophisticated electro, tight and well imagined.
DJ Sosso had the best crowd, working everyone into some serious thrusting with his signature acid/electro style-accompanied by MC PQ who was enthusiastic but a little too much with some rather cliched (stolen) lines which overshadowed some great mixes.
Linfeng brought some consistent electro brutality and LON played a set of left-field electronica, establishing a great mood on the opening day which was cemented by a dub-step/tech-house/dub-step set from Adept (me) as the sun went down.
DJ AMU, possibly the best from ‘Tanglewood’ found DJ Sosso a hard act to follow but mixed up a fairly decent set of tech-house regardless and DJ Kniff rocked a small crowd impressively on Monday afternoon.
At the live end of the spectrum there is a lot to be said, not all of it nice but honesty being the best policy I will press on regardless. One thing I’m sick of hearing is “it’s good (for China)”. There is no reason why the main stage at a festival of this size should sound the way it did in any country. Sound quality, flat vocals, bad mixing, too soft, too loud.
Dear Modern Sky,
Fire your engineers because your friends can’t do this job, get some professionals.
There were however two stand-out bands. Housse de Rackett, despite having a silly name and hair, rocked it with their two-man drummer and singer/guitarist/keyboard combination. Angular but accessible rock, disco vibes and cool vocals delivered with panache and professionalism. They sounded good, knew what they were doing and really came through. Well done them.
The other band which struck me was the amusing and quirky Chinese band 24 Hours who played on the second stage. Simple but interesting pop, great attitude, restrained but melodic guitar, humour, bile and sexiness. This goes to show that you don’t need to be a guitar virtuoso like Steve Vai (in fact it probably helps if you’re not Steve Vai) to make good sounding, well-realized tunes.
Others worth mentioning were Queen Sea Big Shark , not exactly my favourite as they seem to favour posturing over songwriting (I preferred them in their surf-rock days) but put on a good show nonetheless. Also New Pants, good songwriters and musicians who are fun and don’t take themselves too seriously.
Festival headliners Blonde Redhead write beautiful music but… I found it near on impossible to listen, owing to the absolutely abysmal mixing and sound quality coming from the main stage at that time. Awful shame really. Isn’t it the sound guys’ job to listen and adjust and fix as you go? I couldn’t help but feel someone was asleep behind the desk during their set.
Big Pink showed some promise but got lost somewhere in the mix, washing out into irrelevancy. Free Energy, were charming but mindless with some ho-hum stadium rock but enough swagger to just get away with it. As for Brainstorm, all I’ll say is that the lead singer needs to take a serious look at his wardrobe. Coal miner’s hat with a vest? They looked like one those Christian rock bands that tour high-schools, all he was missing was the goatee. Even if their music was good (which it wasn’t) I’d find it impossible to listen to a man wearing that outfit.
Re-Tros were up until this point one of my favourite Chinese bands (along with the SUBS, who I missed) but it seems their bags weren’t checked at the door and they were let through brandishing dangerously oversized egos. Part of Re-Tros appeal is their utter contempt for everything that isn’t them and after storming out of the blocks with a cracker, they launched into a 7-8-9 minute atonal- I want to be Nick Cave from the Birthday Party-over imagined-under developed and glaring in it’s lack of talent-prog-rock-screaming-poetry epic. They lost me and I believe most of the crowd at that point who seemed to go from simmering to luke warm. I really hope this isn’t a sign of what we can expect from them in the future.
At every festival, there are always one or two acts that for one reason or another simply should not be there. The Taiwanese pop star by the name of Joanna Wang possibly fancies herself as the Asian version of Tori Amos, so after some tedious anecdotes about whether John Lennon prefers emotion or melody (it’s melody apparently) warbled tunelessly over the sound of an electric harpsichord for about 45minutes. I guess when you’re the daughter of a famous music producer it’s more difficult for people to tell you that you suck.
Last but by no means least we have the gleaming cubic zirconia in the tiara of tragedy. Mr Brett “I was in Suede” Anderson. Oh Bretty Brett Brett! (link) Here is a man who earnestly delivers lines like “We light the candles with our pain”. Yes Brett. You utter twat.
Wailing relentlessly over shoddily constructed dad-rock, while prancing around like some kind of Hallmark Goth was enough to set every pain-candle in my body fully ablaze. I have plenty of pain candles believe me, in fact I’m practically the metaphysical set of Phantom of the Opera. For those of you who can’t visualize that, that’s lots of candles. And an organ. Pain.
Perhaps the performance would have been redeemable if there had only been a tacit acknowledgment of his vocal limitations. What I mean by this is less of the urgent and cloying sincerity that comes with a faded star’s last frolic in the limelight and less of his voice.
Maybe as a teenage girl you looked longingly at your ‘Suede’ posters, dreaming of losing your virginity to young Brett on a mahogany four poster bed surrounded by rose petals while a storm rages outside, ravaging the willow trees on the river where your brother drowned 10 years ago on this very night, but the fact of the matter is Mr Anderson just can’t sing. Sex symbol or not he is seriously deficient in the talent department.
Mr Anderson, light a candle under this vanity project and burn it. Burn it all.
Modern Sky had some great moments tempered with some terrible ones and though I enjoyed myself (friends/festival etc) I found myself wanting to believe more often than was comfortable.
Chinese Youth! Pick up those instruments and use them to slay your idols. I’m waiting. I know you can do it. I believe in you.