There was lots of good stuff to see and hear at this year’s Strawberry Festival, but the two biggest international bookings were definitely Lenka, a poppy Australian singer-songwriter, and Travis, the well-established Scottish alt-rockers.
Lenka played late on the last day of the festival to a pretty big crowd. She sings and plays poppy, twee music—all catchy melodies and trumpets and adorability, and her show was pretty much what you might expect. Her style of music appeals to a broad of people, especially in China—her hooks and repetitive lyrics make her especially popular in the KTVs around the country. But her overall performance was somewhat lackluster—she just seemed to be up there, going through the movements, giving the appropriate shout-outs during the breaks. Having never seen her live before, I don’t know if this is her regular persona or if it was just a bad night. But it didn’t seem to jive with the cuter-than-thou vibe she gives off in other media shows and performances
There were a few sound problems during her set, most notably when the sound went out during her hit song, “Trouble is a Friend” from her 2008 album Lenka. She didn’t seem to notice at first and it was fixed relatively quickly, but I saw more than a few people leaving as if it was a sign they should go explore other things at the festival. Nobody other than the young-ish Chinese girls seemed to be feeling her. She did finish up with an encore of her other hit from the same album, “The Show,” and that proved popular. I met her after the show and she was super sweet, just as you’d expect her to be, so it was kind of a pity that her overall performance was a bit of a letdown.
Travis was definitely the headliner of the festival and they played the closing spot on Wednesday night. Travis is a well-known Brit-pop/alternative rock quartet from Glasgow, Scotland, with six albums under their belts and a new album called Where You Stand in August of this year. They’re basically old hands when it comes to touring, and that’s more or less what the audience got. They played a solid show, hit most of their top songs, and technically it was very good. There were Scottish flags a flying’ in the audience, so some people were really excited they made it to Shanghai.
Again, though, the show sort of left me wanting. There was certainly nothing wrong with it, but it just seemed a bit bland compared to some of the other awesome stuff I saw at Strawberry this year. I know Travis’ style is more laid-back and I wasn’t disappointed with their show, but it almost seemed dull when I thought about the less well-known international acts that gave great shows or the really impressive Chinese artists who played. But I guess the nice thing about a festival like Strawberry is that the big names get people through the gates, and then people are free to discover a lot more music than what they thought they were getting.
The first report we did was after the first day of Strawberry to spread the word of the interviews we got, and to warn about the lack of beer, a major problem for festival lovers, also a subject that grew ultra quickly among music and beer lovers around the net. But now let’s talk about the big landscape. This year we had the second Strawberry in Shanghai, and the fifth in Beijing.
There were many weak spots in this edition of Strawberry, still the worst to me was the change of the electronic stage to an uncomfortable spot to party. And the electronic line up was not very interesting really. Also the space where the stands of several brands collided at the entrance of the big stage was also not cool, the noise pollution there was insane. I would have liked to see more medium size indie bands from around the world, or bigger Asian pop stars, instead of Travis, maybe Shiina Ringo, or Faye Wong, could have been more fun. I believe one day the fear of giving privileges to the local cool, instead of the foreign “cool” will prevail. I did enjoyed a lot the set by Deerhoof though. But my favorites were Re-Tros, and XTX, who made a better concert than when he came to release his new album.
The backstage organization was nice, the organizers hooking the press with the artists was great. Common sense is not that common really, so when something logical happens is like finding really comfy shoes. This is the case when Strawberry organized an special space, with previously scheduled interview appointments for us to do well our job. It was nice to be organized.
And it was nice to see how the local bands are becoming bigger. So many people comes to these festivals without knowing more than half of the bands that are playing there, and when they go and find that there are really cool local bands is like the music scene expands in an hour what normally would take a month or two, that’s the biggest thing to love of Strawberry, to see pop music gaining territory in China.