Modern Sky 2010: The Good, The Bad, and The Music

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Modern Sky Festival 2010 Poster.jpg

Editing Modern Sky Festival 2010

Articles and photos by Ankur Sharma

In collaboration with

October, 13, 2010 in publication


(A review about this years Modern Sky Festival in Beijing, Haidian Park)

Music is the key to a good music festival. It should seem pretty obvious. If you don’t have good bands you cant have a good festival. Actually scratch that. If you don’t have bands that can play live well with great stage presence the best you can hope for is a mediocre festival. That may seem too harsh for the blossoming Chinese festival scene, but I think it’s the truth and therefore necessary it be said.

Converse Skate Ramp

Modern Sky was a 3-day music festival boasting 4 stages and a variety of music from October 2nd to the 4th. The festival in its fourth year had some good things and a few things that I hope they improve for future events. The overall experience was relaxed and fun, but left me looking for a bit more.

Lets start with the short list. The good. I really enjoyed the layout and stage set up of the whole festival. There were a lot of little details that as a patron you don’t think about that were carefully considered and done. I have been to a lot of festivals and the toilets for one are always a huge issue. They provided for the crowd while keeping things relatively clean, easily accessible, and not an eyesore. There were booths for small vendors, a food area, a small stage for Cha to have cross talk performances, a Jägermeister tent with another DJ, a Converse sponsored skate ramp and booth, Absolute vodka booth. They had quite a few things going on other than music. The supporting items, as I like to think of them as.

The other thing that the organizers did well was staggering the schedule on the stages. If you were really determined you could actually catch part of each bands set on each stage. Sure it would be a lot of work but you could if you wanted to. And I for one appreciate that, because how many times have you been to a festival and wanted to see two bands at the same time?

It seems to me that bands no longer introduce themselves. Why? Should we already know who you are? The Modern Sky people did a great job on the Sky Stage by, between sets, putting up a graphic on the screens letting you know who was going to come up next on that stage. I was so happy to see that. I just wish they had done that on all the stages. If they had, I would know who one of the best bands on the Badhead Stage was (well get to that later though).

Finally they resolved the little things quickly. Sure, I have worked festivals before and been to many a live show to know that nothing ever goes the way it’s supposed to. There are always issues. It’s how quickly and professionally you respond to these issues that is the key. The staff at Modern Sky was very professional and took care of the few small issues I noticed right away. And that shows a lot of promise.

Foreign Fan

Now for the not so good things. The style of music and the energy of the bands at a festival dictate a lot of things. Any live show should have a bit of energy and showmanship to it that is missing in the recorded version. That’s why people go to live shows, for the experience. But what happens when you have a show and none of the artists have a stage presence that transfers to the audience creating a connection between the two to make a joined experience. You get a pretty boring show. That’s what happened to Modern Sky. Going in and looking at the line up and arriving on the first day and seeing the layout I was stoked for the music to begin.

The music lineup should not just be in increasing order of popularity but of skill and presence as well. I don’t like how in China just because a band is foreign they get top billing. All of the headliners at Modern Sky were foreign bands that were of a lesser caliber than many of the Chinese bands they had playing as well. It’s a sign when the best band of the day is the opening act on a stage. That’s what happened on Sunday. The best band of the festival was on the Modern Stage at 3pm and hugely unnoticed by most of the people who arrived late or were trying to find things to do at that time. I’m sure you can find lots of people who will tell you that people were bouncing around and there was mashing and such going on, but there are always those who will party for any sound just because. And while I accept that perhaps not all the bands played my kind of music, I for one can admit when even a band I don’t like for their music has a great live set. It’s something intangible that you can feel. I just wasn’t feeling it often enough at Modern Sky.

Lots of events now have those supporting items, as I call them, for the people who don’t like the music at a particular time. The key with such things is the interactivity. They have to be just like the music, in some way interactive with the audience either physically or emotionally or just by presenting the notion of interactivity. With such a huge venue there were lots of stalls around with a majority of them around the Sky Stage and Badhead Stage being empty. Beijing being such a huge up and coming city of international art with a huge scene in specialized districts like 798, why not open up some space for some artists to do small installation pieces or interactive pieces? It’s a great way to promote the alliance that is the actual Beijing art and music scene. The closest thing to art was provided in the form of a chalkboard wall by the Converse building. It’s a shame that the local art scene isn’t tapped to provide open source interactive elements, which could be quite interesting. Especially since it seems to me that the art scene and music scene are growing together through a symbiotic relationship in China. Why not bring that same symbiosis to festivals? Now with all my griping it may be hard to tell but there were a few bands that did have a great energy and presence. Black Head, a hip-hop band from Xian was the break out hit on Saturday for me, a band consisting of two acoustic guitarists, a drummer, a bassist, and a harmonica-playing singer. They came out with a great old sound mixed in with some modern punk/ska styling and just layered hip-hop vocals over it. I actually went to just check them out to see what Chinese hip-hop sounded like only to stay for the whole set because they just blew me away with their sound. It’s a shame they were at 3pm because most of the crowd was dispersed or hadn't arrived yet. Which seems to be the story repeatedly with the best of Modern Sky 2010.

Band With animal heads

Sunday had a gem hidden away on the Badhead Stage. Now due to some time (again being the early afternoon) issues and the bands not announcing who they are I have no idea which band it was! Why can’t they say who they are! It was either Alt Senior or Today is Autumn. Now I have spent a lot of time online trying to figure this out. While it seems to me like it is most likely Alt Senior I can’t recall them having a white drummer. This is a huge bummer. Either way, if you were lucky enough to catch a band with a great rock sound and style that had great stage presence on the Badhead Stage you probably saw them. Incase you need to narrow it down they actually even donned horse, unicorn, and zebra heads at one point in the set playing and singing with large helmets almost half a meter tall on their heads in the shapes of those animals. It was impressive to see a band go that extra bit for a live show for the audience. If anyone knows what band they actually were I would love to really know. But that’s the kind of showmanship you expect to have at a live show. Something a bit extra for the fans.

Crowd surfing during Hedgehogs set
Monday brought the most energetic and fun line-up of the festival for me. Hedgehog, a band I have wanted to see for quite some time thanks to its pintsized ferocious drummer did not disappoint. I just wish my Chinese had been better to understand the speech the singer made about his guitar and the meaning behind it before he smashed it to bits and threw it into the crowd. But hey, at least he was being interactive with the crowd. And they really seemed to appreciate and love him for it. But they played a nice energetic set egging the crowd on to dance and go nuts with them. Not to be outdone the petite drummer threw flowers into the crowd after the show to all her adoring male fans. Its kooky, fun, and I like. I’m actually a bit jealous for not getting a flower myself.

But by far the best band of the festival was the opening act Monday on the Modern Stage, Go Chic. It’s hard to be the first band on at 2pm. A lot of people are still a bit apathetic and waiting around for the bigger bands. So what do you do? Take notes from the lead singer, Ariel of Go Chic, if you are in a band.

Ariel, “Are you ready to party?”
Crowd apathetically “yeah…”
“I can’t hear you”
Crowd still not caring “yeah!…”
Ariel from Go Chic climbing the rafters

BAMN! And off they went. If you weren’t ready to party, Go Chic started it and didn’t care if you were joining in. Even if you didn’t like their style of music you couldn’t help but be impressed by their energy and in-your-face antics. As the singer is singing about getting higher and higher she’s climbing the scaffolding and when you think its high enough she goes higher holding the mike and singing with one hand and climbing with the other. Just when you think she’s done she jumps off stage and is singing in front of the crowd all the while stealing the hats of the police along the barrier. Done yet? Nope. All the while she is singing and the band is playing hard and fast electro-pop punk. Next thing you know she’s back on stage but now where is she gone? Only to reappear in the mosh pit that she’s incited to knock it around with her fans. Not only is all that great for a show as a viewer but it got everyone to feel like a part of the show. And not just the crowd as she ran around and made everyone wake up and realize that the show had started the stage crew ran behind her constantly having to untangle wires and keep her from falling off things and jumping and climbing over things. And that’s what people go to live shows for. What did she do at the end? Tell everyone to go buy the band’s CD and shirts. Flip everyone off and climb the fence back over the crowd. Now that’s badass rock. Within minutes of their set ending, the booth with Go Chic’s CDs and shirts was over run and sold out. That’s what happens when you give a performance like that. The crowd wakes up and responds. I hope bands start realizing that when you play a live show you don’t just stand around and play as if you were rehearsing in your basement studio, but rather you have to give the crowd something and they will give you something back too. As far as their music goes though I have no idea, I was so caught up in the performance and energy I vaguely recall thinking those are some good lyrics. I came home, hunted them down on the internet and gave them a closer listen and even though they aren’t everything I like in my music I’m a fan because they completely won me over with their live performance.

I know that not all types of bands and artist are going to climb rafters and yell and scream. I don’t expect that either. I just want the band to say “hey, here we are for your entertainment and were going to be entertaining” and try to make a connection with the crowd. After all, if it weren’t for the crowd and the fans they wouldn’t be making music in the first place.

So all in all yes I had a great time at Modern Sky. I got to hang out with some friends, be outdoors, listen to music, and enjoy a few days off from my normal life. Does that mean it couldn’t be better? Of course not, but Ill let you know how they do on improvements in the spring.


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