Storm Festival Shanghai: China Goes Hard

Vegas, Ibiza, pretty much anywhere in the Netherlands. What all of these places have in common is their propensity to host large dance music festivals.  As EDM has continued to spread worldwide, more and more place names have become new havens for dance music, and some places are from from where you’d expect them to be.  Few in America or Europe would think to look to the banks of the Huangpu River for the biggest names in EDM, but this, Shanghai, China burst into the EDM scene faster than Paris Hilton running from someone asking her to mix two songs at 128 BPM.  (And that’s pretty fast.)  Turns out, Storm Festival, which debuted in Shanghai last week, was home to huge names like Axwell, Zedd, Benny Benassi, and Cazzette, and it showcased them with the greatest of ease.

When I heard about Storm, I was hopeful but I also had some reservations.  EDM can bring love and acceptance wherever it goes, but in a place where there are a few ideas that are not so readily accepted I was expecting some clashes.  China is traditionally a conservative political environment, and the repercussions of that fact are often visible in the booming country’s most populous city: Shanghai.  But the government in Shanghai has been moving towards opening itself up to new ideas, new people, and new ways of raging the night away.  In recent months, Shanghai has started to open new free trade zones, it’s played host to America’s partner university NYU Shanghai, and foreigners are ubiquitous throughout the city streets.  And yet, the presence of the traditional way of thinking is always there in the background, much like the middle aged Chinese policeman who stood behind me as I gleefully danced to Axwell playing “Resurrection”.

Still, Storm was in no way shy about itself or how it wanted to go about things, and overall the experience was impressively similar to any top notch EDM festival.  The mainstage pulsed with a raw industrial energy, as if it were the engine within some giant animatronic beast churning EDM into the bloodstream of Shanghai -as the festival moved through it’s formidable lineup, festival-goers both foreign and local found themselves ‘losing themselves to dance’.

Certainly there was a significant portion of the crowd that was from the local population, and they were clearly enjoying themselves.  I was pleased to witness patrons of a wide variety of ages jamming out to the likes of the Zombie Kids and Cazzette, and that made me feel at home.  It made the whole festival feel more connected, accessible, and at ease.  Because there was such a wide variety of different types of people at the festival, Storm had no shortage of peace, love, unity, or respect.

In China, music is all too often somewhat restricted in its general scope, and EDM rarely makes it onto the country’s radar.    China has good music, but I have been disappointed in dance music’s apparent inability to penetrate the asian market to the extent that it has in the western world.  So I was keen and on the lookout for DJs from China and the greater East Asian region.

Storm festival could improve by marketing itself more specifically to the Chinese population, perhaps by including a big Chinese musical name or two.  But that being said, the diversity of the festival as a whole was relatively well balanced and the feel was entirely accepting of everyone who did choose to come out.

The smaller acts really gave the festival a special character, and each one had a story to tell.  Tenashar, the controversial Singaporean DJ Mag #87 who has raised some doubt as to her actual skill beyond her well endowed album covers, delivered a strong electro house set.  But Tenashar’s performance was put into even sharper relief by the failures of several other DJs.  Paris Hilton failed to show up to the 15 minute set that she was scheduled to deliver on the secondary stage during Week One.  Perhaps she shouldn’t have had the set in the first place, but for a clamoring crowd of Western expats waiting to see if the rumor was true and she would actually try to DJ, it was rather disappointing.  When I dug a little deeper on the matter I found out that the Chinese wouldn’t even allow Paris to play her set because of her public drug usage.  She was denied a ‘Performance Visa’ by the Public Safety Bureau.

I was impressed by Storm Festival, and I hope it comes back in the future.  If anyone can get a chance to make it out to Asia’s hottest new festival I would highly recommend it.  The two formidable and well designed stages nestled in between rapidly growing high rises in a forest of construction cranes seemed to be the zeitgeist of what could be China’s new musical explosion.  With any luck, Storm will help in paving the way for a larger EDM presence in China.