With a slew of international artists touring the region every week and recent collaborations with big-wigs like Red Bull Music Academy, Resident Advisor, Thump etc., Asia is slowly delineating its form in the global dance music imprint. This became glaringly evident when through the efforts of dART – online video company leTV and Boiler Room – joined hands to create the first ever Boiler Room event in China. The two highly anticipated launch parties took place in Beijing and Shanghai on April 30th and May 1st, respectively, and now that the gushing reviews, fanfare and confetti have finally settled on the inaugural edition, we asked two Chinese scene regulars to give us the real lowdown.
Sam Which (Co:Motion Records / Elevator Club, Shanghai / Rainbow Disco Club, Tokyo) has mixed feelings about the media exposure which laid more emphasis on the international headlining act and the brand itself -“There was a lot of buzz around China’s first Boiler Room shows. Much of it focused either around the record breaking number of viewers (over three million, the biggest in the history of either BR or their partner leTV), or the fact that this was happening for the first time, or the international booking of Black Coffee and then his subsequent replacement with Disclosure. The point that was – if understandably – missed in all this hype was the reason for Boiler Room coming to China in the first place, and the brand’s reason for being at all – local artists.”
John Murcia (Toxic Entertainment / Back2Basics) echoed this sentiment adding that, “As a fan of music I will say the buzz before Boiler Room was too much, in my opinion. Music connects with people regardless of how big the stars involved are, so this marketing strategy was overrated and there was too much propaganda and ads. It was 10X more of an EDM promotion style which means LOTS of publicity. So the question is, should an underground platform connect people through music and culture, or should we do it this way? …But its China and people here have a habit of micro-managing things.”
However, in his capacity as a local festival and party organizer John did concede that perhaps “the way you promote in China sometimes needs be chaotic and requires that extra push. With so many things going on there and billions of people, it is easy for them to get absorbed by so much of info – most crap and some good – and you need to keep reminding them so that they’re not just absorbed by the last ads or promo they see.”
There seemed to be a generally favorable consensus regarding the choice of artists. According to Sam, “dART did a good job of selecting a range of acts representative of the Chinese scene, most of whom turned in great performances. While a ‘big booking’ might have detracted from the attention paid to the locals, it did help drive international buzz and also, importantly, viewership that meant that such huge numbers of people also tuned in to the local artists they’d never heard of.”
As for the performances John exclaimed, “All the Chinese artists killed it! I liked the diversity of styles they included from ambient, bass, house-y stuff to fusion of techno with Chinese elements, and the addition of cool live instruments like saxophone, piano, Chinese traditional instruments, drums, modular synths, etc. It was their way to say to the world ‘we are here and we are dominating the game’. After the show, for example, Mickey Zhang joined Deep’art Electronic Music Artist Agency based in Ghent (Belgium), to release a 12” LP soon and I’m sure more artists that performed are in the same line of collaboration with artists and agencies outside China.”
However, he remained unimpressed with the organizational aspect of the shows. There was apparently lack of staff inside the venue making things complicated for the artists and leading to equipment damage caused by inappropriate behavior from certain fans who dropped their drinks on the live modular systems. The sound, in spite of being Funktion One, was a sticky issue throughout, with artists complaining numerous times during the show about it being either too low or dropping in crucial moments of the performances. 2 or 3 times, the sound system even gave away completely and the party had to be stalled.
As YouTube is blocked in China, apart from the international audience, for internal viewing purposes, Boiler Room had created a channel with the online video company LeTV. We were informed by Sam, that the broadcasts too have been plagued with discrepancies. “In Shanghai, the aftermath seems mostly: ‘that was a good party’. We have a lot more party people than music heads in our scene, and the fact that Boiler Room has yet to host up the individual sets on Youtube and have pulled down the looping video of the events in their entirety hasn’t helped to reinforce the message of the music. Hopefully leTV is seeing viewers return to the videos they are still hosting on their site.”
So what exactly did China take away from the events in terms of the betterment of its scene? Sam is of the view that it’s hard to escape the newsworthiness of ‘millions of people’ and ‘breaking records’. In the end, whether Boiler Room gives something significant back to China rests on future events – “if they happen, and they dig more deeply and feature more concretely, the hardworking djs and producers in our little scene, it could be the biggest link over the great firewall established thus far, giving artists both a reason to prepare the set of their lives, as well as new hopes for reaching a broader audience of like-minded music people. Word is that Boiler Room organizers who flew over for the events were happy with the collaboration; fingers crossed that it means they’ll be keen to bring the brand back in a more local-focused way.”