Bands on the run

How China’s biggest rock festival ended in chaos

Bands on the run

Memorable gig: British band Suede headlined the Chengdu festival

One of the music world’s most iconic events takes place in Pilton in Somerset. That’s the venue for the Glastonbury Festival, an open air concert that lures 150,000 fans and with them a decent quantity of mud.

Glastonbury has been in the news in recent weeks thanks to a Sunday Mirror scoop. The British tabloid reports that The Rolling Stones plan to play at the event for the first time next year. Sources close to the aging rockers told the newspaper that Mick, Keith et al view it as a retirement gig, marking a half century of playing together. “Everbody is incredibly excited… it’s a final bow,” the source told the Mirror

However, rival newspaper The Guardian quickly scotched the story. It contacted the band’s representatives who said there was no truth to the claims, and that the Stones would not play Glastonbury when it returns next year (there is no event in 2012).

Which newspaper is right? We’ll have to wait and see.

Controversy of a different kind has also erupted over a Chinese musical extravaganza. The Big Love Music Festival billed itself as an eastern version of Glastonbury, but as South Weekend reports the four day event – which was held in late June – descended into “chaos”.

After two years of planning and an investment of Rmb60 million ($9.44 million), what was billed as China’s biggest-ever music festival went embarrassingly wrong. That was bad news too for the Sichuanese city of Chengdu which had backed the event in hope of boosting its trendy image.

The line-up of musicians was ambitious. British band Suede played along with other international acts; Hong Kong cantopop was also represented by the likes of Edison Chen and Alan Tam; and a host of China’s own stars featured too, including Cui Jian, nicknamed ‘the father of Chinese rock’.

All went reasonably well for the first couple of days, with fans singing and dancing at the Chengdu Intangible Cultural Heritage Park. But then it became clear that the organisers had run out of cash. That’s why on the final day, performances began four hours late at 5pm. An audience drenched by heavy rain began to get restive.

It turned out that the gig’s electricians had gone on strike in protest over not being paid, says the Beijing News. Eventually, this was resolved but not before sections of the crowd began shouting for refunds.

Then the mood darkened once more as word spread that the organisers had ‘absconded’ with the ticket revenues. Hotels hadn’t been paid, leading to farcical scenes in which entertainers tried to sneak out at dawn and make a dash for the airport. About 80 of the organisational staff were held hostage in one Chengdu hotel, which said it would not let them go until it received payment.

Local rock star Xia Tianxiao described his own experience on Sina Weibo. He figured that something must be wrong when the driver stopped halfway to Chengdu’s airport, protesting he hadn’t been paid by the organisers.

In another case a bus driver asked a band to pay Rmb2,000 or he wouldn’t take them to the airport. The man claimed the organisers’ owed him Rmb80,000.

South Weekend says that police then intervened and detained Chen Shu, the CFO of the organising firm. Chen was only released after he signed an IOU promising the hotels Rmb1.3 million of arrears, as well as Rmb6.7 million owed to other local service providers. Chen also promised that he wouldn’t leave Chengdu until the situation had been resolved.

So what went wrong? In an interview Chen later claimed that inexperience was partly to blame, but that the bigger issue was ticketing. Initially, the organisers assumed that 30,000 tickets a day would be sold.

But the problem was that not enough tickets were sold at the official price. It seems the organisers hadn’t figured that a rogue element within their own ranks would sell tens of thousands of tickets to scalpers, who sold them on cheaply and shared the profits. The media is estimating that only 12,000 tickets were sold through official channels despite attendance at the event numbering closer to 120,000.

The corrosive hand of corruption leaves its mark again…

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