While the recently-ended South by Southwest festival seems like a quintessentially home-grown phenomenon, American indie music lovers might be surprised to know that across the ocean in China a similar event called JUE Music + Art Festival opened on the very same day, March 11, and continues through April 3.
Now in its third year, the festival aims to bring together the country's creative forces in music, performance, and art, as well as to introduce international artists to the locals. JUE (pronounced "joo-eh") means "to sense and to awaken" in Chinese and takes place in the country's two biggest cities, Beijing and Shanghai. According to China Daily, the festival had attendance numbers of over 26,000 in 2010 and expects to surpass 30,000 this year.
To kick off the music scene, Erlend Øye — who is one half of the popular Norwegian indie folk-pop duo Kings of Convenience — brought his other band The Whitest Boy Alive to both cities with two sold-out concerts. According to the Chinese news site Sohu, the nerdy, bespectacled Øye and the band's style of pop-inflected electronic music were both big hits with the audience.
Also performing last week in was the French electronica musician Vitalic. For his first Beijing appearance, Vitalic — who has been compared to Daft Punk — found an energetic crowd for his intense brand of disco-inspired techno. He was followed by local favorite Pet Conspiracy, whose techno-punk style has earned them international acclaim. Before the show, drummer Edo de Bastiani told China Daily that the band has "a kind of dirty and slightly fierce style in terms of both music and performance."
In connection with the festival, participating galleries have mounted 22 ongoing art exhibitions. Starting this week, Affordable Art Beijing will be showing and selling artworks by emerging Chinese artists. While sometimes astronomical prices for Chinese artworks have propelled the country to become either the number one or number two art market (depending on whom you ask), the key word here is "affordable." Prices start at a few hundred renminbi, or about 20 dollars.
Split Works, the festival organizer, has lots of experience promoting indie music: it brought Sonic Youth to China back in 2007. Upcoming gigs at JUE will feature more bands from both China and around the world representing the genres of folk rock, Britpop, psychedelic rock and garage rock. JUE will also showcase other performing arts such as classical and experimental theater, improvised dance, and film.