Tough image aside, girls and boys just want to have fun at 'China's Woodstock'

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 03 May, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 03 May, 2007, 12:00am

It has been called 'China's Woodstock', after the American music festival that marked the climax of the hippie 'love and peace' movement in 1969.

Certainly the crowds at this year's Midi Music Festival, held in Beijing's Haidian Park from May 1-4, is offering a whiff of counter-cultural revolution. They are coming in their thousands - long-haired, shaven-headed, dreadlocked, mohawked, goateed, tattooed, pierced.

But above all they have come to listen to music and have fun. For the Midi festival goers, sowing the seeds of social change seemed less important than simply enjoying a nice day in the sun.

'People come here to have a laugh. A lot of them dress up as punks or whatever, and some of them mean it, but I think this is more often superficial than the real thing,' said Lu Houzi, a long-haired rocker from Shanxi , who sat on a tie-dyed rug banging a tambourine.

Music student Qian Han , garbed in full punk regalia - long black bovver boots, dark drainpipe jeans, leopardskin waistcoat, chain-and-padlock necklace, topped off with a glued Mohican carefully sculpted into five spikes - certainly looked the real thing.

'Punk music is about rebelling against society. A lot of people - say 95 per cent - want to rebel but they don't dare. I am part of that 5 per cent that dares to do it,' he said, fiddling with the safety pin stuck precariously through his left earlobe.

But for all his attempted bravado, Mr Qian did not seem sure what he was rebelling against. A polite and apparently mild young man, he hardly oozed the spirit of anarchism, the core of a true punk's identity.

Nathaniel Davis, a Beijing-based rock promoter and regular visitor to the festival, said: 'You see them with their tattoos and mohawks, but they are mostly nice, normal kids.

'The sense of rebellion may not be against their family or society in general, but they have found their subculture within the larger society that gives them a sense of identity.

'We're not talking anarchy here - except for a small contingent in the punk crowd. There's nothing really rebellious about rock music anywhere any more - so why would it be different in China?'

Da Tou, a long-haired rocker, said: 'Punk allows us to say what we want, to express our real feelings. A lot of young people come here because they are not satisfied with their lives. They feel a sense of social oppression, so they come to Midi to let go.'

Li Wei , a 24-year-old designer from Beijing, was dismissive of the idea that Midi was an opportunity to voice genuine angst or to rail against mainstream culture.

'Everything in China needs government support - including Midi. It feels free, but there is government support. Midi is not really free: You can't shout out what you really want to say. The band on just now were singing about freedom and chasing a dream - but that's bull****,' she said.

'I came to Midi because I didn't want to stay at home during the May holiday, and it's fun.'

Most of the crowd seems content to do just that: chatting in the sun, drinking beer, chomping on lamb kebabs, dancing. With no free sex or drugs on offer, the spirit of communalism meant sharing cigarettes with strangers.

But at least one member of the crowd seemed impressed by a spirit of youthful abandonment.

'Look at them over there,' said security guard Han Shengpiao , pointing towards a sea of pogoing fans in the mosh pit before the main stage. 'Rock fans are really crazy!'