IF THE SPRING WAVE MUSIC festival succeeds with its inaugural event next weekend - and that looks likely, with almost all of the 12,000 tickets pre-sold - it may provide an answer to the question of what kind of large-scale Chinese pop music festival is right for Hong Kong.
Summer music festivals are the norm throughout the world. Japan, South Korea, mainland China and Taiwan all have events that can draw up to 40,000 fans for a weekend of music. Even in Singapore and Malaysia, festivals are popping up that can attract 10,000 or more.
While Hong Kong's home-grown Clockenflap festival attracts thousands of alternative music fans towards the end of each year, the city has never played host to a large-scale Chinese music festival. Shen Kwan-yuan, a 30-year veteran of Taiwan's music industry and the founder of Spring Wave, hopes to change that.
Spring Wave is one of a half-dozen major Taiwanese music festivals and is arguably the leader when it comes to Chinese pop. Since 2006, it has attracted about 20,000 fans a year in southern Taiwan, outdoing even the older, more famous Spring Scream, which is held at the same time.
In Taiwan, the event is known for its star power, expensive stage set-ups and party-like atmosphere. Headliners have typically achieved celebrity status and have won plenty of music industry awards. They can play their own instruments and are inclined towards a rock sound. The roster of past acts includes bands Mayday and Sodagreen and singers Wu Bai, Crowd Lu and Fish Leong.
Spring Wave expanded this year, and Hong Kong and Singapore are its first franchise events. The Singapore debut in May showcased six Mando-pop stars and attracted about 5,000 fans.
This Saturday in Hong Kong, Taiwanese artists Cheer Chen, A-Yue, MC Hotdog, Jam Hsiao and Jia Jia will join Khalil Fong on a huge outdoor stage in the West Kowloon Cultural District.
"Both Jam Hsiao and Cheer Chen could draw 10,000 to a solo concert in Hong Kong," says Shen. "They could both play at the Coliseum, but we want to do something different," he says. "We want to give fans a chance to see not only their favourite artists, but also some new singers. We want to create a festival atmosphere where people stay and enjoy an environment for a full day. That's why we are bringing in Taiwanese food stalls."
Connecting with Hong Kong audiences is something that has been on Shen's mind for several years. In 2008 he began to notice groups of 200 to 300 Hongkongers in the crowd. They were flying to Taiwan to attend Spring Wave.
"From that time, the trend just continued to grow. Now we estimate that 30 to 40 per cent of the crowd is coming in from Hong Kong, Macau and elsewhere in the region. It is really too big to ignore," says Shen.
That translates into 3,000 or more Hong Kong music pilgrims at recent editions of Spring Wave in Taiwan. "When we first started talking about expansion, we were thinking of mainland China. But there are too many music festivals there, the ticket prices are low, production values are poor, and the laws and politics are just a mess. Hong Kong was a much more natural choice. The only thing we lacked was a location, as we needed an outdoor site that could hold 15,000 to 20,000 people. Once we found the site we knew we could make this happen," says Shen.
Spring Wave is not the first Taiwanese attempt at exporting a music festival to Hong Kong. Given the proximity, cultural similarity and Taiwan's relative wealth of music festivals - Taiwan has at least five festivals which attract 10,000 or more - it was inevitable.
But none have managed to stick. In 2011, an upstart event called Taiwan Calling prepared a two-day festival of about 20 Taiwanese indie bands, but lacked financial muscle and was not repeated.
Also in 2011, as part of the larger Taiwan Culture Festival, the Hohaiyan Rock Festival tried to open a Hong Kong branch. In Taiwan, Hohaiyan draws about 100,000 a year to a giant beach stage for pop stars and Taiwan's annual Indie Music Awards. In Hong Kong, it is much smaller, a weekend of Taiwanese indie bands for a few thousand people.
Shen brings much stronger credentials to the table. In the late 1980s, he served as music director at one of the biggest record companies in Mandarin music at that time, Rock Records. (His predecessor was the legendary singer-producer Jonathan Lin.)
At next weekend's festival, in addition to the pop tunes of Cheer, Jam Hsiao and the Hawaiian-born local favourite Khalil Fong, there will be doses of rock, hip hop and soul. A-Yue may be best known for karaoke ballads, but he tends to rock it up live with a full band behind him. MC Hotdog, one of Taiwan's first rap artists, is also known for high-energy stage shows. The newest name in the line-up, Jia Jia, is an aboriginal Taiwanese singer known for her impressive voice. That suits Shen: "It is our first year," he explains. "We want to show Hong Kong some artists who can really sing."
2013 Spring Wave Music Festival Hong Kong, West Kowloon Cultural District, July 27, 4pm-10.30pm, HK$280-HK$780,HK Ticketing