InMusic from way out there

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InMusic.jpgWhen I told a friend last week that I was going to the InMusic Festival on the grasslands of the Hebei/Inner Mongolia border region, their response was "that place is really remote - I hope you find it ok." They weren't kidding. From Shanghai, it took a combination of sleeper train, two buses and a taxi to reach the site out in the middle of the grasslands. But then, that was kind of the point - this was supposed to be a festival in the wilderness.

It took us a lot longer to get there than expected and as a result I missed most of the first day and was already heading back to Beijing when the bands started on the last day. In between, it was generally a good experience though and the organisers can't really be blamed for poor transportation planning on my part.

Here's a quick run down of some highlights and some lowlights together with a whole load of photos: 
Highlights (in no real order)
Re-TROS. Luckily I did get there in time to catch these guys on the Friday night. Always impressive, they played a greatest hits set. It was a little unnerving watching them play the anti-war If the Monkey Becomes (to be) the King when I was surrounded by guys in camouflage, but there's nothing quite like a crowd of Chinese people all jumping around and chanting "Hang the Police".

The Pet Conspiracy. When the two lead vocalists get led on stage on all fours and in chains by a man with a black stocking pulled over his face and Mickey Mouse ears on his head, you think it'll be a hard moment to top. The Pet Conspiracy had a whole load more tricks up their sleeve though and showed why they're one of the most talked about bands in the capital right now.

24 Hours. Like Pet Conspiracy, what were these guys doing on the second stage? I know someone has to be, but putting them there deprived them of the crowd they deserved. The Xi'an threesome (now resident in Beijing) get better every time I see them and I'm really looking forward to their debut album, scheduled for release in the Autumn.

QueenSea Big Shark. 后海 sent the crowd into a frenzy with an electrifing performance - playing a bunch of old material as well as throwing in a couple of new songs as a bonus. It's been a while since these guys were in Shanghai, hopefully they'll be back soon.

Toilets. It was a huge site and only having one area of toilets wasn't that helpful. There was one solitary portaloo near the main stage and, as no one gave me a map of the site when I came in, I didn't know where the other toilets were until part way through the second day. They were all the way over on the other side of the massive site. More toilets/more toilet areas would have been good.

Vehicles. Allowing people to drive cars and motorbikes through the middle of areas where people are camping probably isn't a great idea. Also, if the crowds are creating huge dust storms around the stages, getting a tanker to plough its way through the crowd spraying water isn't the best solution either. If you want to spray the ground to hold down the dust, do it before a large crowd of people has formed.

Information. Like I say, no one gave me a map or anything when I came in - I'd brought a schedule from home and knew who I wanted to see, but some people won't have known who those bands were. On the second day, a band took to the main stage at the time Casino Demon were advertised to go on and open that day's festival. But it wasn't Casino Demon. There was then a two and a half hour delay with nothing happening on the main stage until Casino Demon themselves came on during which time I was told by various members of staff that they had already been on (even though I told them I'd seen Casino Demon before and that band wasn't them) or would be on in a couple of minutes (a good hour before they actually went on). An announcement letting people know what the hell was happening would have been nice.

Entry. Arriving around 1pm on the Saturday, I wasn't allowed in for 45 minutes. This despite the fact that I had a three day ticket and that the site already had a load of people inside (who had camped overnight). The explanation given was that the staff on the gate were eating their lunches. A crowd formed and became increasingly angry (especially as it was quite hot). When the gate was finally open, just one lane of the one entrance was opened. Not only that, but even people who had been given a wrist bracelet the day before and had 3-day tickets, had to show their ticket again and get a second wrist bracelet - essentially slowing entry to one person at a time.

Generally, these were the only real drawbacks. Any new festival is bound to have teething problems and given that the last festival I went to was Midi (who have ten years of experience) it compared pretty well. Overall the atmosphere was great, the line-up was strong (albeit a fairly standard Chinese festival line-up) and it was a good experience. I'm not sure how many stayed until late on Sunday night, especially given that even to Beijing it took a good 3-4 hours, but there was a big crowd there and, though it might be a bit far to go for us southerners, InMusic could be a strong addition to China's festival calendar if they can do it again next year.

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