Zebra Music Festival develops by leaps and bounds

Updated: 2012-04-13 09:19

By Chen Nan (China Daily)

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Zebra Music Festival develops by leaps and bounds

Israeli punk rock band Useless ID will attend this year's Zebra Music Festival. Photos provided to China Daily

Zebra Music Festival founder, Li Dai, experienced her first music festival when holidaying in Edinburgh, United Kingdom.

The outdoor event planted in her the desire to organize her own music festival in China one day. That was some 16 years ago.

In 1996, armed with a business degree from Tsinghua University, she entered the music industry as a young professional. A year later, she was promoted as the general manager of Channel V, where she launched the Chinese Music Awards and the Made in China campaign to promote local music.

From there, Li co-founded an online and mobile music-distribution outlet, followed by Zebra Media in 2007.

Along the way, she helped to organize some of China's early contemporary music festivals, such as Cui Jian's Snow Mountain Music Festival in Lijiang, Yunnan province, in 2001.

A year after an inspiring music festival, Fuji Rock, held at a ski resort in Japan, in 2008, Li decided that the time was right for her to fulfill her dream of organizing a massive music event in China.

She founded the first Zebra Music Festival (Zebra), which was held in Chengdu, Sichuan province, in May 2009, a year after the devastating earthquake. The festival attracted around 150,000 people.

Its roaring success made Li believe that China has the capacity and the market to stage even bigger music festivals.

"Music festivals are a great way of introducing different genres of music to non-music fans," she says.

Zebra Music Festival develops by leaps and bounds

Zebra Music Festival founder Li Dai.

Her ambition is to build Zebra to rival similar events in Europe and the United States. She is also convinced that outdoor music festivals are the key to the future of the mainland music industry.

That's quite an ambition, given the challenges of such events on the mainland. Even established festivals such as the Midi Music Festival, the oldest outdoor music festival in the country, and Modern Sky music festival are cautious about cultural taboos.

Some organizers have even moved their events to another city or forced to cancel because of the clash with national anniversaries or other special events.

Li is well aware of the challenges but she's undeterred.

She aims to reach out to a wide array of audiences with variety and affordable tickets.

Her strategy works. Zebra has been growing in leaps and bounds.

This year, the carnival has grown even bigger covering more genres of music from Chinese pop singers, reality TV stars to indie rockers from home and abroad.

The event, starting with Chengdu in May, will tour Suzhou, Shanghai, Xi'an, Wuhan and other major cities.

Every year Li gives a theme to the festival and for 2012, it's simply Play.

"Our youths don't know how to have fun. Fun is the key to any kind of creativity, which is lacking in China," Li says.

Apart from offering new experiences to locals, Zebra also offers unique experiences to foreign bands.

"In Europe, when you play punk rock, you will only find young people in the crowd. But here in China, you can see various types of people, including people who like pop or disco music, people who wear formal dresses and even peasants. It means that anybody can like the music you play," says Eddy Di Natale, from punk rock band, Smegma Riot, who will attend the festival in Chengdu.

The band, founded in 2004 by four people from different countries, will perform songs from their latest album, Evolve or Die, and a couple of traditional Italian songs.

Among the other bands are Israeli punk rock band Useless ID, Beijing-based rocker Wang Feng and Taiwan singer-songwriter Stanley Huang.

"We've performed in China twice and every show was special and different," says Ishay Berger, the lead guitarist of Useless ID, who has been with the band since it was founded in 1994.

The four-piece punk rock band is known as one of the most successful Israeli punk bands worldwide.