Zebra Music Festival (热波音乐街) officially announced details for this year's event at a press conference last week. Voted best event two years in a row by Chengdoo Magazine readers, the Zebra Festival is unquestionably Chengdu's most anticipated music event.
The festival starts on April 30 this year, a day earlier than usual, to accommodate the May labor holiday weekend. Organizers are sticking to their formula of the last two years, holding the event at the Poly198 Park location and featuring all kinds of music but focusing on rock, with a few foreign acts and a final pop act at the end of each day.
However, fans of electronic music might find themselves a bit lost, as (for a multitude of reasons which can be read in Chengdoo's April issue) this year's Zebra won't include the Panda Stage, which has been a haven for electronic-music lovers the past two festivals. And don't even dare to compare it to this year's Beijing Strawberry Festival's lineup with 130 acts spread across six stages!
Below we've rounded up descriptions and links to tracks and videos of most of the artists taking part in Zebra Music Festival 2011, plus all the rest of the information you need to know.
Edison Chen and other pop stars
Apart from Sony-backed Singaporean pop wonder Yida Huang (黄义达), headlining Day 1 is Chen Chusheng (陈楚生), who, when not picking up awards from the national pop industry or MTV as "Superboy" champion or "National Pub Singer," contributes to the soundtrack of so-called "domestic blockbusters" such as The Message and for the first time will perform on a big stage with a live band.
If you missed legendary rock guitarist Xu Wei's (许巍) Chengdu concert last year, the Xi'anese headliner has prepared a performance with a dedicated stage design to close out Day 2.
Headlining Day 3—you might know him from action movies such as Infernal Affairs or having stumbled across his name in 2008 when his photo scandal, aka "Sexgate," was rotating in the yellow press, but like almost every star created by the Hong Kong entertainment industry, Edison Chen (陈冠希) is also involved with music. Following friend and fellow Asia pop star MC Hotdog, Chen will, for the first time, climb onto the stage of an outdoor music festival in China, marking a public comeback after three years of scandal-related absence. Expect a repertoire from his latest album Confusion, and don't be surprised if the Cantopop beats are crossed by soft Chinese raps in a stretched interpretation of commercial hip hop.
The foreign bands
The first day features four foreign bands, starting with Chengdu-based multinational Proximity Butterfly(变色蝴蝶) whose prayers (or was it petitions, backed up by powerful performances the last two years?) have been finally heard by the Zebra gods, earning them not only a much-deserved spot on the main stage but also the honor of opening this year's festival—hopefully with their smashy "Kill the Popstar."
Proximity will be followed by pop-rockers Gemini (简迷离) from Beijing, allegedly the mainland's first Chinese-pianist-and-French-guitarist duo.
The festival's most controversial act might be Your Favorite Enemies, an indie-rock sextet from Canada whose frontman is involved with "Write For Rights" and other human-rights movements. He is not only a notorious spokesperson for Amnesty International, but the band is also regularly invited to play at AI's anniversary celebrations. While highly acclaimed in the West (1st place in the U.K.'s "Battle of the Bands" and word of approval by Beach Boy drummer Nelson Brag), the band's strongest fan base commercially seems to be in Japan, thanks to Your Favorite Enemies' involvement on the chart-topping soundtrack of video game Dissidia: Final Fantasy.
A certain Mister Eleganz fronts French electro-rock ensemble Success, which at first listen comes off as a substitute for last year's headlining Does It Offend You, Yeah?. But make no mistake: Success's fuller sound leans a bit more toward the likes of Daft Punk and Justice, while the band's aggressiveness worked well enough for them to contribute to the soundtrack of Zombieland. Combine that with their previous experience performing in front of Chinese audiences, and the four should stand by their name and rock the crowd.
What do you do the second day of the festival if you are Good for Nothing? If you happen to come from Osaka with your three best friends, the answer can only be "Play positivistic pop punk in a band that is named after a Japanese movie from the '60s."
And if you don't hail from Kansai, their Australian counterparts The on Fires might answer the question the following day.
If you are still unconvinced by this year's lineup, listen to the Beijing-based trio with French frontman Zhang Si'an, Dutch bassist Maikel and the Chinese drummer Maomao aka The Amazing Insurance Salesmen. Their experimental but melodic rock secured them the first place of the China Global Battle of the bands, and apart from making amazingly good rock music, they sure know how to sell themselves, representing China's rock-music scene at the GBOB WOrld Final in Malaysia despite being two-thirds foreign.
Chinese Bands and the Zebra Star
It's not clear what their name refers to, but Bigger Bang finally found their way to the Four-chuan: Front woman Pupi seems to be Guangzhou's answer to Beijing's Kang Mao (Subs/杀不死), Fu Han (Queen Sea Big Shark/后海大鲨鱼), or Helen Feng (formerly of Pet Conspiracy/宠物同谋) and comes across as no less dancy or rockstarish than any of the aforementioned.
With Beijing indie-rockers Convenience Store, China's rockopolist label Modern Sky pays tribute to ZMF on opening day.
Day 2 features three of Chengdu's most popular bands: Upbeat seven-piece ska and big band The Trouble (超热播) ...
... dance rockers Mosaic (马赛克) ...
...and old-timers Soundtoy (声音玩具).
The third day sees local band Tongdang (童党) upgraded to the main stage ...
... along with the dreamy Mr. Turtle/Chelonian (海龟先生) ...
... and Ashura (阿修罗), the satellite Little Bar first launched to explore the final frontiers of indie rock and commercial pop in China.
And if after that you wonder how long one can survive with Brain Failure, just stay in front of the main stage and listen to the punk rockers from Beijing who infiltrate Chengdu at least once a year.
Finally, ZMF's self-proclaimed "dedication to supporting original music" (or perhaps simply their attempt to follow in Strawberry Festival's footsteps) means a new festival feature in a "Battle of the Bands" contest. Preliminary competitions have started throughout the city's college and university campuses, and by the end of the month the acts will have been narrowed down to 15 bands who will attempt to show their worthiness on the smaller Sky Stage. A conglomerate of industry people, pop stars, media critics, and peers of Chengdu's music scene will select three finalists to perform on the main stage in the final battle. The audience will then decide a winner, and the last band standing will be invited to participate in a 2011 Zebra Music Festival held in another city, most likely the "fashion-themed music rock festival" with which Zebra threatens to invade Shanghai's Jinshan Beach later this year.
While the casting contest might be uninspiring to enter or to watch, there's another contest not to be missed: "Zebra Conquers the Landlord"—a contest for non-Chengduers to win the grand prize of free accommodation and a free return ticket back home.
But, if you don't win, at least you can show awareness with the festival's long-standing motto of "I care" by "enjoy[ing] a relaxed holiday in a pleasant and natural environment ... lov[ing] the earth and the sky and support[ing] a 'green' music festival by going barefoot." And by stopping by the panda-conservation tent run by NGO Shanshui, founded by the so-called "Jane Goodall of China," Lü Zhi (吕植).
For those who get bored or need to play with their smart phones to give face, check updates and casting votes on Sina's Twitter-clone Weibo, download iPhone or Android apps to navigate the festival, or stay at home, save the RMB80 a day and watch the live broadcast on Tudou for free.
Earth Stage Schedule
Proximity Butterfly (变色蝴蝶) (Chengdu, psychedelic rock)
Gemini (简迷离) (France/China, Pop-rock)
Your favorite enemies (Canada) (Indi-Rock)
Bigger Bang (Guangzhou, Dance-rock)
Convenience Store (便利商店) (Beijing, Brit-pop)
Yida Huang (黄义达) (Singapore, Pop)
Success (France, electro rock)
Chenchu Sheng (陈楚生)
The Trouble (热超波)
Good for Nothing (Japan, pop punk)
Mosaic (马赛克) (Chengdu, dance rock)
local band t.b.a.
Soundtoy (声音玩具) (Chengdu, Brit-pop)
Xiaokun Wang (王啸坤) (Singapore, pop)
Xu Wei (许巍) (Xi'an, pop rock)
The Amazing Insurance Salesmen (保险超人乐队) (Beijing, experimental rock)
Tongdang (童党) (Chengdu, emo rock)
Mr. Turtle aka Mr. Chelonian (海龟先生) (Chengdu, ska, reggae)
The on Fires (Australia, punk/rock)
local band t.b.a
Ashura (阿修罗乐队) (Chengdu, pop rock)
Brain Failure (脑浊) (Beijing, punk rock)
Edison Chen (陈冠希) (Hong Kong, Cantopop/hip hop)
Tickets are RMB80 for a single-day pass (no three-day passes this year)
National ticket hotline 400-810-1887 | Chengdu booking hotline: 028-65920088 or 65920088
Internet booking 228.com.cn or ticketone
Poly 198 Tulip Park 保利198郁金香花卉公园 (Baoli 198 Yujinxiang Huahui Gongyuan) on Shulong Lu near the Third Ring Road northeast section, Giant Panda Breeding Research Base, and Chengdu Zoo.
A taxi from the city proper costs RMB40 to 60 and can take 40 to 60 minutes depending on traffic, or you can take bus line 107 or 902 (get off at the Chengdu Giant Panda Breeding Research Base Stop - 大熊猫基地站)
More details on how to get to the Zebra festival
While you wait for the festival to get started, you can review what Zebra Music Festival CEO Scarlett Li promised of the festival last year.