How the Coronavirus Gave Birth to Online “Stay at Home” Music Festival?

Strawberry Music Festival in Chengdu, 2018 (source: sina)

The coronavirus has changed many industries, the ways we eat, live, work and most importantly the ways we see things and ourselves. Somewhere along the line, staying at home becomes a somewhat arduous practice, especially for those young folks who are constantly fighting boredom. In this sense, the coronavirus stands to test how to live a secluded life with unwavering will and confidence for the future, while being physically confined to a limited space indoors.

News came on February 10 that public entertainment places of all non-daily necessities will be closed, for the sake of avoiding group gatherings. That includes all the local bars, clubs, live music houses, karaoke places, chess rooms, you name it. On this special occasion, spiritual recreation must give way to the most basic need of human beings, that is to survive first and then prosper. For music lovers, more bad news followed, with live shows and concerts postponed indefinitely, multiple ticket apps began refunding process for early orders. Various music festivals set to begin in early April and stretch into mid-summer, face numerous uncertainties.

Modern Sky is a name you can’t miss in China when it comes to music festivals. Founded in 1997, the company has grown to be the largest record label in China, working with altogether over 70 artists. Strawberry Music Festival, sometimes referred to as the Woodstock of China, has built up its fame in the past decade and has held events in 28 cities across China. Meanwhile, the iconography and mythology that comes with it goes beyond the music itself. People take three-hour bus rides to the remote suburb, reside in rough tents and bare with nasty toilets not merely for music, but for a way of living.

There are several categories of Chinese young folks among the ranks. The first are hardcore music lovers, which are rare and might be more critical to live performances. Second are fans willing to take the pilgrimage to take a peak at their favorite bands who usually sings right after dawn. After all, the good ones are always saved for the end of the day. The first two might be largely outnumbered by those just in need of a desperate getaway and ventilation from a collective anxiety, from whatever that’s stopping them from being their bold and free-spirited selves, be it marriage or the 996 working schedule.

Just as how an article in The Paper reveals the truth about music festivals, “The good old days are gone. Nowadays, the functionality of music festivals seems purer than ever. When you can’t take the ‘996’ anymore, it provides you with a shelter, a temporary home of music waves, where you could find yourself.” However now the outbreak has changed all the budding anticipations of the spring season and turned it all to dust.

Shen Yue, Vice President of Modern Sky, told media: “All the music festivals and tours have been postponed. Many foreign bands have canceled their performances in China too, which would therefore have an impact on their tour arrangements around Asia. Optimistically speaking, the performances can resume their due approval processes in April or May and will begin from June, but it may also postpone until the second half of the year.”

The current situation caused financial problems for music companies like Modern Sky, “For example, we have already spent a lot of prepaid costs. The cost of this year’s project has already occurred last year. This part of the cost was originally planned to be converted into revenue in the first and second quarters of this year, but now it will all be postponed. So we do bear a lot of financial burden in this respect.”

Big events have always been striving under the influence of force majeure. “Actually we won’t be surprised if anything happens. Even if there is no abnormal situation like the outbreak, there will be a variety of other unexpected situations. Many projects, already approved and advertised, face various changes. For instance, we are doing this project in this city, but suddenly news came that the city is going to hold a big conference, or government reception event, award ceremony or whatsoever. Under such circumstances, we have to cancel our event due to lack of public security staff. It’s quite common here.” Shen said.

Music Festival “on the cloud”

From February 4 to 8, The Strawberry Music Festival and short video platform Bilibili jointly held a series of “Stay at Home Strawberry” streaming events. According to official press release, the show was held in the hope of bringing love and support to the people who are fighting against the novel coronavirus. The free live streams begin at 4 pm and run to 10 pm. It has been the second time recently that Bilibili was broadly reported, after the New Year’s Eve online concert. With a slogan of “let’s disco dance at home”, the video platform knows best how to cater to the insatiable spiritual needs for young folks.

Poster of “Stay at Home Strawberry” streaming events (source: Modern Sky)

SEE ALSO: A Tribute to the Past Decade of Pop Culture from Bilibili — ‘Once Young, Forever Young’

The online festival was all inspirational. “We reacted real quick. Everyone feels unease. We want to do something to alleviate the anxiety. In this sense, Modern Sky chose Bilibili as an uploader to proceed with our charity project during the outbreak.” Shen Yue explained the original intention of the event.

The streams include replays of live performances from previous music festivals featuring more than 70 musicians and bands, including rappers Kafe Hu and Tizzy T, rock artists Birdstriking and Re-TROS, and New Pants. Many of the sets were recorded at previous Modern Sky-organized festivals across the country. The footage, according to Mr Shen, has never been previously disclosed before.

Some artists have also been invited to livestream their lives while staying at home during the outbreak such as cooking, exercising, playing games and many other fun ways to kill time. Needless to say, seeing a folk singer or a rock star cooking family dishes and playing with their cats does alleviate the existential anxiety for Bilibili users. In contrary to outdoor music festivals, it brings people closer to reality, to the everyday repetition and mediocrity that everyone faces. The coronavirus has temporarily altered the medium of entertainment, but it doesn’t change the fact that we yearn to belong to a group of the same traits without losing individuality. Bullet chats (Bilibili’s real-time audience feedback overlaying on-screen content) shouting “Wuhan Cheer up!” is the best embodiment of the pushback against anxiety and despair.

Bilibili is not the only company that has tried the online music live-streaming model. Recently, video platform Kuaishou has been working with Taihe Music Group, a music unicorn with the largest market share in Chinese music industry, to launch a week-long uninterrupted online music party, including online live performances of musicians, as well as disco and DJ shows. The cooperation offers new entertainment options for homebodies.

When the outbreak is over and spring finally comes, people can return to grasslands, to the hills and rivers, under the heavens, and embrace the music then and there!