The Zebra Festival began in 2009 in Chengdu. Hitting Hangzhou in 2010, it arrived on the sunny shores of Jinshan Beach last summer, and they came back for another go last weekend. The Zebra Festival is seemingly a classic Chinese festival experience, with experimental rockers like sandwiched between crowd-pulling big names.
We headed down on Friday to check it out. At the main stage the sand was soft and clean and warm- nothing like burring your toes in the sand while listening to some great music. We missed the first act, locals The Mushrooms, whilst the second act was a rising star from Hong Kong who went by the name G.E.M, who worked the small crowd hard with her catchy K-Pop set. In an about-face of styles, she was followed by J-Rock influenced Bejingers Caffe-In, whose repetitive set failed to set the audience alight, and actually cleared a lot of people out, despite a spirited melodica solo.
More buzz needed: Caffe-In
The fourth act brought the heat as the crowd began to grow. Beijing punk queen Helen Feng is in her second year as the solo act Nova Heart. Her dark, trancy, hypnotizing music seemed to put a spell on the whole place with a no holds barred performance. She was all over the stage, working every angle. At one point she wrapped the mic cord around her neck a few times, constricted her windpipe, and began to breathe deep raspy breaths into the mic. She then grabbed a mallet and beat the tar out of a crash symbol. Pretty apt for someone who has been described as “a femme Jim Morrison.”
Suffering for her art - Nova Heart
These freaky antics were not, however to the taste of most of the festival goers. The main draw for Friday’s crowd was clearly Qu Wanting (曲婉婷, who goes by the name ‘Wanting’ in English), a Canadian-based Chinese star of Youtube fame. The huge crowd remained unmoved by most of her set, and I was told that the crowd only really wanted to hear one particular song, “You Exist in My Song,” and the crowd went wild when it started. Almost 15,000 people sang along to this bittersweet song. The closer was Taiwanese Hip-Hop artist Stanley Huang. It was an exciting and powerful performance, but strangely short. After just three songs, in classic rapper fashion, he gave a quick “I’m done” and just dropped the mic abruptly.
After a long day we forced our way through through the river of people to the bus station to hitch our ride back to Shanghai. So, it seems like the Zebra Festival offers a similar pick n mix experience to festivals like Black Rabbit, which threw together such unlikely combinations as Hanggai, S.H.E’s Hebe, and Grandmaster Flash for good measure. Whether this trend will create a festival tradition that’s mind-expanding or simply disjointed and confusing for music fans remains to be seen.
For more Zebra goodness, check out our interview with Hong Kong rockers Chochukmo.
WORDS: Lucas Daniels
PICTURES: Nova Heart, Rock in China