As long as China has been the “C” in BRICS, the acronym that stands for five of the world’s emerging national economies, the Western music industry has tried to make forays into that country. Most of those efforts have fallen flat, but that hasn't stopped the international music festival Culture Collide from putting together its first-ever Chinese Indie Night, Friday, Oct. 9 at the Regent Theater in downtown Los Angeles.
“Doing business in China is one of the biggest, most difficult tasks … anyone who has tried to work there in any capacity will attest to that,” says Culture Collide founder Alan Miller. “You’ve got the language barrier, that’s very challenging. How people communicate is very different. You’ve got an economy that is very unstable. They do business differently. China is still a communist country. You’re limited by the information you’re given. Google doesn’t work. The energy in China is weird. It’s hard to understand. It’s a real interesting situation. It’s amazing to go there and succeed.”
To host Chinese Indie Night — so dubbed in order not to confuse fans who might be expecting Chinese über-pop stars — Culture Collide partnered with Modern Sky, mainland China’s leading music entertainment company and producers of a massive music festival of the same name. The three acts featured on this night are acoustic singer/songwriter Song Dongye, electronic dance-rock crossover group New Pants, and Miserable Faith, who mix up Chinese folk instruments with reggae sensibilities in a rock & roll setting. (A fourth group, Hedgehog, had to cancel their appearance due to illness.) New Pants have toured internationally, including a Coachella appearance in 2011, but the others are largely unknown to U.S. audiences.
Chinese Indie Night is one of three stops Modern Sky is making across the U.S. with its bands, along with Modern Sky-branded festivals in New York City and Seattle. These festivals also feature U.S. talent such as Plastic Ono Band, Gang of Four, Ariel Pink and Black Lips, among others, and follow Modern Sky’s successful festival held in Helsinki, Finland this past August.
“It’s tough for a Chinese band to tour and not have it result in financial loss,” says Modern Sky’s director of international affairs, Michael LoJudice, who has been working with the company for nearly 10 years. “By building festivals we’re creating much bigger events where the band will be playing with a lot of other cool bands. The social and business side to that is promoting a festival to not only traditional music fans, but also to the Chinese communities in cities where there are huge Chinese populations.”
Returning to Los Angeles for its sixth year, Culture Collide features multiple events Oct. 8-10, including a free record fair with over 20 participating independent labels from around the world, a kick-off party at Taix’s Champagne Room (which has a separate RSVP open to the public), and performances by such artists as Ladyhawke, Nick Diamonds and The Juan Maclean. The $30 admission fee for Chinese Indie Night is also good for access to most other Culture Collide events, apart from separately ticketed shows at the Echo and Echoplex.
“We want to make music discovery as inexpensive as possible,” says Miller. “You may not be so willing to see this new band from Peru, but maybe you will if they’re playing with Ash or The Juan Maclean or Ladyhawke. That will help get a lot of people in so the lesser-known international bands are playing to full rooms, too. We put bands together from all around the world, in different environments, to see if they can feed off each other and create great relationships and new success stories.”