PHOTOS: ALEX HOBAN AND HUGH BOHANE
The nice people from Zebra Music Festival invited me all the way out to Sichuan province to prove that fun exists in China and that it is definitely not a totalitarian communist state hell bent on stamping out every last bit of creativity in its quest for world domination.
“China has great bands!” they told me in earnest, “everyone's welcome to enjoy them!” Strictly speaking, they did not lie. However, they did neglect to mention that "everyone" included every cop to have ever gone through basic training at the Sichuan Police Academy.
Cops aside, over the weekend bands and stuff really did happen in a field in Chengdu. It was a lot of fun, too. I now present evidence for the case of the Music Festival Really Existing In China.
EXHIBIT A - A STAGE
Like most festivals in the West, without a stage the audience would have nothing to aim at when everyone starts throwing their piss around. By a strange twist of evolution, Chinese people's urine is lighter than oxygen, making festival sites easy to spot from afar due to the flocks of yellowy green Coke bottles hovering through the air like stinky birds migrating south.
EXHIBIT B - FANS
Chinese festival culture is in its infancy, so these poor guys haven't felt the benefit of second-hand festival etiquette passed down by their boomer parents. You've heard all the stories about Chinese audiences watching shows in rapt and respectful silence, picking up their litter and taking it home with them afterwards, etc, right? Well the whole weekend was exactly like that. Then this gazooche drops out of the sky and ruins everything. What a clot!
EXHIBIT C - TOILETS
Here are the toilets. From the outside they may look like opulence personified, but I can assure you that inside they're just as gross as they are back home. For added juxtapositional thrill they're stationed at the foot of a private estate housing a handful of China's new ultra-rich. Useful for the fans who want to say they're so punk that they could – potentially – be up for shitting on the doorsteps of the wealthy, but don't actually want to get hauled off and thrown into a governmental oubliette with only Ai Wei Wei for company.
EXHIBIT D - BANDS
There were loads of really good Chinese bands playing, like Bigger Bang, Mosaic, and Brain Failure, alongside an odd selection of international acts who no one outside of this festival site had ever heard of. This guy is in a French band called Success, who received second billing purely for not being Chinese. He was kind of a cross between Dick Valentine from Electric Six, and Dan the Swinger from that episode of Alan Partridge where Alan shouts “Dan!” over and over again. Anyway, the dude did this thing where he put his blazer on backward and pretended it was a straitjacket. Of course this totally backfired, because instead of an asylum lunatic, everyone assumed he was taking the piss out of Chairman Mao. Hmm… nope, can't think of any more jokes to make at this point.
EXHIBIT E - POLICE ATTACK CHOPPER
Hold on, what? Oh OK, this festival was pretty weird after all. This guy was circling menacingly overhead for the duration of the event, primed to air strike the kids in the beat-boxing pavilion the second any of them started using their esophagus in ways that subverted state ideology.
EXHIBIT F - SECURITY
The police presence was pretty hard to ignore. Here are the cops lined up at the entrance on the first day of the fest, letting everyone know they were down for the party too. I wonder how much it cost the Chinese government to fly these guys in? It must have been a very sleepy weekend in Glasgow.
More proof that Chinese music festivals exist on page two.
The Glaswegians mingled innocuously with the crowd pretending they were just regular kids in fancy dress, and thronged the front of the stage in such large numbers that the people down front couldn't see over them. Looks like these guys need to take some wall-building tips from the Hadrians.
Look how many cops there are!!!
For some reason this guy wore a crash helmet the whole time and perpetually shouted at young girls he was blatantly crushing on.
But despite their imposing presence, the sheer number of them relative to the actual festival turnout meant that most of them didn't have much to do except hang about texting their girlfriends, playing frisbee, and trying out the fairground games.
More on page three.
No matter whatever else I achieve in my journalistic career, I can die safe in the knowledge that someone somewhere will one day use Photoshop to put a gigantic joint in the guy on the right's hand and my picture will kick off an internet joke so popular that people will eventually grow bored of it. Date young, live well, and leave a good empire—that's my motto. By this point in the weekend, I was starting to feel at home.
Perhaps the festival's biggest achievement was to inadvertently show up the lack of distance between copper and kid. Here are a couple of "You know, we're not so different you and I" moments.
Heads turned by the party games, the Glaswegians began to neglect their duties, and this psycho mama snuck in. She spent the entire weekend fighting invisible Kuomintang warriors hidden in the bushes. I would have asked her why she spent so much money on a ticket just so she could do something that's probably more fun to do at home, but I was too scared.
The demob happy police also completely failed to regulate the sale of Budweiser party hats.
Continued on page four.
Because this is Vice, you'd probably like to see what Chinese festival "style" looks like. Here are some pictures of the generation whose children will probably end up colonizing and enslaving our children:
This guy wishes he was down in Koh Samui tricking dumb Australian backpackers into receiving over-priced blowjobs. Instead, he works 36 hours a day in an out of town factory sewing zips to gimp masks for perverts in Amsterdam and telling his internet friends he's "pre-op."
Here is the trumpet player from Chinese ska band The Trouble. I can't even begin to describe what a Chinese ska band sounds like. The concept is as alien to me as flat-chested Italian women or festival security guards who aren't Glaswegian.
These guys were going for Bebop & Rocksteady but this looks more like Kung Fu Pillsbury Doughboy & "I will bury you in a bathtub of sand" to me.
The girl in the middle was hot, but unfortunately sexed-up Cosplay girls are going to remain a fringe pursuit in China until the Japanese say sorry for fucking Nanjing.
Michael Eavis had these guys salted and preserved after missy on the left there was caught masturbating in a pile of half-empty Heineken cans at Glastonbury a few years back. They were delivered to the Chinese government as a token of goodwill in return for them lending us the Terracotta Warriors. They're now used at most Chinese festivals as a decorative conversation point.
She thinks she's dating Hugh Grant, but Hugh Grant didn't run away to have a sandal n' sari breakdown in Asia after a school career spent getting bogwashed by the bigger boys before IT club.
Nothing bad to say about this guy, he's just having fun.
Getting home was hard because the cops had first dibs on the public buses, but overall Zebra Music Festival gets two thumbs up and now the world knows that China has music festivals too and they're pretty good. Thanks China, a little more of this and a little less neo-imperialism in Africa and I'll name my first child Deng XiaoPing.