Our home girl Sylvia Tennant was lucky enough to catch the first two days of Shanghai’s Strawberry Music festival during China’s May 1st holiday. Here’s what she had to say about this incredible event:
This epic three-day event is the largest festival on indie/rock record label Modern Sky’s multi-city circuit that extends over the spring months. The city of Shanghai is a hub of international culture, which deeply influenced the selection of musical acts. Seven beautiful stages were nestled in different areas within Expo Park and showcased a variety of genres. My friends and I arrived the night before, fully prepared to infuse this unique overseas experience with some Canadian flavor.
We began the trek from our two-bedroom festival basecamp in the sky (33 floors is HIGH UP) to the subway. A few Beyoncé songs and Bacardi Breezers later, we arrived to a very confusing scene. The lack of signage was frustrating and we ended up having to walk a few miles to the entrance gates. I was initially discouraged, but then a man in a giant rabbit suit gave me a carrot. Spirit= lifted!
Shanghai’s iconic skyline provided a unique backdrop to the festival, which was hosted in Expo Park alongside the Huangpu River. The stages were scattered within a maze of boardwalks, gardens and water features. My favourite was the MAE electronic stage, a more intimate venue surrounded by trees decorated with strawberries.
Unfortunately our festival spirits hit a low point quite quickly. Long beer lineups and bad timing forced us to miss most of the music. Have you ever waited in a bar line forever, only to get to the front and find out that there’s no more alcohol? It was heartbreaking. The whole festival ran dry at 7pm, instantly killing the vibe. Soon after, thick crowds of people rushed a security gate and stormed into the main stage area. Luckily, we managed to get away safely and caught the ends of a few acts on the opposite side of the park. We also managed to crack a deal with one of the bartenders, who kindly sold us an overpriced bottle of red wine. Moods instantly changed for the better, and we forged on to the last show of our night at the Planet stage.
Swallow the Sun is a death/doom metal band from Finland. Not my first choice of genre, but I enjoyed the musical technicalities of their songs. I also appreciated their amazing haircuts, which emphasized the synchronized head banging. My friends and I danced, however I couldn’t help but feel like I was a Care Bear in a sea of metal heads (cat ears, sparkles, and party beacons seemed a bit too cheerful). We left before their set was over, and could see a gumboot-clad couple crawling up from the river to catch the rest of the show. I yearned for the sense of community and positivity that I had previously experienced at other festivals. We left that night with sore feet and feelings of indifference, uncertain of how tomorrow would go.
Our second and final day was exponentially better than the first. We knew we had to bring the party, which began by dancing through the security checks and right up to the Love stage. That magic festival feeling was restored within all of us as the beats of Denmark’s Blue Foundation pounded throughout our bodies. If you aren’t familiar, get on it. Our party beacons soared high, attracting photographers and new friends who followed us to the second show of our night. Hong Kong’s Jane Siesta put on an insane drum and bass set at the MAE stage and warmed the crowd up for the main attraction of the night: French DJ duo Justice. We wiggled our way to the front row and enjoyed what was by far my favourite show of the entire festival. Their funky set interchanged old-school anthems with epic drops and the team’s well-known singles. It. Was. UNREAL. After, AC Slater closed the night at the MAE stage and killed it. The crowds flooded the area as giant inflatable pills bounced above people’s heads. Major shout-out to the guy partying solo in the tree… You are awesome.
Something that should definitely be noted is that the sponsors did an incredible job of creating engaging marketing throughout the festival. There was a giant hot pink beauty bar with a runway, free Ray-Ban pop-up mini-houses that you could sit under to enjoy the show, VW car polo (with slightly questionable safety barriers), free alcoholic shots in giant fake syringes, and independent vendors with hilarious fake merchandise… China knows how to throw a party. The security tripled, and soldiers marched around the venue ensuring public safety. We had a blast making them blush with winks and party beacons…
The entire experience was surreal on so many levels. I’d recommend this festival to anyone in the area during the spring months, as I’m sure it will only get bigger and better. After-parties were held all over the city, but we ended up at Bikini for gourmet hotdogs and champagne. Not a bad way to end the day!
xo Sylvia Tennant