Interview - Music in China, Music from China

'We Will Live Through Tectonic Geopolitical Changes'
Interview with Philipp Grefer (Fake Music Media, China) on the music scene in China

WOMEX: Dear Philipp, thank you for finding the time for this. Let's start right away!

How is the Chinese music scene today compared to 10 years ago?

Philipp Grefer (PG): Like the rest of the economy, the music scene in China has grown tremendously. Ten years ago there were hardly any music festivals, now there are probably around 100+. But it could also be double or triple that number – it‘s hard to keep track in a country as vast as China and the data is still somewhat murky. As well as in the live market, even the whole copyright problem is getting much better.

WOMEX: When people talk about Music in China, the topics are usually restricted to large festivals and venues, huge pop campaigns and sales etc. How about "niches" such as jazz or global traditional music. Is there a scene for that?
PG: There is a scene for everything in China. For example, there is a Spanish run bar in Beijng where Chinese people are dancing to swing and it feels like you’ve been beamed back in time to a speakeasy in the US. At times it can be bit surreal here.

WOMEX: How are markets for Chinese artists abroad? You are touring and booking bands such as Nova Heart internationally? How are the reactions and the pitches different in the US, in the UK, in France, in Germany? Is Latin America an interesting market?
PG: As for Latin America: personally I´m super interested and it looks like our bands might go to a couple of countries in the near future. Of course the distance is a problem, but if you can combine it with a tour through the US, it makes quite some sense. We also been to Madagascar and Reunion Island with Nova Heart and I think in the future there will be also good opportunities for Chinese bands in Africa. I´m a big fan of the China-Africa podcast and generally seeing the world from of a Chinese angle is highly fascinating. We will live through tectonic geopolitical changes in the next decade or so and this will also reflect where Chinese bands can tour in the future. In the last 60 years or so the music industry was dominated by white anglo people. Let´s see what will happen in the next 60 years.

I think Germany (my home country) can be considered a follower country when it comes to music, maybe with the exception of electronic music. So while people in the US, UK or even France look at the great story that a band out of China can provide, the German music industry can, at times, be a bit provincial. Or from a positive angle: maybe G-A-S (Germany Austria Switzerland) is a big enough market so the need to look to other non-German speaking markets is not so urgent. Luckily we now seem to have found a German partner that understands the tremendous opportunity for Nova Heart. Apart from their really strong music, the critical acclaim they have gathered from leading international music press and being a fantastic live act, the added value of the story of the first Chinese international breakthrough act is nothing short of historical. I can only invite people to be part of that story.

WOMEX: Speaking of stories: Which story angles work to land a Chinese act abroad? If a band makes it abroad, the simple fact of them coming from China often is the news, media focus on.
PG: While I think the story is important, lets not forget that the most imporant thing is still the music. A story can die quite quickly if the quality of the music cannot back it up.
As for Nova Heart the “Chinese angle” is simple that of being the first Chinese international breakthrough act, which we are coming closer to every day. But from the music and artistic angle the story is more that of a psychological thriller - a mix of Lynch, voodoo, a Chinese ghost story, psychosis and generally a lot of confusion. Let me just say that the cover of the album is a Rorschach overlayered by a brainscan. The rest is up for interpretation.

Those two stories - the artistic one and the Chinese one - will always coexist. Its like Björk - yeah of course she‘s from Iceland, but in the end she is just Björk and a fantastic artist. And Nova Heart will be just Nova Heart. Nova Heart from China perhaps, but mostly just Nova Heart.
As for other bands: They have to find their own angles.

WOMEX: Which story angles work for global music acts to land in China? Do they need to make CD album covers the size of a vinyl EP as they have in China
PG: To have a special cover art and product always helps, no mattter what market you are in. It‘s just a shame that you hear from distributors ‘you cannot do this kind of product because we cannot send it out and record stores can´t stock it if is not standardised’.

I guess the music industry was never the most innovative one and instead of looking for new ways of doing things they press you to do everything the old way. But in a world of standards, how do you stick out? The good thing in China is, that its still quite wild. Standards are not yet firmly rooted. For a few years you will still have the chance to create them. There is no standard angle you can use to be successful in China, but people are curious and open-minded about new things and other cultures - and this helps a lot.

WOMEX: What will the future of China in the international music scene be like?
PG: There will be more and more Chinese bands touring abroad and more and more international bands coming to China. There will be more and more successes on both sides as they learn about their respective markets and taste.

WOMEX: How is the exchange between China and the rest of Asia?
PG: Not very good. Asian bands ironically still have a hard time in Asia. But things are improving here as well and again we will see more and more exchanges in the future.

WOMEX: So the future is bright. But at the moment, is language a big barrier of international professionals networking, and how will this be overcome?
PG: It is. Still relatively few Chinese music professionals and bands speak English and even less international ones speak Chinese. Apart from learning the language the easiest way to overcome this is to work with partners that understand those differences in language and culture.

WOMEX: Social media channels etc. are completely different across cultures, and especially in China. Do international bands need a accounts of Chinese social media platforms to land in China/Asia?
PG: Yes. I would highly recommend to hire somebody to take care of those. And if you are interested in doing business in China then download wechat NOW!

Interview by Paul Bräuer


Philipp Grefer aka Metro Tokyo by Fake Music Media

Please wait! Loading in progress...please wait! upload in progress... it can take a while - depending on your internet connection