Two years ago, during the National Day holiday, I went to Chengdu, China, for a music festival that our friend Kristen helped put together. It was called NUART Fest. I wrote about the experience here. It really blew my mind, because it reminded me so much of all the great outdoor Chicago street fests I used to attend. Almost perfectly mirroring them. Kristen said she had no idea what they were like. I’d never really experienced anything like this in China, and I left insanely impressed at how it was all ran, down to the timing, execution, and general vibe. The main stage was outside two years ago, and curious couples poked their heads out, some danced, some were a bit miffed their entry-way was taken up by beer-holding randoms. Overall, the experience was amazing.
When National Day loomed last year, my plan was to come back for this. Sadly, it got cancelled at the last minute. While in Indonesia, I was readying a tour with Generacion Suicida. I had just gotten over a bout of food poisoning from the Drinking Boys and Girls Choir tour, finding myself very anxious, and feeling very unhealthy. Upon returning to Guangzhou, I got the news that NUART was on for it’s fourth year this October holiday. I made a judgement call based on my exhaustion levels and general health, that this would be a much better call. There’s something else too, and I’ll tell you about it in a hot minute.
I arrived, and once again felt immediately at home in Chengdu. This city, I often liken it to the “Yogyakarta of China”…very laid back, bustling with art and music, but very affordable still. It doesn’t have quite as much going on as Beijing and Shanghai, but it’s proximity keeps a bit of that at bay. Tours come here, often, and they almost always cruise over to neighboring Chongqing, a quick 90 minute train ride.
Since my last visit, NU Space has expanded. The second, much bigger location, lies on the exact opposite end of the street. This just so happens to be perfect for a “second stage” of sorts, which they broke apart electronic acts, comedy, and performances for at the smaller space. It wasn’t any more of a jaunt than your typical festival, having to dodge swarms of people on an already busy eating street. The whole thing was lined with art, crafts, beer, delicious cupcakes and small bits from the vendors that would already have been there anyway.
Thus began a three day, beer, coffee, and spicy noodle soaked jaunt across Kui Xing Lou Jie that included a mess of excellent artists from across the P.R.C. Being impossible to even try to capture everything due to staggered stage-times, I hopped from place to place, capturing old friends in White+, Duck Fight Goose, and Die Chiwawa Die! Discovering acts I’d never heard of like “The Romp”, as well as newer Chengdu jams I never caught before, like The Or and Soniclave, who I caught in the Dirty Fingers / Lonely Leary run weeks before. It was awesome to see Shao again. His new record is out now, and you should buy it.
One particular scrappy newcomer who are still in university called “Lonely Travel” really piqued my interest, and I can’t wait to catch them again. It was sort of a standout “a-ha” moment for me that Chengdu is alive and well, considering Hiperson had similar beginnings. Weeks ago, I had a very enlightening conversation with Liang Yi and Herve from Stolen. They spoke about having strange DIY shows in boxing matches, and atop a mountain. There’s new media endeavors here. A burgeoning electronic scene, with multiple new spaces opening the last year or so. People are excited. It’s a stark contrast from what I hear about Beijing these days, and what seems to be an exodus for many, over to Shanghai.
On top of this expertly executed, no doubt daunting-to-plan lineup including vast swathes of the current Chinese independent scenes, there were after parties each day. I only made it to TAG for a single whiskey sour (made with fucking Egg White, by the way) before I had to call it a day. Shao played an excellent live set earlier in the night anyway. Memories of exhaustion from the windy city lingered in my head. It’s tough as hell to hit every aspect of a three day festival and not end the week completely depleted on all fronts.
The kids are alright. Chengdu is alive and well, my friends. NUART Fest’s 4th incarnation is a sorely needed, extremely well executed gold mine of hard work nestled on the outskirts of Tibet in Sichuan province. A deep round of applause should be given to everyone involved, as this is a vivid reminder of just how great things can be if you have good people on the helm. You are champions, as far as I’m concerned, and I know I’m not alone.
Below are photos of how some of this all went down.
More on Chengdu very soon. Be good.