China’s ‘Modern Sky Festival in NYC’ is close! Get to know one of the minds behind it!
The Modern Sky Festival 2014 will make its U.S. debut in New York’s Central Park on October 4th and 5th! We got the chance to speak with Michael LoJudice, Modern Sky International’s General Manager, about the festival, Modern Sky the brand, Chinese indie music, and just the overall process of working in the entertainment industry. This is awesome insight into a scene that doesn’t get much shine here in the States, so I’m really stoked to bring this content to you guys! Enjoy!
So, how long has Modern Sky been around?
Modern sky has been around for about 18 years, founded in 1997.
In addition to the festival and label, Modern Sky is very much involved in other industries (like its magazine). How did all that come to be?
Well, the company started as a means to release records for the founder of the company’s band. Shen Li Hui was in a big band in China, real big, called Sober (English name). He started the label so he could put out his records and albums from other bands that he liked (New Pants for example), as well as the magazine. The magazine we stopped doing a while back, but since then the company has grown to 8 record labels, a management company, publishing company, all the festivals and concerts. We’re gonna do about 21 large scale music festivals this year.
Why did the magazine stop, I didn’t know it was out of print?
The magazine was kind of a pain in the ass, haha. At the time it wasn’t easy to publish something like that- it’s really hard to get the right licensing and permits. So yeah the magazine was just kind of a pain in the neck, but they talk about bringing it back ever year so we’ll see.
Do you guys plan on doing anymore international concerts?
Yeah this will be the first in Central Park, our plan is to do a big one in the West Coast next year. We’re very likely gonna do one in Helsinki in June of next year and, yeah, the programming schedule for New York is a pretty good mix of international bands that people are gonna come out to see, and we think a lot of people are gonna come out to see bands from China and be interested in attending an event produced by a Chinese company. You also get music fans that haven’t been exposed to Chinese Rock and Electronic music before. And there are big Chinese communities all over the place so we can do these all around.
How did you personally get involved in the scene and with Modern Sky?
I worked in the music industry in New York for about 10 years and in 2006 I started corresponding with the guy who ran the label side of things (at Modern Sky) at the time. They invited me to come to Beijing and I had never been to Asia and didn’t speak Chinese- this was in 2006. So I went and ended up staying for like 3 months. I lived with some of the staff and we put together a plan to do stuff in the U.S. and we opened up the office in the same year in New York. But yeah, haha, my Chinese is still pretty terrible as ridiculous as that is after working for this company for 8 years now.
What are the International Manager’s duties? It seems like it’d be lot of conference visiting.
A good part of the base of business outside of China in the beginning was doing animation, production, web design, that kind of stuff, and that’s kind of what brought the money in to do other stuff like supporting bands coming to tour in the U.S. It’s difficult to support a staff and an office selling records in the U.S. for some of the bands without decent resources to do it, but as we’ve been becoming more successful- it’s a bigger focus now to do these outside-of-China events and put more into supporting bands from China with touring in different countries, putting the records out and putting together the right support teams to make it work. So, that’s gonna be a big part of going into 2015 and onward.
What made Modern Sky expand and do the festival? What made it successful? Was it because the indie scene there is so new so people just gravitated towards it quickly? I know it’s one of the biggest festivals in China.
Well the Strawberry Music Festival we do May 1st through the 3rd in Beijing and Shanghai is the biggest festival in China by far, and the last Beijing event we did had over 250,000 people come out which is pretty up there worldwide as far as attendance for a music festival goes. The first Modern Sky festival was in 2007 and at the time Modern Sky was in a tiny office in the west side of Beijing and the owner of the company (Shen Li Hui) really wanted to do a music festival, and it was the tenth year anniversary of the company so that was kind of the basis for doing that. It wasn’t something like “You know, this is going to be a big part of what this company is” but that’s what it turned into. But that first festival was about celebrating 10 years and just wanting to do a music festival.
With the scene getting increasingly popular, have you noticed a change in the response from Chinese bands and the youth there? How has it evolved throughout the years and has the scene gotten more attention?
Yeah I guess there are more opportunities for Chinese bands to perform in front of a lot of people since there’s so many festivals now. There’s a lot of festivals now but when you go back to 2006 there was the Midi Festival and maybe a couple other small ones and that was it. And there weren’t like- a company like Maybe Mars came in I think 2007 and they put resources into signing bands and promoting them and there’s just more of an industry to support, I guess. The festivals have been around now for a while and they’ve gotten better in terms of the experience for the concert goer. A lot of the kids that go to the festivals maybe aren’t necessarily going because they’re big music fans. Maybe they’re teenagers that are going because it’s an event, something to do with their friends, and while they’re there they get exposed to the bands and then, you know, they start getting into music. Even now you still see kids who have probably never been to something like that before. It’s pretty cool.
Did Modern Sky ever deal with any bans or censorship? I know the government there watches you guys pretty closely when you do alternative kind of stuff.
Yeah, sure, when you do big festivals you have to get the proper permits. Some time periods are more sensitive than others so, you know, you just kind of have to- it really depends. To do a big outdoor event especially you need the right relationships and it’s not an easy thing to do to produce a big, massive music festival in a city like Beijing outdoors so we have to, with all of our big festival events, get the right permits. We do deal with some censorship issues but for the most part everything is okay. We had the 60th anniversary of the People’s Republic of China in 2008 and we partnered with the government so it became something different and smaller.
Of the bands coming to the festival in Central Park, is this their first time in the States? Do they have any follow up shows after New York?
Re:Tros, Rebuilding the Rights of Statues, are playing on the first day. They’re a great band, and they’ve done SXSW and been to the U.S. a few times. Same goes for Queen Sea Big Shark. They’ve done some VICE related stuff and toured the U.S. and done festivals. Of the other bands coming Second Hand Rose is gonna do some touring. They have some friends in the U.S. that put together some dates for them. *there’s one New York show after Central Park a few weeks later and they have a few other small shows planned*
What’s the future for Modern Sky? Any special projects you’re working on? What’ s the next goal and next big thing for the company?
We’re just growing in different areas of the company and we’ve opened up more offices throughout China. Now we’re in Shanghai, Chengdu, Wuhan, Kunming, so we’ve opened up more offices with partners and we have a lot of newer partnerships, like we have a new website, caoker.com, and it’s like a platform for Chinese artists and music fans to collaborate and share with other music fans outside of China. Like all of the bigger social media stuff is banned in China, (Facebook, YouTube etc) and you can’t really access them unless you use a VPN. Caoker is in Chinese and English and it’s mainly video content. We document a lot of the music scene in China- we shoot a lot of the shows and festivals so that’s growing. We’re involved in a creative industry conference series which is co-produced by our partners in Finland and we do that in Beijing and Shanghai, and they have their big one in Helsinki and we’re all going to that from China. That’s a conference for creative industry professionals from Asia and Europe to meet and potentially collaborate, and there’s lot of people from the music business from China there.
Do you guys plan on expanding in the U.S.?
Yeah we’re moving back to having the office space here (New York) and some new staff, and we’re gonna have the festival on the West Coast, probably L.A. or S.F., and looking at other cities to also do festivals and create new partnerships, and a lot of that will come from the New York office.
Is there anyway the U.S./International audience can stay connected with Modern Sky?
There’s the site for the festival, and we just launched a Facebook page for it too. Modern Sky has its own Facebook page as well, but that’s not updated that regularly. And there’s caoker.com, it has lots of video from the festivals and it’s a pretty good introductory to people who are curious about Chinese Rock and Electronic music.
The Modern Sky Festival, China’s Largest, Expands To U.S. Confirming Two Days in New York’s Central Park October 4th & 5th, 2014
With Cat Power, Atomic Bomb! The Music of William Onyeabor, The Blood Brothers, Liars, Stars, The Both (Aimee Mann & Ted Leo) + Some Of The Biggest Names In Chinese Rock/Electronic Music
Tickets on Sale August 5th www.modernskyfestivalnyc.com