Nathaniel comments on China's music industry post-Olympics for Reuters

Reuters examines the Chinese government’s role in the country’s live music industry. Split Works’ Operations Director Nathaniel Davis is interviewed as the organizer of “the biggest shows confirmed for [Beijing and Shanghai] this summer…two mid-June dates by Ghostface Killah.” Check out the article here

Political jitters put damper on China’s concert biz

By Steven Schwankert

Fri May 15, 2009 9:23pm EDT

BEIJING (Billboard) – This summer, for the second consecutive year, Chinese government pressure will prevent top-tier international music acts from performing in the country’s biggest cities.

In 2008, an official crackdown on live events preceded the Summer Olympics in August. This year, the government is eager to avoid potential protest flash points as it braces for the 20th anniversary of the June 4 suppression of the Tiananmen Square pro-democracy demonstrations and, on October 1, the 60th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China.

China’s Ministry of Culture canceled April shows by Oasis in Beijing and Shanghai. The leading rock festival, MIDI, which took place in early May, had to leave Beijing for a site in eastern China, away from international media scrutiny. John Legend’s April 8 concert in Shanghai and Kylie Minogue’s December 1 concert in Beijing were the last shows by major Western pop/rock artists in those respective cities.

The upcoming political anniversaries are so sensitive that many live-entertainment executives based in China were unwilling to comment on the situation. One live-industry source who asked to remain anonymous said, “We were told to ‘keep it down'” as his company considered acts to book for this summer.


Even so, Oasis was blindsided when the Ministry of Culture revoked performance licenses issued to its Chinese promoter, Emma Entertainment/Ticketmaster, for April shows in Beijing and Shanghai. Oasis claimed the ministry canceled the shows after officials realized the band’s guitarist Noel Gallagher had played a 1997 “Free Tibet” benefit in New York. The ministry, which rarely comments on which acts aren’t welcome in China, issued a statement claiming the concerts were pulled for nonpolitical commercial reasons.

“The shows were going to sell out,” said Oasis manager Marcus Russell, of Ignition Management in London. “We were 60 percent sold out with a month to go, so it left us high and dry.” He added, “They take their anniversaries very seriously over there.”

Meanwhile, the 2009 MIDI Music Festival relocated to Zhenjiang in eastern China when it didn’t receive approval for its usual site in Beijing’s Haidian Park. “We had felt Beijing would be difficult this year because of the (60th) anniversary,” event organizer Zhang Fan said. “We would like to return to Beijing next year.”

Zhang insisted that the May 1-3 event was a success, even though it attracted only 25,000 fans, down sharply from previous years when the event drew 80,000 in Beijing.

Beijing’s and Shanghai’s lack of major pop/rock names is a blow after the Rolling Stones, Avril Lavigne and Linkin Park played large venues in 2006 and 2007. The biggest shows confirmed for both cities this summer are two mid-June dates by Ghostface Killah, booked by Beijing-based Split Works. Split Works operations director Nathaniel Davis said he has had no official word “that anything is specifically off-limits this summer.”

In the meantime, other, more sedate events are going forward, including a June 4 Italian production of Puccini’s “Madame Butterfly” and a May 23 orchestral show by film composer Ennio Morricone, both in venues on Beijing’s Tiananmen Square. In addition, leading overseas Chinese artists will perform arena and stadium tours this summer, according to Ticketmaster China CEO/president Jonathan Krane.

“There are (still) a lot of major Greater China artists performing in China,” Krane said, declining to comment on this year’s absence of top Western pop/rock acts.

Russell said Oasis will eventually play China and remains optimistic about its future as a touring market. “It’s got to be one of the biggest markets in the world for live music in the next decade,” he said. “It’s going to develop there. It’s just going to go in fits and starts.”

(Editing by Sheri Linden at Reuters)

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