The mouthcaps go off and the party is celebrated as if the coronavirus never existed. Months later than planned, thousands of festivalgoers jump on the beats of the CEA festival in Chengdu, central China.
“ The last time this was possible was December last year, says music entrepreneur Paul Neuteboom of Brotherhood Music, one of the organizers of the festival.” He can‘t take his luck.
“ The artists have had hardly any income for months, there has been so much uncertainty. If I see them here doing their sound checks right now, I get goose bumps. This is so cool,” he says, while the hardstyle sounds pounce over the then empty festival site in the city that hasn’t seen any new infections for months. According to official statistics, from the beginning, Chengdu counted only 304 corona cases.
Actually, the festival was scheduled for April, with the Dutch top DJ Martin Garrix as a big audience attractor. But that didn‘t happen. “I got a phone call in mid-January,” says Neuteboom. “Take a look at the news, there may be some issues. Pretty soon after it became clear that events in China, later in other parts of the world should be canceled.” A difficult period followed, with mass redundancies at home and abroad, most recently at festival organisation ID&T.
“ Very painful”, sighs Neuteboom. “We have largely managed to keep our team together. All the happier I am that we have managed to do this again here.” This was not easy, at a time when the Chinese authorities wanted to show that the fight against the virus could indeed be won, but on the other hand there was a suspicion of taking unnecessary risks.
“ It was long nights,” says Neuteboom. “The number of restrictions is huge. At the same time: we actually have a festival every morning in the subway. All over the country, a lot of people come together.”
Festival visitors must register with their health app. Only those who have a green code, and therefore do not pose a risk, are allowed to enter. Furthermore, temperature checks are carried out at the entrance and visitors are encouraged to wear mouthcaps, although in many cases they quickly disappear back into the pocket.
No more social distancing
After a strict lockdown, public life in China started slowly in the course of the spring. Smaller outbreaks later occurred in Beijing, the port city of Dalian and Xinjiang, in western China. Residents of cities like Urumqi and Kashgar were locked up in their apartment blocks for weeks. Doctors were not allowed to go home for over two months to see their children. Needed, according to the authorities, to keep the risk of contamination as low as possible.
After massive testing campaigns in different cities, there are virtually no new cases of infection in China, except for returnees from abroad. That was already reason to reopen clubs and discotheques in large parts of the country without restrictions.
Now the larger festivals will be given space again, with social distancing no longer playing a role in practice. “There will always be risks, but I’m not so worried anymore,” says a festival visitor. “I‘m glad we can get back.”
Big international names are missing at the festival. Due to the still applicable travel and quarantine restrictions, foreign DJs could not be flown in on time. However, DJs Alesso and Eric Prydz can be seen on large screens with a pre-recorded set, in a line-up dominated by Chinese DJs.
Among them is also techno-dj ‘Attack‘, who was allowed to sit behind the mixing panels for the first time this weekend. “I didn’t sleep last night, I flown straight from another festival in the desert in northern China,” he says. “Over the past few months, I have done a lot with live streaming. It‘s great to be able to perform again in front of such an enthusiastic audience.”
“ I think we now have about 6000 to 7000 people,” says Neuteboom, as the evening falls over the festival site. “As far as I’m concerned, it could have been a bit busier, perhaps there is still some reluctance to really go loose again. But when you see the joy of the artists and the audience, this tastes like more. This really gives hope again.”