Radicals Rock China

The Chinese government surprised many when it allowed the Beijing Pop Festival to go ahead according to plan September 8-9 at Chaoyang Park.

The 3-year-old festival features mostly punk, hip-hop and indie rock acts, and this year’s lineup included overseas artists that might be expected to raise an eyebrow or two among the authorities: Public Enemy, Nine Inch Nails and the New York Dolls.

Attendance figures weren’t made public, but some news outlets estimated the crowd at about 20,000. Tickets were the equivalent of $25 apiece, which is high for the average Chinese resident but affordable to middle class music fans, which are the festival’s target.

The festival was founded by Londoner Jason Magnus in 2005.

"I only have good things to say about the government," he told the Los Angeles Times last month. "They let this lineup into China."

But apparently Magnus had to make some concessions. The name "Public Enemy" is a no-no in China, so the group was billed as "P.E." He pitched them as "champions of America’s black underclass."

Magnus also had to make sure none of the artists mentioned Taiwan or Tibet during their sets. As for Nine Inch Nails, one music producer interviewed by the Times said that people in the government have no idea that they sing about "anti-establishment rage."

"They never understand what foreign bands are saying." That was probably just as well, with reports of Public Enemy’s Chuck D continually exorting the crowd to "fight the powers that be" and stand up for freedom of speech.

Other acts appearing at the festival included Brett Anderson, Mando Diao, Chinese rock standard bearer Cui Jian, and Japan’s Rize. There was also a tribute to the Ramones, in which drummer Marky Ramone backed up local punk groups Brain Failure and New Pants. Also, Chuck D, Cui Jian and Marky Ramone collaborated on a version of the Ramones’ "Blitzkrieg Bop."

According to the festival’s official Web site there was a "security scare" in the middle of the NIN show, but no details were given.

Next month there will be another Beijing rock festival, this one sponsored by Modern Sky, a 10-year-old independent Chinese record label.

The Modern Sky Festival takes place October 2-4 on four stages at Haidan Park in the capital. The event will feature more than 100 Chinese artists.

Yeah Yeah Yeahs and DFA DJs Tim Goldsworthy and Tim Sweeney will represent the foreign contingent.