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Rocker censorship

At the Midi Festival, China's biggest rock festival, you should not sing about Tibet or genitals.


[beijing] One minute left! Frederik and the manager feverishly tap the underpants on Frederik's skirt with fork tape. The Danish garage rock band Rock Hard Power Spray is going on stage during the Midi Festival in Beijing. Last year, Frederik completed 120 games with his pants pulled down over his back. His style demands it.

But showing the romp to an audience of 16.000 Chinese violates the censorship rules, at least as he interprets them. That is why he has spent the whole afternoon getting hold of tape to keep the underpants in place at least. He carries Denmark's future music exports on his 22-year-old butt balls this evening, guitarist Frederik Valentin.

- Shit, end the roll, it's not enough!

With half his back in tape, Frederik goes on stage.

Rock Hard Power Sprays concert will be a test of how Chinese censorship works. You give the people vague, unclear rules. Then everyone censures themselves.

The Midi Festival is China's biggest rock festival. Rock Hard Power Spray has arrived with the death metal band Hatesphere and two other Danish sets. The initiative has been named "The Sound of Denmark" and is funded by the Arts Council, the music political umbrella organization Rosa and Music Export Denmark.

The spiders in the net are Martin Røen from Rosa and Torben Eld Ibsen. The latter has 22 years of experience in exporting Danish music to China, that is about as many years as there has been rock in the Middle Kingdom. Torben has now embarked on a two-year project to explore the possibilities for Danish music exports.

The international music industry organization, IFPI, considers China as the world's most exciting new music market. But Torben has no illusions about getting rich. 90 percent of all the music sold in the country is pirated. But he believes that in the long run, China has great potential.

- I tell the bands that if they want to enter the market, they have to complain about how things work in China, Torben says.

He says that no one says straight to the bands what they can say and not. Instead, they get three themes to stay away from: porn, politics and destructiveness.

- I tell them that if they do controversial things, the Midifestivalen will have problems. Even in the worst case, they only risk being sent out of the country.


The bands must also submit the texts in advance to the Chinese authorities. It is especially the titles of the songs that are important.

Vocalist in Rock Hard Power Spray, Mattias Hunneböl, teases Frederik that a Chinese will be shot if he does not find gaffa tape for his underpants.

- A song called "Fuck for Free" we changed the title to "Fox (rev) for Free", says Mattias.

- Someone from the embassy or Rosa told us not to mention Tibet or politics in general, use words like "cunt", "pussy" or "shit", not spit on stage and not destroy guitars, as the Chinese do not understand the meaning of that, he says.

- What do you think about that?

- As long as we do not support the government from the stage, and the festival is not a political stunt, it's fine. For us as a band, the point is to let people have fun and give them the opportunity to vent their aggression in a positive way.

Torben points out how fast developments have been in China.

- Just think, we have four bands here, two of which play heavy metal. It had never happened five years ago. The limits of what is allowed have really moved, he says.

By inviting these bands, he risks his good reputation in China, he says. But Torben is not nervous.

- They just want to play and have fun.

Chinese rock started in Beijing in the mid-1980s with artist Cui Jian as the engine. After the 1989 Massacre of Tiananmen Square, the music was blamed for the foreign influence they believed had caused the students to protest.

Nevertheless, music enthusiast Zhang Fan started the rock and jazz school Midi in Beijing in 1993. Later he also started the festival by the same name. It has become China's largest international rock festival. Zhang Fan succeeded thanks to his ability to communicate with the authorities.

Midi has been instrumental in gradually moving the boundaries, while the school has educated a generation of Chinese in rock. For example, Guang Tou, singer of the punk band Ruiwangfen. With the initials of the band name tattooed on his fingers and with his hair in all directions he has the right image. His songs are about life in Beijing, not politics, he says.

Secret language

Up on stage Mattias roars in Danish:

- This song is about fucking!

No one in the audience understands him, but in front of the stage they still slam dance happily. Some of them are punks with perfect cock chambers and torn leather jackets. Over the course of a few years, China has acquired subcultures that are direct copies of its Western predecessors. The difference is that everything is a little cleaner than the origin, and that in China it is children of the upper middle class who absorb the new impulses. When you walk around the festival area among cool hip-hoppers with perfect shorts and r & b girls staggering across the lawn wearing minimal hotpants and twenty centimeter high porn heels, you notice that something is missing. The hosting and harking, which is otherwise the usual soundtrack in Chinese society, is not found here. Very few smokers.

Among these young people, the endless campaigns to educate the people in the Olympics have actually produced results. This is the new, modern China that one would like to showcase to the world in Beijing in 2008.

Up on stage Frederik beckons into Kang Mao who has been waiting for the stage. Kang is a vocalist in China's best punk band, The Subs. Last year they were on tour in Denmark. She is a small, skinny girl, dressed in a cute, red suit and converse shoes.

She enters the stage and sings the Subs song "Red Hair". She sounds like a drunken Norwegian church burner, with a voice from the abyss (which is a compliment). When the song is over, she bounces energetically backstage again.

- What was the song about?

- It is about protecting one's freedom, she says.

Then I ask for an autograph in my notebook. Kang Mao writes: "I'm a punker. You are a bitch »and gives me a smile that could have melted Svalbard.

At 20.24 Rock Hard Power Spray finished the concert. Frederik is sweating through the scene. The gaffa tape and underpants are still stuck. It was his contribution to Denmark in the world's largest, untapped music market.

Translated by Siri Lindstad

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