Loreli was wondering what the heck this whole make music day is about, so we caught up with Fête de la Musique Director Elie Rosenberg to ask why they're telling everyone: Go make music!
Posted June 21, 2016
Loreli: What does Fête de la Musique mean?
Elie Rosenberg: Fête de la Musique literally means "Music Day," but it's also a play on words because in French it also sounds like "Go do music!"
LRL: What is the history behind it?
ER: The event has become a tradition in France since its start, circa 1982, when our Culture Minister back then, Jack Lang, decided to launch this concept of a day dedicated to music, where everyone would be encouraged to go play in the streets, musicians and professionals alike. It really worked, and it happens in pretty much every French city or village on the summer solstice, the longest day of the year, the 21st June. You have kids playing in the street; bars host bands on their terraces and give them access to electricity so they can plug in their gear...and all of the concerts are free, of course.
Throughout the years, it started to grow out of France, all over the world. It's big in Switzerland, Germany (especially in Berlin I think) and it has been growing a lot in the States as well, where it's marketed under "Make Music Day". You can check the official agenda to see if there's one happening close to you.
LRL: How long has it been organized in Beijing, why was it brought here and who started organizing it here?
ER: It happened sporadically I think in the early 90s and once in 2008. These had been organized by the French embassy and were rather low-key, as far as I understand. Our team started organizing it in 2012, and at the very beginning it was a group of three young women with a lot of energy and passion who created it. They are music lovers and were surprised to hear Fete de la Musique had been happening in other cities like Shanghai, where the French consulate would do something, but not in Beijing. They decided to create their own event, and managed to do it with hardly any support that first year, apart from the association we are still a part of, Le French Lab. It was a big success so the following year the team started to work in partnership with the French Embassy. But we remain independent, we're the only ones like that in China.
LRL: What role do you play in organizing the festival?
ER: I came to replace the head of the team in late 2013, since she had to leave China for work. All of us are volunteers for this event, so we cumulate that with a job. I spend a lot of time running around and talking to people. Most of the actual work is done by my team, I just coordinate them with our partners and sponsors.
LRL: What has been the response from the Chinese audience or is it mostly just a French audience?
ER: I am actually quite happy with the crowds we draw. I think in average we have 50/50 Chinese and foreigners at our main events, the ones we produce ourselves. Of course it also depends on the venues; some of them have a basis of Chinese customers so less foreigners go and vice versa, but we generally manage to get an interesting mix. Yesterday at 77 theatre was a good example. There were young people, people with their children, elderly people, both Chinese and foreigners. And this is the way I like it because we want it to be as inclusive as possible. Chinese people sometimes can be surprised when I tell them the event is free. It's often difficult for them at first to see why we would go through that trouble, but with a little explaining they get it, and then usually they are very very enthusiastic. Most of our volunteers on the ground are Chinese by the way, and the organizing team is very international and also has two Chinese members (out of 6).
LRL: How is this different from other festivals?
ER: The core difference is we are not-for-profit. That pretty much sums it up. All we do is for the love of music, not money. So we put together line-ups of bands we believe in, and we will never have super famous people, partly because we cannot afford it, but mostly because we want to be a platform for upcoming bands. Guys like Icy Whiskey, Zulu or She Never Sings Our Songs.
We also want people to discover cool venues, places that contribute one way or another to the music scene, like Caravan, Modernista or Hot Cat, School, etc. Finally, it is meant to be a celebration of music, and we try to encourage people to move around the city to go to different concerts. This year we had a pre-event on the 19th, but the main thing is the 21st and you have many venues with great shows, we want people to experience it as a musical journey.
LRL: What are some highlights we can expect this year?
ER: Highlight for the 21st: Dada, 6 to 9. I am particarly proud of a workshop we put together for the public. We will have a team teaching how to play electronic music with synthesisers, people can just show up and have a bit of fun playing around with effect pedals and synths. There are so many great shows, I can't really pick one place, but the shows at Modern Sky Lab and School are really solid. Hot Cat put in a big effort organizing an event with four different bands, so that should be fun too. Really, people should spend ten minutes on our official account and website and see what they like.
LRL: Anything else you want to add?
ER: Go make music!