IMS and Storm Collaborate Again to Grow China's Dance Music Scene

IMS Asia-Pacific conference and Storm Festival
Rob Schwartz

Alesso and Jolin Tsai at the IMS Asia-Pacific conference and Storm Festival, taking place in Shanghai from Sept. 29-Oct. 2, 2016.

The co-organized IMS Asia-Pacific conference and Storm Festival took place Sept. 29-Oct. 2 in Shanghai. The Ibiza and Los Angles-based International Music Summit (IMS) runs the conference while A2Live of Shanghai puts on the Storm fest. The twin events complement each other as artists present at the business forum and perform at the festival.

IMS held its first meeting here last year under the aegis of IMS China and moved its Asia-Pacific base to the city in light of the rapid development of EDM in China.

Ben Turner, partner at IMS and a driving force behind the conference, explained the decision to Billboard. “Singapore was great as a geographic hub but we find the opportunity here much more interesting.” He continued, noting why the conference is crucial in this region now. “Touring artists in this part of the world takes great planning and if these markets don't connect and communicate the artists are going to walk away with a bad experience, not making any money.” The potential of Asia, with 40% of the world’s population, is clear. Turner stressed, “When you see artists planning their years, Asia need to be at the top of the agenda, we believe.”

The conference featured industry legends like Daniel Miller (Mute Records) and David Levy (WME), EDM superstars like Skrillex, Alesso and Pete Tong and even Asian mega-stars like Jolin Tsai.

One of the standout moments was when Skrillex and his team, agent Lee Anderson of AM Only, Blaise DeAngelo, GM of Skrillex’s label OWSLA, and manager Tim Smith held a frank and revealing stage talk. Sonny Moore (aka Skrillex) explained their natural route to success. “It shouldn’t be a business model and then make something … it really should be a group of people who just enjoy what they do and then you find out how that fits in the world. And that’s how we do things. And that’s how we’ve always been.” Moore then observed gleefully how festivals in China seemed to be more brand driven and the brands were more imaginative in creating an experience for people. “There’s, like, a giant Doritos bag the size of this room and you can go in it and take a selfie, it’s crazy!” Smith added, “There are two reasons we work with a brand. One, if we dig that brand, and two if we feel that brand can bring additional value to the team.”

Rob Schwartz
David Levy and Eric Zho at the IMS Asia-Pacific conference and Storm Festival, taking place in Shanghai from Sept. 29-Oct. 2, 2016.

Eric Zho, founder of A2Live, the company who promotes the Storm Festival, gave keynote address on his fest and the development of EDM in China. “We’re shaping the culture, not creating it. I believe dance music is created from the clubs originally, that’s where it’s heard on a daily basis. And of course you can see a trend in China. In tier 1 cities they are all playing dance music (in clubs), in tier 2 and 3 cities they still have singers going up and singing K-pop or Mando-pop but they are converting slowly.” He explained how his company gave the fest a strong individuality despite not yet having any major competitors in the China market. “When we created Storm we gave it a DNA. We did this because we wanted to create very strong brand identity behind Storm the festival where in the future we can take this IP to different sectors of the entertainment industry, film, television, gaming, etc.”

Another insightful presentation -- Global Power Players, Risks and Opportunities -- brought together industry heavyweights Amy Thomson (CEO / Manager, ATM Artists, USA), Christian Rijanto (Co-Founder, Managing Partner, Ismaya Group, Indonesia), David Levy (Partner, WME) Eric Zho, Iqbal Ameer (CEO, LiveScape Group, Malaysia), John Boyle (Chief Growth Officer, Insomniac Events, USA) and Robb Harker (CEO/ Founder, Supermodified Agency, Asia). Thomson slammed Universal China, saying that she and her team developed artists in China “without any help from our major label.” She recommended artists signing deals with major labels exclude Asian territories from those deals, especially in regard to exclusive, territory-specific, streaming deals. David Levy noted, “China’s really surprised me because from what I experienced in the early 90s to what it is now, it's a paradigm shift. This feels to me now like Shanghai is going to become one of those influencer cities, like New York, Berlin or Rome. It has that energy.”

And that energy was evident at the two-day Storm Festival, a quantum leap from the previous year. The festival site, on Shanghai Disneyland property, was nearly ten times as large, approaching 700,000 square meters. Attendance nearly doubled from last year, at an estimated 30,000 people. On the first day the crowd responded to Skrillex’s mash-ups and dubstep. The second day was even more crowded, with no breathing room in the entirety on the main stage grounds. It was something of a Dutch night with Oliver Heldens, Afrojack and Hardwell pumping the crowd up with full power EDM. One local told me that it was Afrojack’s set, with its swells and breaks that got her most excited.