Laidback Luke, Ingrosso, Kygo and Marshmello were among the big names in EDM involved in this year’s co-organized IMS Asia-Pacific conference and Storm Festival, which took place Sept. 20-24 in Shanghai.
The Ibiza and Los Angles-based International Music Summit (IMS) runs the conference while A2Live of Shanghai puts on the electronic bash Storm Shanghai fest, the biggest EDM festival in China. The twin events complement each other as artists present at the business forum and perform at the festival.
Ben Turner, cofounder and partner at IMS, is a driving force behind the conference. He explained to Billboard why the Shanghai-based event remains important. “It’s our fourth year in the region and the numbers have grown this year, which I’m really happy about. We did a strong initiative to encourage younger people within the industry in China, we made it more affordable for them, and I feel that really worked.” He adds, “the floor has been to interesting people doing interesting things in different markets.”
Turner alluded to the partnership with A2Live, the company that produces the Storm fest. “We’ve aligned ourselves with somebody who is very ambitious in the market, who we respect in the market, who’s trying to grow the market and we feel that’s the right person to be aligned with. It’s amazing how they’ve understood what a conference is about. It’s about being independent. With your competitors being at the event and give them a platform to speak.” Turner added, “I feel Eric (Zho) has tried to show it’s not just a festival or a party, there is a business forum and this is real business, and brands want to interface with it.”
The conference afforded Nielsen the opportunity to present its first-ever Asia-Pacific dance music report, which was commissioned by A2Live. Helena Kosinski, VP Global, for Nielsen Music told Billboard, “We were keen to share our insights with the IMS attendees who were interested to learn that of the countries we surveyed (China, Taiwan, Japan, Korea and Australia). Korea had the largest number of dance music listeners, with 30% of music listeners identifying as dedicated listeners and that the largest two services among dance music listeners in China were QQ Music and KuGou.”
Panels focused on the thriving Chinese market now that piracy is being brought under control, record labels in Asia, fair market value for artists in Asia, emerging markets in Asia (like Vietnam, Malaysia and Thailand), and where the overall Chinese market is heading.
“We created this conference (in Shanghai) three years ago because China is out of the loop of the industry (internationally),” explains Vlada Didenko, director of IMS Asia-Pacific and director of A2Live. “So we wanted to show both expats and Chinese people what is going on here. And what is here, what is Instragram, what is Google, what is Facebook, what is YouTube of China.” She noted the conference has developed considerably in the three years of its existence. “IMS has developed in terms of attendees and capacity. I see a growth in attendees in Asian people. This year was the biggest IMS Asia-Pacific to date. We had over 600 attendees and 55 speakers. Over 100 media outlets attended.”
Longtime producer, promoter and executive Scarlet Li, founder of Zebra Media and now a VP at the huge investment corporation CMC Holdings, gave a keynote address. She started by noting the growing recorded music industry in China. “By 2020 there will be a US$2 billion market in China for subscribed paid streaming services. So we think that today streaming services in China are a real business, it’s not a promotion campaign any more.” Li also noted that the concert business in China currently does US$1 billion in ticket sales. She pointed out however the stars that sell the bulk of the tickets are aging and there is an opportunity for young talent to step in.
Li suggested that there was a huge opportunity for EDM in China. She stressed the genre travels very well because there is no language barrier and the visuals attract people. But Li noted EDM markets need to be developed in 2nd, 3rd, and 4th tier cities in China. She challenged EDM promoters and producers to think about these markets instead of often concentrating on Shanghai and Beijing. To this end she recommended that unique festivals should be designed in smaller cities (which in China still often have a population of 10 million or more) with local governments. “All local governments want festivals but they want a unique festival so they need people with international experience, with great content ideas, to work with them on local festivals.” She was firmly against the idea that one major festival could travel around the country offering the same content everywhere. “Every city should have their own festival. I don’t believe one format goes around in China.”
The legendary and longtime artist Laidback Luke also gave a keynote, becoming the first artist to give an address at an IMS event. He stressed all the tools were in the hands of the creators now. Comparing the process with 20 years ago he noted at that time you needed all sorts of hardware, but today electronic music producers can just use plug-ins and do everything on their laptop. He emphasized the result though. “Opportunities for artists are bigger right now but the artist has to have great music. You can’t expect a famous producer or DJ will pick up your track if it doesn’t sound amazing.”
For the actual Storm Shanghai festival Eric Zho, founder of A2Live, gave us some insight into producing it. He noted it was an extremely difficult year for China because of the current in-session Communist Party Congress, held once every five years. The party cracks down on entertainment during this time. “For China every 5 years is the same situation. AEG is doing zero shows this year,” he noted. But despite that, A2 Live expanded from five fests to seven in China this year. And it has international aspirations. The firm will hold its first-ever international fest this year with an event in Sydney, Australia. In general, Zho noted A2Live is “interested in expanding into the BRICS markets.”
The Storm Shanghai festival again electrified the city, drawing over 40,000 people per day, making it the biggest music festival in China. On the initial day Kygo captivated the crowd with his smooth and punchy EDM, remixing hit like Eurythmics “Sweet Dreams,” Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing,” The Chainsmokers and Coldplay’s “Something Just like This,” and his own tracks “Stargazing,” “Stay,” and “First Time.”
Marshmello closed out the first day with his signature brand of mashup dubstep craziness, including remixes of Bon Jovi’s “Livin on a Prayer,” and Kygo’s own “Firestone.” The second day was shaking the bodies all around and a raging set from The Chemical Brothers was just hitting its groove when thunderstorms flooded the event and it had to be shut down. Axwell^Ingrosso had to wait to perform in a Shanghai club later that night.