If Beijing has one festival with a personality disorder, Jue Festival is it. Jue indiscriminately seizes various branches of the arts and mercilessly thrusts them into the blender. A schizophrenic cocktail of brash paintings, tattered book pages, silvery synthesizers, bike spokes and celluloid; Jue succeeds at bringing people together in unexpected ways.
"We're all about collaboration and community and getting different types of artists together," said organizer Danni Zheng. Different types of artists indeed. Jue has identified seven disciplines to categorize its performances and as Zheng explained, "We have music, visual art, performance art, film, community events, and literary talks. Every event falls into one of those categories and there are a lot of events that fall into three or four."
The strangely wide range of the festival is what provides one of the keys to its success. Many events are designed to bring people together who wouldn't normally associate. One typical example involved the inimitable saxophone player Marshall Allen (from Sun Ra Arkestra fame). "Yeah, he's a legend," Zheng enthused. "He's 89 years old and he does crazy jazz experimental music. He came down with his music partner [film-maker] James Harrar. They did a show called Cinema Soloriens and [Jue] added some contemporary dancers from the Beijing Modern Dance Company." So what do you get when you squeeze jazz fans, film fans and dance fans into one room? More than enough wind to change a ship's direction.
Other artists do the genre bending internally. Festival highlight Grimes has recently become a darling of the music press, partly due to her sound which draws on unexpected influences such as bubblegum pop, industrial hardcore, medieval music and 15th century painter Hieronymous Bosch.
Unsurprisingly, the sold out show at Mao Livehouse was packed to the gills, Beijing's international contingent out in full force to hear the Canadian perform what the New York Times hailed as "one of the most impressive albums of the year." Fears that the music which Grimes slaved over in post-production might not stand up in a solo live performance were quickly allayed. She twisted synth knobs, flung out her arms and pranced about the stage. Her shimmering falsetto whispers swept through the mic and soaked people in reverberated harmonies that sounded too good to be real. Her rendition of Oblivion (hyped as Pitchfork Media's #1 song of 2012) was true to form but was complemented by additional raw keyboards. Through the performance, Chinese dancers ground their hips on the flanks of the stage, and somehow only proved that Grimes alone was the sole focus of the night.
If being squished between a New Jersey dude and a Polish woman at the Grimes show wasn't enough of an excuse to blend communities, the "Bike to Jue" initiative encourages cyclists to meet up in order to ride to events together. Riders meet other likeminded riders on their way to see Mongolian hip-hop performers or Beijing film shorts. Arguably, "Bike to Jue" is the epitomy of the festival's goal to mix and match people, taking folks beyond the genres of arts, and out into the hustling streets of the capital.
As Jue races towards its conclusion, its impact has been unquestionable. With over 300 notable local and international artists presented (in Beijing and Shanghai), the festival impressively maintains an intimate grassroots feel. People chill out and relax, becoming that much more open to new art forms and experiences. And as thousands of attendees can attest; it works.
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Editor: Yang Qi