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From Storm to Ultra, music festivals are growing in popularity in China

  • Outdoor live music events have grown in popularity in China
  • Homegrown music festivals, like EDM-focused Storm, are increasing in scale

Summer might have drawn to a close, but the music festival season in China is still going strong.

Whether it's the rock-oriented Midi Festival to the indie Strawberry Music Festival, live music events that run the gamut in terms of genres have been attracting greater numbers of attendees on the mainland.

Even international brands like Ultra, the electronic music festival with roots in Miami, have been keen on getting a piece of the growing segment. The Chinese edition of the festival — which also makes stops in Japan, Brazil and Croatia as part of its international tour — debuted on the mainland for the first time earlier this month.

A view of the main stage at Storm, an electronic dance music festival, in Shanghai, China.
Courtesy: A2LiVE
A view of the main stage at Storm, an electronic dance music festival, in Shanghai, China.

One other well-known name in the outdoor music festival segment is Storm, a homegrown live electronic dance music festival. The festival has seen its number of attendees rise from 24,000 at its inaugural run in 2013 to 180,000 last year.

A total of 22.5 million unique views were recorded for the live video stream of Storm's two-day Shanghai show in 2016, according to Eric Reithler-Barros, managing director of A2LiVE, the entertainment company behind Storm.

Still, the electronic music scene in China remains relatively nascent, with plenty of festival-goers at Storm indicating that it was their first experience at an outdoor concert, Reithler-Barros told CNBC.

Despite the experience being a comparatively new one for Chinese audiences, locals still made up the majority of visitors to Storm, especially at its stops in Chengdu and Guangzhou. Across its five shows in 2016, an average of 84 percent of festival-goers were from mainland China, according to A2LiVE. Around 4 percent of visitors were from Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macau.

That enthusiasm has led Storm to expand in scale since its first show five years ago. The festival is headed to 7 cities in China this year, up from 5 cities it toured in 2016. While top-tier cities — such as Beijing and Shanghai — made the list, so did second-tier ones like Chengdu and Changsha.

New stops for the festival were chosen based on factors such as streaming statistics for EDM tracks on music streaming apps in China, said Reithler-Barros. A2LiVE also had its ear to the ground, paying attention to metrics such as the number of EDM events and clubs in various cities, he added.

Attendees at Storm Festival, an electronic dance music festival, in Shanghai, China.
Qilai Shen | In Pictures Ltd. | Corbis News | Getty Images
Attendees at Storm Festival, an electronic dance music festival, in Shanghai, China.

Consumer businesses, both international and local, are taking note of the growing interest for outdoor music festivals on the mainland too. Among Storm's past and present corporate sponsors are Budweiser, Adidas, Huawei, Pernod Ricard and Youku, Reithler-Barros indicated.

The number of outdoor music festivals has grown across Asia as disposable incomes in the region have increased: Thailand is home to Wonderfruit and Maya Music Festival, Hong Kong hosts the annual Clockenflap festival and the Laneway Festival, Neon Lights and ZoukOut all take place in Singapore.

Besides growing affluence, one reason for the growing interest in festivals in China has been the proliferation of reality television programs featuring live music, said Christina Ding, a senior project manager at market research company Daxue Consulting.

One of those shows has been "Rap of China," a reality hip-hop talent competition which racked up billions of views on internet video platform iQiyi since premiering in the summer. The show — a breakout hit — has influenced the creation of several hip-hop focused festivals, including MDSK and International Youth Music Festival.

"People want to experience such events for themselves" after watching them on television, Ding explained.

Experience-oriented younger consumers, who tend to make up the bulk of audiences at outdoor music festivals, were also willing to pay to attend festivals as their participation could be used as a differentiator of sorts on social media platforms like WeChat, Ding added.