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The Old, the New and the Future at Neu Festival, Aug 25-26

If there's one type of event that you learn to approach with caution in Beijing, it's a festival. Whether pre-canceled, poorly advertised, or an obvious scam, festivals here can be a slippery conglomeration of parts that rarely live up to their intended whole.

Billing itself as "A Festival About the Future of Everything," Neu Future Festival (neutechchina.com, August 25-26) upon first inspection raised similar red flags, with one big exception: it has a proven track record. Having had a successful debut run at last year's Tech Open Air in Berlin, the one place you can expect things to go smoothly, Neu now comes to China and looks much more composed than another hastily thrown together mess of nebulous parts.

The festival brings together 25 speakers in the areas of tech, art, and music to liquidate the boundaries between these sectors, all the while bringing a similar low-key feel that their previous outing provided. To do so, the organizers have partnered with fellow institutions such as CTM (Festival for Adventurous Music and Art), Goethe Institut, The Hatchery, Zanadu, and will take place in three established Beijing venues: Chao Hotel, UCCA, and Migas.

The event kicks off with an opening party at UCCA on Friday, August 25 (RMB 120, RMB 100 for UCCA members), including body-driven performance art from Berlin-based Marco Donnarumma in the form of his Corpus Nil project, as well as sounds that skirt the genres of dark ambient, experimental, and techno from SHAO, Wang Meng and GOOOOOSE.

On Saturday, the action will move to Chao Hotel in the heart of Sanlitun for a day of talks (10am-6pm, RMB 400, RMB 300 advance) from leading experts in the startup and tech industries, and will include (among others) Hung Huang and Joe Xia, CTO of Mobike; Graham Fink, creative director of Ogilvy China; and Stu Oda, founder of Alesca Life. There'll also be workshops that focus on building individual skills, from learning how to get better sleep, to everyday mindfulness, to improving your sense of ethics.

Finally, the festival concludes with an after party on Migas' rooftop (Aug 26, 10pm, RMB 60), giving attendees the chance to loosen up and dissect the ideas presented throughout the day.

Wanting to know more about what exactly a "future festival" entails, we spoke to Philipp Grefer, co-founder and festival director of the Neu Future Festival, as well as the man behind Beijing-based label and organizer Fake Music Media.

What can you tell us about Neu (Nexus Europe) Festival? What exactly is a “future festival?"
Redefining the way we see and shape our future is our goal. We want to look at what will be happening in our near and far future from multiple angles. Therefore we invited speakers and artists from different creative fields (music, film, art, design, fashion) and knowledge backgrounds (tech, journalism, VR/AR, AI, Robotics, food, mobility, etc.) to come together and “converge” their fields into one holistic approach.

At Neu, the co-founder of Mobike can have a conversation with a Dutch synthwave artist about the psychological effects of the color orange if he chooses to, or watch a performance by a Berlin-based artist who uses biosensors and AI to create music with his body. Everybody should be able to learn something "Neu" (which means “new” in German). And this should happen in a relaxed festival vibe, a vibe that brings a community together, a vibe where you can either make new meaningful experiences and relations or deepen the old ones.

Fortunately, we were able to create this vibe last year in Berlin where we hosted a “Neu China” stage at Tech Open Air in Berlin, one of the leading tech festivals in Europe. There we presented Chinese entrepreneurs, investors, and professionals from the creative and tech industries to over 1,000 people. We also hosted a Neu China Night with artists from Beijing and Berlin.

NEU China Stage panel at Tech Open Air Berlin with (from left to right): Stanley Chen (Noitom), Christian Grewell (NYU), Zan Wu (Zanadu), Philipp Grefer (Neu)

While the response was overwhelming, we knew from the start that we needed to bring our interdisciplinary approach back to China, since it didn’t exist here yet. In Berlin, you have creatives mingling with tech people all the time. In China, this doesn't happen as much. But we believe innovation happens when people from different backgrounds come together in a free-spirited environment.

Therefore we are lucky to have the support of four amazing partners who lend us their venues to reach these exact goals: UCCA, Chao, Migas, and the Goethe Institut.

You’ve been involved in organizing music festivals before as the founder of Fake Music Media (FMM). How does this one differ?
Well, FMM has organized music events in China since 2008. We did M.A.D. (Music and Design) from 2012-2014 during Beijing Design Week which was about the intersection of – well, you can guess. Then, we've run an events series called Electric City since 2014, which focuses more on the urban electronic music lifestyle. We will hold our first Electric City mini-festival in Chengdu this autumn.

Nova Heart

Music is deeply ingrained in the DNA of Fake Music Media; co-founder Helen Feng is the lead singer of Nova Heart, Zhang Jie runs our day-to-day and played bass in Helen's former band ZIYO, and I used to play in a punk rock band when I was 16 and now DJ occasionally (as Metro Tokyo). But over the years we have had to broaden our horizons and opened ourselves up to other influences, from technology, art, fashion, film etc.

In our free time, Helen and I talk and read a lot about politics, economics and the state of the world in general – we also both come from a media background. While entertainment is our job, the future is our concern. And Neu reflects exactly that. It is about how we will live and hopefully, positively, shape the future. We want to explore crazy ideas and see them from different angles. If two people, maybe even from totally different backgrounds, come together at Neu and start something new, which makes a positive impact in the world, then we have reached our goal.

But to answer your question, music is not the main focus of Neu, but building a community that is engaged in thinking about the future and solving its problems is. “The Future is Neu,” as we like to say.

Who are some of the artists and speakers you have lined up for the festival? How did you choose them – was there a specific aesthetic or area of expertise you were looking to curate?
The artists need to have another dimension to their works aside from just music or art, something that reflects the future theme of Neu. So for the Neu opening at UCCA on August 25, our partner CTM (Festival for adventurous music and art) recommended Berlin-based performer and PhD in AI and biotech Marco Donnaruma, who will perform his Corpus Nil, a pretty crazy and intense choreography featuring AI, biosensors, and a modified body exploding through sound and light – I'll leave it at that.

SHAO

As for the other artists, Beijing-based SHAO and Shanghai artist GOOOOOSE AKA Han Han of Duck Fight Goose will also perform. Not only am I an admirer of their work but also of how they think about the (musical) interaction of humans and machines. I have had quite a few deep and inspiring conversations with these guys over the years and I'm very happy to have them in Beijing for one of their rare audiovisual performances – the brilliant Wang Meng putting together incredible visuals for SHAO.

An example of what to expect from Marco Donnaruma's Corpus Nil

For the Neu Afterparty at Migas on August 26, we will have a more retro-future theme represented by Dutch artists Devereaux 85 and Don Voyage. Their synthwave vibes follow an 80s-inspired aesthetic of the future. Expect a lot of Back To The Future, Drive, and Stranger Things references.

As for speakers, it's great to have people like NYU Professor Christian Grewell or the ever-brilliant Maker Movement guru David Li back, who already attended our Berlin event. Both are total geeks and visionaries and never fail to surprise me with their latest ideas and projects. Christian will present a cool VR experience called m3diate that might well be a next step toward the Metaverse.

A still from Christian Grewell's m3diate VR experience

I'm also very happy for Neu newcomers Hung Huang and Mobike CTO Joe Xia. Hung Huang with her 13 million Weibo followers needs little introduction. She has been just such a force in the Chinese fashion scene, and continues to be totally forward-thinking and refreshingly opinionated. Mobike is, of course, one of the hottest startups in recent time and we are very excited to be hosting them. And we have a range of other exciting speakers from media, tech, music, film, etc.

Danish art collective Breathing Space will also show an interactive installation at the Future Forum on August 26 at Chao (pictured below).

At the inaugural Neu Festival in Berlin last year, you had a night dedicated to the Chinese music scene. Can you tell us what that involved and how it was received?
From the Chinese side, we had Helen's band Nova Heart and Beijing rapper J-Fever performing, myself (Metro Tokyo) DJing, and Berlin-based Chinese art duo 8GG doing an interactive installation. From Berlin, we had Rodion, who also produced Nova Heart's EP and album and Johannes Marx from Pitchtuner, who was the first guy we ever brought to China for an FMM concert in 2009 and also brought to our Neu Diverge event in Beijing, since he's also an inventor and Design Thinking coach. It was a family affair.

What does Neu hope to achieve where perhaps you feel similar festivals in China have failed or come up short?
I think creating a vibe and a good experience is the most important thing. I cannot stress this enough. It's not about a big stage, or a fancy VIP section – it's about the experience of your guests. For that, it's also important to know which guests you want to have in the first place. What is happening off-stage is probably as, if not more, important than what's going on on the stage.

Since capacity for our Neu Future Forum on August 26, as well as the Neu Opening event at UCCA on August 25, is very limited, we will select our audience as carefully as our speakers and artists. But other than just providing our guests a good time, we really hope they will learn something and go home inspired and full of energy to start something new and meaningful.

Anything else that you’d like the good people of Beijing to know?
We really hope that Neu can become an integral part of this city's creative and tech communities and that we can grow something amazing together. So if you have any idea how you can become a part of Neu or want to collaborate, please contact us at fakemusicmedia@gmail.com.

Finally, if there were three words to describe what to expect at Neu, what would they be?
Explore. Engage. Enjoy.

For more info on Neu Future Festival, check out the event website (neutechchina.com) or their WeChat account.

Images courtesy of Neu Future Festival


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