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Four moments for Year Four.
Jun Togawa, frail, wraithlike, standing straight up to scream the final line of the chorus on ‘Suki Suki Daisuki’, as Vampillia channeled the rage of the gods around her.
A stream of technicolour bubbles across the Field of Dreams, with kids running and jumping for joy.
Traditional Creole Music meets traditional Chinese drum dance for a beautiful slice of cross-cultural love
A hushed, magical silence as startling visions scramble across the screen behind Oneohtrix Point Never.
Four is a magic number.
Festivals find themselves at four. The puzzle pieces fall into place. They find their spirit, their identity, their audience. And Concrete & Grass 2018 was no different.
Year Four was a big one for us, and hey, it felt like the best one.
To you all, our Concrete Kids, you did some of your best work yet. Thanks to everyone who came, played, worked, volunteered, danced, jumped, cried, ate, drank and rolled with us last weekend.
We tried something a little different, and in turn, we were blessed with the most fabulous guests in the world. Everyone exceeded expectations, and the spirit of the ‘Grass crackled and sizzled across two glorious days of sun. Even the rain gods couldn’t resist a quick peek on Sunday afternoon.
As always, there was something for everyone: from folk rock to metalcore, these were two days and two nights of ultimate doses of every shade of fun. The best vibe. The best weather. The best music. The best crowd. You can tell how giddily happy we’re feeling right now.
“Open all the boxes”, read one of our red-and-white banners on the way in. We threw open some truly magical portals on September 15 and 16 – and we’re so very excited to relive them all right now.
So for one last time in 2018: let’s roll.
Could anyone have asked for a better festival opener than Lao Wang? The young Taiwanese band drew huge crowds both at their set and during their signing session, leading a soaring singalong of their hit ‘Teen’s Edge’. A quick sprint over, and RID were throwing down their red-hot mix of Mongolian folk and rock’n’roll on the Echo stage.
This year, two stages intertwined beautifully: Zee Avi’s sunshine pop danced with the Garden’s sunshine punk, Chinese Football and Suchmos threw a catchy, funky daytime party before Xiban and Kikagaku Moyo brought the sitars and Chinese opera for some signature ‘Grass weirdness.
There was so much to do in between. The doodlers at Shaving in the Dark led a raucous ‘Drink & Draw’ session, while our homies at Homie were buzzing all afternoon with free shaves and haircuts. Duck Bites Goose was goosier than ever, with the Shanghai debut of runaway hit Baozza, a “pizza-baozi” hybrid, and special festival menus from old faves Spread the Bagel, Melrose Pizza and La Coyota.
It was a huge honour for us to be official partners with World Cleanup Day for 2018, and the WCD tent was buzzing throughout the day, with workshops, activities and a “plogging” run around the site. Their volunteers were absolutely amazing: educating folks, explaining recycling and trash-sorting, and keeping the ‘Grass as green as it could be.
Bright sunshine warranted ice-cold drinks, and the ‘Grass had the best you could ask for: Boxing Cat and Goose Island pints kept punters hydrated, while our 2018 special Rice Wine Mijitos proved so popular that they became the first drink to be completely sold out at the festival.
Over at the Field of Dreams, the Wooozy Dimension was beaming in good vibes right from the get-go, with Preme DJs leading into Mallrat’s summery indie pop into Tofubeats’ umami-flavoured synth concoctions. An unfortunate last-minute cancelled by YBN Nahmir meant Kiltir Maloya’s afrobeat dance party preceded our 2018 Hop-Hop Block, with Vroskiii, Donae’O and Rico Nasty keeping energy levels sky-high. The Yurt, curated this year by Elevator, with a thumping sound system from Mode Audio, kicked off with two of Shanghai’s best DJs: Illsee and Diamond Lil.
Sunset bought stunning azure skies and one of the most highly anticipated shows of the festival. Jun Togawa and Vampillia were nothing less than untapped, uncontrolled madness – a swirling storm of strings and guitar fury over the legendary singer’s sinister, surreal songs.
Dazed, moved, disoriented, changed…those that walked over to the Echo stage afterwards were rewarded with the thoroughly entertaining, massive indie rock of American Authors. “This is Gonna Be the Best Day of My Life!” By the time the words rang out across the ‘Grass, many had already had the best days of their lives.
And this was just the beginning.
The Jillionaire headlined Wooozy with 90 minutes of non-stop groove to a full-house, while Li Jian serenaded thousands of transfixed fans with his poetic, heartbreaking ballads. HWA warped minds with his modular synths at the Yurt, followed by some sublime minimal techno from Tel Aviv’s Anna Haleta. William Tyler provided a gentle instrumental backdrop to fading light, while Asusu was after more muscular responses during his headline set at the Yurt.
Stage Left, however, was the true eye of the storm that night. Cancer Bats lit a spark and handed over a red-hot baton to Crossfaith for close to two-hours of mosh-pit madness. The energy was off-the-charts, and it was a truly triumphant homecoming for Crossfaith, whose performance last year was unfortunately and incontrovertibly cancelled.
Two years in the making, and every second showed. What a way to end Day 1.
— SUNDAY —
Sunday belonged to the heroic journey that yahyel took to get to Concrete & Grass.
The band was grounded in Shenzhen, where a massive typhoon was due to make landfall the day after. With no flights taking off, the band rented a van and drove halfway across the country to Xia’men, from where they took last-minute flights to reach the festival just in time.
And what a set it was: joyous, high-energy dark electro hijinks that blew the roof off the Wooozy Dimension. For many, one of the best performances in 2018. For us, nothing less than a ‘Grass miracle (shoutouts here to Vampillia who endured a similarly challenging journey to Shanghai after the typhoon severely damaged Osaka airport).
Earlier in the day, Loft Beach kicked off Stage Left with some breezy fresh, Shanghai indie rock, followed by the one-two postpunk gut punch of Future Orients and FAZI. Rosie Thomas tugged at the nostalgia strings of China’s douban set, she was a viral star on their community back in the 2000s, and also brought her two-year old on stage to become Concrete & Grass’ youngest performer.
Shanghai Restoration Project drew the biggest crowds of the year at Wooozy, including a short visit from the rain gods that brought the ‘Grass to a brief standstill. Our technical staff worked quickly to limit any damage from the sudden winds, and we turned off power briefly to parts of the site for safety.
This led to a 30-minute delay in stage times that affected a number of performances. Our deepest apologies to both performers and audience.
The rain was just a brief pause: the skies opened up, and it was back to regular ‘Grass excellence. Sunset Rollercoaster summoned the prettiest of sunsets for Chet Lam, whose soft urban folk was the perfect portrait of ‘Grass life in slow motion. A huge crowd greeted Japanese band DYGL, who played a blistering set of Strokes-esque indie rock before the long-overdue return of And So I Watch You From Afar, whose guitar magic was so impressive even the security guards couldn’t take their eyes off them.
A signing session from shoegaze legends Slowdive saw some of the longest queues in the history of the festival, and their sublime set, excepting a few technical issues in the first 2 songs, was a masterclass in mood and atmosphere.
Over at Wooozy and the Yurt, there was need for just one mood and atmosphere: a permanent dance party. SAFIA, Jiaming, ollo-MAM, Mr Ho, yahyel – every single performer knocked it out of the (Rugby) park and got the crowds moving. Suicideyear provided the late night comedown at 7pm, with a startling and kinetic visual set.
At Jimboomba, William Tyler and David Thomas Broughton collaborated for a truly surreal one-off, while our regular guests and performers the Sunshine Home saw curious guests Kiltir Maloya create a heartwarming moment of East-meets-West.
The stages were set for the culmination of ‘Grass 2018, and one of our favourite blocks that we’ve ever programmed for the festival. The dizzying variety in styles, moods, sounds: this right here is what we think makes Concrete & Grass special.
At Wooozy, the startling, ominous visions of Oneohtrix Point Never, playing an intricate, experimental live set. At the Yurt, deep dance sounds from Knopha, a stalwart of the Chinese club underground. At Stage Left, Chengdu’s Stolen – for our money one of the best live bands in China right now. And on the main stage, the reggaeton smash-hit sensation Daddy Yankee, playing to one of the wildest crowds we’ve even seen.
Of course, it’s never a festival without the odd wrinkle. Despite our best efforts, we had to enforce a hard 9pm cut-off for all bands. This was non-negotiable, and therefore Stolen had to play a truncated set that was unfortunately ‘turned off’ in the middle of a song. Again, our deepest apologies to the band and the audience. We should have done better, and we wish it could have been different.
So another year, another festival. As always, all of this is made possible thanks to our wonderful staff, partners, volunteers and helping hands. To our friend Clarence (still a real Rock’n’Roll Hero) for all the help. To He Jun the dealmaker. To Boxing Cat and Goose Island for the best beer in Shanghai. To the bar team for keeping it all running smoothly. To Brad and the Realest of Live crews for the stellar sound. To Kynan and Atomic Visual Studio for the amazing visuals. To our friends at Kick the Gong Around for their beautiful arrangements that made the site such a wonder to behold. To our wonderful venue for their patience, understanding and wonderful grass. To our band handlers and amazing volunteers: we couldn’t have done any of this without you.
To Leon Wu and crew for all the heavy lifting, 11 years running. To our Stage Managers and runners, for taking care of everyone so well. To the local army and police and security dudes who helped it all happen with a smile (and cheeky dance). To NY and the World Cleanup Day crew for upping our environmental ante. To all our photographers and videographers for making the festival live forever. To everyone at Split Works: you folks are the best, no discuss.
And finally, to our fans. Our Concrete Kids. You are this festival, this festival is you.