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The air at China’s Electric Jungle music festival is rife with more than just thick blankets of meandering cigarette smoke. The untethered Chinese electronic festival goers beam with the enthusiasm of a culture not yet jaded by the “put-your-fucking-hands-up” of it all.
China’s sprawling electronic music scene, while invariably unique (despite Western influences), follows the traditional counter-culture-becomes-the-culture plot. Among the local efforts to secure dance music widespread recognition, Jungle Events is most notable for working, not just to throw sensational, world-class festivals with the most sought-after electronic acts, but to promote camaraderie among its supporters.
“Jungle is one of the only domestic festival brands in China. The team is made up of Chinese ravers who want to establish a community of ravers in China, not just throw festivals,” says Chinese trance titan and perennial Jungle billing, Luminn, echoing the company’s distinct ethos.
Signed to Armin van Buuren’s army of global trance talent, Armada, Luminn (real name, JunLiang Fan) speaks ambivalently towards the influx of foreign festival brands embedding themselves in the Chinese market. As the first Chinese artist to secure a clean sweep of spots on the Ultra, EDC, and TRANSMISSION lineups, he posits with authority: Jungle stands out.
It’s simple enough. The Chinese want to go to raves thrown by Chinese ravers. That’s not to say international muscle hasn’t amassed a robust following in recent years. Ultra China’s first swing in 2017 drew over 40,000 awestruck attendees to its inaugural weekend in Shanghai. The goliath outfits also make an effort to book domestic talent. EDC China’s official flyer from last year sprinkled the hometown heroes alphabetically alongside Alison Wonderland, Disclosure, and the lot—same-size font and all.
“Rave:” an antiquated term on US or European soil. But inside China’s cocktail of fresh-faced organizers and authorities privy to the most arbitrary whims (event permits count for little), the tired term has earned its wings here. Even the most meticulously planned festival is an inspired act of valor for the Chinese—clandestine warehouse setting be damned.
KSHMR, born Niles Hollowell-Dhar, reckons he’s performed in China more than any other country outside the US. Resting on the upper-most echelons of both the international big-room scene and Jungle’s most recent lineup, the California native revels in the laundry-fresh feel of China’s developing dance scene.
“They are probably the most enthusiastic of any fanbase that I have around the world—showing up at the airports when I arrive, and even at the hotels,” says KSHMR. “There’s a vigor and a zeal to the Chinese people that I feel it’s a shame that a lot of the world doesn’t understand.”
Once the effects of the awe-inducing elixir comprised of Skrillex, REZZ, and Martin Garrix, (just a few of Jungle’s other active ingredients) subsides, we remember Jungle 2018’s auspicious undercard. Radiating sweet heat akin to her effervescent live sets is DJ Lizzy. Chinese-turned-New-Jersey-native, Lizzy Wang was the first female Chinese DJ to book a slot at Ultra. Inspirited by Newark’s omnipresent hip-hop culture, Wang started making music to relate to her more rambunctious American peers. Like a video-game heroine, she began unlocking levels of newfound confidence with every DIY production skill acquired from days spent poring over YouTube tutorials.
Wang attributes Jungle’s loyal following to its keen and ever-domestic ear.
“[The Jungle Team] cares about what the Chinese ravers want to see on a lineup,” says Wang. “It’s about more than selling tickets.”
Both the Jungle founders, a collective of former University of Southern California transfer students, and Chinese EDM at large, owe at least their root infrastructure to dance music conventions from the states; though what’s evolved since their most nascent notions of EDM world-building is unmistakably domestic. Luminn observes the recent rush of Chinese producers opting to include Mandarin and Cantonese lyrics in their tracks.
As with nearly any art form, there is a degree of reciprocity inherent in Eastern and Western influences that travels through the global dance music scene. Just before his Saturday performance at Jungle’s most recent installment, globetrotting English-born, part-Chinese trap talent, TroyBoi spoke of his manifold use of Asian instrumentation in his productions (“KinjaBang” and “Souls,” are two of the starkest examples).
“I like to create a worldly sound, with an electronic/hip-hop backbone to it that will translate wherever I play,” he says. “It gives me an edge when I come to tour in places like China.”
In comparison to TroyBoi, the LA-based Drezo was one of the most unanticipated additions to the 2018 lineup. Sporting visuals suited for a biopic on Satan himself, and a nefariously pulsing electro/house sound to match, Drezo’s performance was certainly liable to send Jungle patrons into a head-scratching frenzy. Instead, Drezo’s prescribed dose of strange was just what Saturday’s Bass Stage ordered, accruing a commendable crowd that was as excited as it was confounded.
“Something about the atmosphere here reminds me of the [US] scene around 2011,” says Drezo just after his set. “They go crazy for everything.”
Repeat Jungle dignitary, Terry Zhong, a recent grad of Boston’s Berklee College of Music cites Justin Beiber and Lady Gaga’s blurring the lines of pop and dance music as a vessel for EDM’s Chinese infiltration. The Insomniac talent began fine-tuning his piano prowess at the age of five—since then cracking a sundry of local lineups, including EDC Guangdong, as well as prominent bookings throughout the domestic club circuit.
“[The Chinese] are trying to emulate what’s happening in the US,” says Zhong. “But now we’re starting to grow our own dance scene, to find a Chinese PLUR.”