Yearly Archives: 2014

Interview with Meng Jinhui

VICE is a global youth media company that includes an online television network, print magazine, film, TV and book production divisions, record label, and digital advertising agency. In 2013, VICE opened a fully localized, Chinese-language branch in China. Since the launch has had 100 million page views. EARS got insight into Chinese youth culture and the success of VICE in the country from Meng Jinhui, Head of VICE China.

Please tell us about your background, what did do before VICE China?

Before VICE China, I worked for Modern Sky Entertainment. I was a label manager and worked with founding. We for example started the company’s music festivals. After working with Modern Sky for six years, which is quite a long time, I started looking for something more culturally large-scaled. I got to know VICE and it felt like a perfect time for me to start a new thing, a media platform to examine youth culture.

How has VICE been received in China?

Very well. The key factor is that the team we have in Beijing consists mostly of local young people. They know what kind of things Chinese young people like so they know what kind of content we should produce. Especially all the local content that we have produced so far has been very popular both locally and internationally. Internationally, it’s very hard to find another media platform that shows this kind of real and versatile content on youth culture in China.

So it’s been really good so far! I don’t think that there’s any other international media company like VICE that has come to China and has been able to build such a huge group of followers in such a short time.

[quote text=”Even China is one country, all different parts have their own local culture.”]

Have VICE faced any challenges in China?

The only challenge for VICE is that China is a huge, complex country. All different parts of China have their own local culture. Young people in all cities and in the countryside all behave differently. So even though China is one country, you’re need to learn about different parts of China. For a media company it means that if you want to tell a story about Chinese youth, you really have to go different places to meet and talk with the local people. You need to see what they look like, what they do and how they react to the rest of the world.

What can you tell about youth culture in China?

The whole of China is changing very fast and it’s same thing with youth culture. In China, we talk a lot about what Chinese young people do and what they are interested in. Right now young people’s consuming power is getting bigger and bigger, they have money to spend on music, fashion and travelling. Nowadays, young Chinese travel around the world.

Do you think that there’s a lot of differences between the VICE followers in China compared to the western world?

Basically for VICE as a digital company there’s only two different nations: one is online and the other is offline. When you get online, you get to talk to the whole world. Young people share the same information. They have a very similar way of thinking and they are into all kinds of interesting things.

Often when people talk about China, they see China as a totally different world. Of course culturally there’s a huge difference between the Western and Eastern culture but I don’t see that much difference in it as a country. The whole country has been open for a long time and especially the level of internationality has changed really fast. In VICE China we’re really excited to show to the rest of the world what Chinese young people are like. I believe that people know quite much about China but they don’t know that much about young Chinese.

Can you briefly tell us about the Creators Project by VICE?

The Creators Project is a media platform for arts and technology. It was founded by VICE and Intel. So far we have featured over 2000 artist all over the world like designers, filmmakers, musicians – all kinds of different people from creative industry. We for example have documentaries for audience to see the stories behind of creation. We also produce daily editorial content to show the most exciting creative scene of the world.

[quote text=” Before Chinese people got inspired by western culture, fashion and design but now they’re trying to find their own identity.”]

How do you see the development of creative industries in China?

China is a developing country and the creative industries are still in the very beginning. Nowadays you can see more and more local designers going to international markets and Chinese bands touring outside China. Before Chinese people got inspired by Western culture, fashion and design but now they’re trying to find their own identity. They are trying to establish their own stuff, which is a really good thing! The creative industries are in the very beginning but you can see that it will explode soon. Will be exciting to see what the future brings!

Interview with Esther Muñoz Grootveld

Dutch native Esther Muñoz Grootveld broadened her scope to China in 2011 and is now the Brand Consulting Manager at Shanghai-based design agency COORDINATION ASIA. Besides her day job, Esther is an independent creative consultant. Her most recent project, the online sustainable fashion initiative The Dotted Suit Project, was launched in July 2014. EARS has a chat with Esther about fashion branding in China and the country’s luxury goods market.

Who are you and what do you do?

I’m Esther Muñoz Grootveld and I’m Dutch but based in Shanghai since a little bit more than three years now. I work in Shanghai as a consultant specialized in design and fashion.

You are the Project and Brand Consulting Manager at design agency COORDINATION ASIA. What kinds of thing you are working with?

At COORDINATION ASIA I’m mostly consulting on space design and branding for museums, retail clients and brands. They either already are in the Chinese market or want to set up a cultural or retail space and need advice on branding, design and communication.

Coordination Asia is basically my day job and besides that I’m a freelance consultant. My freelance work is more focused on fashion because that’s where my background is. I consult designers coming from European countries to the Asian market or other way around.

[quote text=”People need to believe your story because there’s so much to choose from, especially in fashion, and especially in Asia.”]

What do you think are the main qualities of success in the fashion industry?

For now, it’s very important to have a very strong story. I think that before people differentiated themselves either through design or the concept. Of course you have to have high quality materials and design, you have to have a good business plan but also your story needs to be on spot. So when you look at how you set yourself out in the market, you really have to think why is your brand story original and how is it related to your product. And all together, it needs to be authentic. People need to believe your story because there’s so much to choose from, especially in fashion, and especially in Asia.

What makes a great fashion brand for you?

For me a good fashion brand brings timeless products that do not necessarily follow flows of fashion. I like brands and products that you buy and keep for a long time, products that tells a story and are produced in responsibly way.

How would you compare European and Chinese fashion consumers?

I think that European consumers have kind of evolved beyond the story and are really focusing on sustainability, ecological and responsible producing – honest, maybe even like handmade style products. In China, people are still really focusing on the story. In Europe, we have turned our mind-set to a little bit towards honest products but in China it’s more about honest stories. When looking at the fashion products authenticity, honesty and uniqueness are what we have in common. But maybe in Europe, the way the product is produced, that you know it’s real and good is a little bit more important than in China.

You have talked about the new luxury in China. What do you mean by that?

I’ve only been in China for three to four years but in this short time I’ve seen how quickly the market changes. Something like 10 years ago, fashion consumers in China looked towards the west for inspiration. Most people didn’t have means to buy big labels so they were buying cheaper, maybe not that well-designed and well-produced products. Now when the wealth and taste of fashion in China are increasing, people started to think that wearing brands like Gucci, Prada, Louis Vuitton means expressing that you’re moving up. But slowly I think it’s changing and Chinese fashion consumers are moving towards understanding that they can actually use fashion to express their own unique identity, not just to label themselves as well-offs.

This is where the new luxury comes in. People are looking for products that really express their unique culture identity and that they have evolved taste. They have money to spend but they are picky about where they spend it on. They are looking for unique products that nobody has in the market where you can get everything, copied or non-copied. In China, it’s really challenging to find something unique that nobody else has. The fashion pioneers in China are looking for those products: unique, maybe even China designed, one-off products that they can show to their friends and say “I’m unique cause I’m wearing this”. This is what I called “the new luxury”.

What’s your vision on upcoming trends in the fashion business?

I just met a Finnish designer called Satu Maaranen and I was very impressed by her. One of reasons was that she has a very interesting vision on her role as a designer. She doesn’t necessarily want to start her own brand. She just sees herself as somebody with a vision of fashion and who is interested in textiles and patters. She’s a craftswoman but also a businesswoman. This is interesting because when I was working in the Netherlands and speaking with young fashion designers, I remember that everybody wanted to be a new Versace. They came out from school and wanted to have a store with their name above it. Meaning of being a fashion designer was having your name on a label.

My vision is that as a designer your role is to make creative solutions using your skills. Satu is a very nice example of a new fashion designer who uses her skills as a fashion professional but also looks into interior and art. She’s kind of a hybrid and I think this is where the fashion business is going in the future. Sometimes the design disciplines, especially in fashion, kind of close themselves in their own world. My personal hope is that the fashion circles will open up and start collaborating more with architects, designers, technologists and whatever may come along.

What inspires you most at the moment?

Travelling and talking to different people inspires me most in general. I try to move around all the time and living in a city like Shanghai has a big advance because people come in all the time. What really shapes my vision and inspires me on design and also in life in general is talking to people living in different cities. That just brings new ideas. I would advice everybody to travel and definitely come to China!

Interview with Tang Fu Kuen

Tang Fu Kuen is an independent Bangkok-based dramaturg, curator and producer of contemporary performance and visual fields, working in Asia and Europe. He was the sole curator of the Singapore pavilion at the 53rd Venice Biennale. Read on to learn more about Asia’s performing arts scene and its future through the eyes of Tang Fu Kuen.

Who are you and what do you do?

My name is Fu Kuen, my family name is Tang. I’m an independent producer, curator and dramaturg for theater and also a visual arts. I’m originally from Singapore but I’m based in Bangkok. I often travel between Asia and Europe and also within Asia. A lot of my work is independent with individual artists in different contexts and also making artistic work, producing and advising other artists.

You have been working a lot with different performing arts festivals. What kind of intercultural collaboration have you done in that field?

As a curator for festivals, I’m mostly responsible for identifying current practices and productions in Asia that are interesting and could be transferred for festival audiences in Europe.

What kinds of trends can you see in the cultural sector in Thailand?

In Thailand, as in many other developing countries, globalization is rising. It’s very hard to identify what the audince is looking for. but there is a general trend towards entertainment and lifestyle genres. Also musicals are in rise, and films – the Thai people are really into Blockbusters.

[quote text=” The young people in Asia are very open-minded and connected via social media these days.”]

You talked about new circus at EARS on Helsinki. What kind of market is there for circus in Thailand?

Thailand doesn’t have a very big tradition in circus compared to the neighboring countries such as Vietnam and Cambodia where there are many circus troops. I think that European new circus as a genre has a lot to give to Asia. There’s also a lot of potential for collaboration – how it would look like is hard to say. Young people in Asia are very open-minded and connected via social media and all sorts of virtual experimentations these days. So it could well be an online circus for example! We’re talking about a very vibrant, dynamic young audience and creators. They are game to try many things.

What do you think about China as a market for contemporary arts?

I think that China as a case is quite specific. Since the country opened its doors for globalization, the huge population of China is exposed in a way like never before. China is a huge potential market from a cultural industry point of view. The consumers are very curious and the demographic is very broad. Even if you are a niche kind of practice, you can find your audience there because it’s such a big market. I would like to think that the Chinese market is not always mass-based. There are individuals and sectors that want something else but can’t find it.

What kinds of differences in performing artists’ training methods have you noticed between Europe and Asia?

In Asia it’s always been that the body and mind cannot be separated. So when they do their training, they do a lot of meditation and holistic exercises. It’s not just about building muscles, strength and body but also making sure that mind and body are working in a holistic way. For example yoga as a kind of maintenance and internal strength exercise, is a part of a scheme for training process. I see that this kind of body practicing is increasing in Europe as well.

Interview with Ed Peto

Ed Peto runs a music industry consultancy called Outdustry Ltd. The Beijing based firm specializes in China music market entry, record label services, producer management and market intelligence. EARS had a chat with Ed about Outdustry work in China and the future of copyright dependent industries in China.

Who you are and what do you do?

My name is Ed Peto and I run a company called Outdustry Group based in Beijing. We represent Western rights owners, labels, services and producers for market-entry into China.

Please tell us about your background and how did you end up in China?

I’m originally from London. I was working in the music industry with labels, artist management and a few other areas. I developed a reasonably good understanding of how the industry worked as a whole and I wanted to take that understanding somewhere where the industry was still to be made, essentially. So, seven years ago I took a bit of a left turn in my life and decided to go and see how the market works in China. It’s been a very odd seven years because a lot of it is sort of been making it up as you go along. The industry in China is just fascinating! As tough as it is, everyday something bizarre or interesting happens – you’ll come across some amazing stories, amazing people and it’s kind of addictive. China just a very interesting place to be at a very interesting time.

Could you tell us a bit more about your company Outdustry?

The company is really a family of five small businesses. One is a producer and composer management business (Engine Music) representing Western producers, mixing and mastering engineers and composers for work on Chinese mainstream-pop, indie albums and more recently, major film soundtracks. The second business, which we actually just set up, is a sync agency (Core Sync) representing Western catalogues pitching for film, TV and web usage. We’re also starting to work as music supervisors for Chinese drama series.

Third business is a kind of a rights management business (OD Rights). We represent Western rights owners for bringing their catalogues into China and finding ways to monetize that through digital, physical and other markets. We’re increasingly looking into areas like performing rights, which is a very interesting area at the moment in China. We’re also acquiring Chinese catalogues for international distribution.

The fourth one is a market intelligence business called China Music Business. We publish articles about how the music industry works in China and are available for market visits, report writing and market introductions. Sort of trading in information and connections essentially. Last but not least, we have a music marketing agency (S/N Agency), primarily focused on building awareness around our clients and driving consumption of their physical and digital releases.

[quote text=” Companies in China have to be there for the long run.”]

What kind of strategic decisions have you made to succeed in the Chinese market?

I think in general, the Chinese industry as a whole has progressed a lot slower than people would have liked it to and it’s still a very long play. Actually, as a recorded music market, it’s still incredibly small. It’s actually smaller than Switzerland and Thailand. That means companies in China have to be there for the long run. In terms of focusing our business, we made a decision a couple of years ago that while live music in China is incredibly exciting, it’s over-crowded and a hard area to make money in, so we focused on the record side which is even harder but there’s no one else really doing what we do – so we’ve got a good niche for ourselves. It’s strategically a very interesting area to be in but we have to keep in mind that it’s a long strategy.

Besides China, do you do business in other regions in Asia as well?

Because the industry is so small at the moment in China, there is a temptation to start doing business outside of China. However, one of the decisions I’ve made over the last couple of years is that you just got to be the best at what you do within a particular region. I think it could be a mistake to try to spread yourself out too much. China is such a complex place that it requires your full attention. Each region in Asia has its own set of issues or complexities, which require full time attention as well. For us, the most important thing is to be the best at what we do within China.

[quote text=” The market is going to be very exciting and big in the future.”]

How do you see the development in the creative industries in China?

Any of the copyright dependent industries have traditionally had a very hard run in China. But there is a recognizable copyright law in China so it’s just a question of enforcing it properly so that the creative industries can start to flourish. It’s just starting to happen now. It’s looking increasingly interesting as the businesses develop and people actually start to see rewards from copyright based goods.

If we look at the film industry in China for example, it’s going through a boom at the moment. Largely because the Chinese government sees it as kind of a soft power issue where they want to start exporting films and they’ve protected that as an industry. We’re hoping that the music industry is going to be the next area of creative goods that actually get that level of protection from the government. It looks very exciting if this will happen. But as with all things in China, these things take longer than you would imagine. We know that the market is going to be very exciting and big in the future. It’s just when that future actually comes, that’s what’s unclear.

Interview with Nevin Domer

Maybe Mars is an independent CD label that was started in 2007 to promote, identify and support talented young Chinese musicians and artists. Their current catalogue includes many of China’s exciting, new and ground-breaking bands and musicians such as Carsick Cars, P.K.14, Joyside, Snapline, Demerit, SMZB, White, The Gar and many more. EARS got insight into the opportunities of Asian music in Europe from Nevin Domer, COO of Maybe Mars.

Who are you and what do you do?

My name is Nevin and I work for Maybe Mars Music. I also run a vinyl record label called Genjing Records. In the time that I’ve been in China, I have done many things including sending Chinese bands abroad and bringing foreign bands to China. I’ve been living in China for over ten years and in Asia since 1999 and in Beijing since 2005. When I got there, I first got involved with a venue called D-22 by booking shows for them. Through that, I ended up working with the label and then starting Genjing.

What made you go to China in the first place?

I originally went to China in 1999 to study and I was a student at the university at that time. I completely fell in love with China. After I graduated from the university, I took a scholarship to Korea and spent several years there but started missing China. So in 2005 I moved back, specifically to play in a band and just to enjoy the scene.

Could you tell us a little bit more about Maybe Mars Music?

Maybe Mars is one of the two big independent labels in China. It was started in 2007 and it has now over 50 releases and a total roster of 30 bands.

[quote text=”The music industry like the rest of China is developing and changing very quickly.”]

What kind of challenges are you facing with the music industry in China?

The music industry like the rest of China is developing and changing very quickly. In China, everything can completely change within just six months to one year. I’ve seen the music industry, especially between 2007 to 2012, change very rapidly.

What kinds of opportunities do you see for Asian music in Europe and in the US?

I see lots of opportunities for Asian music in Europe and in the US, mainly because it’s fairly unexplored. Most people in Europe and in the US don’t know much about Asian bands besides bands from Japan. As the Chinese music scene grows and as people learn more about these bands, I’m sure there will be a market for them.

From your experience, what is the best way of promoting Chinese bands in Europe and in the US?

I would say the best way is to connect the band to the local scene – having them partnered with local bands for tours and connecting them to the local media that deals directly with the type of music that they play and a type of scene that they move in.

You have also a band of your own. Could you tell us about that?

I’ve been playing in several bands in China but there’s one that I’ve been particularly playing in since 2006, it’s called Fanzui Xiangfa (犯罪想法). It is a hardcore punk band and it’s completely independent, not affiliated or signed to any label. We’re touring Europe for the second time starting in a week!

We’re now in Helsinki for EARS. How do you like the city?

I’m just starting to get to know Helsinki and I really like it, it’s a beautiful city! EARS has been very interesting and I attended EARS on China last year. Here in Helsinki, I’ve been continuing conversations with people on going deeper into some connections between the music industries in Europe and in Asia.

Interview with Rossana Hu

Rossana Hu is a Shanghai-based architect who has received many recognitions for her work and expertise, including the Wallpaper* Designer of the Year 2014 Award. Read on to learn more about Rossana’s upcoming projects and thoughts on re-branding and reusing spaces.

Who are you and what do you do?

My name is Rossana Hu and I am an architect by training and I now work as an architect and a designer in Shanghai.

You have a recent project where you re-branded an old police office. What were the biggest difficulties in the project?

Number one was to convince the client, who actually hired us to do a new building. They wanted to demolish the old building but we saw value in preserving parts of it. So that was the biggest challenge as he is putting in all the money and was expecting a brand new building.

What kinds of spaces inspire you the most?

Generally speaking? It’s hard to pin point exactly but I would say that places that bring out memories inspire me. It’s about the mood and experience or a memory of an experience. I think spaces are not neutral, they always include feelings. The feelings are deep, whether they are good or bad, happy or sad. If they are deep, I like it.

[quote text=”Designers are a lot like performers; judged by the latest piece.”]

Recently you won the Wallpaper* Designer of the Year 2014 Award. What are your next goals or projects you are working on?

We have a lot of projects that we work on and never see awards as goals. Those things just kind of come. Designers are a lot like performers. They say that a musician is as good as their last performance. If you are a pianist and you fail at a concert, no one will ever want to see you again. I think that’s same with us designers. If you do one bad project, people will forget about all the previous good projects and only remember the very last one. So what I think we try to do is that the next project has to always be better than the previous one.  So always thinking of fresh ideas, always challenging yourself, never taking convictions or traditions as the only way, finding new possibilities and doing things differently.

Here in EARS you talked a lot about re-branding and reusing spaces. What is the value of reusing old buildings?

I think people talk a lot about sustainability. Often that kind of talk has to do with technology, finding new technology, new materials in order to recycle and reuse. But I think one of the easiest ways to sustainability are; number one, make thinks that last. If for example a building is built to be long lasting, you don’t need to rebuild. The second thing is to reuse. It’s very sensible and common sense way of making your environment sustainable. For example if a shopping center ceases to exist as a viable commercial center, then you can see a theater taking over or a church or a school as the building is already there and the structures are already there.  I see that reusing something is a good example of sustainability.

Interview with Xavier Norindr

Crosslight Global Entertainment is a creative entertainment agency that works mainly with concepts, creative content management, business development and marketing strategies. Crosslight has offices in Paris, Berlin, Tokyo and New York and has a variety of contacts throughout Asia and Europe. EARS had a chat about Asian music export with Xavier Norindr, CEO of Crosslight Global Entertainment.

Could you tell us who you are and what do you do?

My name is Xavier Norindr. I have a strong background in working with Japanese artists for the European market. In the past, I have promoted and organized tours for a lot of artists across Europe. Currently, I am the CEO and co-founder of Crosslight Global Entertainment, a creative entertainment agency. We provide a full service catalogue from concepting and management of creative content and events to marketing strategies and business development. Our clients are mainly brands and companies from the entertainment industry.

Bringing Japanese artists to Europe and promoting them has been your passion for a very long time. How did you first get started in the business?

As a matter of fact, it was a passion more than a business to me. I was first introduced to Japanese music through video games and mangas. I also had a band with my brother in high school and we used to do covers of Japanese bands like X Japan or Luna Sea. That’s when I started to discover more and more artists. After that, I organized some parties in France in bars and clubs where people could gather and listen to Japanese music. I felt the need to turn my passion into a business just after I brought my first Japanese band to France for a concert in 2004. After this concert I started to work on a business plan to bring more Japanese artists abroad.

Could you tell us about your company Crosslight Entertainment?

We started the company in 2012. The firm was co-founded by Stéphane Hervé, the Creative Director and Artist, and myself. We wanted to gather our skills and networks in order to provide support for companies, artists and brands for their development in foreign markets. It’s important today to think globally. Our main areas of expertise are the concepting and production of content and events, business development and marketing. At CGE we also believe in the importance of content in a marketing strategy. A strong and right content can lead to success but to produce the right kind of content, you need the right talents. At CGE we have broad international networks of talents in various areas: music, photography, video, events and marketing. We’ll find the right team for the market you target.

What kind of projects are you now working with at Crosslight Entertainment?

Right now we are talking with a few management companies in Japan and Korea in order to develop their artists in Europe. There’s talk about showcases in Europe, PR, collaboration with local brands and/or local artists, photoshoots, recording etc. We also have requests from French artists to help them with exporting to Asia. Besides that, we are talking with companies from the gaming industry in order to do some exciting and innovative events.

With offices in France, Germany, Japan and recently, US, it seems that a lot is going on and the demand is high. What kind of aspirations do you have for the future?

I think it’s very important to be located all around the globe, to work with international profiles. There is demand because many companies, brands, artists want to reach global markets. My aspiration is to lead my clients and partners to success in their development in foreign markets.

[quote text=” Everyone is looking to bring their music abroad.”]

As a pioneer of exporting Asian artists to Europe, are you seeing changes when compared the current situation to where it was a few years ago?

I have noticed a lot of changes regarding exporting in the music industry. Export has become an important and strategic topic for many artists and records companies. I’ve seen that especially with Japanese artists. A few years ago not so many record companies and managements in Japan were interested or were thinking about exporting their music. Now, everyone is looking to bring their music abroad. Companies and artists need to have a local partner to succeed and that’s one of the reasons why CGE was founded.

What kind of audiences for Asian music are there in Europe?

There are different kinds of audiences in Europe for Asian artists. It really depends on what genre of music we are talking about. Many Japanese bands we have worked with told us that European and Japanese audience are different. They pointed out that the European audience are more “crazy” and sometimes “wild”.

Where is the biggest demand for Asian bands in Europe?

I think it really depends on the genre of music. What I am sure of is that there is demand everywhere in Europe. From my point of view, the oldest markets for Asian artists are France, UK and Germany.

What do you think is the outlook like for Asian music exporting altogether?

I think the future of Asian artists is very promising both in Europe and worldwide. Since I am working with Asian artists I see the audiences and fans growing and the number of concerts and appearances of Asian artists in music festivals increasing. It will go on for sure!

You are coming to speak to the EARS on Helsinki event this September. What are you most looking forward to from the event?

I am looking forward to connect with nice people.