While most clubs and concert halls in the West remain closed and the music world fears for its existence, it has long been possible to perform again in China. Philipp Grefer sees this as an opportunity, but also a challenge: “On the one hand, the Chinese music and creative scene is currently experiencing a boom, which mainly benefits the local scene, but on the other hand, there is a lack of exchange with the rest of the world.” Few take on a three-week quarantine to come to the country, the music manager observes. “So it’s more about building digital bridges at the moment.”
The native Rhinelander, who discovered his interest in Asia while studying economics and politics in San Diego, California, of all places, believes that creativity will merge even more with technology in the future – and that China will play a key role in it. With the label “FakeMusicMedia”, Philipp Grefer has been promoting cultural exchange between East and West for ten years. He has brought over 300 well-known musicians on tour to China, including big names like Die Toten Hosen.
Philipp Grefer and the WISE Festival
Since 2018, the 40-year-old has also been organizing the “WISE” festival, a meeting on the topic of digitalization that brings together players from the fields of technology, AI, and the creative industries from all over the world. Last year, the WISE events, which also include many concerts, took place in the booming metropolises of Beijing, Shanghai, Chengdu, and Chongqing, among others. “What appeals to me most is the breakneck pace at which history is being made here,” says Philipp Grefer. “The country has risen to become the largest film market in the world in 2020. As far as the music business is concerned, China has fought its way up from 25th to seventh place in recent years and will certainly take first or second place in a few years,” he believes.
Together with Helen Feng, a former host of MTV China and singer of the well-known Chinese rock band Nova Heart, he commutes between Beijing and Berlin, which has sharpened his eye for the differences. “The Chinese, unlike the Germans, are not technology pessimists. They are basically open-minded about new technology. I don’t even want to say which is better. New technology always harbors opportunities and risks. Yet the Chinese first create facts, only then are questions asked.” During the COVID lockdown, he said, he was fascinated by how flexibly many artists responded to the curfews by turning extensively to the online world.
Chinese not technology pessimists
Real-time musical broadcasting from quarantine has gained an even stronger foothold in China than it has here, thanks to the highly developed digital infrastructure. Chinese live-streaming sites like “Bilibili” have an intuitive payment or “gift” function. And since consumers in China now pay for everything online anyway, thanks to the highly advanced digitalization of payment methods, the threshold for spontaneous donation is much lower. “A small part of the financial losses could be absorbed in this way,” says Philipp Grefer, who has also shifted his WISE Festival even more strongly into the online world this year.
“In 2021, we have also continued this idea of a decentralized festival that takes place simultaneously online, offline, and in virtual reality in different countries,” Philipp Grefer tells us. He definitely has an educational approach: The festival not only wants to give the participating entrepreneurs a platform but also give Europeans in particular a little more China expertise. “For solutions to global problems such as the climate crisis or the regulation of AI, it is important to understand the country at least to some extent,” says Philipp Grefer. This also includes saying goodbye to the stereotype that Chinese people cannot be creative, he added. Fabian Peltsch