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Wednesday, January 03, 2018, 17:47
Dance party
By Wang Kaihao
Wednesday, January 03, 2018, 17:47 By Wang Kaihao

The inaugural ISY Music Festival in March aims to turn Sanya into the Ibiza of the East. Wang Kaihao reports.

Sunrise at Haitang Bay in Sanya. (WANG KAIHAO / CHINA DAILY)

One question often bothers many young tourists to Sanya: What is there to do at night?

Attracting over 16 million overnight visitors in 2016, Sanya in southern Hainan province is among China's most popular tourist destinations.

Most visitors seem to consider it a place to take aged parents wanting to escape the winter cold.

However, an upcoming electronic dance music, or EDM, event is looking to instill a more youthful vibe in the city.

The two-day inaugural ISY Music Festival will lift its curtain at a beach stage in Sanya's Haitang Bay during the Lantern Festival on March 2, 2018. It features a lineup of leading DJs including Martin Garrix, the Dutch DJ who won first place on the world's Top 100 DJs list in 2017, and Belgian duo Dimitri Vegas & Like Mike, who took the second spot on the list. They will be performing at the same event for the first time.

Other top 10 DJs such as Hardwell, Tiesto, and Afrojack, all from the Netherlands, will also join the all-star lineup, which comprises nearly 100 musicians and DJs from around the world.

The beaches at Sanya are heavenly places for tourists of all ages. (PHOTO PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)

ISY is short for "Love Sanya", as the word for love sounds like "I" in Chinese, according to Ma Le, CEO of Beijing-based Starry Asia Entertainment and founder of the festival. But the initial letter can also be explained as international or just "me", suggesting young people express themselves.

"It aims to gather youngsters from not only China, but from surrounding regions in Asia," Ma says. About 50,000 tickets are planned to be sold for each day's show.

The current plan is for the ISY Music Festival to be held six times over the next three years, every March and September.

"The inaugural event has to invite the biggest stars to quickly get fans fired up," Ma says. "However, as music genres keep changing, it won't bother me how the festival develops. Let's just do it and see."

Sanya, a coastal resort city in China's tropical region, is often called the "Hawaii of the East", but Ma now wants to give it a new image as China's Ibiza, the Mediterranean island famous for its night life.

Belgian DJ duo Dimitri Vegas & Like Mike performs with about 100 musicians and DJs in Sanya during the ISY Music Festival in March. (PHOTO PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)

"China's booming market creates more chances for electronic dance music, and Sanya has a huge advantage being branded as a resort, where people look for leisure activities," he explains.

Xu Zhenling, deputy mayor of Sanya, admits she often heard people complaining of feeling bored, and the lack of a high-level entertainment appeared to be an obstacle to the city's tourism development.

"Music festivals have become cultural landmarks in many places around the world," she says. "Even a small city can attract tens of thousands of visitors that way. The ISY Music Festival is a chance for Sanya to become more fashionable and catch up with the world's top-level tourist destinations."

There are great expectations for the event, even though EDM is still a relatively new music genre in China. Song Yang, founder of Mai Music, a studio dedicated to promoting EDM in China, says that over 70 percent of outdoor music festivals in Europe and North America feature EDM, while the music accounts for less than 20 percent at events in China.

"That means there is huge potential in China," Song says. "The livelihoods of Chinese youngsters are better now, and they want to take pleasure from music. EDM is a good outlet for that."

"This is the lifestyle that young people want nowadays," he adds.

Dutch DJs Tiesto performs with about 100 musicians and DJs in Sanya during the ISY Music Festival in March. (PHOTO PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)

Song says unlike orthodox music concerts, EDM is not only a show, it is also becoming a popular hangout event for young people.

Though there are only two Chinese DJs in the most recent world's Top 100 DJs list, Ma says the fact they have made their debuts on the list indicates EDM is beginning to take off in China.

The success of the talent show, The Rap of China, also gives him confidence that the ISY Music Festival will be a success, because, as he says, although hip-hop used to be considered a marginal music genre in China, the online reality show quickly became a surprise hit in 2017, attracting almost 3 billion online views within three months after its premiere in June.

Now, he believes it is the turn of EDM to capture the attention of the younger generation.

In September, the Ultra Music Festival was introduced to Shanghai by Ma's company. It was the first time the world's top-tier EDM brand, which originates in Miami, Florida, was hosted on the Chinese mainland.

And statistics from one of China's major online music platforms for young people,, shows that from the beginning of 2016 until now, EDM fans accounted for 20.5 percent of followers of non-pop music genres on the website, outnumbering those for folk music (19.1 percent) and rock 'n' roll (18.2 percent), topping the non-pop list.

Martin Garrix performs with about 100 musicians and DJs in Sanya during the ISY Music Festival in March. (PHOTO PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)

However, setting up an established local EDM brand in China is still a more challenging task than staging one-off extravaganzas.

"In China, there is still a lack of influential music festival brands," says Shao Zhenxing, a music industry analyst and a partner in the investment company Legend Capital.

Less than a quarter of outdoor music festivals on the Chinese mainland in 2016 have been held for three years or more, and more than half of them were inaugural events.

"When more EDM festivals that have been established overseas are introduced to China, domestic musicians will face more pressure," he says. "However, these festivals will also help establish a niche market for new music genres and foster new homegrown talent in China."

For China Minsheng Investment Group, a Shanghai-based investment company that is backing the inaugural ISY Music Festival with an investment of up to 80 million yuan (US$12 million), the music party in Sanya has already started.

Bai Mudi, a manager from CMIG who is in charge of the project, reveals that two music theme parks, costing several billion yuan, will also be constructed in Sanya, which will include theaters, museums for musical instruments, an intellectual property trade market, arenas for talent shows, and other related businesses.

"The city can become a hub for the complete music industry chain," he says.

Will young people make the pilgrimage to Sanya for music? Only time will tell.

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