Not having Chinese as a first language would be a hurdle for any Westerner moving to China to start a career. Despite that, Paul Neuteboom saw opportunity in the challenge and overcame that to realise his vision of developing an electronic music market in a territory that was foreign to him.
Since moving to Beijing in 2011 with his life packed into two suitcases, the Dutch native has since organized some of China’s biggest electronic music festivals such as MYTH Festival and Strawberry Music Festival that drew up to 60,000 people, and fully embraces the differences in the cultures of East and West in his attempts to build bridges between disparate cultures. Doing business in China is no walk in the park, with numerous regulatory challenges involving the hip hop genre and trademark infringements that are out of the hands of some of the most seasoned festival organisers.
Popspoken: In your video with China Daily filmed in, you mentioned that the Chinese weren’t that accustomed to electronic music. One mode that influences their attention is the DJ Mag Top 100 Rating. Have there been new benchmarks of quality that they refer to since then?
Paul Neuteboom: Over the last few years the Chinese audience have become much more accustomed to electronic music. Early large-scale festivals like Storm and their promotional campaigns have contributed to this greatly. More and more fans and club bookers started to look for other resources as reference and became more aware of different genres and information sources like Spotify, Facebook, Instagram and more. At the same time many Chinese channels, like Douyin, Netease, Fever and many more, started to develop and informing the growing fan groups of global electronic music trends, news and interesting acts and music.
Popspoken: What were your first impressions of China when you first stepped foot there, and how have your impressions changed since?
Paul Neuteboom: My first impressions were that there are many differences between the Western world and China, but I quickly found out there are many similarities as well. My first week in China in 2005 was a constant impression of how different, but at the same time how similar our ‘worlds’ are. After moving to China in 2011 and the 9 years since have been a constant discovery of similarities and differences and I am still very much intrigued by this. I look at my presence in China as one that’s constantly building bridges and bringing the cultures and different ways of working and thinking more closer together. This especially by focusing on the similarities between the two, as we are not so different as first impressions sometimes may seem like.
Popspoken: Is language a barrier for you? If yes, could you share with us a funny incident? If no, could you share with us a story of how you adapted to the situation?
Paul Neuteboom: Less and less, but unfortunately it still is sometimes. I still remember me moving to Beijing in 2011, fully prepared and with 2 suitcase filled with my life’s essentials. All was arranged, but I made the mistake that a print out of my hotel address in English would be ok to get there quick. We drove around for over 5 hours till we finally found it and couldn’t be happier. I learned many things that first day, especially that everything will always be ok in the end and also many Chinese swearing words. The celebration drinks afterwards with the cab driver made it even more memorable.
Popspoken: The e-gaming market in China is exploding. 26% of its Internet users are on it, as opposed to 6% in USA. Do you have any comments on the impact of this trend on your team’s marketing strategy, and are there any plans by Brotherhood Music to capitalize on such a trend?
Paul Neuteboom: We are definitely looking into this and in 2019 have launched our first collaboration and venture within the E-gaming industry. We hosted a music festival connected to the WUCG festival and are exploring more integral ways of working together in the near future. We realise that in China we all are still following the more traditional business model for electronic music events, but that innovation is needed to link to or benefit from these trends. We are developing strong strategy on this, but also need to take into account that we are still a young industry and has not reached maturity yet.
Popspoken: Which are the top 3 festivals / events that you’ve organized in your time there that have left a memorable impact on you?
Paul Neuteboom: The very first Chinese Creamfields Festival and the organization of this made the biggest impression on me. This was such a challenging and also emotional project for the team and brought so much happiness after its successful completion. The same can be said for the very first Sound of Q-Dance in January 2011, but much more from the fan’s perspective. We faced many challenges along the way in making it work and involved many of the fans in its execution and promotion. The event happened and was above everybody’s expectations leading to many emotional fans on the dance floor. That true happiness made all the stress and long weeks totally worth it.
This really felt like an event of the people and the release afterwards couldn’t be bigger. Other personal favorites are doing the MYTH Festival in Shanghai a few years back. The MYTH festival project started from scratch and was one of those personal life lessons full of challenge and achieving more than we could possibly imagine. I lost 10 KG during the final weeks, but it was totally worth it! A 4th one worth mentioning have been the hosting of the electronic music stages of multiple Strawberry Music Festivals. We started in Beijing and Shanghai and choose a different direction than they had done prior. The audience and partners involved were very happy and because of that were asked to bring the stage, its artists and also its after-parties to cities all over China. We brought electronic music to a large new audience and in 2 years traveled all over the country.
Popspoken: What are the main differences in the clubbing scene from Tier 1 China cities as compared to Tier 2 cities?
Paul Neuteboom: It really depends from city to city, whereas a Tier 1 city like Beijing is already very different than Shanghai, also a Tier 1 city. Overall it can be said that the more international cities have already been doing events for over 15 years, with the other cities following after. In terms of music styles, club production and forms of entertainment there’s definitely differences in Tier 1 to Tier 5 cities, mainly due to local spending power of course.
However, it must be said that the difference are really depending from city to city. In the South people like stronger energy and you can clearly see styles like “hardstyle” being more popular. Shanghai is more on iconic, trendy music, while Beijing is more focused on entertainment and “show”. There are a few cities that have developed a stronger underground scene than others, while a few comparable small cities now also have very well produced commercial clubs due to a strong, well-educated owner or more local support. Over the last 3 years both the club, festival and music scene has developed very rapidly but it clearly has only just begun.
Popspoken: There’s a plethora of music streaming / live streaming apps in China. Which are your top picks, and why?
Paul Neuteboom: The playing field is changing quick. Top picks still are Netease and also QQ for music streaming. Short video clip sites Douyin, Kuaishou and Huya have strong electronic music fan followings and also big music databases, they have grown into large platforms as well.
Popspoken: Any upcoming Chinese producers that you have your eyes on?
Paul Neuteboom: I’m very excited about the next wave of Chinese electronic Music producers, however we still got a long way to go. I’m happy that the local infrastructure is professionalizing more and more. Good producers need good guidance and without that we won’t be able to match International standards. We got our eyes on a few upcoming Chinese producers and I’m also very much supportive of what great local producers like Dexter King and Curtis to name a few will bring in 2020.
Popspoken: Could you share with us some of your challenges in running large-scale festivals in China and how you overcame them?
Paul Neuteboom: I still look at the local market as a new, young market. The playing field is changing very quick and nobody has acquired a stable, strong position yet. This means it is of vital importance that the industry work together to create a stable future for us all. For this reason we have started the House Of China project together with a few key partners and have always tried to create a transparent planning and collaboration model.
It’s essential we show unity towards international partners and also to educate fans and local partners to provide a safe and healthy music industry that can match the standard of other Asian and even Western markets. I have seen that with collaboration many challenges can be overcome, but we do still have a long way to go.
Popspoken: If you could sum up doing business in China in one sentence, what would it be?
Paul Neuteboom: Challenging and insanely hard work, but incredibly rewarding and very exciting.
Catch Paul Neuteboom on the panel of Wired Music Week happening at Zouk Genting from 12 – 15 March 2020.