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A look back at April's Spirit Tribe Trance celebration

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Editor's note: This article was written and submitted to GoKunming by first-time writer Elad Remer, who has been living in Kunming for the past two years.

At the beginning of April in a forest outside of Kunming, Spirit Tribe, a festival of Trance music and art, took place. It combined the experience of pristine nature, psychedelic art and alternative culture, all providing an outdoor Trance music party.

Spirit Tribe was three days long and took place in the village of Taiping (太平), a half-hour ride from Kunming. The festival area is massive and covers 250,000 square meters of forested mountains and lakeside meadow. Goats are frequently herded in the area and were nicknamed "psy goats" by visitors.

This was the third time the festival took place, but because the Trance scene in China is just taking its first steps, the event attracted only 350 people. This fact didn't stop the producers from providing a festival up to European standards. The festival had two stages, a main stage playing different genres of Trance music, and a second, smaller stage featuring more chilled-out music performed by local artists.

A significant part of the festival was also dedicated to art. The entire area was dotted with exhibits and an artist market sold a variety of products, jewelry and clothes, all dedicated to the psychedelia. Another area included a movie room screening films in line with the vibe of the festival, a bar providing Western and Chinese food and drinks, and a workshop zone offering different activities such as yoga, string art, belly dancing instruction and lectures.

The main dance floor played different styles of Trance — progressive, full-on and psytrance during the day, and heavier forest and dark Trance at night. The smaller stage played more happy music during the daytime, including house, glitch, and tekno. Although the crowds were relatively small, neither dance floor ever felt empty, as most of the ravers were enthusiastic music fans full of energy. Olivier, a 31 year-old French teacher said, "For me, a memorable moment of the festival was resting and enjoying the breeze after a long night of dancing."

The festival, organized by the Kunming-based Goa Productions, hosted local Chinese and foreign DJs. On the top of the list was world famous British artist Dick Trevor, also known as 'Dickster'. It was Dickster's first time playing in China, and he played for free in a show of support for a Kunming scene that is just starting. "I enjoyed playing the festival a lot. I love small festivals where the atmosphere is more personal and special," Trevor said.

Among many Trance scene fans there is a consensus that it is actually the small and less famous events that are the best. Spirit Tribe confirmed that by providing ravers with a magical and private experience. The limited number of people created a family atmosphere. Bumping into the same faces encouraged new friendships, and strangers helped each other by setting up tents, sharing food, drinks, cigarettes and everything they had to offer. People played frisbee in a circle, and the number of participants grew larger and larger. Others practiced juggling together, teaching each other tricks and sharing techniques.

The overall feeling was that everybody was equal, and even the DJs, who often distance themselves from the crowd, were in direct contact with everyone else, dancing, talking and handing out free CDs. "It was a party about love and giving. I made many new friends and danced with them all day and night. It was an incredible and unforgettable experience full of magical energy", said Ying Zi, a Chinese student from Kunming.

The variety of people attending the festival was vast. The number of Chinese people was about equal to the number of foreigners, and others came from all over Asia. Besides the people from Kunming, there were those from Guangzhou, Shanghai, Chengdu, Xiamen, Hong Kong and cities in Yunnan province. People also came from Taiwan, Malaysia and Thailand. The majority of participants were in there 20s, and although many come from an art background, the festival also attracted business owners, students, teachers and travelers.

China is known as a country that for years valued collectivism over individualism, but at Spirit Tribe, one could find many young Chinese with tattoos, long hair and colorful clothes, proof of the change the country continues to go through. "It was amazing to see all these beautiful hippie people coming from all over China just to share the joy of dancing together, making arts and crafts and telling stories. The collective energy was really high," said Olga, a Russian teacher working as a teacher in Kunming.

One of the most refreshing sights at Spirit Tribe was a Chinese couple and their two daughters. They mingled with partygoers, took part in the activities and generally enjoyed themselves. For the ten year-old girls, it was an opportunity to learn juggling, participate in the different workshops and practice speaking English. The parents curiously watched the colorful crowd, and it seemed that the sight of the Chinese hippies caught their attention more than any of the foreigners.

China, despite its quick development, is still a country where Trance culture and festivals are not common. This is why it was so fascinating to experience such a festival in Yunnan, to dance together with alternative Chinese people, see psychedelic Chinese art, and to experience a scene and a culture in its infancy. The Spirit Tribe festival in April successfully reflected its own motto, "connect, experience, share, learn".

Images: Elad Remer

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looks like it gets better every time. look forward to the next one, good fun even if not a psytrance fan

I have never been and I am curious about it, do you know when the next one will be organised?

Also, from friends who went last time, I have heard that people were not allowed to bring their own food (not even snacks?), and that the bar was poorly managed.

@kiara- the next festival should be same holiday weekend next year. Hosting an event of this size and planning in rural Yunnan takes a massive amount of work from many dedicated people. So I think they will just do it once a year from now on.

As far as the bar management and food situation, people can see what they want to see. It takes an enormous amount of effort and money to put on this kind of festival especially in rural China. All the staff at the festival were unpaid volunteers who wanted to be involved to make the party possible. And the organizers worked very hard to put on a full menu of reasonably priced delicous food. I think it would be a challenge for even some of kunming most popular expat restaurants to serve 350 hungry people a full menu for a whole weekend.
The food and drink sales from the bar is what makes the event possible. If people bring in their own food it does not support the event and also creates a lot of trash in the camp grounds.

As I said, people can see how they want to see, they can see the large crowd around the bar waiting for food and drink as poor management or they could see it as a chance to chat with some new friends while the volunteers work very hard to get them their orders.

In my opinion most everyone got the vibe of the festival and saw that it was about coming together in a beautiful place for a weekend and sharing a positive outlook on life with lots of interesting people.

Thanks very much Elad for this beautiful article!

@debaser - I would suggest to visit the next festival and check for yourself. the 'reminder' you put is pretty irrelevant unless you check something by YOURSELF - its just someones opinion who probably had a bad experience - which can happen from million reasons - to put out a bad name for a whole community which usually is peaceful welcoming and super friendly is absolutely unfair! (I would also take out the word hippies - the big majority is not, just normal people who go out from their routine to get inspired and to inspire others, experience an alternative lifestyle which revolves around creativity, connect with others share their thoughts and learn new things)

@Kiara - the reason why nothing from the outside was allowed in the venue was explained many times in the promo process (which lasted 4 months) and on the busses before people got to the venue.

this type of an event is a non commercial event, no sponsors what so ever, meaning there is a small group of people with a few awesome volunteers who dedicate big part of their time (the core crew - around 6 months per a fest) to put up this unique art culture and music fest - so its very important that people will show their support and in that way help this event to continue happening so you and other people who didnt have a chance to participate this year will be able to do so next year.

The production is always trying to improve itself (its the 3rd edition) - by putting more content (workshops, music stages, lectures), interesting decor (most is handmade) and getting better administrative wise - so thanks very much for the bar&kitchen comment, noted and much appreciated, hopefully next fest it will be better.

I hope I didnt offend anyone

and really hope to see you guys in the next edition :)

@Macky and @ASG91 thanks for your replies.I didn't know the staff volunteered at the festival. Hopefully the festival will be held next year too

Good article. Looking forward to the next event.

Thanks Eladie

I went to Spirit tribe,someone knows how can I get the photos??

Cool you do this... non-violence for animals...

Om mani pe mehung/.//??
pro dionusos philosophies ??

@ASG91 @Macky
I don't know, if you were involved in the planning.

I have done event-planning at the East coast for 5 years and there are no; 'no-profit', events.

I don't want to sound rude but you should thank Kiara for her comments and in case you were in the team.

Because, she went to the festival.

She is a paying customer, being condescending or defending, is not helpful.

Do you want people to feel sorry for the staff, or not having the perfect event?
Then I can only recommend,....don't do gigs like that.

If you need your customers to feel sorry for the volunteers, that's not very good.

Next time give 'em a sticker 'Volunteer', if you need them to get more sympathy.

Or just invest and pay them, most volunteers are happy to be there and have a few free drinks and their entrance fee covered.

I think you should actually ask Kiara what the exact problems were.

We all know planning gigs isn't easy, but as customers, we have the privilege, to not wanting to hear about it.

If you want to get your festival more famous (and please don't tell me that you don't want it to grow bigger) that would be helpful.

So, I can't let that that stand -what you wrote.

Events in rural China are cheaper than in the city, usually permission is easier to get, especially if the region is not on the grid.

Looking at the pictures I can't see that you did spend loads of money on location, i.e. security.

A few basics;
Usual planning of an event is 6 month to 8 month and that is Beijing-time, including, fire-code, security planning and briefing, harmony-background check of the artist, etc.

And I am sure you guys got a little bit of [well deserved] money. And that is O.K.

What seems to be the issue of Kiara and customers telling about the event, has nothing, to do with money but with planning and managing.

I don't know the prices you charged but I am sure it wasn't cheap and giving people no other choices but all of them these eating [three meals a day] and drinking at your food stall only....I guess there was something falling off the table, financially.

My little advice, split the bar[s] up next time, and away from the food.

It diverts the event-goers, and naturally shortens waiting lines.

So are little snack shops, which you can run or rent and make even more money.

They also divert event-goers.

Separating the booze from beer and soft drinks is a must, especially when understaffed.

People know what they want to buy, they go by the beer, booze, or beverage instinct

That way it is less stress for the volunteers.

An old saying in the field; the bar is more important than the stage.

From what I see and hear, it hasn't been planned very well. Which is alright, I mean it's the second open air festival, so it takes time. But planning is the key, and being overly cost-efficient is not helping.

Let other F&B's in, you make much more and easier money, by renting out stalls and asking for profit share. And you have far less work.

And thus, allow people to get more variety and chose prices and items they like.

The bar only stacks, what is easiest for you to produce, -quickly!

People are very generous when it comes to drink choices at concerts. That way, you don't have to worry about an angry beer mob.

Make it easy for you, to offer mixed and ready-to-go drinks.

Well, even beer you can be put out on the counter for a few minutes.

The gig looks awesome though, and I will go for sure next time, problems fixed, or not. I just really like small gigs.

For me it looks like a great and worthy event to go to, but it suffered the usual, make it cheap and sell it with profit, China-gig.

Throw some money out of the window, you will lose money either way, if you run those festivals like that.
But in the long run, you will only make real profit, and achieve success when the festival grows.

The faster you accept that thought, the sooner you will have success.

P.M. me if you want help, for the next gig. If you guys are really, absolutely non-profit, I will help you for free.

P.S. I know it's difficult to plan events in China, but please, if there is even the tiniest negative comment, take it and live it. It is the result of your planning, so accept it and make it perfect next time.

In the end, congratulations and Good Luck for next year.

@fixitwithahammer just to clarify: I wasn't at the festival myself, my comment was based on what a few friends,who had been there in person, told me.


thanks very much for your long comment, all comments are more than welcome regardless to whats in them. I dont know why you think I didnt accept previous comments written by others - I was just explaining the situation from the production side, and why some decisions were taken - didnt give excuses... personally I have been doing non commercial events (I didnt write non profit - if there is a profit people should get sth for their hard work after 6 month without payment) in China for many years and the picture you draw is not even close to reality, but this is not something I will not discuss about here.
Thanks again for your words and good advices, noted and of course we are always want to improve and thinking of how to make the fest to look better from all aspects

My pleasure, really.

I would like to ask;
If it's not even close to reality, then would you mind to elaborate.

As, I said before, I have done events in China, including Yunnan.

We got most green lights in the first two or three month. Only security plans, event parameters and permissions came through, in the last third of the process.

But we used alternative locations in terms of permission setbacks. And our connections were, let's say, substandard.

All parameters of our previous events were met and signed after latest 7month, including marketing and security, for 2000+ people.

It wasn't easy but very possible.

But I you don't want to talk about it publicly, send me a pm. I am quite curious. Because, I may be participating in an event, next year.

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