One of the seven wonders of the world can be found in China. So, of course, the one time I visited it was when there was a music festival. For six years, The Mansion Project of Shanghai would run the Yin Yang Festival on the Great Wall in Tianjin.
The Mansion Project was the brainchild of Rainbow Gao, a Beijinger who had a love for music. They bought a mansion in the suburbs of Shanghai and converted it into a night club. Bars, DJs, and a soundproofed basement all allowed for a house party that would last all night.
To get into this club you had to almost crawl through a hole in the wall from the main road. It was fun to take people there for the first time and watch their reaction when you ask them to crawl through the hole. From the dead of night with only the sound of traffic, to a bustling night club full of students, music enthusiasts and alcoholics.
But the Mansion was more than a night club. It’s true goal was to encourage new music in Shanghai and China. Their staff were allowed to stay there for free, as long as they helped run the bar. They also offered free DJ lessons to anyone who wanted to learn. The only stipulation was that you play some of their events when you get good enough.
This was a mutually beneficial agreement. Young people interested in music could learn how to play and start to gain a following, and the Mansion Project would get a good selection of indie DJs to fill out their line up in the club and at festivals.
The old Mansion unfortunately got shut down in 2019, but the Mansion Project lives on in their new base at 3NTRY, somewhere closer to the center of Shanghai.
Another way the Mansion Project would encourage the growth of music culture was to run and help to run festivals. It’s because of them that I discovered and got involved with Dragon Burn. They would run MIDI Electronic, and a festival on the Great Wall of China known as Yin Yang.
In 2015 everyone I knew was going to Yin Yang. I had to go as well. A festival on the Great Wall? How could I say no to that? In lieu of flying, I decided to take the bus from Shanghai. After riding that bus for 21 hours (and sleeping in a car park during the night), I almost vowed never to ride a bus again.
We arrived in the Tianjin area of the Great Wall where the festival was set up. This a section that has been restored – the government wouldn’t let an event like this happen on ruins they were trying to preserve, for obvious reasons.
During the day we pitched our tents and begun to settle in. Music was already being played. There were a couple of stages set up on the ground, and one stage on the wall itself. The latter had to be shut down before nightfall each day, but it was still fun to dance to DJ sets on the actual wall.
I wandered around, finding friends from Shanghai, made some new friends, and got ready for the night ahead. As darkness fell, the party rose. DJs, music, costumes, fire performances, and a lot more filled the night as copious amounts of alcohol was consumed.
Since this was a government-run tourist site, visitors were still allowed to enter the site even if they weren’t there for the festival. Of course, we were tourists ourselves so we also took advantage of the opportunity to explore during the day.
We walked some way up the Wall, and when we were high enough we could get a sense of how far this wall stretched across the country. There’s a reason this place is considered one of the wonders of the world. Karl Pilkington was wrong to say this was an “Alright Wall”, though admittedly he saw more of it than we did.
The tourist in us didn’t stop there. Just as much as we could get high, we could also get low and explore some of the countryside around Tianjin. Even when we were down by the river we could still see the Wall winding along the mountains.
The last time Yin Yang turned the Great Wall into a piece of visual art was in 2019. While Covid raged across the world, the organisers responsibly decided not to run the festival. There have been only a few updates since then, but it looks like they are looking at bringing it back.
As we enter into a world where China is post-lockdown and post-Covid, festivals (and a Burn) are looking at returning to the status quo. So one day, you may also get to see a festival on the Great Wall of China.