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Beijing Pop Festival Stretches Old Chinese Boundaries

For the third year in a row, the Beijing Pop Festival attracted thousands of music lovers to the Chinese capital. But this year was different. Anti-establishment bands from the West played alongside controversial local rocker Cui Jian -- whose songs became anthems to the 1989 student movement. From Beijing, Sam Beattie reports.

It was a rare opportunity for thousands of music fans, young and old, to get a little wild.

With headliner Public Enemy -- whose hip hop music urges young people to "fight the powers that be" -- and acts such as Nine Inch Nails -- known for its anti-establishment rage -- organizers successfully pulled off a very controversial line-up.

Older festival goers like Ha Guizhen remember a time not so long ago when a rock concert like this seemed impossible. "It is a big change. Ten years ago it wasn't like this at all. I think the last five years there has been a lot of change."

Organizers did make concessions to appease government authorities. Most notably they agreed to refer to Public Enemy as "P.E." in all interviews and promotional materials.

Event organizer Jason Magnus says this festival is helping create change in China's music scene. "You have to go through a lot of processes and security issues before you manage to have the atmosphere you want, but slowly we are bringing the acts we really want to bring and feel should be performing in China in 2007."

As Marky Ramone's band performed the punk rock anthem "I Wanna Be Sedated," some teenagers jumped the fence, and felt the heavy hand of security.

From the other side of the barricade, and the comfort of their front row chairs, VIPs often found more interest in the crowd than the stage.

Tickets cost the equivalent of $25. And those at the back, like Yao Yang, were not happy some people got special treatment. "Rock concert shouldn't be like this," he said. "Look at those sitting on chairs in the front. Can it still be called a rock concert?"

But rock on they did. And like Zhang Yingyue and Chen Tao, most enjoyed a music-filled day in the park, unfazed by the foreign lyrics. "Melody is the main part, lyrics are just an accessory. You can separate them so it does not matter if you do not completely understand the lyrics."

Concert organizers expected 30,000 fans for the two-day event. They say festival attendance has grown each year, as the Ministry of Culture has approved more controversial bands. Organizers see this as a sign of official acknowledgment that Beijing must expand its artistic offerings if it is to emerge as an Asian cultural capital.