What kind of conversation will a Chinese well-known angel investor have with a hardcore hippie in the history of popular music?
During the cross-border summit co-held by T-EDGE MUSIC and MTA Music Festival (MTA stands for Music, Technology and Art), Bob Xiaoping Xu, founder and managing partner of ZhenFund, had a conversation with Michael Lang, the co-creator of Woodstock Music&Art Festival on topics including technological innovation and the hippie spirit.
Despite an age difference of 12 years, they witnessed the huge transformation of China and the US, respectively.
Mr. Xu went to Central Conservatory of Music for college in 1978 thanks to the reform and opening up policy. Later, he went on to study pursue studies in the US and Canada as China opened its door to the outside world. It is fair to say that he witnessed the opening up of China.
Michael Lang, however, witnessed the hippie movement in the history of the US. In the 1960s, when the American society was quite turbulent, Michael Lang co-created Woodstock Music Festival, chose “peace and music” as the slogan, and set off the hippie movement, the scale of which is largest in the history of music.
It is believed that the hippie movement also boosted the development of IT industry in the US, and nurtured a batch of tech leaders in the Silicon Valley. The hippie spirit is also widely recognized as the origin of technological innovation in the Silicon Valley.
Mr. Xu and Mr. Lang agreed so in their dialogue. For Mr. Xu, the pursuit of innovation, freedom and the courage to challenge the authority and status quo are in line with the hippie spirit. Michael also pointed out that the rise of the Silicon Valley had to do with not only technological progress, but also the change of people’s mindset and the entire culture.
Speaking of the relationship between capital and culture, Mr. Lang admitted that: “Without those partners and sponsors, we wouldn't have been able to create Woodstock Music&Art Festival.”
For a long time, people have been expecting music to become free. However, Mr. Lang didn’t think so, and maintained that there was no fault in making profit from high-quality music charged at a proper price.
Mr. Xu agreed so, believing that it would be a great thing if the art and business circle could cooperate with each other. However, he stressed that while people in the business circle should respect art and artists, artists, music bands and singer should also respect capital and make good use of it to achieve their goals. After all, there are different rules governing these two circles.
At the same time, he believed that people in the business world have the responsibility to support art and promote the development and maturity of the music circle.
The following is the full transcript of the dialogue, hosted by Li Hongjie, between the founder of MTA Music Festival, between Michael Lang and Bob Xiaoping Xu at 2016 T-EDGE Music Summit, edited by TMTpost:
Li Hongjie (hereafter referred to as "Li"): Good afternoon, everybody. We are honored to have Michael Lang, co-creator of Woodstock Music&Art Festival, and Bob Xiaoping Xu, founder and managing partner of ZhenFund this afternoon. Our topic is hippie music in the post-technology era. So first of all, I’d like to invite both of them to share their understanding of the word “hippie” with us.
What is hippie?
Bob Xiaoping Xu (hereafter referred to as "Xu"): Above all, I’d like to take this opportunity and pay tribute to Michael Lang because I’ve always dreamed of seeing him in flesh. For me, Mr. Lang has always been a legendary figure. When he was holding the first Woodstock Music&Art Festival in 1969, I was only thirteen or fourteen years old. At that time, I was still quite young and just began to understand the world around me. However, I was almost completely separate from the global movement in popular culture and missed the opportunity to awaken myself since China was still closed from the outside world at that time. Thus, I can’t help feeling that I became young again when sitting with Michael here.
As a matter of fact, I don’t really know exactly what is hippie. So I was wondering if Michael Lang could explain a little bit to us?
Michael Lang (hereafter referred to as "Lang"): The word “hippie” was first come up with by the media. The hippie culture emerged in the US near the end of the 1950s and the beginning of the 1960s. Basically, hippies refer to a group of young Americans in the 1960s who wished to promote human rights and the freedom of speech. The hippie movement had so much impact on the course of American society as well as the world. So I believe the word “hippie” not only describes a certain group of people, but also defines that era.
Xu: Yet it seems to us that here in China we often correlate hippies with people who never brush their hair, dress themselves properly, hang around on the streets and believe in free love.
Lang: Yes and no. More fundamentally, hippies are those who weren’t recognized by society and were desperate to voice their opinions.
Xu: If so, then the general impression of hippies for Chinese, including me, is actually wrong. I just did some math and found out that Hilary Clinton, President Bush Junior and Obama all grew up in the hippie era. Am I right?
Lang: Absolutely you can say so. They all belong to that generation of Americans. Thaat era witnessed great change not only in the popular music industry, but also in the entire American society.
Xu: I’ve got a question. Why are Americans who grew up in that era all willing to define their generation through hippies? What does it mean to be a member of that generation?
Lang: At that time, all of us wanted to be part of the hippie movement. We treasured the opportunity and was very proud to become part of the trend. So you might often see films and media reports, in which people were so excited about being part of the movement.
What changes were brought by Woodstock Music&Art Festival?
Xu: But is there any difference in American society before and after the Woodstock Music&Art Festival?
Li: In other words, can you introduce to us the significance of Woodstock Music&Art Festival?
Lang: Many people came to New York because of Woodstock Music&Art Festival and better understood the city as well as our society. Thet got to better adapt to their community or enter new communities and better communicated with others through the music festival.
Woodstock Music&Art Festival is like a seed. Americans began to know the strength of cooperation and communication. We also came to know that there was so huge a gap between our generation and our parents’.
Before the Woodstock Music&Art Festival, many Americans might find it really hard to voice their opinions and win recognition from society. After the festival, however, they got to understand their dreams and responsibilities better, and even tried to better guide the next generation through the festival.
One of the contribution of Woodstock Music&Art Festival is actually organic food. Now we might have problems such as global warming. Before the festival, nobody cared too much about food and environment. However, after the festival, an increasing number of people began to care if there were other opportunities. Woodstock Music&Art Festival sowed the seed and these seeds had already grown up and influenced the American society a great deal.
Xu: I see. That is to say, young Americans had already developed their different thoughts on life, human existence, culture and even politics before the Woodstock Music&Art Festival, but it was festival that drew that generation of young Americans together and helped them voice their opinions. Since then, Woodstock Music&Art Festival became a symbol for that generation of young Americans.
So the reason why Woodstock Music&Art Festival had a significant impact on American society is that it brought the ideals of that generation of young Americans into the mainstream, and later on led to the emergence of all kinds of different stuffs. Organic food, for example, have become so important today. Woodstock Music&art Festival is important because it helped define a generation of young Americans.
Lang: Of course. Young Americans were so desperate at that era. However, after musicians such as Elvis appeared in 1968, people began to find a peaceful way to voice their opinions. The festival brought so much change to people’s life and American society, and that generation of Americans gradually became more tolerant and inclusive since then.
Li: Michael just mentioned the hippie movement also had an impact on world economy. I am especially interested to understand how exactly did the festival affect world economy, besides bringing forward other music festivals?
Lang: Woodstock Music&Art Festival made music part of people’s life. From then on, music gradually became an industry and gathered all relevant people together. The entire music industry developed so rapidly later on and had huge impact on world economy.
The relationship between the Silicon Valley and hippie spirit
Li: Some people argue that the Silicon Valley is like an extention of the hippie spirit. What do you think?
Lang: Yes, I think so. The difference is that tech leaders have become the new stars.
Xu: Are the pursuit of innovation, freedom and the courage to challenge the authority and status quo in line with the hippie spirit? Is this why people compare the hippie spirit to the Silicon Valley spirit? Is it true that without freedom, there will be no innovation, and tiny startups won't be able to topple down huge enterprisers? Are there any relationship between the hippie spirit and the rise of the Silicon Valley, from the cultural perspective?
Lang: Yes, I also think there are some kind of relationship. To some degree, hippes and tech leaders in the Silicon Valley all hold some similar ideals and ways of thinking. Steve Jobs is certainly one symbol of his generation. He was one of the creators of the Silicon Valley, and carried on some of the hippie spirits.
Michael also pointed out that the rise of the Silicon Valley had to do with not only technological progress, but also the change of people’s mindset and the entire culture.
Xu: I believe hippies might hate Bill Gates a great deal, especially compared to Steve Jobs? Bill Gates was, after all, quite conventional. Am I right?
Lang: Indeed, but I think he’s certainly not the person hippies hated most.
Xu: I mean Steve Jobs is certainly known for his innovation, but Bill Gates is more like a good student who sticks to the norms. For most Chinese, including me, hippies are those who don’t care too much about what they wear. Our understanding was still quite superficial.
As Mike just mentioned, the hippie movement had an enormous impact on the world’s mainstream culture, and improved people’s awareness of concepts such as environmental protection, human rights, anti-war and individual responsibility. Am I right?
Lang: I believe this is the beginning of hippies. Not everybody would choose the same path and adopt the same method. Bill Gates chose his own path and he attached high important to humanity and liberal arts. But human conditions is our common focus.
Xu: Still, I can imagine Steve Jobs marching in parades and being chased by the police, not Bill Gates.
Lang: Aha, who knows? Bill might also have a try on impetus.
Li: I have another question. Every time I went to the US, whether San Francisco or New York, I could still see people dressing like hippies. I know that Michael has already found a new profession and said goodbye to that era. Today, you not only invest in companies, but also establish a film producing company. In a word, your lifestyle is quite different from a typical hippie’s. So I wonder if you have become a person you might hate when you were still young?
Lang: Hopefully not. I think my goal is still the same. For sure, my profession will change, but as long as I am doing something I like, I might still hold values and ideas acquired when I was still young.
We are still holding some music activities in Woodstock even till now. It is our belief that through latest technologies, we won’t forget some of the basic values and qualities in the music industry. Instead, we are trying our best to carry on these values to the next generation. The goal of most of the projects I am working on is to take on my social responsibility and make the world a better place.
Xu: He mentioned two very important points: for one thing, he still holds the same goal as he was young, that is, to make American society, the country, and even the world, a better place; for another, his personal value remains focused on the pursuit of freedom and a better environment. In other words, although our lifestyles might change, our life goals, forged possibly when we were still young, will not change, but rather would continue to influence us. Although there might be some tiny adjustment, the general goal and our motivation remain the same as what we held when we are still young.
Although I didn’t experience Woodstock Music&Art Festival myself since China was still closed from the outside world at that time, I was still very curious about new things and overseas ideals. Although I am not as lucky as hippies, I am more curious about cultural innovation exactly because I was shut from other types of cultures for so long. It is this kind of curiosity that later on motivates me to pursue all kinds of other new things.
Li: Mr. Xu is known as an angel investor for most Chinese. But I came to find out that you used to be a music teacher. So I wonder what influence will your music background have when you decide to invest a company or not?
Xu: Well, I only invest in startup founders whose voice sound nice and whose appearance look like celebrities. Just for fun. When I was young, I sued to teach music in Peking university for a while. One of my major tasks at that time is to hold music festivals and student societies, whether choruses or popular music bands. The largest activity I held was a guitar competition. To be honest, my dream at that time is to make some really great Chinese campus music and surpass foreign music.
I believe such background has already become part of who I am right now, indeed. Today, I look for technological innovation and new business models every day. I often want to have someone make a movie or write a song when I see some things or some persons, because I enjoy expressing my ideas throught artistic approaches. That might also help explain why I am regarded more like a man of letters who happens to know how to do business, instead of the other way around.
Li: An emotional capitalist?
Xu: I’d rather be called an old hippie. By the way, is there such a concept as “old hippie”?
Lang: Yes, of course.
Xu: That is to say. people can be called hippies because of their understanding of freedom and the world, not matter how old they are.
The relationship between capital and culture
Li: I have a question from the audience. When holding the first Woodstock Music&Art Festival, Mr. Lang was supported by capital. Although you didn't make much profit through the festival, you always made good use of capitals. After becoming an investor, Mr. Xu is also dealing with capitals every day. So what do you think of the relationship between capital and cultural industry, especially when capitals are increasingly flushing in the cultural industry in China in recent years?
Lang: I really love business, culture and art, and wish that they could forge a good combination. We can’t only have one, but not the other. As long as our goal and original intention are consistent, we can cooperate with each other. Without partners, we wouldn’t have been able to hold Woodstock Music&Art Festival. Between 1968 and 1969, there was a movement in the US, calling for music to be free. It’s a very new movement at that time, and many people wished music to be free.
However, I delivered a speech and argued that as long as artists could creat some really good music and sell them at a proper price, it’s reasonable for the business world to make profit out of music.
I have always been a dream chaser, and I really wish to realize my dream. My understanding of music and business was at odds with the popular one during the anti-culture movement. However, through Woodstock Music&Art Festival, an increasing number of people began to agree with me and accept my arguments.
Xu: I agree to what Mr. Lang said a great deal. It would be a great thing if art and business could cooperate and go hand in hand with each other. While people in the business circle should respect art and artists, artists, music bands and singer should also respect capital and make good use of it to achieve their goals. After all, there are different rules governing these two circles.
As a matter of fact, many great pieces of music are also successful commercially, such as Beatles’. When they managed to become successful commercially, the entire industry will benefit, and they themselves will also benefit from spiritual fulfillment. Of course, there are artists who are very poor but still manage to make their music popular.
I believe the best time has come for artists. If people in the business and art circle can cooperate with each other and respect each other, if investors are not in so much hurry to make a fortune in a short time while artists try their best to achieve their investors’ goal and make good use of capital, then both the music and art industry will benefit and thus prosper together.
Still, from the aspect of investors, we have the social responsibility to support art and music more. Art is becoming increasingly important and popular around the world. However, capitals are desperately needed before art can succeed commercially. After all, artists also need to make a living, purchase necessary instruments and rent for rehearsal places. In this sense, Chinese investors should attach special attention to art and support artists as much as they could, thus further promoting the maturity and development of the industry.
False prosperity in the American and Chinese cultural market?
Li: I come to find out that Mr. Lang has been doing some projects related to music and film in Shanghai, while Mr. Xu is also very familiar with American cultural industry and has invested in several American films. So what do you think of the Chinese and American cultural industries right now? Are you full of confidence in the future, or do you think that the seemingly prosperity in the Chinese and American cultural industries are actually false?
Xu: Of course, Hollywood will continue to rule the global film industry for a couple more decades. However, China’s role is becoming increasingly important. Wanda Group is acquiring American film producing companies, and even more Chinese enterprises are eyeing on Hollywood.
Generally, I am confident in the future of the Chinese cultural industry. However, if we could strike a good balance between business and art, then the Chinese film industry will develop even more rapidly.
Lang: We all kown that artistic success go beyond borders. As long as it’s really some great art work, there will be a large enough market out there. So there is no such thing as over-exploitation of art or the market.
Xu: China still lags behind the rest of the world in some areas such as technology and people’s mindset. Recently, I invested in a film called “Rock Tibetan Mastiff”. While it took Americans seven years to make the film, a Chinese story, its box office performance was quite poor in China. So I believe there might still be a long way before the Chinese film industry can learn from Hollywood, catch up and win over overseas audience.
Lang: I agree. Ang Lee is actually a very successful film producer in the US. He’s great, and has a very good temperament and character. I belive with the development of the Chinese film industry, the market will also rise rapidly.
Xu: As a matter of fact, Director Ang Lee even made a film about Woodstock Music&Art Festival. I predict that the Chinese cultural industry will become really prosperous when someone like Ang Lee appeared. He or she must understand both Western and Eastern culture well and can keep a good balance between business and art.
Li: At last, I have a very personal question. Yesterday, Mr. Lang said that he won’t rule out the possibility to creat Woodstock Music&Art Festival in China. So I want to ask Mr. Lang again: is it possible for you to create a Woodstock Music&Art Festival in China sometime and somewhere in the future?
Lang: Yes, of course.
Li: Mr. Xu, are you interested in participating in holding such a festival?
Xu: MTA Music Festival is already like a Chinese Woodstock Music&Art Festival, isn't it?
Li: Mr. Lang, I know you went to the music festival yesterday. What do you think of the festival?
Lang: Well, it’s an interesting combination between technology and music. I especially enjoyed the show in the afternoon. It’s a great combination of the Western and Eastern culture and music style. This is a great beginning. We've just got started, and I believe we could achieve even more progress in this area. In a word, we think it’s a great festival.
[The article is published and edited with authorization from the author @Xie Kangyu, please note source and hyperlink when reproduce.]
Translated by Levin Feng (Senior Translator at PAGE TO PAGE), working for TMTpost.