Modern Sky Festival Returns to Central Park with Legendary Bands and the Best of Chinese Indie

MSF Collage

A year after bringing some of the biggest names in indie rock from the United States and China to the same stage in New York, Modern Sky Festival returns to Central Park’s Rumsey Playfield on Sunday, October 4.  This year’s lineup includes legendary conceptual artist Yoko Ono’s Yoko Ono Plastic Ono Band, post-punk pioneers Gang of Four, sometime one-man garage band rocker Mark Sultan, Lower, and Chinese artists Song Dongye (宋冬野), New Pants (新裤子), Hedgehog (刺猬乐队), and Miserable Faith (痛苦的信仰乐队).

Modern Sky Festival NYC, 2014. Photo by Yang Dongni.

Brooklyn Flea’s Smorgasburg Food Market will provide festival goers with food from New York favorites including Asia Dog, Blue Marble Ice Cream, Lonestar Empire BBQ, and Pizza Moto.

Celebrated New York designer Wendy Mullin (Built By Wendy) is designing the official festival merchandise again this year, to include t-shirts, totes, and her iconic guitar straps. All will be on sale in limited quantities during the festival.  Art installations from Magda Love and ARTenna help adorn Rumsey Playfield, which is located at 69th St. and 5th Ave.

First produced in Beijing 8 years ago, this year’s festival is one of over twenty put on in China by Beijing-based Modern Sky Entertainment.  The festival will travel to Seattle’s Mural Amphitheatre on October 11 with garage rockers The Black Lips, the ever eclectic Ariel Pink, and Ethiopian-born songstress Mirel Wagner.  The Chinese band will also stopover in Los Angeles for a concert presented in collaboration with Culture Collide on October 9.

This year’s line-up is definitely not to be missed.  So, we’re excited to offer readers two tickets to the festival in New York, courtesy of No Roads Music and Media.  To enter, send an email before 10 PM on Tuesday, September 29 to beyondchinatown[at] with the name of the act your most excited to see on stage.   We’ll announce the winner at around 9 AM on Wednesday.  Readers can also receive a 10% discount on tickets using the code BEYOND.  Tickets can be purchased from Ticketfly.

Get festival updates from the official Facebook page.

Now, meet the bands:

Yoko Ono Plastic Band began as a conceptual band created by artist Yoko Ono in 1966 with four plastic stands with tape recorders in them instead of real human musicians.  Over the years, many musicians, including John Lennon, Eric Clapton, Eric Friedlander, Cornelius, and Yuka Honda have been part of its line up.  The band was on hiatus until its revival in 2009.  Since then, Yoko Ono Plastic Band created two studio albums and was recently featured and performed in MoMA’s One Woman Showa survey of Yoko Ono early works.

The participation of Yoko Ono Plastic Ono Band adds more excitement to Modern Sky’s unique mix of Chinese and western bands.  At this year’s Modern Sky Festival, Ono will be joined by some very special New York guests, performing songs from throughout her career.   “I am so glad that I have been asked to do the Modern Sky Music Festival in Central Park,” Ono says.  “Central Park was where John, Sean, and I always went for a walk. I still do. It’s the most lovely park in the world, I think.”

Playing a stripped-down mix of punk rock, funk and dub, with an emphasis on the social and political ills of society, Gang of Four is widely considered one of the leading bands of the late 1970s/early 1980s post-punk movement.  Their debut album, Entertainment!, ranked at Number 483 in Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Albums of All Time, and is listed by Pitchfork Media as the 8th best album of the 1970s.  While R.E.M., Nirvana, The Red Hot Chili Peppers, and Rage Against the Machine have all cited the band as an influence, countless others, especially those during the post-punk revival in the 2000s, have been shaped by this seminal band.  (Wikipedia).  Guitarist Andy Gill, the sole remaining member of the original line-up, carries on the legacy and spirit of the band.

Mark Sultan has become one of the leading figures on the Canadian garage punk scene, cranking out high-test rock & roll with a handful of memorable bands as well as making a name for himself as a solo act (All Music).  Rocking with influences from R&B, rockabilly, and doo-wop, he has performed under many different names with various groups and as a one-man band.

Channeling the romance and drama of great singer-songwriters from Scott Walker to Bryan Ferry, Lower seeks “to express the internal and external influences that make a human, to the truest degree possible”.   Seek Warmer Climes, the Copenhagen quartet’s debut album, sparkles with the harmonic dissonance and high-strung urgency of their underground music forebears.

In addition to these three western bands, Modern Sky also introduces to American audiences Chinese alternative rock by Chinese musicians whose music paint the picture of engaged and engaging young people figuring out the youth, love, lust, dreams, and ennui of their lives in this modern age.  China’s leading new wave band New Pants played at Mercury Lounge and Brooklyn Bowl in 2011.  This year at Central Park, they will be joined by Hedgehog, Miserable Faith, and folk singer-songwriter Song Dongye, who are performing in New York for the first time.

One of the leaders of Beijing’s singer-songwriter “campus folk” movement, Song Dongye rocketed to fame when Zuo Li performed a cover of his “Miss Dong”,on the TV singing competition Super Boy.Song Dongye press photo

In 2013, he released Anhe Bridge North, named for the part of Beijing where the 27-year-old grew up, and he’s currently collaborating with actress-turned-singer Maggie Cheung on her forthcoming album.

From the band’s earliest incarnation as a Ramones-inspired punk act in 1996, New Pants has tapped the sounds and styles of China’s youthquake.  A staple of the Mainland festival circuit, New Pants is known for synth-heavy dance-punk anthems, a razor-sharp fashion sense (futuristic neons, T-shirts emblazoned with their “double happiness” logo, and Chinese retro sneakers and warm-ups), and unpredictable live shows incorporating animation and the odd robot pants 1

The band—Beijingers Peng Lei, Pang Kuan, Zhao Meng, Shi Deheng—has toured Australia and the UK, played Coachella, New York’s Mercury Lounge and Brooklyn Bowl, and took part in Vice’s Creators Project (San Francisco and Beijing). The Peng Lei–directed video for “She’s Automatic” won the 2003 MTV Asia award for best video. In 2011, New Pants released its seventh studio album, Sex Drugs Internet.

Since 2005, noise-pop act Hedgehog has been a leader of Beijing’s underground rock scene centered around university-district haunt D-22.  Hedgehog2The trio self-produced just 100 copies of the debut album, Happy Idle Kid, which immediately sold out. Hedgehog was snapped up by Chinese indie label Modern Sky in 2007, and this year released Neurons, a collection of 24 B-sides and unreleased tracks.

Hedgehog played Singapore’s Baybeats festival and New York’s CMJ festival (both in 2010) and has opened for Shonen Knife, Regurgitator, The Mystery Lights, and Xiu Xiu.


Mainland rock mainstay Miserable Faith formed in 1999 at Beijing’s Midi School of Music, part of the rising tide of metal acts in the capital.  The band later shifted to a more melodic indie rock sound, incorporating elements of traditional Chinese music and reggae.

Their albums include 2008’s The Music Won’t Be Stopped 《不要停止我的音乐》, based on their experiences crisscrossing China on tour, and 2014’s folk-leaning May Love Be Without Worries 《愿爱无忧》.

Sunday, October 4, 2 – 8:30 PM (Gates at 1 PM)
Rumsey Playfield, Central Park (69th St. and 5th Ave.)
$48/General Admission; $150/VIP