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Detroit techno storms Beijing

An outdoor music festival, a crush of people, a police crackdown. Welcome to China.

Revelers dance during the "Intro 2009" Beijing Electronic Music Festival, May 23, 2009. (Christina Hu/Reuters)

BEIJING — The scaffold reared up behind the lights of the makeshift stage, tapering off above the decks to become lost among the skyline of pipes, chimneys and factory roofs that frames the industrial playground around Beijing's famous 798 art district.

Upwards of 3,000 people danced below, creaking the floorboards and stomping the grass, moving to the sound that bounced trapped between the walls, reveling in a venue would have made the Detroit pioneers of techno proud. A line of smiling Chinese students did the conga through the crowd.

It seemed too good to be true, and in the end it was. But for the 10 or so hours before the local Chaoyang police department closed it down due to safety concerns, a host of international acts and local talent rocked Intro 2009, an event billed as China's first outdoor electronic music festival.

The party had been scheduled to run until 4 in the morning, moving indoors at 11 p.m. to shield residents from the noise, but when the police saw the size of the crowd, they reneged on the deal and brought the party to an abrupt conclusion.

It is something of a miracle that it happened at all. When I sat down to meet Acupuncture Records chief organizer Miao Wong two days before the event, the stress was etched on her face, the pressure and tension she was under to pull the festival off was palpable. "Even now, I expect it not to happen," she said. "It's like a miracle, it's still extremely difficult to do certain things but there's a way to work through the difficulties."

The 24-year-old was still waiting to hear whether or not she has jumped through all the hoops with a good enough score to get the final nod from all the authorities involved.

In May 2008, with the Beijing government limbering up to host the perfect Olympics, the public security bureau pulled the plug on the capital's Midi Music Festival. An outdoor gathering of boisterous music fans posed too large a risk of trouble, it seemed. So how, less than two weeks before the 20th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square incident and with the government already tetchy about maintaining public order, did Wong and her team manage to get consent to host a techno festival, a celebration of a music renowned for flying in the face of authority at over 140 bpm?

"We didn't exactly say festival. We said outdoors in a large plaza, an event that would set up a link with youth culture through an up and coming art form," Wong said. She is also keen to stress that techno is in its infancy in China, and hasn't developed the kind of anti-authoritarian attitude it has come to be associated with in Europe and North America. "It's ground zero, there's no anti-authoritarian sentiment. Freedom is part of the spirit but not 'bring down the government,'" she said.