Floating festivals of 24/7 music, partying
In January 2004, American Jason Beukema chartered part of a cruise ship from Royal Caribbean Cruises and invited a handful of small-time DJs to come aboard.
In total, 125 people joined him on a seven-day trip to the western Caribbean in what became the first Groove Cruise, a floating electronic music festival that is coming to Shanghai in 2020.
From a small ship party, Beukema’s company, Whet Travel, has grown into a multimillion-dollar enterprise and sparked the creation of a global industry.
Now, he is the cruise lines’ best friend — chartering entire ships for thousands of cruisegoers and booking dozens of artists for four-day, 24/7 parties at sea.
Bringing Groove Cruise to Shanghai next summer is a project seven years in the making.
Beukema met Jonathan Chao, his local Chinese partner, in 2012 at an electronic music industry conference in Las Vegas.
Chao suggested bringing the Groove Cruise brand to China, and Beukema was on board with the idea.
Chao started out as a club promoter in Hollywood, moving to Shanghai 2017 to be closer to family.
Here, he founded King Pillar, a music-event services firm that handles artist bookings, promotions, production and sales. Last year, King Pillar brought world famous dance crew Jabbawockeez to Shanghai.
Through the company, Chao purchased the sole licensing rights to Groove Cruise Asia from Whet Travel.
Launching Groove Cruise in Asia has been no easy task. In the seven years it has taken the team to announce Groove Cruise Shanghai (Whet Travel’s first cruise in Asia), the biggest hurdle was finding an investor who believed in the project.
Last August, Chao inked a contract with a Lucy Pan of Yuan Gainian Capital, a Hangzhou-based venture capital fund. Yuan Gainian agreed to invest in the project and provide money to charter a full cruise ship — typically costing US$1-2 million.
“They were very excited about the project,” said Chao. “They signed the non-disclosure agreement, and after three months of back-and-forth, they said ‘oh, this is going to fail, we aren’t going to invest in this.’ And they bailed.”
On June 12, Livescape, Asia’s largest player in the industry, launched an electronic music festival cruise from Shanghai called It’s the Ship — their sixth cruise in Asia and first launch from a Chinese port.
When asked how the four-day cruise to Japan and back was, Gao Yijie said, “Not bad.” Her boyfriend was one of the artists on board.
“It rained the first three days,” noted another cruisegoer. “Except on the last night, when everyone was out.”
Altogether more than 3,000 people were on board. Many Dowcomplained that at least half the cruisegoers were “old aunties” who were not there for the music.
One review of the cruise posted on WeChat by Manfen Jiguang Qiang went viral, with top comments reaching over 1,000 “likes.”
The post poked fun at the older women on board who ruined the author’s time, while many comments defended them, saying, “Older women can’t go? You can’t have fun yourself?”
Joanne Wong, Livescape’s marketing director, called the launch “very successful” and said other cruises in China would “definitely” follow.
Despite mixed reviews, It’s the Ship’s first cruise from China signaled a strong step forward for the fledgling industry in Asia, and it comes at a time when government support for port development and activity is robust.
According to a city government announcement in October 2018, Shanghai plans to welcome four million visitors to its ports each year by 2022, extend visa-free visiting times to 15 days for international travel groups and build a world class port by 2035.
As for Groove Cruise, Chao recently reached a deal with an undisclosed Taiwanese investor, and their chartered ship will launch from Shanghai sometime next spring-summer.
“I had kind of given up,” said Beukema, thinking back on his partner’s search for a local investor. Now, he is ready to make a splash in the region.
“It seems like this is close to being done, which is exciting,” he said