On Sunday, February 8, rumors emerged in the Shanghai expat community that the legendary French electro and house group Daft Punk was going to perform for the first time in China. A Facebook page boasted of a "secret" concert to be held on the following Friday. The catch was that the location would not be disclosed until the day of the concert. Tickets were being sold for RMB500 (approx. $75) at a downtown media agency. Those lucky enough to get a ticket were instructed to leave their mobile number so the organizer could contact them with the secret location on the day of the concert.
While in the United States such a surreptitious arrangement undoubtedly would have raised some eyebrows, in Shanghai it did not. One reason for our gullibility has to do with the performers themselves. Daft Punk has a history of such shenanigans. The French duo often uses guerilla tactics in organizing their concerts, keeping the logistics under wraps until the very last minute. Thus, when Daft Punk's publicist denied that a concert was in the works, many fans simply took this to be an attempt to add to the allure of the actual concert--a technique Daft Punk has expertly employed in the past. As a result, the shady ticket process raised little suspicion among Daft Punk fans, who had long ago grown accustomed to such antics from the quixotic duo.
Another reason the arrangements didn't raise any eyebrows was that in 2002, the Shanghai government shut down a Paul Van Dyk concert for lacking the necessary permits and approvals (read bribes). As a result, the club forced all of its customers to leave after only 5 minutes of a $75 concert. Therefore, the secrecy of the Daft Punk concert was perceived as a clever way to evade government supervision and prevent the risk of a repeat of the 2002 debacle. These secretive arrangements and surreptitious plans not only fit the bill of the performers, but also of the venue itself.
The confusion was compounded by the word of mouth nature of the expat social scene. Commonly used social event sites such as smartshanghai.com and the shanghaiist.com hyped the event without so much as a cursory examination of the event's veracity. Articles implored their readers to get tickets quickly lest they miss out on the event of the season.
We expats dutifully complied. The ticket line of hopeful concertgoers stretched down the block all day Monday. Unsurprisingly, the tickets sold out and a bidding war emerged online for those who had remaining tickets to sell. Some even purchased plane tickets to fly in from Beijing or Guangzhou just for the concert.
But then the questions started. When Daft Punk won two Grammy awards Sunday, the idea that they would embark on a secret world tour, in Shanghai of all places, became increasingly suspect. Tuesday morning, an American blog, Pitchfork, echoed this sentiment, reporting that Daft Punk's official media representatives in the States denied that a concert was in the works. Moreover, it was revealed that the promoter's website (www.dafthidden.com) was of dubious authenticity. Upon being contacted, the site's very confused web designer admitted he had no clue of site's assertions and had not been able to contact his client. Hours later, it emerged that the agency selling tickets in downtown Shanghai was simply leased office space. And finally, the online ticket seller who had been touting the event on Facebook had contacted Daft Punk's label EMI and discovered that he too had been duped. The tickets he had bought and resold were apparently fake. When he tried to contact his former bosses, the line had been disconnected.
In the span of just 24 hours, the concert went from a rumor to sold out to scam just via word of mouth. Bewildered expats saw their prized tickets rendered worthless overnight. Unsurprisingly, many of the victims rallied on the Facebook group "Daft F***cked" in order to find and exact revenge on the perpetrators of the scam. Even the ticket seller has joined the online manhunt for the two con artists. However, apart from such vigilante justice, since the event was limited almost exclusively to the expat community, the likelihood of an investigation by the authorities is laughable at best.
To the culprit's credit, the scam was masterfully executed. Using a handful of legitimate appearing fronts and representatives, the culprit was able to manipulate the expat social network to their financial benefit. But this manipulation reveals more about the expat community in Shanghai than it does about the con artists themselves. The websites that serve as the foundation for the expat social scene make it easy not only to network for jobs and friends but also to swindle several thousand people out of $75. Indeed, the expat websites only heightened the hysteria behind acquiring tickets and aided the community's collective exploitation. At the very least, the experience reveals an overdependence on the viral, word-of-mouth, yet unverifiable, expat social network. Whether Shanghai's expats will become more discerning or careful as a result of this debacle is uncertain, particularly given their continuing popularity.
While some are now RMB500 poorer, others are slowly realizing that the comfortable world they have constructed and immersed themselves in is not as safe as originally thought. If there is one lesson to learn from the experience it is that the familiarity of the expat existence can be all too easily used against us. Perhaps experiences like this are simply occupational hazards of life abroad, but then again maybe it is time to consider that the comfortable network the community has constructed has kept it divorced from reason and reality at its own expense.