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Eric Reithler-Barros Interviews Philipp Grefer Founder of WISE

Think Robots. Think AI solving world hunger. WISE – The Future Think Tank, a recent conference held in Beijing founded by Philipp Grefer, brought together creative revolutionaries from industries including technology, music, art, fashion, entertainment, business, media, and science to ‘spark’ essential questions about how we should live in the future.

Philipp Grefer, founder of WISE and FakeMusicMedia. Photograph courtesy of Wise.

Philipp Grefer, founder of WISE and FakeMusicMedia. Photograph courtesy of WISE

Grefer speaks to Eric Reithler-Barros, founder of Fold Artists Shanghai and speaker at WISE, about the highlights at WISE this year. Music Press Asia releases Part 1 of a two-part interview series that highlights his thought processes curating the program at WISE, what the future holds, as well as works at FakeMusicMedia.

BARROS: The WISE conference in Beijing occurred a few days ago on October 26th, at the UCCA Contemporary Art Museum.  Tell us about when and how you came up with this concept?

GREFER: I co-founded a music company called FakeMusicMedia 10 years ago in Beijing. Obviously the name was a bit tongue-in-cheek, but “fake” was what China was mainly known for in these days. Now “fake news” is mainly associated with a prominent North American person. Times have changed. And I got older. So from Fake to WISE it is somewhat a natural progression. And something I can strive for for the next 40 years without ever reaching it. So it’s a good way to keep me busy, combine all my interests and experience, plus a good excuse to surround myself with people smarter than me, have a good time with them and hopefully create a bit of an impact for the people who pay for a ticket to hear the talks and network.

BARROS:  How do you describe the WISE conference in one sentence?

GREFER:  A Future Think Tank and platform for big ideas and practical knowledge.

BARROS:  Do you consider yourself a futurist?

GREFER: I consider myself #wisenotwise 😉

BARROS:  What’s the profile of people in the audience?  What’s the take-away you hope for, for them? Did you achieve it this year?

GREFER: We had quite a broad mix of people in their early 20s to early 40s. Mostly young professionals, artists and creatives in the fields we covered with WISE, namely: music, film, design, tech, and the sciences. I hope for people to be inspired, get a new perspective on things they took for granted, do some business, or get a new job… and also have some fun in the process. Nearly a week after the event people still come to me and tell me about how they enjoyed this or that panel or how they met a new business partner. One speaker even fell in love with an audience member, and another speaker is still hanging out in Beijing waiting to take me out to a club in this very moment!  A few partners already approached me for next year. So, frankly, it has worked out better than I could ever have expected.

BARROS:  If WISE had a role model, what conference(s) or brands would it be?

GREFER: I´ve been to a lot of inspiring events all around the world from SXSW in Austin, to Tech Open Air in Berlin, or Sonar in Barcelona to name just some of the biggest ones.  But rather to copy a model or event that has worked in another city, I´d rather create something with its own identity that is unique to the place where it takes place, in this case the ‘798 Art District’ in Beijing, which in itself is an absolutely crazy place. Also this year we had the co-founder of Reeperbahn Festival, the biggest music industry event in Europe, and the head of Ars Electronica, which is probably the longest running festival in the world on the intersection of art and technology. So I also learned a lot from them. They were all fascinated by the conference as well as Beijing. So I expect there will be more collaboration in the future.

BARROS:  What was the most controversial sparks-filled panel this year?

GREFER: It was on your own panel that you moderated for us, Eric.  The quote by [Acupuncture Records and ARP Creative Agency founder] Miao Wong questioning “Key Opinion Leaders” (China-speak for “online influencers”) and their role on youth culture, it got stuck in my head:  “I´m not quite so sure about KOLs. Are they really leaders? No. Do they have opinions? No.”

Some of the speakers at WISE - The Future Think Tank. Photo courtesy of WISE

Some of the speakers at WISE – The Future Think Tank. Photo courtesy of WISE

BARROS:  There were Western and Asian speakers at WISE this year, did you notice any surprising instances of either cultural clash and/or accord onstage?

GREFER: I think, no matter what industry and country, everybody was quite in accord that China´s importance is still growing. To give you an example: China already has the 2nd biggest movie industry in the world, in the last two years its music industry went from the 20th biggest to the 10th biggest. Other industries are similar. The trajectory is clear.

BARROS:  If you could invite anyone from any time period to WISE, who would that be?

GREFER: I think to have a panel discussion with Jesus, Mohammed, Buddha, and Confucius at WISE would be pretty dope.

Part 2 of this interview will be released soon. Watch this space!

Eric Reithler-Barros, Contributor
Eric has 19 years of international branding and business development experience, and holds an MBA from Thunderbird.  His experience ranges from SFX Entertainment/Livestyle, Level3 Communications, Verizon, A2LiVE/STORM Festival, LimeWire and many others.  He is also a professional electronic music DJ and producer for 28 years, has released over 100 records, launched 4 house/techno labels, promoted hundreds of club events and festivals, and spoken at the biggest music industry conferences around the world.  He currently heads Fold Artists in Shanghai.

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