As a festival-junkie, you might have been or heard or drooled over iconic set ups such as Future Music Festival, The Hot Barbeque, Kiss My Grass, One Night Only, Parklife, Summadayze and Winter Sound System all held in Australia. Well, it’s all borne from Aussie company, Future Entertainment – a company that thinks organising one festival a year to be slacking off, so they do 20.
Director Brett Robinson runs the team that puts up a plethora of festivals and club nights in Australia and they’ve been doing it for 20 years. Now, they are setting their sights on South East Asia.
I caught up with Robinson together with Iqbal Ameer (one of three founding members of Malaysian company, Livescape that co-owns and is organising Future Music Festival in Asia) at Bar on 5, Mandarin Orchard Singapore.
There, we broached the subject of South East Asia being a viable festival destination, how Future Music Festival Asia (FMFA) affects the Australian instalment, and how odd it must have felt to cut a ribbon to officially launch last year’s festival with Malaysia’s Tourism Minister.
It is kind of a big deal that after 20 years, Future Entertainment has now taken a step into South East Asia. What prompted the expansion?
Before we met Livescape, we found that there were a lot of Asian students in Australia who have been to Future Music Festival there and heading back to their homeland going, “f*** that was unreal!” and all a sudden there was a bit of a demand.
What did the demand look like?
We’ve gotten enquiries on Facebook and forums with people from Jakarta, Kuala Lumpur and Singapore asking us when we’ll be bringing the festival to South East Asia.
With the exception of ZoukOut there really isn’t any other festival that people here love. There’s Java Jazz in Jakarta but that’s very different from us and Fuji Rock in Japan is as far away as Australia. We saw a real opening to make a big impression.
And that was when Livescape came in?
Iqbal Ameer started speaking to us and we were considering where to place the festival strategically. Obviously there’s ZoukOut in Singapore and we didn’t want to come in and do the same thing as someone else. Then we looked at Kuala Lumpur and realised how good it was in terms of location for people to fly in from around the region.
The tourism dollar seems to be a key factor in this.
Iqbal brought a lot of good things on the table. They spoke to the Malaysian government and the tourism board has been a very crucial piece in the bigger picture. By sponsoring the festival, it helped us get it up and running because it’s a very difficult thing to fund in the first couple of years. Their support really led to a lot of other sponsors coming on board and legitimising it all.
How was the discussion with Tourism Malaysia like?
[Iqbal] To be honest it was really difficult when it came to speaking with the government. But we drew a five-year plan on how we intend to make Future Music Festival Asia a destination hub for people to come down to the country. And once we started cracking on the numbers, Tourism Malaysia was good with it. We are very humbled by the fact that they had faith and were willing to put their name on it.
Coming from a country that has strict performance laws, this is a game-changer isn’t it?
We had a press conference in Malaysia, and the Acting Director-General of Tourism Malaysia, Azizan Noordin did his own calculation on how much revenue will be injected into the economy from the festival alone – RM22 million (S$8.8 million). It’s a good little statistic to hear.
That’s major, considering how a music festival can affect a nation’s economical growth at such a scale.
I remember Iqbal and I standing out the front of the festival last year with a huge ticker tape behind us. We had a gigantic pair of scissors and we were there with the Tourism Minister, Dato' Sri Dr. Ng Yen Yen to officially open the festival. There were about a hundred photographers and she had an entourage of about 50 staff from the Tourism Board driven in 15 bulletproof cars. We cut the ribbon and the first few ticket holders started to rush in. It was surreal! It was hilarious but massive altogether.
How big of an impact do you think FMFA has on the original Australia version?
It’s an amazing thing just to show that there are a lot of fans of the festival outside the country. It made everyone in Australia see Future Music Festival as important, and they are proud that it’s a product of Australia.
Biggest challenges of bringing Future Music Festival to Malaysia?
The biggest one is to not just take the Australia one, slap it on to Asia and not think about what people here really want to hear. So that’s where Livescape comes in. We shared how we do things and asked them how that’d work in Asia, because if it doesn’t feel like an Asian festival and it doesn’t belong here and local people aren’t curating and caring about it, then you could end up doing a really bad job.
There are some musical styles that are not as developed here as it is in Australia. People like Ricardo Villalobos and Richie Hawtin are definitely not for the masses here.
What do you think is the key to a successful festival?
We learned over time that we got to impress people and we have to make sure that they are getting the best experience they ever had, because otherwise we are never going to grow.
If we end up with 40,000 people this year for FMFA and they are blown away, they are going to come back every year for the next 10 years. And that’s what we’ve done in Australia, always challenging and outdoing ourselves. It hasn’t always necessarily been about the bottom-line as much as it is about delivering the right experience.
Between all the special effects and huge stages, it’s all a little unreal. And I don’t think there’s a festival of that standard in this region and it surprises me that there isn’t.
Future Music Festival Asia 2013 | 15-16 March 15 to 16 | Sepang International Circuit, Kuala Lumpur | Tickets RM158 (single-day pass), RM238 (weekend pass) and RM388 (VIP two-day access) are available for purchase on www.futuremusicfestival.asia.