Interviews

The future of music in South East Asia

By Zul AndraEvents - 27 February 2013 10:40 AM | Updated 1:57 PM

The future of music in South East Asia

Toast Box at *SCAPE is about to be ripped to shreds. The lunchtime crowd in the queue – gawking at the billboard-wide menu peppered with nostalgic ’60s Asian cuisines – are impatient and obviously famished.

It’s a befitting place to talk over kopi and kaya toast with the men behind Livescape, the event agency that brought Future Music Festival Asia (FMFA) to their home city, Kuala Lumpur.

Formalities are concluded in a heartbeat. Adam Mathews and Rahul Kukreja, both co-founders and directors of Livescape, politely decline another round of drinks.

We quickly delve into the recent developments of South East Asia’s music industry even before taking our seats. We become fast friends.

cry baby
Iqbal Ameer, Adam Matthews & Rahul Kukreja

The mild-mannered Kukreja is a picture of calm amidst the clattering chaos around him. I credit this to his wealth of on-stage experience playing at SingFest and MTV Asia Awards with his punk-rock band, One Buck Short – who recently opened for Sum 41 and Paramore in Kuala Lumpur.

Mathews is perpetually gleaming; it’s his natural aura – a schoolboy charm. But it also seems like he hasn’t slept since FMFA 2012. His eye bags are a festival on its own – results of an entrepreneurial party maker. Read: Zouk Kuala Lumpur’s former Marketing Director and prior to that, promoter at the illustrious clubbing brand, Gatecrasher in UK.

Together with Iqbal Ameer (who isn’t present during the first half of this interview), the trio incorporated Livescape in 2011 and immediately went full throttle.

TIME WAITS FOR NO PROMOTER

“There’s method to the madness,” Mathews smiles. “The three of us have common and equally distinct passions in various types of music; we got together and decided to go on the aggressive.”

Their first major event, Rockaway 2011, featured American outfits Story of the Year and The Used on top of some of the best bands in Malaysia. A few months later, they ended the year with ESCAPE: NYE headlined by Marco V, Mat Zo and Pete Tong at the Life Centre in Kuala Lumpur.

Ahead of the biggest event they had ever thrown as a start up, their first slew of NSFW parties at Vertigo saw the likes of Tiga and Skream & Benga on the decks.

Then came the first Future Music Festival Asia in March 2012 with a bill that featured the Chemical Brothers, Chase & Status, Pendulum, Azari & III, Grandmaster Flash and a total of 45 international and regional acts. It was a reveller’s aural dream come true – all 30,000 of them.

Not bad for a company barely a year old. But what did they make out of the inaugural festival? “What show?” Mathews’ eyes lights up as he huffs a laugh.

“I had breakfast with the Chemical Brothers and that was it,” Kukreja chuckles. As for Mathews, he managed to catch the electronic music duo for a fleeting 10 minutes – the only act he caught. “Busy covering about 20km in that one night,” he recalls.

LEVELLING THE PLAYING FIELD WITH FAIR PLAY

It’s perhaps redolent of Livescape’s modus operandi – to put up a well-thought out show at all cost and at the expense of their personal indulgence.

“Malaysia has had a good run of acts coming in in the last 18 months,” Mathews says. “No one (promoters and organisers) wants to spoil that; we make sure the shows are put up properly and no one is killing each other on it.”

He adds that in a playing field where promoters are sharing the same pool of ticket buyers, the definition of competition has to be rethought.

“I came from a clubbing background in the UK where the industry is extremely competitive and everyone was trying to cocok (Malay for hoodwinking) each other, whereas in this side of the world, for some strange reason, we are pushing things forward together because if we aren’t on the same page, the scene is going to remain stagnant. It’s all about mutual respect,” Mathews opines.

With the likes of veteran promoters JS Concert and Galaxy Group both running top-billed events in Malaysia, it is in Livescape’s code to play fair.

“Rockaway 2012 was supposed to take place on the same day as David Guetta’s concert,” Kukreja says. “We called up the promoter, Future Sound Asia, and they told us that they can’t move their date around, so we moved our show a week later.”

He attests to the good spirit of other promoters when they chose not to put up any major shows during FMFA last year.

Kukreja explains that it’s more of a regional rather than a Malaysian attitude. Having been in constant communications with the likes of Chugg Entertainment, LAMC Productions and even Zouk in Singapore, they strongly embrace a communal-like approach for events happening around the region.

INSTILLING TRUST

With FMFA built at such a magnitude and held in a country that previously had Gwen Stefani, Jennifer Lopez, Beyonce and Adam Lambert warned to tone down their concerts, the trio had to make sure they played by the book and played it well.

“Tourism Malaysia has been working very hard to promote the country as a viable travel destination for events and shows. They understand that this affects the global perception of the country. It’s a constant dialogue between the councils, government and us,” Mathews says and with a slightly stricter tone he adds: “But it comes back to the fact that we need to have responsible players in the market. If you get someone who doesn’t care and is just looking to turn a quick buck, that’s when the problems happen.”

Kukreja was quick to broach that it’s easy to blame the Malaysian government – who are slowly rethinking their conservative limitations – just for doing their job.

“People start complaining to the government about a badly managed event and question their legislative measures; so when we meet up with the officials, they try to make us understand where they are coming from. And we do,” Kukreja says.

For Mathews, a good run instils more confidence not only in the government and ticket buying public but also the corporates.

“These shows are really expensive to put on,” he says. “Our currency works against us, and if you don’t have the corporates come on board for tie-ups and partnerships, it’s going to be really hard to do anything.”

FMFA 2013 – A WELL-BALANCED AFFAIR

At a cost of RM$10 million (S$3.9 million), this year’s FMFA is arguably one of the most expensive festivals ever put together in Southeast Asia. The two-day party will host 26 international, 5 regional and 23 Malaysian acts playing across four different tents (one of which is by the Red Bull Music Academy) and is expected to attract a total of 60,000 revellers.

However, with a festival that will feature the likes of Armin van Buuren, The Prodigy, PSY, Rita Ora, Fun., Bloc Party, Temper Trap, Naughty By Nature, De La Soul and Ladytron to name but a few, surely, the regional and local acts will be taking on the quieter parts of the day. No – Livescape refuses to let them play second fiddle.

The Prodigy, Armin van Buuren,, Bloc Party, Psy, Rita Ora and The Temper Trap

“We programmed the line-up in such a way that it gives everyone an opportunity; we won’t have all our local and regional artists play only on the start of the show,” Kukreja says.

In this regard, Malaysia’s prominent DJ duo, Goldfish and Blink, will be playing between an unmentioned international act and Tinie Tempah. “I think that’s important,” Kukreja concludes.

Both agree that when one takes a look at major music conferences such as South By Southwest and CMJ Music Marathon in the States, there’s a growing number of Asian acts being invited.

“That’s why for FMFA, about 40 per cent are Asian acts and the rest are internationals,” Mathews points out.

As for what he thinks about the line-up: “We got our hands on whatever we could get last year, but for 2013, we carefully picked who should be on the bill.”

Mathews asserts that the line-up will appeal to a broad spectrum of revellers and it was an intentional approach.

“You look at Armin who rose in stature from early 2000; those who stopped clubbing in that era would want to see him again. Similarly with The Prodigy, sure, the kids would know who they are, but they would resonate with the 30-somethings at a time when ‘Smack My Bitch Up’ and ‘Firestarter’ was huge,” Mathews postulates.

It’s a more complete festival from where Livescape is standing, and as Mathews explains, they are able to programme the line-up with cutting-edge Asian acts and an international bill that’s relevant to Southeast Asia.

“It’s the main reason why we do what we do. We are passionate about music. We want people from that side of the world to look at this side of the world and go ‘their music is really dope’,” Mathews says.

With that, he encapsulates what Future Music Festival Asia is really about – a platform that doesn’t shy away from its main responsibilities: growing Asia’s burgeoning music industry a party at a time.

“Will we see you there?” Mathews asks. “We sure will,” I reply with a tinge of newfound respect and admiration.

Future Music Festival Asia 2013 | 15-16 March 15 to 16 | Sepang International Circuit, Kuala Lumpur | Tickets RM$158 (single-day pass), RM$238 (weekend pass) and RM$388 (VIP two-day access) and are available for purchase on www.futuremusicfestival.asia.