As partygoers, music festival attendees, and ravers, we are in other words, consumers. Generally, as consumers, the most of us have no idea what goes on behind the scenes, what it takes to organise a music festival, as all we do is enjoy the festival or complain when we feel it’s not up to par.
“If you’re in this for money / cool, you’re a dumb*ss. Don’t be in this scene if you’re not gonna have heart for it.” – JC Anh (International Director of VU ENT/Global Gathering/Life In Color in South Korea)
On December 11th (Thursday), IMS Asia-Pacific took place and one of the highlights was the exchange between promoters of global festivals and events from China, Hong Kong, South Korea, Singapore, and Japan touched on the huge growth of the music industry.
During that particular sitting, JC Ahn, the International Director of VU ENT/Global Gathering/Life In Color in South Korea was critical of those who got into the music business for the wrong reasons in his strongly worded commentary. His honest and straight-forward opinions easily won him the most explosive and controversial speaker of the day, and quite honestly, everything he said was on point.
With the all the drama in Malaysia alone this past year, in regards to cancellation of music festivals and to international drama (remember the recent brawl at Stereosonic?) it was evident that we needed to get a better understanding of things from the organisers’ point of view. What better way to do this than to chat with JC Anh and Frank Cotela, the co-founder of Stereosonic.
Personally for us, it was rather refreshing to hear honest opinions of EDM promoters about the challenges and mistakes made in the industry. Here’s what JC Anh had to say when we chatted with him:
Hey JC! Loved your session earlier. As the International Director of VU ENT/Global Gathering/Life In Color in South Korea, I’m sure you heard about the cancellation of Life In Color which was set to take place in Kuala Lumpur back in March this year. What are your thoughts on it?
Yes, it was cancelled by the government due to deaths at Future Music Festival Asia. Actually, Ben Law from Future Sound Asia was supposed to be in charge of Life In Color Malaysia. It’s unfair because some f*cking idiot comes in with these fake drugs and sells them to people, and well you know. I mean it’s not the organisers’ fault. It’s really unfair. They can’t watch over thousands of people. They did do their due diligence, they played their part by checking people that were coming into the festival and they did try and do what they could, but you know, you can’t stop everybody. Obviously, the dealer got in and dealt bad sh*t to a lot of people so yes, the fact of the matter is people got hurt.
Also, because EDM is blowing up, and it’s becoming a huge thing, it was recognised by the government. So when the government heard about it, they came in the next day, which was the last day and shut it down. That hurt everybody − from the customers to the artistes to the management team to the promoters, everybody! Because of that one incident, then all the other EDM festivals got shut down in Malaysia.
Something similar happened, which had nothing to do with festivals and drugs – the ferry incident in Korea and that led to the shutting down of a couple of festivals in Korea. It depends on the situation you know? Mass murders, mass suicides, mass accidents where people die, obviously there’s supposed to be a mourning period. I totally understand what the government is doing, it sucks but you know, it’s humanity. It’s not a drug a thing, it’s humanity – people die, and you’ve gotta show your respect.
I must say though, there’s been articles linking drugs to EDM. What are your thoughts on that and the impact that it leaves on the EDM industry?
I think it’s unfair to label something like that. There are people who actually love the music and want to be there to enjoy the music. There are also people who want to get f*cked up, so they use drugs but that’s their prerogative. That’s something the promoters and organisers can’t stop. They can try stopping it at the door but it’s just going to go on. If people want to do drugs, they will find a way to do it. So, I think it’s not fair for them to just link EDM with drugs. I mean what about those rock festivals? Lollapalooza, Coachella, and back in the day, Woodstock. I mean even the artistes themselves – Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, they all died of an overdose. Granted, DJ AM, he died of an overdose but that was at the very beginning when EDM was actually starting to blow up and everyone has already forgotten about that. If they’re going to focus on drugs, then I’m sure, actually I’m almost positive, that if you go to Glastonbury or any other rock festivals that has nothing to do with EDM and you’ll find that they have more, if not just as much drugs as EDM festivals do so it’s unfair to label just one type of festival.
Fair enough. What are some of the biggest challenges you face when it comes to organising a festival and what would you say is key to making an event successful?
For me, it’s just working with the right people. Some people think they know best and so they do something the way they think it needs to be done when in fact, that’s not the right way. There’s an international standard and certain ways to do things, from artiste booking to production and the way you handle ticketing and stuff like that.
From my experience in Korea, everyone is an expert, everyone knows better and then they’ll do something without any communication. I think the most important thing to organise something, be it a club night or large scale event, is good communication. If there’s a problem, be upfront about it, let everyone know so that everyone can work together to fix it. Some people just keep their mouths shut and try to fix it themselves till the very last minute and when they can’t fix it, a bigger problem arises. So yeah, in my experience, the best way to have a successful event is to have very good communication, no matter how good or bad issues are, be upfront so everything can be done smoothly.
Lastly, from an organisers point of view, how would you say the music scene has grown in Asia?
Oh the music scene has grown tremendously in Asia. It’s just what people fail to realise is that Asia populates almost more than 50% of the entire planet. So if you take that factor and you just look at all the people that are enjoying the music and how it’s uprising within Asia’s population, it’s not really a big dent but worldwide, we’re big players. We’re big dominators in the music scene.
Thanks JC. It was great talking to you.
Sure, no problem. Thank you too!
After chatting with JC Anh and getting his honest opinion on things, we sat down with Frank Cotela to hear his side of things.
Hey Frank! How are you? Is there anything else you can tell us about the recent drama surrounding Stereosonic?
Hey! I’m great, thank you. Yourself? I think I’ve said everything I’ve had to say on Facebook and I’m going to leave it at that. I mean there’s no point to keep talking about it. I think the article just says everything that I said and you know, it’s from there and on.
Fair enough. As the co-founder of Stereosonic, what would you say is the most important about organising or planning a festival?
To always be current, that’s most important. You have to be at the forefront of what you do. If you’re a big festival, you’re presenting a show to the people so you have to present the best stages, best entertainment lineup, the best everything. Of course, with that being said, there are a lot of challenges we face. First of all, there’s availability of talent. If you think about it, there are not that many headliners in the world − they have to play in Asia, South America, America as well as Europe and there’s probably 20 headliners in the world, so not everyone can get them. That’s when we have to be a little bit creative with the lineup. Like I mentioned in my panel, this year the real winners at Stereosonic were the locals. I felt the locals really came of age and I think because of the local scene, the clubs are very strong at the moment so the local artistes were really well received. Building up local talent, being creative all the time, being upfront with what you do, safety – making sure it’s a safe environment for the patrons, all that’s important.
Stereosonic has arguably become one of the biggest dance music festivals in Australia and yes, the EDM scene is booming, but do you think EDM will eventually phase out?
Yes, Stereosonic is and of course, like everything else, EDM will phase out. If you look at fashion and style and all that sort of stuff over the ages, everything just comes and then something else will come out of it. Like one of the NERVO girls said, they used to do raves in the 90s and then it just changed and they moved on to something else. Things change, nothing is forever (laughs).
I’m sure you’ve heard about Future Music Festival Asia moving from Malaysia to Singapore due to the incident this year. What are your thoughts about drug-related deaths during dance music festivals?
Well, you can die in Singapore too if you get caught with drugs. So, the message is, don’t take drugs. If you get high, you die. You die either of an overdose or you die in jail so it’s one or the other. Don’t do drugs, it’s as simple as that.
That’s very true. Lastly, any advice for new/young organisers or concert promoters?
Make sure you’re aware of all the challenges involved ahead of you. Whether it’s from licensing and planning the artistes and talent to even the food you sell, you have to have everything in control and you’ve gotta watch your budgets too. But it’s not something I would recommend to new upstarts, unless you’re a big corporation and you have a lot of money to spend, don’t do it (laughs).
Thank you so much for your time Frank.
No problem, it was nice talking to you. I was quite surprised you heard about the brawl and read about my Facebook post so that was very good!
Big thanks to our friends at IMS Asia-Pacific for organising these interviews for us. It was really refreshing to get the organisers point of view of things.
For more on IMS Asia-Pacific, hit up its website.