If we had to say one thing about the Livescape Asia co-founders, it’s that they’ve come a long and far way since the first instalment of Future Music Festival Asia (FMFA) way back in 2012. Previously, we spoke to Livescape Asia Director Iqbal Ameer during the FMFA 2013 press conference – a lot of things have changed since then e.g. the unfortunate FMFA 2014 incident, FMFA moving out of Malaysia. Iqbal and his team definitely weathered every storm and will continue to ride out both the highs and the lows on their journey to making the festival a regionally-recognised brand.
Now that we’re a mere few weeks away from FMFA 2015, we thought that it’d be apt to quickly catch up with Iqbal as well as Livescape Asia Producer Rahul Kukreja.
Where did this all happen? Why, right “at home” at Livescape Asia’s HQ in Petaling Jaya, of course 😉
Here’s what went down:
Hi guys! What’s going on? Surprised to find the both of you in the office today considering the fact that most people are still on their CNY break.
Iqbal: You know what’s funny? We’re not actually supposed to be in the office today because our Chief Financial Officer (CFO) said that Monday is not a good day to start work (laughs). But this is it, it’s crunch time for us already and everything is coming in right now from scheduling artistes’ set times to hotel comms to production stuff. And because of this James Klein stage we’re doing, it’s a very new stage concept and never seen before..
Rahul: We got him on board to come and design a really cool stage for us for FMFA. What makes it different is design, it’s stuff that nobody has really done before, his speciality is designing bespoke stages. You know when you walk into the Ultra Music Festival events and there’s like a whole maze of stuff or Tomorrowland when you walk in there’s the iconic fairytale-like backdrop figures. It’s people like these who do this for festivals around the world so yeah, we’re using him for the first time and for the first time he’s doing it for all the Future Music Festivals (all the cities in Australia as well as FMFA in Singapore).
Iqbal: When we spoke the Singaporean production people, they’re very used to doing standard stages but now we’re going in and saying, “Hi! We want to do this..” and they’re like, “What the f…” So we’re pushing boundaries to heighten the festival experience and it’s a challenge because it’s more for us to handle, but this is why we love to do what we do.
I remember interviewing you last year and correct me if I’m wrong but you mentioned that FMFA 2014 cost RM15 million to produce. Now that you’ve moved to Singapore, with the currency exchange and all that, how much more expensive is it this time to produce FMFA?
Iqbal: That is correct! It’s an excess of about 30% more this time around but in Singaporean dollars this time around. Which is why we have to charge Singaporean dollars. Ideally, if we could, we would be charging SGD60 or SGD90. We’ve grown our fan base here in Malaysia drastically over the past 3 years so obviously we want Malaysians to come for FMFA 2015 and celebrate what we’ve achieved. But in order to do that, cost needs to go down. However, as with any festival concept, every year we need to make it bigger and better. In Singapore, they’ve got an amazing infrastructure, but everything comes with a price. It’s very systematic and it’s a good thing in a way, but it comes with a price. There’s a lot of increase in cost over there.
And what can you tell us about the new FMFA venue, since some partygoers have probably never been there before?
Iqbal: The Changi Exhibition Centre was built specifically for the Singapore air show. It’s really big and we’ve decided to take that space because there were no other spaces big enough in Singapore except for the stadium but we can’t do multiple stages in the stadium. With the venue booking, it comes with an air-conditioned hall which will also be known as our indoor arena come FMFA where The Prodigy and Knife Party will all be playing, which is quite cool because it’s different. When it’s an indoor space, we can do a lot of things such as lasers, lights, videos, etc. Then we’ve got the fantastic outdoor space which is next to the sea so partygoers will get a very nice breeze. Every single time that we’ve gone there for recce, it has never been too hot. It’s very nice!
Don’t mind me asking but what were some of the other venues regionally that you were looking at before you decided on moving FMFA to Singapore?
Rahul: There we so many! We were looking at Bangkok to Jakarta, to Seoul, and even Sarawak. But then we realised that when it came to logistics and stuff, it wouldn’t have worked as well in terms of space and production. Language barriers too.
Iqbal: It’s also the fact that at the end of the day, we’re very humbled that FMFA has grown into an international brand. You know when we first started FMFA, we put an “Asia” in its name because “glamour” only lah because we were like, “Whack only lah Asia. Let’s think big, let’s think big!” But now that it has grown big, it needs to be in an internationally-recognised space because remember, we need to attract artistes. Singapore seemed like the best choice plus it does have one of the busiest airports in Asia.
Rahul: When we were trying to book artistes for the first FMFA in Malaysia (FMFA 2012) coincidentally the event happened a week before the F1 Grand Prix in Sepang. So it was easier to get them to come over back then because a lot of the artistes actually stay on after that and went for the F1.
FMFA carries a stigma because of the unfortunate incident that happened at last year’s event. And I’m aware that Singapore doesn’t condone drugs but on Livescape Asia’s end, what extra measures are you taking this time to ensure that it doesn’t happen again?
Iqbal: The drug thing, you know, it’s worldwide problem. It can happen in any country but as long as we do our part and work together to eliminate it as much as possible, then we would’ve done our jobs as promoters. It’s something that we even implemented at FMFA 2014, we did. The things we did and the processes we implemented, to be honest even authoritative figures lauded at us. What happened was really unfortunate but for us, we always want to up the bar and be better based on previous findings like, “What can we do this time around to make it better or safer?”. We want you to come and have fun – not walk into jail.
Rahul: We’ve got internationally-recognised people coming in to support us such as EventAid from Australia, who are medical specialists specifically for substance abuse. They’re caretakers who will walk around and give you some water or try to treat you. They’re not the police or nurses. Then there’s SightCon, which is a team from Netherlands – they do security management for Tomorrowland and some of the biggest festivals in the world. They will really work with the local Singaporean security so we’re bringing in the best in the world. It’s the best measures.
Iqbal: And I think what we have is very sound in terms of making sure that we will take care of partygoers. Partygoers will also need to take care of themselves of course. They need to be responsible too and we will make sure that we have the best support system for them – at the same time not imposing on their privacy. We just want to make sure that everyone will have a good time.
How many people will you be expecting at FMFA next month?
Iqbal: I think currently we’re on track for about 26,000 a day. It’s a little less than last year but obviously there are various reasons as to why e.g. a change in venue, tickets prices increase. And as you said, FMFA carries a stigma now so Singaporeans who know about FMFA makes for about 20% or 30% so those who saw what happened last year, you know..that having said, a lot of people haven’t actually been to any of our shows before and this year, we have a lineup that we’re proud and it’s a new venue for us so it’s like a new product altogether. We’d like for them to come experience it for themselves.
Previously, FMFA has at least a few pop artistes but I noticed that in this year’s lineup, there are none and that would make it a little too EDM-driven. Is there a reason why there aren’t any pop artistes?
Rahul: Not yet!
Iqbal: Future Music Festival is..we always say that we’re a cross-genre festival..
Rahul: It also depends on the year because sometimes we’re so lucky that we had so may available pop artistes available you know when we had PSY, Fun, and Tempter Trap because suddenly there were so many of them who were doing stuff in the region and we could book them. But suddenly this year none of them are around and none of them want to do stuff for example or they want to do their shows or own world tours. So next year, you’ll never know, we might have an all-pop lineup!
Iqbal: Justin Bieber, Selena Gomez, Ariana Grande, BIGBANG! (laughs)
Booking BIGBANG isn’t a bad plan at all, actually! Last but not least, and this is the golden question by the way, will FMFA ever come back to Malaysia?
Iqbal: Hmm.. (dramatic pause) Let me put it this way – we’re born and bred Malaysians so we’ll never forget our roots no matter what. But in order for things like FMFA to happen, a lot of things need to happen not from us but from other parties involved. And when those things happen, then we have to evaluate our position. Moving things back when we’re growing something is very risky. We decided that as part of our expansion plans, I mean we’ve set up an office in Singapore, this is the next best step for the brand. If things change, we don’t know..we can’t tell you that FMFA will definitely come back..
Rahul: It’s really up to the whole environment to be right and sadly, we don’t control the environment. We just do shows, we do concerts, we do festivals, and I’d like to think that we do a really good job at it. Everything else, the social mindset, the culture, you know..that whole thing needs to change with the country and people need to be ready for it. On top of that, the current state of the currency also contributed to it. And that’s really beyond our control.
Thanks guys, for the chat. See you at the festival 😉
For the full FMFA 2015 lineup, click!