Asia’s music festival fans can’t get enough, but can the frenzy last?
China fuels the boom but organisers say new home-grown events are key to ongoing success
Asia’s music festival industry is experiencing unprecedented growth, but the explosion in new events may not be sustainable, participants at the first Asian Music Conference were told in Macau last week.
“We call it the Wild West in the Far East,” said Matt Rodriguez, an agent at US booking agency AM Only.
“It seems there are new festivals popping up every week in Asia, but we’re noticing that a lot of them are cookie-cutter copies of overseas festivals. In the US, we’ve seen that this leads to over-saturation and that many festivals fall by the wayside, but the cream always rises to the top and the best ones usually survive.”
China, in particular, is the main engine driving this growth, amid increasing demand for music festivals among young, affluent mainlanders.
Taj Bola, an agent at Britain’s Assured Agency, told the conference – which focused mainly on electronic music events – that while the festival scene was booming all over Asia, the biggest boom was taking place in China, despite periodic crackdowns by the authorities.
“I’m getting requests for artists for what they call ‘small festivals’ in China. When I look into them, I see that they are festivals for 50,000 people in cities that are home to 10 million people. I’m from the UK and that’s not what we would call a ‘small’ festival.”
Gil Wadsworth, the chief operating officer of event organiser A2Live, which has produced events such as the Storm Festival all over the mainland, told the audience at the Grand Hyatt Macau about the changing demographics he’s seen at his festivals over the years.
“Eight years ago our events mainly attracted expats, but the crowds at our festivals are now almost 90 per cent Chinese. This has led to huge growth for us – we had 50,000 people at our festival in Shanghai last year, and we’ve now expanded Storm to six cities across the mainland.”
Several speakers linked the boom in the festival scene to the downturn being experienced by established nightclubs and music venues across the mainland, which have also faced scrutiny and closures by the authorities.
Alex Baboo, the Hong Kong-born DJ known as Jamaster A and a promoter for the Bougainvillea Music Festival in Shenzhen, said attendance at the Shenzhen event had risen from 15,000 to 80,000 people in the space of a few years because youngsters were seeking new ways to experience music.
“When young people go to clubs, they see people just sitting down and drinking champagne and they want more than this. So this is why music festivals are really picking up in China – young people want to dance, they enjoy being outside, and they want to experience a better vibe.”
And while huge international festival brands such as Ultra – which is now being staged in South Korea Japan, Thailand, Bali, Macau and, for this first time this year, Hong Kong – were dominating the festival scene, several speakers highlighted the need for more home-grown events.
“It’s a no brainer to bring in a mega brand like Ultra, but the future lies in creating truly Asian festivals which attract Asian fan bases,” said Reason Xie, booking director at Taiwanese event management company theLoop.