Wednesday, 26 March 2014 | MYT 12:00 PM

Don't stop the music: Cancelled festival planners tell their side of the story

Concertgoers at FMFA: Somewhere in there, someone could have been having too much of a good time.

Concertgoers at FMFA: Somewhere in there, someone could have been having too much of a good time.

Future Music Festival Asia, Life In Color, Kuantan Music Festival – three concerts gone in one week. There's been anger and confusion over what happened and why, but now the event organisers are telling their side of the story.

When Livescape Asia called off Day 3 of its Future Music Festival Asia (FMFA) concert on March 15, it was late Saturday afternoon, hundreds of fans had already entered the grounds of Bukit Jalil Stadium, with thousands more on their way to the event, and several acts had finished their early performances by then.

The news spread like wildfire as texts, tweets, Facebook posts, status updates, phone calls – on every imaginable social networking tool available to the concertgoers – reacted in shock and horror. Some of the horror was over the deaths of five fans from Day 2 of the event, after one died on the grounds and the others while on their way to or at various hospitals, following a then-suspected drug overdose during Friday night's trance DJ rave.

The shock, however, was that the authorities had the audacity to "advice" Livescape to pull the plug on the last night of FMFA instead of risking more casualities, and that Livescape actually listened to them instead of standing up for the "rights" of all the other ticketholders to carry on partying. 

Fans were furious that they were "robbed" of seeing acts like Pharrell Williams and Macklemore and Ryan Lewis live on stage, and took to the Internet to vent their anger and frustration. The rage and vitriol spewed against the "irresponsible druggies" – they were just kids – for "spoiling" everybody else's fun and "ruining Malaysia's image" was palpable. Labels like "cowards" were plastered everywhere, and if all the posts were true, it would seem like the world had ended.

But Rahul Kukreja, Livescape Asia's director, is sticking by his decision and believes that they all did the right thing. “Obviously, there were a lot of disappointed fans. But the safety of the festival-goers must always come first, so we decided to heed the advice from the authorities not to proceed with Day 3 of the festival. I hope the fans will understand that it was the right and responsible thing for us to do,” he tells The Star Online.

Rahul Kukreja, director of Livescape Asia and organiser of Future Music Festival Asia. 

Rahul makes it clear that the authorities never threatened to revoke Livescape's business license if they had failed to comply with the suggestion to cancel the last day of the festival. He says, “There were no threats issued by the authorities towards the organisers. We were informed that the show could not go on in the interest of public safety, and key members from the organiser's team unanimously agreed to heed that advice.”

For the young company, dealing with the "lost of credibility" among concertgoes and how they do damage control to win back their fans will be a massive learning curve. But having tallied up their losses to the tune of RM4mil, it would seem that Livescape is just as much a victim of what happened that weekend as anyone else.

Victim Of Consequences

Meanwhile, repercussions from FMFA cancellation rippled across to the Kuantan Music Festival (KMF), where Crocodile Rock Production was forced shut down the outdoor concert. The organiser received instruction from the Pahang state government, no less, to close the curtain on the first-time event well before its April 4 and 5 performance dates.

“I was shocked when they delivered the news at the police station (in Pahang). I was devastated,” says Crocodile Rock's Atord Hamdan, after the Pahang Chief Minister instructed Kuantan authorities to order the cancellation of the live music festival.

According to reports, the authorities acted on a police complaint made by Indera Mahkota UMNO Youth division members, who wanted the event banned following what happened at FMFA. “Those with doubts should have clarified with us instead of acting hastily,” Atord says. 

The Kuantan Music Festival was another victim of the FMFA incident.

The "reason" given by the political members couldn’t be further from the truth, says KMF director Erica Gilbert. “For the record, any report that the organisers of the KMF are connected in any way to the organisers of the FMFA is totally false and a misrepresentation, which has ultimately led to the cancellation of this festival,” said Gilbert in a press statement.

She says the cancellation of the show, which cost half-a-million ringgit, wasn't just a financial waste but a great blow for music fans who would have enjoyed a family-styled performance of acoustic, blues, jazz, fusion and world music from over 50 Malaysian and international artistes.

“We are sad for Kuantan, for Pahang and for the east coast of Malaysia, which will never be able to enjoy an event such as the KMF, which was put together for all genuine music lovers and musicians to enjoy,” she added.

Hard Work Gone To Waste

Music festivals in Malaysia usually last a day to three days, but the time, energy and effort – not to mention, money – it takes to get it all together and pull it off is much more than regular concertgoers can imagine. KMF organisers, a team of just five, started working on their project 15 months ago when their baby was thrown out just two weeks before it was due. So, their disappointment is understandable.

Life In Color, a Future Sound Asia event, has also been called off. 

According to Livescape, organising a concert – let along a festival over several days – is no walk in the park.

“Our planning conforms to the international Operations Order Manual, which applies to every major festival across the globe. Approvals are given by all the relevant parties only if we adhere to these standards. Tight security measures were put in place to curb admission of illegal substances into the festival. However, the regulatory search routine only allows bag searches and pat downs, which were conducted at the entrances,” explains Rahul.

And in case you were wondering, FMFA had about 100 police officers patrolling the crowd, controlling the traffic and the perimeters, and trying to prevent party drugs from getting any action. Rahul says there were 280 security staff members deployed at the event and 80 RELA members on ground.

"We also put in place extensive medical facilities on site, with three marked medical posts, one onsite emergency trauma centre, 14 medical personnel, 10 nurses and seven ambulances. We also had numerous anti-drug messages shared through our social media channels prior to the event, and even anti-drug warning signs at the entrance and around the festival grounds,” he adds.

Even with all that, a tragic accident happened. And while concertgoers fumed, naysayers were equally quick to point their fingers at Livescape and accuse them of facilitating the deaths of the kids with their "immoral" and "un-Malaysian" event. Rahul brushes off the accusations of neglect and says that Livescape, as always, did its best and all it could do to avoid a bad situation.

“There's only so much organisers can do. From our end, we do our very best in terms of safety, health and security. At the end of the day, festival-goers need to be responsible for themselves, too. Education goes a long way in this. People need to be aware of the dangers of drug abuse. There's got to be more awareness on this and we as a society have to address this issue together,” he says.

Financial Hit

All those security measures and precautions, however, can't always stop kids from doing what they want to do. But it's not just lives at stake here – there's also another hefty price to pay with any concert cancellation. Gilbert, whose company incurred a massive loss because of KMF's cancellation, informs Star Online that they weren't covered by any insurance policy and now have to bear the brunt of the catastrophe on their own backs.

“The money we've spent on the event – it’s gone. The promotional campaigns, the billboards, the flight tickets to bring the international artistes in – we can’t get any of that money back. We don’t have an insurance coverage on concert cancellation because the premium is just too high. We didn’t anticipate this would or could happen to an event as mild as KMF,” she says.

Rahul also adds that, "Organisers put in tireless hours and significant investment into organising shows without a guarantee that they will see a return on their investment.” But he does reveal that FMFA would have brought in about RM112.6mil in "tourism revenue for the country", almost double what the festival took in last year, if all had gone according to plan.

“We were even going to announce our recognition by the Malaysia Book of Records, that FMFA 2014 was the ‘largest tourist audience in a concert’, surpassing the previous record held by Michael Jackson’s History tour in 1996,” he says. 

It’s All About Passion

Despite the brickbats being hurled at Livescape, and the big gaping hole now in their FMFA books, Rahul remains optimistic about the future of concerts in Malaysia.

“You've really got to be passionate about what you do. Every single promoter will tell you that. With a show like FMFA, our main goal was always to elevate the live music scene in Malaysia, and to position our country as a viable live music tourism destination in Southeast Asia. I believe we’ve managed to do that,” he says. 

It’s a sentiment shared by Atord and Gilbert, who say that profit was never the main idea behind their music festival.

“We wanted the KMF to be good portfolio for Pahang, to help the tourism industry and local folks, giving them a chance to build back their lives after the devastating flood which hit the state late last year," they says. "Now, realistically speaking, there's no funding left and we're not sure if there will even be another Kuantan Music Festival in the future.”

Tags / Keywords: Lifestyle , Entertainment , Entertainment , Music , news , concerts , cancelled , banned , Future Music Festival Asia , FMFA , Kuantan Music Festival , Livescape Asia , Rahul Kukreja


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