“International concerts in Malaysia are not cheap to organise. They can cost from US$5mil to US$6mil (RM16.5mil to RM19.8mil), and cancellations can ruin the organisers.” – The Star, ‘Music festivals are big money‘
Last week, FMFA (Future Music Festival Asia) announced through our friends at Hype.my that they’re seeking another country to hold their events from next year onwards. And who can blame them? Their event, which is almost undisputably the biggest music event on the Malaysian calendar, was cancelled just hours before it was due to start due to 6 youngsters dying from drug overdose cases at the party the night before. Next month itself, Livescape Asia – the company behind FMFA, decided to move their party to a cruise ship in international waters, to ensure no such repeat of the events happen again.
UPDATE: FMFA has just announced that they’ll be moving to Singapore instead. Check out the full update on Hype.my’s latest post.
In fact, since the event, there hasn’t been an outdoor dance party since.
Life In Colour, which was supposed to attract ravers to splash each other with paint in April this year was also cancelled in the aftermath of FMFA. As people who were looking forward to both events, and personally, as a veteran of raves since the old KLIA days, I decided to explore if, in this paranoid climate, we would EVER have another rave in Malaysia.
“Calling them raves gives them a bad rep. most party goers prefer the ‘festival’ monicker and ravers have been blamed by the masses as the cause for cancellations due to the drugf***ed deaths. your standard indie or ‘hipster’ kids (hate them if you want, they’re the nicest people out there) don’t have a strong history of drug in party culture. it’s usually the trance and EDM heads that do this. keep in mind the deaths were all at ASOT.” – local DJ who prefers to be anonymous
*ASOT stands for A State of Trance, and promises fans a full-day of their favourite trance artists at FMFA.
Oops. Er.. music event then 🙂
So how difficult is it to organise a music event in KL?
We’re sure that you have some idea of procedures needed to approve artists to come to Malaysia, but there’s a very strong reason why a lot of them prefer to go to Singapore. Shown above is a list provided by PUSPAL (The Central Agency for Application for Filming and Performance by Foreign Artistes and no, we don’t know how this acronym becomes PUSPAL). Some of the prohibitions quite funny.
These are some of the stuff they don’t allow artistes to do:
1. Wear clothes which is unbuttoned or too exposed until chest and body can be seen.
2. Throw object towards the audience (guitar pick also cannot meh???)
3. Sitting together with the audience at any time. Their performances are restricted on the stage of the premises only.
and of course…
4. Do action or say words that could be understood as instigating, attracting to pride a certain group of the society or religion in the context of race polarization which could jeopardize stability of the country.
And these are just the official rules. Under every category, there’s also a “Other terms set by PBT / Licensing Officer” which effectively makes this whole list pointless, since it is no longer in black-and-white.
We asked the people who would know best, the organisers of FMFA.
“To be honest, it was already extremely difficult in bringing artists into Malaysia previously, the powers that be had implemented a difficult archaic application process that was subjected to various levels of approvals in order for a show to go on. For example, when submitting an artist for approval by PUSPAL, we are required to handover passport details, song lists, wardrobes, for them to evaluate. But the challenge is, if we want these items, the artistes’ managements will require us to first confirm the act and pay the artist fee in order to get those information. It’s a Catch-22 situation. But without these, we won’t be able to even submit the application. So what choice are promoters left with but to take a risk in paying the act upfront first and then crossing their fingers that the approval will come through? – Iqbal Ameer, Livescape Asia
Even once you pass all this and get your permits, they can still be cancelled at any moment, even minutes before the event. And of course, no compensations are paid if they are. “If PUSPAL decides half way that the act is somehow deemed ‘not suitable’ for whatever reason it may be, they can just pull the plug anytime – even after approvals are given,” Iqbal said. “So the promoter loses money on booking the act, marketing the act, paying suppliers, etc and the company goes bust, people lose jobs.”
But if we go dance party sure some flers will OD. How can?
Most industry people feel the same on this topic -that people will always take drugs, and if not at a dance festival, then in a club just the same (where security is arguably much less rigid). First, let’s also put this in perspective.
6 people died at one annual music festival.
“Research by the Malaysian Institute of Road Safety (Miros) showed that an average of of 18 people were killed on Malaysian roads daily. The figure is expected to rise to 29 by 2020.” – ‘Malaysia ranked 20th in road deaths‘, The MalayMailOnline.
In fact, Iqbal from Livescape makes the same point as well.
“In every business there’s a risk. There’s accidents on the road everyday. If the answer to when something goes wrong is to shut down the entire industry, then by that logic, doesn’t it then makes sense to shut down the entire auto industry?” – Iqbal, Livescape Asia
The thing is, everyone needs to drive in Malaysia, whereas drugs are something someone else takes. Having said that, drugs are consumed everywhere, and it was extremely difficult to find out how many people actually died from drugs in Malaysia. The closest we got was this site, which said 0.3 per 100,000, which given a population of 30 million is approximately 90 people annually. However, other sites warn that particularly in Asia, actual figures are misreported, and hard to come by, so chances are it could be more, given that according to this UNICEF report, we have 300,241 drug users in the country, or a solid 1.1% of the population.
In fact, there seem to be more alcohol-related deaths (0.8 per 100,000), and that’s considering that less than 40% of the population is allowed to drink. The death-rate for MDMA (or ecstasy) is actually pretty low (about the same as antibiotics… heh), which is astonishing considering all of it is manufactured illegally, and not monitored by any organisation.
That’s why there’s actually a case for legalising drugs so they can be regulated (with articles from the BBC and The Economist even), and made safer. Like they did for alcohol many many years ago, but that’s a story for another day la.
As for enforcement, Iqbal told CILISOS that they were already doing as much as they realistically could, such as allowing full-access to undercover cops, but that it was impossible to stop people from taking drugs if they really wanted to.
“There’s no way any organiser can ensure that zero drugs get through an event. For example, when people come through our event, legally, we’re only allowed to check bags and conduct pat downs. So if someone pops a pill before he or she enters or hides it in their undergarments, how can we detect that?” Iqbal, Livescape Asia.
So have they been banned for good?
To be honest, we could not find anything in the news about the government, either state or federal, banning outdoor music festivals. While in the immediate aftermath of FMFA, there were a few articles written, and even a quote from good ol’ moderate-but-suspicious KJ…
“Khairy, however, stressed today that a more comprehensive solution needed to be considered, including tightening safety and security measures at concerts, as well as having drug abuse education campaigns.” – The MalayMailOnline
… almost kinda everyone expected a ban that didn’t come.
We checked with a few sources, and we did find a few upcoming parties, one from the guys who did the We Love Asia series of concerts
and the Sunway Christmas Party for line dancers, which is probably a different category of outdoor dance party 🙂
“We didn’t try bringing in EDM artists but we are aware that there is an aversion on PUSPAL’s part to approve EDM artists for big outdoor events. For us, there was greater scrutiny on what happens at the event and also higher expectations when it came to security etc” – Adrian Yap, Organiser and Founder of Urbanscapes
What kinda security? Well, first of all, there will be cops around, and PUSPAL has also asked questions about their security checks, and of course, how many are in their security team. At least on his end, Adrian feels that applying for permits for this year’s Urbanscapes (which is in it’s 12 years).
But then we got a phone text from one of our industry contacts, who’s something of a veteran in organising EDM events.
“Government is blocking all international outdoor event. Puspal filter and reject all applications,” C, event organiser of a series of Malaysian dance events.
He said that his company is expecting an announcement from PUSPAL soon, and is anticipating that it will make conditions for no alcohol to be served, and professional guard dogs to be at entrances to sniff out narcotics. So what about the events like the Electronic Qash? Well if you note the poster up there, you’ll see it’s all local DJs. He also implies (but doesn’t outright says) that PUSPAL is almost purposefully trying to cause losses.
“Let me tell u why so many cancellation. Organiser apply a permit, PUSPAL hold it & 1 week before event they say no. They didn’t say no, but say KIV then last minute say no. Boom. Cancel.” – C
C mentions that he expects things to come back in 2015 a little bit, but expect these events to be 100% alcohol free. Unfortunately, if people are banned from one substance, they’ll just find another.
Another VERY interesting point is that PUSPAL apparently holds NO jurisdiction outside of Peninsular Malaysia! Which explains why our bros and sistas on the Eastside have started creating events like this.
And what does this mean for us deprived ravers’ Malaysia?
“A lot of opportunities to promote the country’s tourism, local artistes and corporate advertising has affected a small sector of the economy, so if they can see the monetary sense in that, they might un-ban it eventually. Just like how Singapore first put a curb on the 3am closing time for clubs a decade ago, Malaysia followed after a year or two, and when SG unban it, they follow back at it again and loosen the closing curb to 5am (for Zouk and Heritage Row). Hence, in Malaysia, nothing is definite when it comes to curbing laws for the club scene or the rave scene.”- DJ Fono, Zouk
“Not too sure what’s the future of raves in Malaysia. But what’s been going has affected a lot of organizers to even rethink of doing an international event.” – Davern Koh, Hypeembeats
“The cancellations are definitely bad for the industry. And there are better methods at combating drug abuse which have been attributed as the main cause of cancellations for FMFA. There must be a better way and I assure you the attendees and organisers would be interested in working together with authorities to make this work. And besides, in a year of such hardship and controversy, pooping parties is poor play.” – Ruud, Indiego & Co.
And of course, we asked FMFA themselves, if they see FMFA returning to Malaysia someday.
“Yes we do…if we can get the support from the people. We need to stand up for our rights to enjoy music. Promoters can’t do this alone, we can’t risk everything we have to do shows without support from the people that want to see performers come to Malaysia. We need the government to be more open-minded and more solutions-based instead of banning everything under the sun ‘IF’ there is potential that something could go wrong. And to do that we need the people to speak up to get their point across and pressure the government.This is going to sound direct, but Malaysia needs to grow up. The government has been preaching about Malaysia being a moderate country. But I dare ask, are we really that moderate? When you get a group of people opposing an act just because of what he or she wears. I guess the people at the top just needs to speak to the man on the street in foreign countries to see what their perception on Malaysia really is. Are we really moderate? I doubt it.” – Iqbal, Livescape Asia.
Well, looking at the way the Malaysian government change the law like how they change underwear, I would think it is likely to come back. – Another Anonymous DJ who plays at Zouk
Let’s hope so guys 🙂