From a magazine publication that focused on the happenings in Kuala Lumpur, Adrian Yap has come a long way to establish what seems to be one of the most prominent music and creative arts festival in Malaysia.
Our writer Azam Hisham, managed to get Adrian out of his hectic schedule, considering that the festival in this weekend, to share his stories and thoughts.
There’s KLue and then there’s Urbanscapes. What was the catalyst to this? What made you want to start all of this?
Well, the magazine was more to do with my fascination with pop culture, especially youth pop culture. So back in 2000, there wasn’t really anything out there that sort of covered the scene and what was going on out there. There were fan zines and all that kind of stuff but there weren’t actually publications that were dedicated to bringing a lot of what was going on in KL at that time to a more mass audience. So that was where my fascination was, to come up with a publication/website at that time that was going to be targeted and towards giving people more insight on what’s going on in KL when it comes to events and people. The idea was also that we didn’t want it to be a music publication or an art or food magazine. We wanted something that was going to cross all the platforms of creativity and that was generally the idea because we wanted to have a publication that showcased where KL really was at that time. And that’s the reason behind KLue.
Urbanscapes came as a result two years after because the same rational with KLue was that two years after doing KLue we realized a lot of cool things happening but apart from reading about it in KLue, there wasn’t really much opportunity to in one day sort of see all the things that are happening in one place. So at that time we very simply just contacted all the people we wrote about and said we want to put an event together and was wondering if we could get all of you to be part of it.
At that time, DJs and bands didn’t mix. DJs had their own thing and bands had their own thing. So it was kind of cool bringing different people together. We also brought a lot of artists in, we brought Vincent Leong, etc. I think at that time it was something new and novel in the sense that there weren’t many cross platforms type of events at that time so that was basically the idea. It was very simply a progressive idea between starting with KLue and what we wanted to do and from there going something into what was more an event version of KLue itself.
So Urbanscapes sort of translated what KLue magazine was. I guess it’s quite safe to say that it was probably the first of its kind when you brought all the different disciplines that were happening in KL to come together at Grappa Soho for the first Urbanscapes. But it skipped some years to being in KL Central..
Yup. I think putting a festival together is a bit of a challenge. It’s definitely a big challenge because financially, obviously there’s a huge investment involved in putting it together. Not just financially, but also resource wise. Grappa Soho was kind of okay because it was in one specific space and it was indoors. But doing an all-day event, obviously an outdoor environment is a lot more challenging and there are a lot more new things you can learn. So it took us a while to get our heads around the idea of moving it forward again. When it came to KLue or Urbanscapes, we never really had any big, grand master plan. We did the first one at Grappa Soho, and we did it. There wasn’t really anything planned next. We just kind of did it, and then we’ll see. And then after a while, we got around to doing it again. I think it was two years after that when we did the KL Central one which to be honest with you, was a major challenge financially. We lost quite a fair bit of money doing it. We also learned a lot doing that. So I think after that it took us a while to sort of nurse our wounds and chill out for a bit before we restarted and got back to doing it again, and that was in KLPac. That was when we got the ball rolling in. I think by that time, we were no longer that far ahead of the curve in the sense of the type of event we were doing. People were starting to appreciate these things a lot more and people were willing to pay for these events a lot more. It was easier to do it then because there was a growing audience and interest in the series. We’ve been growing ever since then.
So after that long gestation period, now it has become an annual event. How do you think Urbanscapes has evolved ever since Grappa Soho, Kl Central and now?
I see the history of Urbanscapes in two different levels. When Urbanscapes first started, we had to go through this whole learning curve and we had to learn how to make it financially, how to balance sponsorships with ticket sales, etc. We got a hang of it and I don’t know why but maybe it’s just me, we had to reboot the whole thing all over again. We reboot the whole thing last year, it was our 10th anniversary. So to be very honest with you, Urbanscapes’ so called version 2.0 which was last year onwards when we started opening the festival to a much larger audience and going with the weekend format as opposed to a single day format, it’s essentially like starting a whole new festival all over again.
We are in this point of time, in our second year, sort of like what it was like during the KL Central days. Yes, the brand name is there, the following and the foundation is built, but the weekend/international format type of festival is a whole new different learning turf, and we’re still learning. We’re figuring out how to make it work within the Malaysian context. When you want to do an international level type festival with international quality in not just the terms of the acts, but also in terms of production, setup, and etc. To be very honest, at this point of time, it’s quite a steep learning curve, it is quite challenging to make it work. We could easily just do and stick with the formula like of all the Urbanscapes we’ve done before, but I think the idea has always been that we wanted Urbanscapes to be not just a festival that challenges people to come for it, but also a festival that challenges people who organize it.
I think we want to constantly learn and push the boundaries all the time. And after doing it for nine years of Urbanscapes in the previous format, we felt that we needed to grow the festival more. Everyone that we watned to feature, we pretty much have already featured. We’ve had Yuna come play three times, we’ve had Zee Avi play, we’ve had tonnes of people play. Almost everyone we think is cool in the Malaysian music scene, has played Urbanscapes already.
So we felt that we really want to broaden that into a more regional context and also more of an international level or we could just stick to the same format. We didn’t want that. We didn’t want it to be a festival that just goes with the flow. I think that’s why we generally pushed ourselves to jumping into this deep end with the whole festival last year and we’re still learning how to keep the flow with last year and this year’s.
How have you seen KL evolve culturally?
KL I think has evolved tremendously since 2000. Whether it’s by choice or not I think it has or whether I think it’s the power and influence of the internet. And that basically has opened everyone to a global view of context. It’s simple as your pop culture appreciation and consumption. In the past, there’s always a lag because of the reality of ideas being passed from one point to another. It takes a while to get to where you are. So lets say if back in the day in the late 90s or whatever, you hear a band and you like it, you hear about it through a magazine or a fan zine or something. Then you read about it. But by then, it would probably be about six to seven months behind or whatever is happening outside of Malaysia. There’s always this little lag because that’s just how communication worked back in the day, and if you want to buy the music or listen to it, you had to get the cassette or the CD, and that’s a physical thing that needed to be transported or sent over, etc. A lot of things and ideas gets a lag and also depends whether people could afford it. But I think now with the internet, it has changed things dramatically. Everyone can get things instantly. A song gets released, it’s released instantly around the world. And it no longer comes down to whether you can afford it or not because in general, everyone pretty much gets the same access. So that changes a lot of things. That opens up a larger pool of people to appreciate a lot of things and expose themselves to a lot more ideas and different kinds of concepts. So I think even not because we want to or not or how the internet is progressively moving us forward, whether it’s a good or bad thing, it’s debatable. If everything is so readily available, the flipside to that also is that people tend to be more transient in their approach to music, art and whatever.
It’s all sampling, little bit here and there, and then moving on. It becomes more about trends as opposed to really growing to appreciate that CD you bought for your hard earned money and you’re listening to it on repeat for the next three/four months because that’s the only CD you have as opposed to now where you have a library of about thousands of songs. So I think there are pros and cons to that. But yeah, culturally, we are a lot more exposed now.
Talking about what you think how KL has evolved culturally, maybe we could go towards a specific point of time in your memory. What is one memorable gig or shindig or performance or party that’s memorable to you?
Quite a few. Generally they tend not to be my events, just because I don’t ever enjoy my own events (laughs). Not to mock the bands we book or artists we bring in, we book and bring them because they are awesome. It’s just that I never enjoy myself because I’m too busy doing other things. It’s a lot of work. But I really enjoyed Metallica this year just for pure reasons because it really reminded me of secondary school so that was good. Other stuff was I guess smaller shows that I used to go to with a lot of local acts. There used to be quite a lot of shows back in the day in Ampang and stuff like that. I think shows like that, especially for a middle class Chinese boy going to these gigs, it’s quite an eye opener – there’s a whole different world out there. And more importantly, not only is it a whole different world, but also because it’s interesting to know at that point of time when you think anything is good or cool has to come from outside Malaysia so to be able to see that and say that’s not necessarily true was nice.
And during my time, all these bands were coming true – The Pilgrims, OAG, etc. All these different bands were coming through. It was just great to be able to see that music and I think that is partly the reason that drives us to do what we do when it comes to KLue and Urbanscapes because I think there were a lot more people out there like me who didn’t see Malaysia in that context.
It was nice to be able to go and be surprised that there’s actually all these interesting stuff out there. I remember seeing Too Phat – this was long, long time ago when I think Planet Hollywood was around. I’m not a big fan of hip hop or that kind of music to be honest, but I was really blown away by their stage presence and performance. And that was something I still remember very well. I was very pleasantly surprised.