I guess it’s definite that you appreciate things going on here. How did you start out? What did you start out with before there was KLue and Urbanscapes?
I started out nothing. I needed a job (laughs). I graduated in finance, I went to a school in finance in USA. I came back during the financial crisis in 1997. So technically, I should be working in the banking of financial industry in some form, but ’97 was the time a lot of things were happening such as the Reformasi thing, there were also issues with the financial crisis.
So Bank Negara at that time basically sort of restricted and sold out a lot of financial products and what you do and what you can’t do in Malaysia at that time. So in the sense of what I wanted to do in a financial standpoint wasn’t readily available or wasn’t that interesting to me. Since there wasn’t really that much interest, I decided to try and start something, and that’s how we started the website.
Back in the day it took a very long time to get a KDN number so it took about a year or so, and then we started the magazine. I still remember the first issue of KLue and this is how far it goes back. We distributed it at Rock The World, I think it was the second edition or the first where it was held where Gardens is right now. I remember we went there and we distributed tonnes of KLue magazines, it was our first issue.
Now you also have the Upfront series. How do you book bands for that?
We did some Upfront shows a long, long time ago. I think our first Upfront show was either Architecture In Helsinki or We Are Scientists. So we had this Upfront series and we started booking these acts, that was during the Junk time. When we did Junk, we wanted to bring in some international acts and not the mainstream ones. So we got the opportunity to book some of these acts like Architecture In Helsinki, We Are Scientists, and even Ratatat. So we booked these acts in but the problem with them was that we could never do it regularly because we could not make money doing it. It wasn’t even a break-even, we were loosing money doing it.
The reason being was because we didn’t have a venue, so everytime we brought a band we had to rent the venue and sound system. The few that we did do were all done in Zouk. And we couldn’t make money because all the drinks that were sold went to the bar. So we sort of put it to the back and didn’t really look at it much. But it was always on the back of our minds that it would be kind of cool if we had our own venue, then we could do a lot of shows that doesn’t make financial sense, but we could do them just because we would have our own venue and it makes things a lot easier for us. We still have to sell tickets but we maybe don’t have to sell as many. So if you don’t have the pressure of selling that many tickets, then you can take chances on bands and acts we want to bring in.
When we opened The Bee outlet in Publika, that was part of the plan, that we wanted that venue to be a place where we can actually book acts. That’s one of the reason why the space is designed in a way where you can have it as a restaurant or bar or cafe. We can move everything, and we can change it into a venue type format. So when we finally got that opened, we started creating the series. And to be very honest with you, we are also very thankful and grateful to our partners because we are lucky in the sense that we got long term partners like Tiger and all that who would sponsor ‘x’ amount of shows a year, but would leave it to us to decide who the acts for the shows are. So we try and bring in acts that don’t necessarily have the chance to come to KL. So we have that, and recently launched for next year ‘Upfront Arena’.
The idea behind that is that we have two tiers of Upfront series – you have the ones at The Bee which is going to be for your 300-600 pax type of audience, so that would be the bands that would make do for that kind of audience. And then there are certain bands that we want to do maybe not as frequent, maybe about four times a year, and that would be larger acts that could attract between 1500 – 3000 people like Foals, Mew, and Explosions In The Sky. We are also working on some other acts for Upfront Arena right now so we hope to do at least four next year.
That’s a series dedicated to music. But with Urbanscapes we’ve got music, film, performing arts, and even literature. Which one is closest to you? Do you practice any of these or do you play yourself?
(Laughs) No, that’s why I do this. I think I kind of enjoy everything. It’s never really the genre or the platforms specifically. It’s really more of the message and what it’s about. It’s really more about the subject itself. But in terms of consumption, music is obviously number one. Film is another thing I enjoy but don’t have that much time to dedicate to. So yeah, it really comes down to what the story or the message is.
Lets talk about KLue a bit. I remember you got a lot of KL people at that time. What has KLue’s team of writers gone on to do nowadays?
KLue’s team of writers have actually gone on to doing things that pays the bills (laughs). There was never any doubt that when we did KLue, it was probably one of the most challenging products to make work financially. While there was a decent amount of readership, it wasn’t the largest. If you want a large number of readers, you go for your female’s or men’s magazine. A magazine about KL or whatever is not going to be selling a lot of copies compared to them. But the people we managed to get on board has been a very fantastic bunch of people, and I think that’s one of the reasons that have kept me going all those years when it was so tough to make it work as a business. It was just the idea of coming to work and having seeing one room with probably some of the better writers/designers/photographers in KL at that time working on one publication.
I think I was taken by the romance of all that, and not paying enough attention to the idea that this has to make some form of money to make it work long term (laughs). So because we have had such a great team of people working, it’s no surprise to find so many of them doing so many other more interesting things now and have moved on to bigger careers. Some of them have gone on to corporate, some of them have gone to larger publications for those who stuck in media, some of them have gone to retail, designing, etc. I just hope they thought that their time at KLue was well spent.
Was there an article or content in KLue magazine that stuck with you all these years?
(Laughs) There were so many. I really liked some of the stuff that my brother did at that time. He’s a proper, actual journalist. He worked with us for quite a number of years. He was doing a lot of stories that gave a lot of depth to the publication at the time where it was not just about pop culture but also about what KL was like socially and politically. We also had really good writers and editors that came and work and went. I think in general I like the direction we went into but when we first started it generally tend to be a more art and culture publication. And then over the years as we evolved we took on a little bit more than that. I liked that direction that we took. I cant remember specifically the articles or whatever.
Maybe there was an article written on music that stuck with you? Was there one that you remember specifically?
There were few I remember we did back in the day in early 2000s where we did a lot of band stories because that was when it was exploding in KL. You know, there was a new illegal party, and there was this excitement at that time with everyone into this new genre stuff. And I remember we did have at that time quite a few very good knowledgeable dance music writers. Back in the day nobody called it EDM, it was just dance music.
You had your jungle, drum & bass, house, trance, and all kinds of genres. I think we were the only publication at that time that was writing it well. We actually knew what we were writing about. We did proper reviews of events, parties, music, and albums that came through and everything. Pretty much half the people that were working with KLue at that time were DJs or some sort.
And then we had guest writers who were also DJs themselves. It was great because it was such a small scene that suddenly exploded, so there was this sense that everyone was in it together. We were right smack at that point in the early 2000s where we were there to document the entire growth of the scene and all that. As journalists, sometimes it’s about what you write and how well you write it and being able to capture and document a certain movement. Luckily, we had the opportunity to do that.
What should we expect from Urbanscapes this year?
I think the vibe for Urbanscapes this year will be slightly different. As a festival, we are growing. I can mention two years ago we had a decision to sort of grow the festival a little bit. So as a result of that I think we are starting to attract a slightly more different kind of crowd which I think is healthy. So I think this year we are going to grow out of what people like to call Urbanscapes as a “hipster” festival.
I think with Tegan And Sara and some of the acts that we have will attract a slightly younger audience that definitely do not subscribe to what the whole “hipster” term is. We are also going to attract quite a lot more regional traffic coming in given that Efterklang, Franz Ferdinand, Tegan And Sara, and Two Door Cinema Club are pretty much not playing Singapore/Indonesia. It’s going to be a bit different in the sense that you are going to get more regional audience. So I think the vibe will be slightly different because of that.
In terms of the setup unfortunately we had to cut some things or streamline certain things because of budgets. But that being said, I think we’re going to have a kickass production. The venue is beautiful to begin with but more importantly I think the architects and designers that we worked with to create some of these areas have come up with some really interesting stuff. Not to boast or anything but as a festival, we keep pushing the boundaries as to how a festival should look or function in Malaysia because a lot of people still view festivals as multiple stages and performers on them. That’s it. We try to see ourselves more then just a music festival so having stages and having lineups is not enough for us. We feel that we need to give a lot more.
There’s also some really, really cool stuff. We’re working with this guy, Norman, to put together what he calls a market of experiences. So we have a bout 10 different artists who’s going to be doing very interesting stuff where it’s like a market place where you go and get experiences as opposed to buying goods and stuff like that. We have everything from kite flying to getting stories in little balls, kind of like those you get from vending machines. We’ll have a lot of these funky little things. I think if you do come to the festival, what would be a shame is if people come based on schedule.
You don’t just come based on what time your favorite artist is playing. You should try and make a whole weekend out of it because there are going to be all these little things that are not on the schedule where it makes Urbanscapes unique and different from everything else because of the little things they discover.
Every year we work really hard towards these little things. To be honest with you, the lineup is the lineup. It’s not easy to put together but to me, it’s not necessarily the most interesting thing. I think to me the most interesting thing is the little things that happen when people come together and put something together and work on something. That to me is what makes Urbanscapes unique. So it would be good if people come and spend the whole weekend! You paid for the ticket, you might as well spend two solid days and just go around checking out different things and not just be guided by the schedule alone.
Catch Urbanscapes Festival this weekend at MAEPS. Tickets are still available at the festival gates, for more info visit their official website here.
Interviewed by Azam Hisham
Transcribed by Hazlinda Elina
Photos by Arif Ramly and Urbanscapes