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It’s the ship Q&A: Behind the scenes of a floating festival

IQ talks to It’s the Ship organisers Iqbal Ameer and Darren Waide about making waves in the South East Asian festival scene

By Anna Grace on 14 Feb 2019

It's the Ship

Sunset party


image © It's the Ship

It’s the Ship has all the elements of a traditional music festival: multiple stages showcasing local and international talent, attendees looking for a good time and an array of food, drink and additional activities.

However, rather than taking place on dry land, It’s the Ship is held on a cruise ship in the middle of the ocean.

Launched in 2014 by event management company, the Livescape Group, It’s the Ship is Asia’s largest floating festival. The event’s 5th edition last year hosted over 90 artists and 4,000 fans.

“I describe it as a huge melting pot of different people from around the world having a 24/7, non-stop, party experience,” says creative director Darren Waide. “It’s off the hook!”

IQ speaks to Livescape Group chief executive Iqbal Ameer, along with Waide, about running Asia’s leading floating festival, faring stormy seas and future ambitions.

How did it It’s the Ship begin?
Iqbal Ameer – It’s the Ship came about as a phoenix rising out of the ashes. We used to run South East Asia’s largest music festival, Future Music Festival Asia. We ran the event for three years, but a tragic incident involving a drug-related death brought an end to the festival.

This put us in a bad spot and we were struggling to keep the company and team together. We felt undone by the powers that be, given that Malaysia was still a growing market and new to these sort of music festivals. We decided to bring people a festival on a cruise ship, in international waters, so we were in full control of the content and of the event. Our working partners are now cruise ship companies, who are well-versed with this sort of content.

What is the event’s biggest selling point?
Darren Waide – The challenge that we’ve got – and it’s also our greatest selling-point – is that we have a captive audience for every single minute. People can’t come and go like they do at a concert or a festival.

“Guests can be on the dance floor, dancing beside the DJ who headlined the previous night – it’s quite surreal for guests, and for the artists too”

Our line-up of international and local artists is obviously one of our biggest attractions, but It’s the ship is not just about listening to music, dancing and drinking. It’s about creating a community of people – we call them shipmates – and giving them something to do and interact with every second they can, that’s what really sets us apart from a landed festival.

We offer different kinds of entertainment, including a lot of experiential stuff: a sports programme, morning yoga with DJs, mini-golf, rock climbing with the artists, cooking classes, the list goes on.

Another special element is that the artists become accustomed to the idea that there is no backstage – that they’re on there with the shipmates – and they really get involved. Guests can be on the dance floor, dancing beside the DJ who headlined the previous night. It is quite surreal for guests and for the artists too.

What have been the main challenges you have faced with regards to the festival?
DW – We’re a floating festival, so you can’t duck out to buy more gas or replace a microphone stand. The festival takes really careful planning. For the first year or two we made a few mistakes, and we had to learn from them.

It is pretty smooth now and, in particular, we are much better at integrating brand partners.

The types of guests we attract don’t want brand partners or sponsors jammed down their throats. Guests leave well-aware of the brands without realising it. Take Pepsi, for example. Last year, as brand partner, Pepsi took over one of elevators (the ship is 18 storeys tall), and turned it into the world’s smallest speakeasy bar, and that was a “Pepsi experience”.

Does the boat always take the same route?
IA – This year will be our sixth sailing, and every year we’ve done something slightly different. We have always departed out of Singapore but we stop off in various places. We went to the Malaysian island of Penang, and to Phuket in Thailand.

“We are currently looking to grow Asia’s largest festival at sea, and hopefully become the world’s largest festival at sea”

DW – We really strive to give our guests something fresh at every turn as they’re “stuck” with us for 4 or 5 days, so we always come up with unique offerings and stop off in different locations. Guests can get off and go to a beach party, or to a street party in the middle of town or city, with local food and music.

As a fairly unusual concept, what sort of reaction has It’s the Ship received?
IA – Reactions from artists and guests have been nothing short of fantastic. Year on year, the reviews have been amazing from international friends and family, with a very high return rate. There is an It’s the Ship community, who share ideas about the festival, how to dress up and participate better, and we have nothing to do with it. That’s a testament to how strong reactions have been.

What does the future hold for It’s the Ship and the Livescape Group?
IA – World domination! It’s the ship is going global, we recently announced a charter from China in June this year and we have other targets such as Japan, South Korea and Australia. We are currently looking to grow Asia’s largest festival at sea and hopefully become the world’s largest festival at sea. We are actively talking to strategic partners and investors to make this dream a reality.

DW – From a creative and production point of view, having five or six different festival charters a year will mean booking lots of artists, pulling off bigger productions and integrating more global sponsors. Over the past few years, we have had celebrity captains. They are just figureheads, they don’t drive the boat! Past captains include David Hasselhoff, Tyson Beckford and Big Shaq – all of a sudden we can be stepping this up to even bigger, more high-profile names.

Finally, what is your It’s the Ship highlight?
DW – For me, the highlight is always sunrise and sunset – you get to see both every day. Guests dance in full view of the rising and setting sun, it’s a pretty cool experience.

Another highlight was trying to bring David Hasselhoff through a crowd of crazy fans – that was definitely unique!

It’s the Ship sails from Singapore from 13 to 17 November 2019. The inaugural It’s the Ship China takes place from 13 to 17 June. More information on ticketing and cabin reservations can be found here.

 


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