Keeping afloat: Livescape on why the live experience is “irreplaceable”
Asia was the first continent to bear the brunt of the coronavirus outbreak, but not all suffered the peak at the same time.
Speaking to promoters in China and South Korea at the end of March, IQ found that some more stringent restrictions were beginning to be lifted and a “cautious sense of optimism” was settling in, even if the return to touring as we know it is still a long way off.
Now, the situation in countries in southeast Asia, which had staved off sharp spikes in cases until relatively recently, is worsening. Cases in Singapore have begun to rise again, the Indonesian capital of Jakarta has entered lockdown and the Malaysian government has extended its social distancing measure for a second time, until 28 April.
IQ catches up with Iqbal Ameer, CEO of Livescape Group, which operates in all three markets, to discuss government reactions, consumer confidence and the live industry post Covid-19.
IQ: What have you learned so far from the Covid-19 outbreak?
IA: The most important thing? That supporting each other brings out the best in people. We’re no stranger to being dealt with shit cards in the deck, and as a company have had crazy challenges over the past ten years. But now this is a global scale, and we’ve really seen the importance of community and how it is a driving force in achieving anything.
We’ve also learnt that adaptability is key in situations like this. We are hard at work in extending our festival brands and our business model to be more digitally focused. We are proud of our festivals that we have built and carry those badges on our chest. The challenge here is to ensure that we continue to deliver the same Livescape experience to our fans during trying times.
When do you think the recovery might start in Asia Pacific and how is the Livescape Group preparing for this?
At this point in time, we are all uncertain about when the actual recovery period is. Although there has been significant advances in Asian countries compared to Europe and America, we are still remaining vigilant – anything can happen.
Asia-Pacific alone has over 51 million people affected in the music industry, and this is no small number
The Livescape Group is based in three countries: Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia. We are anticipating post-Covid-19 to be vital in economic stimulation, and we are working with the respective government bodies to ensure that events can continue by implementing precautionary measures with a focus on the health and wellbeing of music fans.
We are also pivoting some of our assets to be more lifestyle orientated.
How do you feel about the government response to the situation across the markets you operate in?
We have seen most governments around the region offering stimulus packages to help with the nation’s economy during this unprecedented time. Unfortunately for some of us based in Malaysia, most of it does not benefit us directly. As a member of Alife (Association of the Arts, Live Festivals and Events), Livescape is having continuous open discussions with the Malaysian government about the issues of postponement or cancellations, and are demanding that we are considered as well. Asia-Pacific alone has over 51 million people affected in the music industry, and this is no small number.
However, countries such as South Korea and Singapore have set ideal global practices for other countries to follow suit; which would contribute to the speed of the recovery. With our festival It’s the Ship being based in Singapore, we are thankful for the swift and fast action of the Singaporean government. We support their initiatives to get the arts and live sector up and running as soon as possible. (The Singaporean government has provided a $55 million arts and culture resilience package, including $20,000 grants for digital projects).
What changes might we see long term across the industry, and the festival business in particular?
It is naive to say that this pandemic will not change the core nature of the festival business. Already, we are seeing festivals and artists venturing into the digital space with livestreaming performances along with an increase of creative content being shared out in hopes to connect during this void of live events with their fans and community. Although it is a short-term solution to fill the void of live events, we do not consider this to be a road to recovery, as we believe that the live event experiences are irreplaceable.
We also expect a stronger focus on local talents, due to the nature of the interaction of communities during this period of time, and local gigs would be quicker to pick up post Covid-19.
The global pandemic has impacted the events industry in an unprecedented manner but we are optimistic about the long-term demand for live, experiential experiences
Post Covid-19, people will also be more wary in terms of how they experience live events in large gathering situations. It is then our responsibility as event organisers to ensure that we have procedures in place to address concerns relating to the health and safety measures such as temperature checks and sanitisation booths.
In some ways, people will also come to realise what our company has been preaching for the past ten years: experience comes first. We definitely see a desire for people to connect in person and we will not discount the renaissance of the roaring 20s, an era that was sparked after a period of difficult times.
Being a floating festival, do you foresee any particular challenges with the future of It’s the Ship?
We feel the challenges are across the board for all festivals. I’d be lying if I said no, but we are optimistic and never risk the safety and wellbeing of our shipmates. That has always been a top priority of ours, unfortunately the term “the show must go on” does not apply to us in this situation.
We’ve been transparent with that in our community and in our communications, with a campaign revolving around #StayHomeToComeHome, where we continuously share relevant news and information through our social platforms.
Being a floating festival, It’s the Ship provides a unique experience in terms of venue, as it takes place onboard a ship. The advantage is the fact that the venue puts us in a controlled environment that allows us to manage and plan prior to the event itself. We are also working very closely with the cruise company, which has recently put in place comprehensive health and safety preventive measures for the ease and comfort of our attendees.
At Livescape, we’re thankful to the partners we work with, especially cruise lines that we work with who have offered extremely affordable rates to ensure that It’s the Ship continues its multiple voyages in the years to come.
In Asia in particular, the main challenge would be rebuilding people’s confidence in attending large-scale events
What more general challenges do you think the industry face getting back up to speed?
In Asia in particular, the main challenge would be rebuilding people’s confidence in attending large-scale events. Putting in health and safety preventive measures will be key in reassuring our community.
The global pandemic has impacted the events industry in an unprecedented manner but we are optimistic about the long-term demand for live, experiential experiences! With social distancing being practised globally, audiences will be craving live, interactive experiences more, which will create the opportunity for experiential events to bounce back at a greater scale.
At Livescape, what have you been doing to adapt to life in the wake of coronavirus?
With a strong team in a resilient industry, our team has been taking this time working from home to diversify our business models and digitising our assets and communities. Our core philosophy has remained the same, but our execution will differ, moving towards more digitalisation – something extremely adaptable. This will be more evident once all this is over.
Until then, we will embrace the changes, continue to evolve to adapt to the situation and to be there for our industry, as well as the local communities, to the best of our ability.
Livescape has continued to build relationships and trust with our clients and partners who have approached us with the same vision of diversifying in mind. We work hand-in-hand in developing some very successful campaigns for big and small SMEs alike and we highly recommend that other companies do the same and look into opportunities available.
Remember always: We write the future!
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Rock the Boat: How floating festivals are ruling the waves
As IFF 2019 delegates heard in September, it’s been a mixed bag of a year for traditional music festivals, with many events struggling to repeat the highs of 2018 amid rising costs and increased difficulty booking talent.
Early indications from festival association Yourope suggest the market is “slightly down,” revealed Mikołaj Ziółkowski of Poland’s Open’er Festival, while FKP Scorpio’s Stephan Thanscheidt warned: “We’re steering into a dead-end street. We can’t raise ticket prices any more or we lose people.”
Even against this challenging backdrop, however, many events are going from strength to strength – especially those that have developed a strong identity and loyal fan base allowing them to sell tickets even when the vagaries of the touring cycle reduce the pool of available headliners.
But what if – instead of trying to compete with all those other events on land – festival operators took en masse to the water, putting on parties for an army of adventurous Captain Nemo types seeking adventure on the high seas?
As it turns out, a small but growing group of promoters are doing just that, and “it’s not a difficult sell,” says Anthony Diaz, CEO of Sixthman, the US-based granddaddy of music cruise operators, which made its mark in Europe this summer with festivals including Belle and Sebastian’s Boaty Weekender (a co-pro with AEG Presents) and the European debut of Joe Bonamassa’s Keeping the Blues Alive at Sea.
“In the US music cruises are a very common format, and agencies know the value they add to their artists”
“It’s getting easier every day,” Diaz explains. “In the US [floating festivals are] a very common format, and agencies know the value they add to their artists. In Europe, when we started speaking to agents and managers two years ago, it was so new, but now that we’ve done a few, the conversation has changed – they just needed to see it for themselves.”
The appeal, says Iqbal Ameer, CEO of Singapore-based Livescape Group, which operates It’s the Ship (‘Asia’s largest festival at sea’), is that “unlike a landed festival, festivalgoers are able to enjoy various luxuries, such as comfortable cabins just steps away from the stages, 24-hour dining that serves warm food throughout the day and various ship facilities that add convenience to their festival experience, allowing them to focus fully on enjoying their time on board.
“Festivalgoers don’t have to worry about long lines for the restrooms, muddy grounds or having to drive back home. Shipmates can also choose to take naps in between sets and wake up at 3am to continue partying until sunrise.”
Jonathan Blackburn, whose UK-based Floating Festivals company is behind cruises such as ’80s festival Throwback and musical theatre event Stages, says he came across the music cruise model while supplying entertainers for events sailing out of Florida. “I was in and out of various offices in Miami and became aware of how popular themed cruising is in the US,” he explains, and was inspired to launch something similar in Europe.
“If you look at what kind of cruises there are now, there’s everything from music cruises to gay cruises to Bible cruises…”
Although a “steep learning curve”, Floating Festivals has enjoyed steady growth over the past two years, buoyed by the increasing popularity of both floating festivals and cruises in general.
“The worldwide cruise market is increasing, too,” says Wolfgang Rott, head of press and marketing for leading metal cruise 70,000 Tons of Metal. “If you look at what kind of cruises there are now, there’s everything from music cruises to gay cruises to Bible cruises…”
Broadly speaking, Diaz says, music cruises can be divided into two models: the ‘host’ model, like Sixthman’s successful events with Kiss (the Kiss Kruise), Paramore (Parahoy!) and Kesha (Kesha’s Weird and Wonderful Rainbow Ride), and the ‘festival’ model, “not unlike Coachella or Glastonbury,” which feature upwards of 20 different artists.
With both formats, the majority of artists stay on the ship for the duration of the cruise, Diaz adds: for ‘festivals’ the figure is around 90%, while hosted events edge closer to 100%, with the recent Runaway to Paradise with Jon Bon Jovi cruise the sole outlier so far. “We experimented a bit with Jon,” he explains. “He’d come on and off and do signings, photos, play an acoustic set here and there, but he’d stay in a hotel in the Bahamas. It went well, but it doesn’t change our core model: bringing fans and bands together.”
“These aren’t standard cruises. These are three- or four-night party experiences”
Also bringing fans and artists together is 70,000 Tons of Metal, a heavy metal cruise that sails from Florida to a Caribbean destination every January. Performers such as Cradle of Filth, Sabaton, Cannibal Corpse, Napalm Death, Meshuggah and Children of Bodom mingle with guests to an extent not seen on other cruises, according to Rott.
“You don’t have any backstage areas – everybody is just a regular customer,” he explains. “So you could go into the breakfast restaurant in the morning and see the guys from Nightwish or Testament, or in the evening see Fear Factory singing Abba on the karaoke… Once fans realise the artists aren’t going away – that they’re going to be on board the whole time and you can sit next to them in the bar or the jacuzzi, or play beer pong together – it takes away the pressure from the exchange. It’s a totally unique experience, and something you don’t really get at a landed festival.”
“These aren’t standard cruises,” continues Blackburn. “These are three- or four-night party experiences. You get all the advantages of being on a cruise but it’s a completely different experience, a really immersive one: you might walk into a lift and there’ll be a pianist in there playing your favourite song, or someone singing karaoke. We want people to go home with memories they’ll keep for a lifetime.”
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It’s the Ship festival to set sail from Korea
Livescape Group, the company behind floating festival franchise It’s the Ship, has announced a Korean edition of the festival, due to set sail in August 2020.
It’s the Ship, Asia’s largest cruise ship-based festival, has set sail from Singapore for the past five years. The sixth edition, scheduled for 13 to 15 November 2019, will feature performances from acts including Nervo, Ben Nicky, Darren Styles and Ookay.
The South Korean edition of the festival, produced in partnership with Seoul-based cruise specialist Cruise Lab Co. Ltd, follows the inaugural It’s the Ship China, which took place from 13 to 17 June this year.
“We are excited to bring It’s the Ship to our country,” says Cruise Lab CEO Wilson Chang. “We’re looking forward to this maiden voyage for It’s the Ship Korea, bringing an all-encompassing unique music festival journey on a luxurious cruise ship.”
“It’s the Ship Korea indicates the growth of our homegrown brand and our international expansion through new charters worldwide”
Iqbal Ameer, Group CEO of Livescape Group, says it is an “honour” to announce the new festival in South Korea which “indicates the growth of our homegrown brand and our international expansion through new charters worldwide.”
Speaking to IQ in February, Ameer singled out South Korea, along with Japan and Australia, as “targets” for future events, stating the ambition for It’s the Ship to become “the world’s largest festival at sea”.
More information on ticketing and cabin reservations can be found here.
Read more about the growing phenomenon of floating festivals in IQ 86.
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It’s the ship Q&A: Behind the scenes of a floating festival
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.
Making the most of Malaysia
I started out as a musician, playing and touring in a band called One Buck Short (OBS). We were able to tour and play alongside great regional and international bands around Asia and Australia. Touring was a constant learning experience, seeing both sides of the live industry and learning so much from the concert promoters who had us on their line-ups. So I not only got to pursue my passion for music, but I met a lot of promoters, artists and agents, which helped grow my career in artist booking.
I was probably inspired by my first ever concert, many moons ago, seeing Michael Jackson play in Brunei, where I grew up. The production was world-class and I remember being awestruck and thinking, “Wow! I have to do something like this!” I must’ve been 12 or 13 then.
I really look up to people like Michael Chugg, as he was one of the first international promoters I assisted with some Asian shows many years ago. He also booked OBS in Australia when we were active. I hope to meet Michael Eavis at Glastonbury and Paul Tollett at Coachella some day, so I can learn how to sustain a music festival and how to overcome the various adversities that all concert promoters face.
In our markets in Asia, dealing with government bodies is always a ‘delicate’ process because people don’t like what they don’t understand and recognise. We are a very forward-thinking company known for bringing in products and experiences previously unheard of, such as our floating EDM festival, It’s the Ship. It is difficult selling a completely original product, having to persuade and convince sponsors, government bodies, fans and audiences to pay to attend the show. But this is the job of a concert promoter. We exist to introduce people to new music and experiences.
All promoters and festival organisers in the south-east Asia (SEA) region are the main educators for agents, managers and artists. They have to understand the adversities we encounter when trying to organise a festival, concert or even a club show. The currency and government are prime examples of the difficulties we face, but we are passionate about music and events and fight hard in order to make SEA realise its maximum potential as an entertainment hub.
“The currency and government are prime examples of the difficulties we face, but we are passionate about music and events”
Nowadays, music is accessible on all platforms so finding all kinds of music is not hard, and has been a key factor in developing the musical tastes and knowledge of local audiences. Local acts have also been using these platforms to help people explore their sounds, and not just the music of international artists. This accessibility also helps local artists to develop and improve the quality of their work. We actively encourage these talents by giving them opportunities to play alongside well-known international acts in all our events. We aim to grow, nurture and promote international recognition by starting a division to develop these acts.
Visiting international festivals has led to local audiences wanting something similar, so SEA offers prime markets for new events. Among the few most popular music festivals to date are It’s the Ship, Future Music Festival Asia and Rockaway Festival.
If the Malaysian government continues to shut itself off from the potential of new music and experiences, the country is going to get left behind in the SEA region. If it continues to oppose certain genres of music, music entertainment in the country will lack variety. Currently, countries like Singapore, Indonesia, Hong Kong and Philippines are at the forefront of the touring market and there is connectivity between all these markets thanks to low-cost airlines and trains that Malaysians can easily take to another country in order to experience what their own country lacks.
When Future Music Festival Asia was at its peak, it grossed RM180 million from tourist expenditure alone in the month of March. We hope to further promote Malaysia as an entertainment hub for tourists and for that to happen, we’ll have to work harder and more closely with the government and relevant authority bodies to educate them on the potential of the music events industry in order to grow Malaysia into the main touring market in SEA.