I was invited by the British Council to join four other Indonesian delegates at The Great Escape Festival in May 2016. In my capacity as a music journalist under the banner of my music blog, A Musical Promenade, I embarked to Brighton and observed one of the biggest music festivals held in the UK.
What is The Great Escape Festival?
The Great Escape (TGE) is a huge music festival, held every year in Brighton and Hove in May over three days. Distinctive and unique, TGE focuses on emerging independent musicians and is supported by 300 performers who performed in 30 different venues all across Brighton.
From all around the world, approximately 3,000 delegates participated in learning, sharing, and enjoying the music whilst creating new, meaningful connections this year. As a festival, TGE wasn’t only about the live performance of the musicians, but was also a platform for the musicians to expand their career and a creative collaboration space for creative industry.
Alongside the live performances, there were numerous music conferences created specifically to discuss up-and-coming issues in the current landscape of music industry. TGE was supported by Arts Council England, UK Trade & Investment, Latvia Music Association, Spotify and The Guardian, as well as several other UK music media and companies who associated themselves and embraced the rising of UK’s independent music.
Festivals in Indonesia
Attending TGE made me realise that festivals have recently become the norm in Indonesia. In a country that is struggling to develop its infrastructure, Indonesia’s festival scene has mushroomed, largely because they are seen as the most suitable way of delivering arts and culture to the masses without necessarily requiring a purpose built environment.
Despite this advantage, and Indonesian audiences’ attraction to the temporary hype surrounding them, many Indonesian festivals lose their grip after a couple of years, and disappear into oblivion.
While many argue that financial gain is the only thing that matters in Indonesia, it might be a surprise to them that their focus on ‘breaking even’ and profitability could also stunt the progress and innovation that is needed for festivals to survive.
An Indonesian festival usually puts a lot of effort into creating hype and designing the best aesthetic for the physical spaces according to the latest trend, but after a few years every festival looks the same and seems to offer exactly the same thing. Reluctant to take any risk and change, these festivals then run without any significant differences in their programmes.
The sense of an ‘event’ slowly disappears; the audience can then see that the festival has run dry and is no longer attractive to them. Festivals will see that their ’bottom-line’ profit no longer shows a healthy progress. The dwindling number of attendees will mean that the organisations that run these festivals then spiral to their own death.
What can we learn from TGE?
TGE can be seen as one of the festivals that continually reinvents itself. It could provide a good example to the countless festivals in Indonesia that soon fall out of favour and disappear.
TGE manages to avoid this situation by constantly innovating and rediscovering itself. It is an event that feeds on the growth of its previous year’s activities. In its ten year history, the festival has managed to build different sets of programmes that kept the festival fresh. In its fourth year, for example, TGE readily partnered with Complete Music Update to provide a platform for the music industry to gather and convene with each other. TGE then organised conventions that included experts to share knowledge of the ever changing music industry. The festival no longer focused only on the relationship between the artists and the audience, but also added producers, promoters, managers, and music executives into the picture.
Working with partners, attracting new audiences
This year, TGE partnered with Sound Diplomacy to deliver a convention on ‘Music Cities’. The convention captured the growing trend of instrumental use of culture and arts in the process of creating vibrant and economically viable cities around the world. The trend of city regeneration supported by organisations like UNESCO and the EU commission has seen a positive impact on society and communities, especially in cities like Amsterdam. The convention provided attendees with case studies of cities around the world and talked about how strategic policy in the music industry can help a city.
TGE‘s move towards providing a platform for these discussions helped the festival to regenerate by attracting different types of audience. By casting its programming net wider, to international music and city ecosystems, the festival grows bigger and attracts not only more visitors, bands, managers, producers and promoters, but also attracts city mayors and government agencies.
New questions are then raised. How long will this innovation last? And what are the next steps to support the life of the festival? For Indonesian festivals, what kind of innovation is actually needed and sustainable? Only by closely observing the ecosystem, a festival can really regenerate itself - an example set by The Great Escape this year.