“Can I take a picture of your shoes?”
I was startled by the question from the female half of the Thai couple I had just met. But when I looked at their feet, I realised that what she asked wasn’t that bizarre. She, her husband and I had the same shoes, only in different colours. We are the same, but different. As in footwear, we are one in speaking the universal language of music.
Words: Abby Yao Photography: Irvin Hanni
It’s no surprise that when Future Music Festival Asia returned to Sepang International Circuit last weekend, it attracted not only music fans from Malaysia but what could well be the most international crowd for a musical event in the country so far.
At the two-day Dia de Los Muertos-themed party, droves of festivalgoers were very much alive and dancing. True to the spirit of Mexico’s Day of the Dead, some arrived in wide-brimmed hats and skeleton accessories. Native American headdresses also seemed to be in season, as did the unholy assortment of St Patrick’s Day leprechaun hats, national flags, bare chests and belly buttons. In a place where life jackets with whistles and lens-free hipster specs are acceptable and going down an emergency slide is actually encouraged, the idea of silliness simply did not exist and the fashion police decided not to show up.
When the World Says “Hurry Up, Come On Over”
Line-ups like FMFA’s don’t come every year, so few had to think twice before snapping up passes. The Thai couple I met on the first night of FMFA, for example, had gone as far as Europe to catch their music idols and had also been to last year’s festival. How could they not come back this time, when the world’s number one DJ Armin van Buuren would be playing on the first night of FMFA?
A State of Trance 600 Kuala Lumpur, the seventh stop in the trance god’s 12-city expedition, celebrated the 600th episode of his radio show. An undulating sea of over 20,000 people was in a state of pure bliss under the sliver of a silver moon at Southeast Asia’s largest electronic dance music event. Even more were watching the rave party unfold on their screens through live streaming video.
My collection of LED festival giveaways didn’t grow that night, but everyone wanted to shine with everything from bright bows reminiscent of Minnie Mouse to red AirAsia Insure armbands. If you wanted to offload some baggage instead of amassing tiny blinkers, you could share your deepest, darkest thoughts, Post Secret-style on lit balloons that appeared like art installations in the night sky.
A little afternoon rain failed to dampen spirits the following day, as four stages competed for festivalgoers’ attention.
For a festival with such a forward-looking name, it was cool to have a nostalgic throwback to 90’s hip hop with East Coast trios De La Soul and Naughty By Nature at the Gnome Stage, right across a pool which had music of its own.
Follow the Flamingo
I had my eyes fixed on the Flamingo Stage, which had hot acts and thankfully none of last year’s giant pink birds on either side of the stage.
Australian indie rock band The Temper Trap delivered solid tunes in a crowd-pleasing set that ended at dusk. Indonesian-born frontman Dougy Mandagi felt right at home in the band’s first performance in Malaysia. British pop sensation Rita Ora proved herself a pro, soldiering on despite technical difficulties. With her big hair and big voice, the 22-year-old kept her cool in an outfit that made Swiss cheese sexy.
As expected, the artist who received the strongest reactions that night was South Korean performer PSY, who drew both fans and curious haters to his guest appearance. In only three songs, all with karaoke-style English subtitles, he was every bit the showman the world worshipped, with the crowd jumping and screaming at his bidding. He revealed that FMFA was his last tour date before the release of his new single in April, ending nine months of “Gangnam Style”.
I was in the wings when he came onstage, so I exchanged the view behind his dancers for a spot directly in front of the stage for the big number. Right next to the long array of large speakers was a terrible place to be at that moment, as the speakers were blasting full force and my earplugs could only decrease the volume but not the impact of each beat, rendering my video recording inaudible except for thumping bass. I was hoping to get a word with PSY to tell him that I had run my fastest lap that morning with his hit song in my head, but he left in his car as soon as he got off the stage. Still, it was an unforgettable final live performance of the world’s most-viewed YouTube video. The audience was in such high spirits afterwards that it sang along to the transition songs that followed PSY’s appearance.
It must have been the Grammy magic at play when Fun. passed me by, rendering yours truly starstruck. It was hard to believe that FMFA was the biggest overseas audience the American indie pop band has ever played for (so they said). My Theory of Festival Enjoyment states that you appreciate concerts the closer you are to the performer. For Fun., my theory simply didn’t hold, as I listened from the AirAsia hangout at the farthest end (great views!) and still had a great time.
As the night wore on, the biggest challenges were avoiding beer cans underfoot and queuing for coveted burgers and nachos.
Malaysian indie rockers They Will Kill Us All held their ground and rounded out the global line-up at Flamingo Stage with homegrown talent.
The sound check for British alternative rock band Bloc Party seemed to go on and on, but they finally made it an hour behind schedule, to the relief of the anticipating fans.
A stranger in his 40s told me to hurry downhill for Prodigy at the Warrior’s Dance Arena. He reminded me of another festivalgoer I had met the night before, an American woman in her 50s who had come over from Hong Kong to see Armin van Buuren and Prodigy. I suddenly felt old, possibly because I had been standing for eight hours and at that moment I preferred listening over dancing.
Running into a friend who flew in from Singapore with her husband just for FMFA, I heard a familiar comment. “You haven’t changed at all!” she remarked. I actually wanted to tell her that she hadn’t changed much in the past nine years either. And then it hit me. Maybe that’s what the future really is: the same as always, but different nonetheless.
Another epic music weekend next March? It’s still a year away, but I’m up for it. Arriba! Arriba!