Not everyone has what it takes to steer a shipful of EDM heavyweights, rowdy partygoers and a dedicated team of staff through turbulent waters and inclement weather. If one man can, it would be Iqbal Ameer who has relentlessly pursued his creative vision and led his team to bring the best party to sea.
Livescape Group’s CEO, Iqbal, is responsible for conceptualizing a plethora of events that set international ravers and concert enthusiasts abuzz. These include Kuala Lumpar-based rock music festival Rockaway, Future Music Festival Asia, Armin Only Embrace and most notably, It’s The Ship. The neon-decked dance party with quirky games, dares with international DJs, mini-pop up bars in lifts and a wacky crowd perched atop a luxury cruise liner fit for a scene out of Crazy Rich Asians, has garnered interest from ravers all around the region.
Even the most weathered of captains have to go through turbulence. Iqbal’s time as a sandwich board man distributing flyers and setting up an ice cream truck, would not have prepared him for his first massive adversity. Headline after headline regarding deaths by substance abuse on festival grounds besmirched the group’s name at the third incarnation of Future Music Festival Asia, which brought a dreadful onslaught of public demand for the festival to cease its annual occurrence. By the time post-mortem results were issued declaring heatstroke to be the cause of deaths, the damage had already been done.
Iqbal bounced back with the conceptualisation of the much-talked-about cruise party. The feat would not have been accomplished without the grit and passion of a strong leader, coupled with Creative Director, Darren Waide’s eye for fun. Today, Livescape Group flies its It’s The Ship flag high and proud, with over 4,000 shipmates in attendance and plans to set sail in Korea and China once the Covid-19 crisis blows over. In the meantime, he remains open to all sorts of creative collaborations, including VR projects, risk-assessments when running events during the crisis, usage of Livescape Singapore’s office space for DJs to stage live sessions and more.
The past is the past and the future is the most important, we write our future. Part of me is excited to see how Livescape can overcome this challenge that is put globally.
As the hope of a post-Covid reality looms across the reachable horizon, cogs of veteran event organisers’ brains have already begun whirring. Livescape is no exception, with Iqbal helming the deck and equipped with the very tenacity that got the brand through its rough patch and emerged much stronger than before.
Popspoken: Could you tell us the motivations for starting out in live music and experiential events? How have your motivations evolved since you’ve begun?
Iqbal: Live music and experiential events have always played a part in my life, going overseas and being able to experience some mind-blowing events fueled that “want” to bring similar experiences back home. Part of that mission has also allowed me to see truly passionate people in the music and events industry here in Malaysia. From there, The Livescape Group has made it our mission to elevate our local talent onto an international platform and also work towards bringing up the standard of events locally whilst elevating the experience of going to events.
Popspoken: If you could change one key thing about the music industry – be it with labels, agents and venues, what would it be and why?
Iqbal: I believe that the initial motivations behind labels, agents and venues are good, but along the way, the money aspect has come into play. Labels are trying to skim as much as they can from musicians, agents trying to charge exorbitant fees, venues are overcharging.
I’d like to see a change in the mindset of people in the events industry. Let’s get rid of thinking that this is a gold rush or the Wild Wild West. This is an opportunity to work together to bring a good show to the market. I see younger, smaller promoters and smaller venues who have this positive mindset, and I’d like to see it in the more established ones.
Popspoken: Do you consider yourself a visionary leader?
Iqbal: Visionary leaders are individuals who are driven by what a company can become. I believe that a visionary leader sets the goal of where something could go, but the vision of the team will bring it there. I consider every member of my team to be able to play a part in writing the future of this company, ushering new and innovative ideas to our business models.
Popspoken: What were the key driving factors leading to the rise of It’s The Ship’s brand? Any key takeaways from running a millennial-focused brand aboard cruise ships that might be perceived to have an older clientele?
Iqbal: The immediate challenge of a cruise music festival concept was to fast track this concept into a market that was usually perceived as to have an older clientele. Educating millennials on what the experience would be like on board was critical in creating the desire to attend. One glove definitely doesn’t fit all, hence we prioritize readapting our brand when it comes to other markets like China and Korea.
Organizing more intimate festivals like It’s The Ship with a captive audience has allowed us to really hyper-focus on what the demographic really wants, compared to a larger scale festival of say, 20,000 people. This hyper-focused mentality allows us to move towards cultivating the mindset of what millennials want to experience onboard, and not to build something that we think would attract a crowd.
Popspoken: It’s The Ship is one of the most energetic, creative and talked about parties in Asia. Its guest list is also very well-curated, adding to the vibrancy of experience. How do you ensure the consistency of its vision as you expand to other countries such as China and Korea?
Iqbal: We take great pride in ensuring that all shipmates have the same energy as what the brand stands for. When you’re on the ship, you’re in the same space with 4,000 people and the positive synergy between shipmates is reflected well by how we market our products. Instead of marketing to the mass, we focus on marketing to the right people. Consistency of this has been brought to China and will be brought to Korea and other countries that we are set to expand to. This is partially because of our partners that we work with, who we ensure have the same attitude and mindset as us. They understand the importance of ensuring that we bring onboard the right people and the right vibes to every sailing.
Popspoken: What have you learnt about managing a team so far?
Iqbal: In the current situation, what I’ve learnt is that while managing a team during a pandemic, people tend to get overwhelmed, and the natural reaction would be confusion, frustration and anger, the feeling of being victimised. Allowing them to go through that process, digest and see the strategy that has been put forward; and getting them to play a role is the best thing that you can do for them. Managing a team in an online sphere instead of a physical office forces you to trust them more; trust that they see the same vision as you do. Managing a team in this manner allowed us to grow together as a company and we have successfully pivoted our business models in this manner.
Popspoken: It’s one of the roughest times so far for the events industry and was meant to be one of the biggest years for Livescape. But we know from your track record that you’re someone who’s extremely resilient, having weathered the FMFA crisis in the past. How do you keep steadfast on your vision for the future whilst holding on to positivity in the present?
Iqbal: I guess Livescape wouldn’t be what it is today if we kept talking about how things could have been. The past is the past and the future is the most important—we write our future. Part of me is excited to see how Livescape can overcome this challenge that is put globally. We’ve been able to pivot our business by focusing on the IPs (Intellectual Property, specifically, the trademarked “It’s The Ship” concept) we built and because we built these IPs ourselves, we’re no stranger to creating new things along the way. Any positivity in the present is knowing that what we have achieved before, we can do again.
Popspoken: What is the mood like in Malaysia at the moment? Seeing how things have developed in the region, how do you think the future of the industry will change?
Iqbal: After nine long weeks of facing this movement control order, the mood in Malaysia is beginning to rise in line with the easing of restrictions and is becoming more uplifting. The government is now looking at other economic pillars which we are hopeful that the events and live music industry will be considered.
Our ongoing conversations with the government have been positive, and the big test will be getting the event organisers and venues to self-regulate themselves. Most importantly, the people—to be prudent and to prevent a second and third wave of an outbreak because of human stupidity. The industry has already changed. It is now up to how we want to play a role in it, and be part of its future.