Artbox Singapore - Popspoken

Is Singapore Suffering From Festival Fatigue?

The Prudential Marina Bay Carnival returns later this month, promising four new rides and lower prices compared to last year.

The carnival will run from 22 Dec to 24 Mar next year, two weeks shorter than its inaugural edition in 2017. Some 1.4 million people visited the carnival over the four months it was open, walking home with more than 700,000 plush toys.

Backed by the affluent brand (and possibly an organising committee of hundreds), the Prudential Marina Bay Carnival can well afford to remain open for several months. But not many players can match their budget and manpower capabilities.

2018 has seen a glut of small-scale festivals taking on the Bayfront Event Space, typically for a weekend at a time. Following the familiar footsteps of the Artbox Singapore flea market, the Thai-affiliated CMYK: Creative Millennials Youth Karnival took on a space nearly three times that of Artbox Singapore in a respectable debut, though with a sparse floor plan and rather odd forms of digital marketing.

But as we mused in September about the Singapore Night Festival, “Can one get festival fatigue?”

“Having festivals happening consecutively one after another – it’s almost as if we’re afraid of our regular cityscape.”

Singapore Night Festival 2018 | Image: Darren ‘Merovign’ Tan

Three’s a crowd?

Earlier this month, the inaugural GTFO!, or Get The Fun Out!, festival drew flak from vendors who claimed that they made losses of four-figure sums.

Held from 7 – 9 Dec at Palawan Green, Sentosa, the free-to-enter event heavily marketed $37 tickets to “The Beast”, a 252m-long inflatable obstacle course that had attracted “sold out events across Europe”.

Speaking to The New Paper, vendors said they had paid several thousand dollars in rent and made less than $300 over the three-day festival, which only drew an estimated 1,000 visitors.

GTFO! 2018 | Image: CakeLoveSG

One food vendor said the organiser threatened him with a small claims suit when he attempted to withdraw from the festival. The vendor said the organiser had given varying estimates of the expected turnout, ranging from 10,000 to 300,000, to different vendors.

Popspoken understands that the organiser, Get Out! Events, has been engaged in planning corporate events, such as company retreats and dinner and dances, since 2012.

Popspoken first published news of a spat between local band Astronauts and the organiser in November. In a Facebook post, Astronauts band member Benjamin Mah posted screenshots of an email from Get Out! Events asking bands to perform for free at GTFO!.

Get Out! Events later apologised to the artists in an email to Popspoken and reached out to Benjamin to settle the dispute.

Image: Laneway Festival Singapore, 2017

Up in my (music) business

Are Singaporeans growing weary of festival fever? In our tropical heat, outdoor events must be sufficiently appealing to draw us out of our air-conditioned comfort.

Warning signs seem to be on the horizon even among music festivals; the big-ticket originators of the outdoor carnival.

Held in January each year, the St Jerome’s Laneway Festival is a mainstay of the local festival calendar, drawing thousands of music fans to Gardens By The Bay for a full day of back-to-back performances.

Next year’s Laneway Festival, however, has been postponed indefinitely. In a statement published October, organisers cited “unavoidable logistical & programming complexities” for the postponement, but remained hopeful for the festival to go ahead later in 2019.

Popspoken has covered the Australian music festival since it expanded into Singapore in 2011. In one of our earliest articles ever (!), we ran a recap piece three months after the festival wrapped. We were new, okay.

Last year, Popspoken published a short thinkpiece that questioned the longevity of Laneway Singapore. The piece posited that a “relatively underwhelming lineup” in 2017, zero wet weather plans, and an unchanging festival site plan from previous years explained the crowd size of 10,000 attendees, three thousand shy from its full capacity.

Notably, Laneway Singapore opened to a sold-out venue just two years prior, in 2015.

Café Fest SG | Image: Jovi Ho for Popspoken, 2014

Festivals are not upsized roadshows

In October, Popspoken examined marketers’ obsession with “experience”, manifesting in pop-up whiskey tastings, karaoke parties, and even massive bubble baths.

“The future of the pop-up could even be retail malls’ saving grace, since many local shopping malls are struggling to find novel means to drive traffic and cater to an integrated “omnichannel” experience,” we wrote.

Unfortunately, some organisers approach festivals like a big-budget heartland mall roadshow. With event saturation reaching a peak on weekends, the inertia to pay a visit anywhere has grown.

Organisers cannot place their bets on a static exhibit to draw crowds. Photobooth backdrops, bucket-sized milk tea stalls, and an art market do not a good festival make.

What makes your festival so special? Is it a carbon copy of an already-successful event, but with a three-month gap in between so it feels fresh?

Do Singaporeans want what you are offering for three days under the Singaporean sun, or can they get it elsewhere without the hassle, possibly within five minutes of an MRT station?

And drawing from Café Fest SG, one of the worst festival experiences in the past five years, would you pay to visit your own festival?

Take a moment to relook your plan if you’re pitching your idea with the phrases “Instagrammable”, “influencers”, or “cashless pasar malam“.

Festivals are costly business and frankly, in this economy? Speaking to The New Paper, Mr Felix Sim, festival producer at GTFO, said his company suffered a loss of about $50,000.

Knowing when to take a break is respectable. Homegrown music festival Neon Lights Festival took a step back in 2017 after two successful runs, returning to Fort Canning Park this November with big names like Yuna, Interpol, Cigarettes After Sex, and more. Not even a heavy downpour could stop such a lineup (though this keeps happening; move away from November, maybe?).

As 2018 draws to a close with an hour-long fireworks show (omg), we genuinely look forward to seeing what organisers can come up with next year. We’re not the Grinch; we don’t just hate things. Drop us an email with your press release, too!

To organisers of the pop-up festival — Surprise, delight, and move on, advises Prof Thomas S Robertson of the University of Pennsylvania.

We’re just waiting on the “surprise” bit.


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