[Article images courtesy of Rukes, High ISO and Floris Heuer Photography]
If you’re running a festival in Indonesia during the rainy season, then you need to pay a black magic wizard to hold off the tropical storms. That’s the secret weapon of Djakarta Warehouse Project (DWP), according to their media guy Kevin. The trick is, the wizard only gets paid if it doesn’t rain. “I don’t really understand it, though,” Kevin says. “It’s deep black magic stuff.”
Which all seems a little farfetched…except the clouds hold off their heavy rains until the minute we’re headed for the airport, after two drama-free (and dry) days of partying. You can’t help but wonder if they’re onto something…
DWP is the biggest dance music festival to ever take over Indonesia, South East Asia’s most populous country. Across December 11 and 12 this year, the festival brought 70,000 locals and tourists to Jakarta’s shiny new JI Expo convention centre, all converging from Korea, India, Malaysia, Singapore, Australia and beyond for two exhaustive days of partying. (The festival runs from across two days, from 4pm to 4am.)
After five years of steady upward growth, last year the organisers ramped things up massively, vastly expanding the festival’s capacity and blowing out to two days. This year, they outdid themselves again with a three-stage site and heavyweight roster spanning underground house, techno and trap, as well as marquee mainstage names like Jack Ü, Major Lazer, Axwell & Ingrosso, Armin van Buuren, Tiesto, DJ Snake and Kaskade.
This past year in Australia has seen lot of debate about the future of the mega-festivals, as the touring giants go into hibernation and a crowd of boutique mini-festivals spring up in their place. But in emerging markets like Asia and Latin America, the festival boom is only just kicking off; the polymath crew behind DWP, Ismaya Group, just launched the first SE Asian Ultra event this year in Bali; they also run boutique Bali festival Sunny Side Up (which brought the likes of Flight Facilities and Cyril Hahn this August), and Jakarta’s indie-focused We The Fest (WTF).
Safe to say, business is booming – but it’s not without its challenges. Indonesia’s a conservative, religious country, so managing the local authorities and “interest groups” can be, as Ismaya Group founder Christian Rijanto put it, “very difficult”. “It really took us many years to build a relationship with all these outside parties to smooth things out,” Rijanto said.
Festivals in neighbouring Malaysia and Singapore have gone through the same thing, and in some cases seen their events shut down by the authorities – but happily at this year’s DWP there was not a hint of drama. In fact, if you’re accustomed to the primal looseness of an Aussie festival crowd, then Indonesia will blow your mind: you’ve probably never seen a better behaved – or more sober – group of punters.
The capacity crowd packed in front of the mainstage went mental during every headline set – jumping around, waving flags and singing along – but between sets, they all sat down to rest up, ate snacks or smoked up a storm (with cigarettes purchased from the major festival tobacco sponsor, of course – another thing you’ll never find on Australian shores).
Porter Robinson is one artist who’s picked up on the fast-growing appetite for electronic music across SE Asia, after more than a year of touring his Worlds live show to festivals all over the globe.
“I think that in some parts of the world – outside the US, UK, Canada and Australia – EDM is pretty new, so there’s this indiscriminate love for everything that’s going on with it,” Robinson said, minutes before performing his live AV show for a devoted, knowledgable audience, that chanted his name before he came onstage and screamed for “one more” at the end.
“I don’t know the whole world,” Robinson said, with characteristic measure, “but I definitely get the sense that in a lot of places in Latin America and South Korea, that sound is something new and something people are excited about.”
“The people here love the music so much,” Rijanto added. “They definitely know every single song from the artists, and they also know how to party and celebrate life.”
Chris Emerson, aka What So Not, was also feeling the love. Riding high after smashing his set for a packed room (complete with a Skrillex cameo for their new collab’ Goh), Emerson told inthemix that, “last time I played here was to like 350 people, so this means I can come back and play even bigger shows next time. It’s great when you come to another country and they know all your stuff, even new stuff like Gemini.”
The zone behind a festival mainstage always has a vaguely military feel, with the muffled artillery of the bass booming away and the strobing flashes of the giant LED wall. In South East Asia it’s even more like a war movie cliche: muggy air, drifting clouds of CO2 and firework smoke, bare scaffolding, and radio-strapped crew members crouching in the shadows, puffing away or passed out asleep.
It’s basically Apocalypse Now with a big-room soundtrack; walking up the gang plank towards the raised bunker of the DJ booth is almost enough to make you turn around and run in the other direction.
But in the booth itself, the exceedingly polite DJ Shaan from India was plugged in and tearing through a 7pm set of original big room bangers and “crowd-hook” remixes (like Lean On). It was still early in the night, so the crowd was conserving their energy, but Shaan was philosophical about the tempered reaction – it was good practice, he said, for his stint supporting Hardwell in Mumbai the next night.
At peak-time the night before, though, the crowd had been in full beast mode, as Skrillex and Diplo brought their outrageously fun Jack Ü set to the region for the first time, cutting rapid-fire between rap, pop and mainstage anthems, as well as Major Lazer smashes and, of course, their own chart-toppers like set closer Where Are Ü Now. Rumours that Bieber might show up for a cameo turned out to be unfounded, but it was still the most fun festival set in recent memory.
While Armin and Tiesto dealt out peak-time closing sets on the mainstage, elsewhere throughout the aircraft-hanger warehouses were the likes of Cashmere Cat and What So Not dishing out future bass, Jamie Jones and Claude VonStroke dealing deep techno and house to an appreciative ex-pat crowd, and Gabriel & Dresden and Sied Van Riel pumping out hands in the air trance.
It’s a serious spectacle, and a major drawcard for Jakarta, a megacity largely known for its urban sprawl, pollution, giant malls and insane traffic, as a population the size of Australia tries to navigate its way through the city’s streets all at the same time.
But if DWP keeps on its current trajectory, then Jakarta will have a far more attractive laurel to wear in its crown – a permanent home for dance music’s biggest acts to get their party on with the people of Australasia.