The bright future of dance music in Indonesia

Djakarta Warehouse Project is the biggest annual dance festival in Indonesia, running on a philosophy of offering major headline international acts and epic mainstage production at a price the Indonesian market can afford – and it’s obviously working, because the festival has grown massively over its seven years.

Last year it expanded to two days for the first time, and this year they’re bringing everyone from mainstage stars like Armin van Buuren, Tiesto, Skrillex, Axwell /\ Ingrosso, DJ Snake and Kaskade to Porter Robinson, Cashmere Cat, house hero Jamie Jones, Claptone, Claude VonStroke, Dillon Francis and Oliver Heldens, taking over the Jiexpo Kemayoran Convention Centre next Friday and Saturday 11 and 12 December.

The crew behind the festival, Ismaya Group, is also responsible for the first local Ultra edition, which took over Bali in September this year, as well as a host of bars and restaurants across Asia and the UAE. With a festival market driven by huge demand and enthusiasm, but also hampered by conservative social mores and local authorities, we chatted with Ismaya Group’s founder Christian Rijanto about the future for dance music in Indonesia.

How big is the appetite for dance music in Indonesia right now, and how rapidly has it grown over the past ten years?
Dance music has definitely grown, especially over the last four to five years. Now you can listen to dance music on the local mainstream radio. There is a strong appetite for dance music and we feel the peak definitely happened last year. Unfortunately, even though with the increase, there are so many dance music events happening in Indonesia nowadays, the market has become a bit saturated because the average disposable income in Indonesia is still rather low.

Is the growth mostly fuelled by local Indonesians, or also by visitors from elsewhere in SE Asia or Australia?
At DWP, it’s a combination of both. In the last few years, the percentage of non-Indonesians coming to the festival has grown rapidly. This year alone, so far the international visitors make up a little bit more than 20%, with people coming in from all over Asia, like Malaysia, Singapore, Japan, Korea, even India and beyond (as far as the UK, Germany, Canada, etc).

Is there a special vibe at festivals and clubs in Indonesia you don’t find elsewhere?
Most importantly in Indonesia, the people here love the music so much. They definitely know each single song from the artists and they also know how to party and celebrate life. They love the music passionately, they express their feelings, and they go all out unlike some other parts of Asia. At DWP especially – it’s very rare to see any festival anywhere in the world that can charge as low as we do, but provides a great atmosphere from the people coupled with a huge line-up and big production.

What are your biggest considerations when deciding which artists to book for tours?
First of all, we book artists who we personally love and we passionately believe in. Then we introduce them to the market that we think will work.  In addition, the artists’ popularity in this market matters. Some artists have bigger followers locally than overseas, and vice versa. That’s why not all big artists will work out.


This year’s DWP line-up has artists like Jamie Jones and Claude VonStroke alongside the massive names like Armin, Tiesto and Jack Ü: is there a growing local scene for the underground sounds of house and techno?
It’s actually starting to grow, but it’s not really that developed yet. That is why as a leader in the market, it is our job to educate and share the music that we love with everyone.  One of the many reasons we’re bringing such acts to the festival is so we can educate the market more about what is happening on the other side of the dance scene.

What are the major challenges to putting on a festival or running a club night in Jakarta? Is there a challenge with negotiating with the authorities and conservative social mores?
The market in Indonesia is a bit sensitive with how much a festival is worth, and this problem comes coupled with the price that artists are charging nowadays. It’s really difficult to sustain if you’re not careful. We’re always figuring out how to present good production with a good line-up, so it becomes good value for the customer’s money. Dealing with local authorities and also different ‘interests’ groups is very difficult here. Many times, they have their personal agenda. It really took us many years to build a relationship with all these outside parties to smooth things out.


Festival organisers in Malaysia and Singapore have had struggles with authorities misunderstanding the dance scene and events – is that something you’ve felt reverberations from?
Yes, of course. We’re connected with the region, meaning Malaysia and Singapore. Under the same so-called Asian beliefs, we’re always somehow related. We have to always work together closely with local authorities, educating them that this kind of music festival does not have a negative connotation; we constantly discuss and express to them that in this type of festival, we all unite as one and bring out positivity. It’s a way to celebrate life and to give more to it. We also express to the local authorities that this event is very good for promoting tourism to Indonesia, as tens of thousands of people from around the world will come to Jakarta for DWP.

Destination festivals – on tropical islands, cruise ships, ski resorts and the like – are growing massively in popularity; is this an area you see Ismaya moving into?
Yes. Ismaya has already started to do that with Ultra Beach Bali. We created the Ultra Beach Bali festival concept in collaboration with Ultra Worldwide, which is definitely a unique experience where you can see incredible music on the beachfront settings of Bali. Watching Kygo perform at Seminyak beach at sunset was an unforgettable and unique experience for us and many others. We’re still exploring doing more unique destination festivals in the near future.