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BACK in 2002, around 1,000 people gathered in a bar in Bukit Bintang, Kuala Lumpur for a pretty ambitious event – an arts festival. They weren’t all that common back then.
There were 30 acts performing, and everyone was jammed into the now-defunct Grappa Soho. It was, understandably, a haphazard event. The organisers barely broke even on that little venture, which they called Urbanscapes.

“That was before social media was a big thing in Malaysia,” said Urbanscapes founder and Freeform CEO Adrian Yap.

Adrian Yap

Yap, the founder of Urbanscapes, said 2015 was a tough year for festivals but they hope to bring Urbanscapes back with a bang in 2016.

“We relied mostly on word-of mouth to promote the event.”

From those humble beginnings, Urbanscapes has grown into arguably Malaysia’s biggest arts festival, attracting top-drawer musical acts like Franz Ferdinand, Sigur Ros, Kimbra, etc.

Urbanscapes 2016, however, is probably the most ambitious edition Yap has ever planned, with multiple acts, film screenings, art installations and – of course – exclusive parties sprawled across KL.

And instead of their usual weekend festival formula, they’re now spreading out the fun over three weeks. Unlike 2002, they’re expecting 10,000 people this time.

Back and bigger

Like many festival organisers, Freeform and Yap have faced plenty of setbacks.

In 2015, a drug scandal at another event forced Yap to cancel Urbanscapes that year.

“It was an exceptionally hard time for festivals,” said Yap. “People were disappointed, but we had no choice but to put on a smile and carry on.”

And carry on they did, because Urbanscapes is back with a vengeance.

“We’re trying newer, bolder events like our closing party, the Hotel Takeover – which is new for us and a lot of people out there – and public art exhibitions scattered across the city,” said Yap.

Anticipation is particularly high over Hotel Takeover, an invite-only party taking place at The Journal Hotel which will have secret rooms, pool parties and a DJ set by Rudimental.

To incorporate all these crazy ideas this year, they decided to hold the festival at different venues across the city, unlike the single-location festivals they’ve organised for over a decade.

There will even be art exhibitions at LRT stations this time around.

“We figured, why not explore the entire city itself, instead of just a standard field with a stage for concerts and vendors like we always do?” said Yap.

“Art is a reflection of its society,” he said. “It forms our local identity and is continuously evolving as we evolve as a nation.

tameimpala

Austrailian band Tame Impala, the headline act for Urbanscapes 2016, sold out their show within days. The organisers of Urbanscapes, however, are keen to emphasize that the event is a celebration of the Malaysian arts scene, not just the big headliners.

 

Unsung heroes

Naturally, the big headliners – Tame Impala, Rudimental and M83 this year – always steal the limelight, but Yap is always at pains to remind people that Urbanscapes is about celebrating art, not just music.

He admits that the big names help sell tickets, but it’s the local arts scene that they really hope will benefit from the event.

“Freeform has always been fascinated with Malaysian talent and its arts and culture,” he said.

That’s why Urbanscapes decided to hold most of the art exhibitions this year at high volume, attention-grabbing spaces.

Light Cube is a public installation which will be displayed at six LRT stations, each featuring an art box designed by a different artist.

Graffiti and vector artist Orkibal Labriko designed the box at the Bandar Tasik Selatan station with his own interpretation of what KL is all about.

“The best thing about this installation is that we get to share our art and the Urbanscapes vibe with a wider audience,” said Orkibal

“The previous Urbanscapes have always been in closed off, ticketed areas. Now it’s not just that particular crowd that gets to experience the festival.”

There will also be several film screenings at Urbanscapes 2016, including a screening of the Asian Media Award-winning The Curse Of Serawan, produced by R.AGE.

The documentary will be screened at the two week-long Urbanscapes House, another ambitious new element of this year’s festival.

At the end of the day, Yap feels overcoming the challenge of bringing Urbanscapes to the rest of the city will be all worth it, because local talents will get the exposure they deserve.

“Art is a reflection of its society,” he said. “It forms our local identity and is continuously evolving as we evolve as a nation.

“Not being attentive to our own culture and how it’s evolving means we lose sight and control of where we are going culturally.”

Urbanscapes has already helped kickstart the careers of many local artists, including visual artist Vincent Leong and sculptor Abdul Multhalib Musa, one of the first participants of

Urbanscapes, both of whom have gone on to gain international recognition.

Two of Leong’s artworks were acquired by the Guggenheim in 2012, and Multhalib has had work commissioned by Petronas, The Hilton, The Grand Hyatt, The Westin, Farouk Khan and UMW Toyota.

“The more opportunities you have as a musician, the more you grow and improve your art.

Indie band Jumero won a R.AGE competition to perform at Urbanscapes 2012, and they said it was a huge stepping stone for them.

Indie band Jumero won a R.AGE competition to perform at Urbanscapes 2012, and they said it was a huge stepping stone for them.

 

Even before he was invited to perform at Urbanscapes 2012, electronica artist Darren Ashley was already a huge supporter of Urbanscapes.

“Over the past few years, I’ve always gone to as many Urbanscapes shows as I can. And it’s not just for the big acts; I just think it’s great for the local creative arts scene in Malaysia,” he said.

While Ashley was already a relatively established name when he performed at Urbanscapes – on the same bill as Sigur Ros, no less – indie acoustic trio Jumero were given one of the biggest breaks in their career there.

They were formed just a couple of months before Urbanscapes 2012, and they took part in a competition by R.AGE which gave them the chance to perform at the festival.

“It was the biggest stage we had ever performed on at the time, and the biggest crowd too,” said Michael Lim, the band’s vocalist and bassist.

“The more opportunities you have as a musician, the more you grow and improve your art.

“Young Malaysians these days are exploding with creative ideas, and they will express it on any platform. Urbanscapes is one of them.”

R.AGE is an official media partner of Urbanscapes 2016. To win passes to the event, follow R.AGE on Facebook (fb.com/thestarRAGE) and YouTube (youtube.com/rageonlinetv).

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