We need to talk about your music festival

It’s not like I’m going, but I do know that there need to be more productive discussions that don’t involve *gasp* taxpayer’s money or *GASP!* questionable taste, and worst of all questionable ethics. Some of those things have yet to be proven anyway. Others are a matter of perspective. The Peppers have a lot of fans…and that’s great! Isn’t that why they were called in to play this thing?

That I can refer to it as “your” music festival, and still risk being blocked on twitter or sued for libel says a lot though–especially if you’ll be pitching your tent beneath a banner that carries the name of a country I was born in as well.

Which brings me to my first point:

Ultimately, what I think is (because I’m entitled to an opinion) the problem with the Music Festival that will not be named is one of nomenclature. It’s not only a matter of what’s in a name, considering how difficult it would be to represent the Philippines, island for island, but the Music Festival part. Let’s not kid ourselves about this festival business: 8 to 20ish grand is not just going to buy you a ticket to see all these local and international acts, it buys you the illusion of safety that comes with it.

Kind of like this:


When it comes to the word “festival” though, there are problems with pegging a ticket price at an amount which will also serve to alienate. Misappropriating the vocabulary of public space to mediate an alternative cultural expression, i.e. rock music (do kids today still say “rock”?) is just…shitty. It nullifies any potential for public engagement by carving out boundaries within an already fragmented society.

This would be a lot simpler if it were just a matter of shelling out for a weekend in Clark to see some bands, but there’s been an absence of other channels to expand and develop an audience for the alternative–which is how we can safely characterize many of the acts on this lineup–and venues such as festivals are crucial forms of both public engagement and cultural development. It makes very little sense that we circulate ads and platitudes about “Filipino creativity” and how we’re basically the greatest musicians the world has ever seen (I mean have you seen how well we perform on cruise ships and American Idol?!), when we can’t even get the message through on our own shores.

This is also why it’s so tragic that there are no more genre-specific radio stations, because no matter what’s been written about the internet as a forum for attracting audiences, what eventually reaches you ears is not in the airwaves. It’s not something you run into when you board a jeep or just happen to be browsing aimlessly in a department store. The consumption one engages in online is something else entirely, and it’s not as egalitarian as we’d like to think.

This is where low-priced, if not free, festivals tend to pick up the slack, and this has to be the greatest shortcoming of the Music Festival that will not be named. The live performance has gone from being a confirmation of fandom to a gateway to cultural expression. You discover what else is on the lineup through its association with the headliner—assuming there is any association at all.

Here’s another example so we can stop pretending this upcoming shindig is some kind of milestone:

(yeah, I know this wasn’t what your people had in mind when you guys said “Music” festival…but…)

Which brings us to the music: The problem with any poster boasting of a mile-long lineup is not only that some names will be on top, but they will be larger than anything else in the frame; thus drawing attention not to the work these artists do, but the benediction they’re given through the company they keep, gunning the very same engine of celebrification used to sell everything else in this country. With the way the line-up is constructed, it’s not about seeing an act, but about being in the presence of an endorser.

So what makes this even funnier (if it’s worth the laugh) is that for an event that is so problematically named—that calls itself a music festival, despite promoting itself in a way that has so little concern with both music and festivals—all it really has to peddle are names. As if to say that the only way to make certain artists worth watching is to highlight who they’re with. As if the only way a Filipino act can sell records and cultivate a following on the global and globalized platform that is music production is by being associated with…

The Red Hot Chili Peppers.

It’s not even that I don’t like the Red Hot Chili Peppers. It’s just that so much arrogance goes with enlisting an act who will siphon a massive portion of the event’s resources for the sake of capturing an audience that has existed since I was in grade school.

For a festival that claims to believe in Filipino music, plastering one “big name” over dozens of tiny others only speaks of the opposite: it testifies to a lack of faith in what local talent has to offer. It insults both the capacity of the performer to draw a crowd and the agency of the audience to make a choice.

And of course, it had to be called what it’s called.

5 thoughts on “We need to talk about your music festival

  1. Reblogged this on Thinking and Doing and commented:
    Sigh. Here’s what arts and culture writer Alice Sarmiento has to say about a festival that shall not be named. I’ll be staying in town for Art Fair Philippines. Much cheaper.

  2. TL;DR version:

    I’m an elitist hipster who complains about something that isn’t really an issue with the majority of society.

    If you have a problem with the music festival, don’t attend. Simple as that.

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