Music Festivals in Asia

Asian music festivals offer unique experiences for international music lovers.

Asian music festivals offer unique experiences for international music lovers.

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Many people might think that European and North American festivals draw the largest crowds and have the highest international profile, but Asian festivals often match their western counterparts in both of these areas, and also offer experiences that you won’t find anywhere else in the world.

Asia is rapidly becoming a top choice for high profile international acts to perform, and with local artists also on the roster, most festivals in the region offer live music fans a huge range of sounds and genres. What’s more, many of the festivals in Asia see attendance well into the tens of thousands, and therefore attract a diverse range of artistic performances, market stalls, world foods, and interactive activities. This diversity also extends to locations, which include mountains, beaches, cities, bays and even car parks.

In fact, music festivals in Asia are held in just about every venue imaginable, and are often made even more enjoyable thanks to amazing scenery and welcoming weather.

Here is my pick of the best music festivals in Asia, of course there are many others worth visiting too.

Java Jazz Festival

The Java Jazz Festival takes place in Jakarta, Indonesia, over three days in early March, and this year celebrated its 10-year anniversary (the first of many I hope!). The festival has an incredible history of artists who have performed there, and every year sees an array of talent on stage, from national performers, to world famous international ones (including the likes of James Brown, Stevie Wonder and John Legend). This year’s acts included Jessie J, Chaka Khan and Bobby McFerrin, as well as Indonesian bands Sheila on 7, Mocca and Galaxy Bigband Jazz Orchestra.

Performances run throughout the day well into the early hours of the morning, and take place in a variety of venues within the city centre (mostly in the International Expo, although some take place in surrounding smaller and outdoor venues). There are hundreds of performances, each one varying in size and style, with a number of up close and personal gigs, which gives the festival a very intimate vibe.

Everything about Java Jazz Festival feels tailor made for each individual member of the audience, and the shows are not limited to jazz either, but also include blues, soul, RnB, reggae with some truly unique bands on stage. There really is something for every kind of music lover; whether you love a small day time jazz performance, or like to party until dawn in a packed club-style venue, you will find something here. It is no wonder the event draws upwards of 45,000 attendees each year.

Fuji Rock Festival

This three day event, held at the end of July, is the largest music festival in Japan, with between 100,000 and 150,000 attendees, and it boasts an amazing line up of world class international performers, as well as well known Japanese artists. It’s not just the music that makes Fuji Rock such a wonderful festival – one that I would recommend everyone attend at some point; what really makes it special is the picturesque location and the quasi-magical atmosphere.

Hosted in the Japanese countryside; it took three years for the organisers to find the perfect spot, and it really could not be better. Located at the Naeba Ski Resort, the festival enjoys a backdrop of jaw-dropping mountain scenery, coupled with lush woodland areas which left me, at times, lost for words. To top it off the attendees are largely made up of carefree, yet eco-conscious, Japanese revellers, and respect for the surroundings is paramount. In fact, Fuji Rock is known to be one of the cleanest festivals on the planet, a title that it has definitely earned.

There are several stages, some tucked away and hidden, others large and prominent, where bands such as Foo Fighters, Muse and Underworld have performed. Besides great music, there are also a variety of activities on offer, including ‘Kidsland’ for families, and a boardwalk trail that takes you through quirky sideshows and offers various hammock resting spots.

You never know where you will end up at this festival, one moment you are in a crowd of tens of thousands, the next you have turned a corner in the middle of a forest and ended up in a tent with thirty people watching a Japanese folk band. It’s a delightful experience, and also no surprise that the international attendance is on the increase. I just hope that it retains its fairytale-esque vibe despite its expansion.

Big Mountain Music Festival

This festival takes place in early December, and is held two hours outside Bangkok. It is hailed as the ‘true Thai’ experience; a way to fully immerse oneself in young Thai culture.

Starting in 2009, Big Mountain is still a very young event, yet it is already Thailand’s biggest music festival (with 150,000 in attendance), generating millions in profit, and hosting a variety of acts on eight stages. Despite its success, the festival rarely attracts many high profile international stars, but I found that this to be part of its charm and authenticity.

This is just the beginning, however, as director and creator, Yuthana ‘Ted’ Boonorm, aims to expand and improve the festival every year. He hopes that when it reaches its tenth year, he will be able to afford top international acts and compete as one of the world’s major music events. At the rate its popularity is growing this is not an unreasonable ambition.

Located in a national park, the surrounding scenery is stunning, blessed with tropical vegetation and wildlife spotting opportunities. Just outside the venue, there are areas for swimming (including waterfalls) and hiking, to be enjoyed before or after the festival. What more could you really ask for?

Every genre of music in Thai popular culture is represented, yet what is even more interesting, besides the location, are the themed stages. There is a place for everyone, and you always end up somewhere out of this world, thanks to amazing props and designs for a true theatrical experience.

Wonderfruit Festival

Another Thai-based event, held just two hours from Bangkok in the run up to Christmas is Wonderfruit – a boutique festival of the arts that offers fantastic music, wonderful food, installations, film, theatre, workshops, talks, debates, fashion and architecture.

The atmosphere is inspired by nature, close to mother earth, and respectful of the surroundings. Sustainability is one of the founding principles of the organisers, and the festival has a huge focus on recognition and attention for the environment and other social concerns.

There is a wonderful mix of great music at Wonderfruit, with a conscientious overtone. The main stage is a permanent living structure with natural vegetation that hosts a fabulous line up that this year will include, Little Dragon, De La Soul, Fat Freddy’s Drop, Chet Faker and Earth Harp Collective.

You really never know what you will see next here, and the weird and wonderful abound at every corner, in every crowd. This is a must-visit for everyone; the arts are unrivalled and the engagement with current concerns – in a fun and delightful atmosphere – is something rarely seen.

Plan your Festival Experiences

It is impossible to make a list of all the music events worth seeing in Asia, let alone try visit them all, so it’s best to make the most of wherever you find yourself. Below are a few tips to help you plan your festival experiences.

  • If you’re a bit of a club-head and you’re heading to Big Mountain Music Festival, don’t miss ‘Club Cake’ the area of rave music, dancing and seriously loud beats (running from 10pm till 5.30am). ‘District 9’ is also worth a look, no matter your music preference; an otherworldly experience of motherships, replete with aliens, spacecraft and everything sci-fi. Taking months to design and build, it really is spectacular.
  • Be prepared for surprises at Wonderfruit Festival. Secret Production (the leading company in the UK’s lifestyle festival industry) collaborates with Wonderfruit each year, providing the attendees with plenty of unexpected enjoyment, founded upon innovation and creativity. In the past these have taken the form of horse riding, mountain biking, art installations and banquets, but you really never know what will be in store.
  • Not everybody knows that Java Jazz Festival extends beyond the three days – it includes a whole host of pre-festival events running throughout January and February. What’s more, the Bali Live International Jazz Festival takes place the following week and acts as an after party for the event, with a high end performance every single night. So if you’re in the area at any point during the first three months of the year you should definitely check it out. All details are available on the web site.
  • Due to the importance placed on environmental friendliness at Fuji Rock there are a whole host of rules that you should follow when attending the event. Full details can be found on the website, but it is worth noting that smoking is only permitted in certain areas and people must carry a portable ashtray for their cigarette butts.
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