Apr 24, 2024 Last Updated 1:12 AM, Apr 19, 2024

Concerts for cash

Published: Oct 27, 2023
Indonesia has a plan to boost the economy through large-scale arts, cultural and sporting events, but are they ready?

Michael H. B. Raditya

On 11 and 12 March 2023, Blackpink, a famous Korean girl band, played two sold out concerts in Jakarta’s Gelora Bung Karno (GBK) stadium. The concerts were held as part of the band’s world tour and over 120,000 tickets were sold. The Minister for Tourism and the Arts, Sandiaga Salahuddin Uno, tweeted that the event would help SMEs (Small and Medium-sized Enterprises) near the stadium and it did indeed generate windfall profits for pop-up stalls selling food, drink and Blackpink merchandise.

A day earlier (10 March) the legendary British rock band Deep Purple held a concert in Solo, Central Java, as part of their world tour. Approximately 7000 people attended. Event organisers sold spaces to vendors and provided a variety of stalls selling food, drink and merchandise. The vendors involved reported good profits from the event.

These large concerts featuring international artists followed statements by President Joko Widodo (Jokowi) in February, about the necessity of consumption to boost the national economy. He encouraged Indonesians to get out and spend both on retail and at sporting, arts and cultural events. His pronouncement was met with criticism from several groups. Some claimed, for example, that any stagnation in economic growth was the government’s own fault or that it was risky to rely on economic consumption to drive growth when another force majeure, like COVID-19, might derail this effort at any time. Others lamented the president’s focus on sporting, arts and cultural events (like music concerts) rather than religious events like Qur’anic recitations.

It's the economy, stupid

Jokowi pointed out that while Indonesia’s consumptive growth has been slowing, Indonesians had an estimated Rp.690 trillion (A$67 billion) in savings accounts accumulated during the pandemic. In an environment of fear and uncertainty, many were reluctant to shop or go to restaurants, markets or malls and people chose saving over spending. In response to the slowing economic trends, Jokowi urged people to spend and explicitly cited artistic, cultural and sporting events as vehicles for boosting growth. To encourage activity, the president then urged the national police to ease the conditions for issuing permits and insisted they be issued one month in advance of an event.

Guyon Waton performed in Pekan Gembira Ria Festival, Jakarta on 13 August 2023/ Michael HB Raditya

This was particularly well received by event organisers who have faced significant administrative barriers to staging events in recent years. Secretary General of the Association of Indonesian Music Promoters (APMI), Emil Mahyudin, roundly welcomed this news. As he explained, under the current conditions, there was significant uncertainty about securing the correct permits ahead of an event as they could often be ‘approved two or three days before the concert, …(or) just a day before or even on the day of the concert’. Issuing permits at least a month in advance of any event would be helpful for promoters. In June the Minister for Tourism and the Arts, Sandiaga Salahuddin Uno, ruled that the permits for big events could be issued six months (principal permits), three months (technical permits), and one month (final permits) before the events. The dangdut band, Wawes, has been a beneficiary of the regulation, with his band performing in many festivals since March. Lead singer, Gaseng explained that Wawes had performed at approximately 25 festivals between March and October this year. Another band, Guyon Waton, played at approximately 55 festivals during the same period.

Approximately 3000 arts, cultural and sporting events are slated for 2023, including a varied line-up of national and international musicians. In the month of March alone, English rock band, Arctic Monkeys, Korean boy band, Treasure, together with Deep Purple and American heavy metal band, Slipknot all performed in Jakarta. As part of its world tour, progressive metal legend, Dream Theater, stopped in Indonesia in May, as did South Korean girl band, Red Velvet. American rock band, The Strokes performed in July and superstars, Coldplay will play to a packed Gelora Bung Karno (GBK) stadium on 15 November. 

A rich calendar of music festival events also relaunched, including Synchronize Festival on 1-3 September, Pestapora Festival on 22-24 September, Java Jazz Festival on 2-4 June, Prambanan Jazz Festival on 14-16 July and Ngayogjazz in November, among others. In addition, many new arts, cultural, and sporting events will debut in 2023. While all this sounds like music to the ears of industry stakeholders, challenges still remain, for example, availability of suitable facilities, crowd management and safety, and consumer protection.

Cultural infrastructure concerns

Every year Indonesia hosts a diverse array of cultural events that showcase and explore a variety of art forms, styles and skills. These include events focused on traditional culture and crafts, literature, sports, music, dance, theatre, visual arts, magic and the natural environment. Events vary in location and scale: from small, community-organised events to international tour stops; from remote, rural locations to bustling, industrial cities. For those who want to enjoy jazz in a village setting, there is Ngayogjazz, Yogyakarta or Ubud Village Jazz Festival in Bali. For devotees of the natural environment who want to enjoy a local arts scene, and simultaneously campaign to protect the forests of Riau, there is the Rimbang Baling Festival. For fans of all night house music, the Djakarta Warehouse Project awaits. In summary, there is no shortage of options in the calendar of festivals and events in Indonesia.

Ngayogjazz Festival / WikiMedia Creative Commons

But unlike the concerts and tours by iconic international and national acts, these regional and local events are created and run by the community. Some examples include the Pasa Harau Art and Culture festival in West Sumatera; Layang Lakbok Festival in West Java; Galundi Singkarak in West Sumatera; Tao Silalahi Art Festival in North Sumatera; Festival Panen Kopi Gayo in Aceh and Rungkuk Meratus Festival in South Kalimantan. Festivals had been revered in Indonesia, but COVID-19 put an end to all that – including the allocated government funding.

In recognition of the value of these events and of the damage inflicted on the industry by the pandemic, in 2021 the Directorate General of Culture, within the Ministry of Education and Culture, created the ‘Indonesiana program’ to help support these festivals created by and for the people. Nevertheless, in the wake of the pandemic concerns about crowding and increasing costs, many festivals flopped in 2022. Some were cancelled without a clear refund scheme, while others were abandoned midway through or ran to completion, but were regarded as flops. Two notable examples include Fosfen Festival in Bandung, West Java, which was cancelled in November 2022 because of insufficient funds to pay the musicians, and then the Dendang Bergoyang festival was stopped by police due to lack of safety standards and overcrowding.

Crowd management and safety remains an issue in Indonesia. The Kanjuruhan stadium disaster on 1 October 2022, in which 135 supporters were killed at a soccer match, will never be forgotten. It was a catastrophe and clear evidence that the Indonesian authorities lack the capacity and commitment to plan for and guarantee crowd safety.

There is a further problem with the availability of suitable venues and facilities, many of which are inappropriately designed to deal with the safe flow of large numbers of people into, around and out of an event. Event organisers can learn many lessons from the concert held by the Indonesian rock band, Dewa 19, at the Jakarta International Stadium (JIS) on 4 February 2023. By all accounts, the concert itself was a spectacular success, however, the report card for the venue, JIS, was not so positive. Attendees complained about three issues: problems with transportation to and from the venue; absence of suitable car parks and inadequate footpaths for pedestrians. In short, the event organiser had not properly considered how concert goers could safely and efficiently arrive at and leave the venue.

Protection for consumers and artists

Another problem concerns the susceptibility of festival and event organisers to fraud. Early in 2023, what turned out to be a scam event known as the Bersenandung Festival, defrauded large numbers of prospective festival goers. Tickets were sold through Instagram for a series of concerts and festivals that were touted to be held in in West Kalimantan, East Kalimantan, North Sumatera and North Sulawesi. Typically, in these cases after enough tickets are sold for each event, the promoter’s Instagram account is closed and the promoter simply disappears, popping up in a different city to promote a different fake concert. Police have since arrested the fraudsters involved in the Bersenandung festival scam, but the incident highlighted the risks for the public when purchasing tickets for an event with no guarantee that it will ever materialise.

The heavy metal band Slipknot is one of several international acts to visit Indonesia so far in 2023 /Instagram

There are also valid concerns about the impact of intolerant attitudes on restricting or preventing some performances from taking place in Indonesia. The announcement of the Coldplay concert was met with a religious backlash, with government ministers moving to reassure the public that security forces would guarantee security for the event. In 2012 a Lady Gaga concert in Jakarta was cancelled after Muslim hardliners threatened violence if it went ahead. The performer’s safety is also an essential factor in discussing the Indonesian concert scene. 

Fixing the problems together 

Jokowi’s announcement in February heralded arts, cultural, and sporting events as a vehicle for economic growth. However, there are many challenges that must be overcome before this can be achieved. These include: a lack of appropriate facilities and infrastructure; poor regulation and uncertainty around refunds and other consumer protection; limited capacity to plan for and maintain crowd control and the ever-present risk of fraud undermining consumer confidence. However these challenges cannot be solved by the government, event organisers or audiences alone. To succeed, gotong royong (mutual cooperation), as well as a system with event organisers, performers and audiences working together, is required to avoid each party apportioning blame, as happens now. 

The government has a role to play, particularly in providing the physical infrastructure required to host events and the spaces required for communities to meet and collaborate. Jokowi was correct in identifying that governments have a role in ensuring that the administrative processes for obtaining permits should not be burdensome and should facilitate rather than hinder arts, cultural, and sporting events. The government should consider a commitment to both national investment and stronger safety regulation/enforcement in hosting big events.

Event organisers also play an important role in adhering to standards of professionalism that guarantee the public a safe experience and that deliver the quality content they have been promised. However, suggestions that the event and festival industry should be subject to closer government regulation need to be approached with caution. Prescriptive, straitjacket regulation is unlikely to be compatible with Indonesia’s dynamic traditions and flexible management methods. While organisers need to earn public trust, they also need to be given room to move.

Instead, what would be more effective are associations and groups that connect organisers with artistic and sporting communities and allow them to share their experiences and expertise and to collaborate. Groups like APMI, Begawai Nusantara (Cultural Networking that consists of more than 13 community run festivals), Jogja Festivals (which consists of 15 cultural events), and other groups need to be connected. Through such connections, quality and professionalism will be fostered and maintained. This type of connection is central to the gotong royong system. It is preferable to increased regulation, not least of all because it resists the pull for everything to be centrally organised and controlled and leaves space for local groups to adopt innovative and unique approaches.

The goal of gotong royong is to build a good ecosystem of concerts, so international bands like Blackpink, Coldplay and others can work with Indonesian promoters, and not handled by those from Singapore or China for example, as occurs now. Some question whether Indonesian promoters can produce a concert at an international level? Soundrenaline event promoter Ravel Junardy promoted the Slipknot tour, which was produced to the highest international standards, showing what Indonesian promoters and event organisers are capable of.

Rather than assuming the role of event organiser, governments should simply be one part of the gotong royong system. Their role is not to oversee or control arts, cultural and sporting events, but rather to facilitate the availability of venues, approvals and resources so that organisers can host safe, successful events for the community. Under the New Order regime, when the military controlled every artistic performance right down to checking the lyrics or script word-by-word, the arts, cultural, and sporting event scene suffered. For that reason, a system that promotes cooperation and collaboration, not control, must be adopted.

Under gotong royong problems can be overcome with all actors working side-by-side. Event organisers can concentrate on curating and delivering quality, memorable experiences. Audiences can also support artists and sports people and take part in new experiences that enrich them and their community. Performers can share their skills and artistic vision and the government can provide the space and support for this exchange to flourish, as well as encourage the national investment and stronger safety regulation and enforcement. A gotong royong system ensures arts, cultural and sporting events retain their authenticity and vitality and are not reduced to an instrument to be controlled and used by the government when needed for some unrelated ends.

Michael H. B. Raditya (mraditya@student.unimelb.edu.au), is a PhD student at Asia Institute, The University of Melbourne. He is a founder of Dangdut Studies Center, www.dangdutstudies.com.

Inside Indonesia 153: Jul-Sep 2023

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