The coronavirus has certainly upended events everywhere, with many rescheduled or cancelled. Students from LASALLE’s BA(Hons) Arts Management programme refused to let the pandemic grind their lives to a halt though, and insisted on transforming a physical event into a digital experience instead.
Together with peers from the BA(Hons) Music, Diploma in Audio Production and Diploma in Theatre Production and Management programmes, they presented LASALLE’s fourth Rock and Indie Festival (RIF) on Facebook and YouTube, demonstrating that even COVID-19 can’t stop the music.
“Music is one of those universal languages that can unite individuals,” said Taufiq Wahab, a BA(Hons) Arts Management student and lead of operations at RIF2020. “On top of this, many musicians aren’t just sitting at home on their butts. They continue to remain productive in their studios. By taking RIF online, we hope to demonstrate their resilience as well as lift the spirits of those who feel alone.”
Headline acts from RIF2020 include veteran rock band Astreal (left) and crowd-favourite Gareth Fernandez (right).
Organising the festival was not without difficulties and it was not the many safety protocols that caused concern. “These were simply minor complications that we worked with and around,” Taufiq said matter-of-factly. The main challenge he found himself facing time and again was communication as he was the middleman connecting different groups of individuals.
“If something was to be miscommunicated, misunderstandings occur and this creates issues,” Taufiq confessed. “Thankfully with everyone constantly on mobile and email, and being able to meet so easily online via Zoom, we could quickly rectify situations,” he shared.
Concurring with Taufiq was fellow course mate Aqid Aiman. He too found communication one of the biggest hurdles to overcome when he was the lead on programming and stage management during last year’s edition of RIF. As a physical event with live performances and audience in attendance, as well as a plethora of extra personnel from front-of-house to backstage support, RIF2019 was a behemoth of a festival compared to RIF2020.
The large crew of RIF2019 on the left, compared to the pared-down crew of RIF2020 on the right.
To manage RIF2019, Aqid and his team organised staff and volunteers into departments with clear responsibilities, relying on technology to link up team members. The experience demonstrated that in spite of a pandemic, the core principles of arts management remain unchanged, with an emphasis on the need for individuals to be nimble and resourceful. “As art managers, our goal was to optimise the festival experience to be at the best possible level for audiences and musicians, and I think we achieved that despite the limitations,” Aqid said.
At RIF2020’s closing on 21 November 2020, close to 3,400 people had tuned in live and watched the performances on playback. It was a resounding success, according to Taufiq, and some of his highlights include partnering with media platform Hear65, making acquaintances with organisers of music festivals Baybeats and IGNITE!, and forming friendships with the bands.
Above all, RIF has built up a good reputation in the industry as a calendar staple. With each edition, the BA(Hons) Arts Management students who run the festival have found more partners and sponsors willing to offer support, and more artists eager to be part of the line-up.
As one half of indie-synthpop duo Whirring who opened RIF2020 with their blend of lush electronic beats and layered vocals, Aqid shared that he was thankful to LASALLE for providing a platform for musicians to perform, where all else had closed. The duo even managed to debut new song If you’d have me at the festival.
When asked if it was tough to be a musician during this pandemic, Aqid was candid, likening it to a double-edged sword. “We’re fortunate to be able to write, record and collaborate on music from home. But at the same time, many aren’t earning enough due to a lack performing engagements. With venues closed and festivals cancelled, this revenue stream is cut off.”
Along with musicians, Taufiq too hopes this temporary reality will soon be over. While he acknowledged that the pandemic has taught a valuable lesson for everyone to be more digital-ready, he simply looks forward to a return to the good old times where one is physically in the moment.
“No digital space can come quite close to preparing artist and audience for that liminal moment when the lights dim and the murmuring crowd falls silent as anticipation builds for the first beat to drop,” Aqid added in agreement.