After the music dies, art still keeps the beat

At festivals, isn’t what happens offstage that makes an impact?

The energy of a festival always seems to come down to its line-up— but should this be the case with Urbanscapes? Let’s take a closer look at a few reasons why the non-music aspect of Malaysia’s longest-running creative arts festival deserves more attention.

First an Urbanscapes art project, now a critically-acclaimed local film

Remember people carrying a house in Urbanscapes four years ago? Inspired by the compassionate act in a newspaper photo of 150 villagers carrying a man’s house on their backs to move him closer to his sick mother-in-law, Liew Seng Tat and Sharon Guan created Projek Angkat Rumah at Urbanscapes 2010 to explore Malaysia’s gotong-royong spirit. They would eventually direct and produce Lelaki Harapan Dunia, a Malaysian film that toured the international festival circuit before arriving in local cinemas to much praise. A core motif of the film’s imagery: Village men carrying a house. It’s an interesting example of how art can spark something larger than life.

There’s always more to festivals than its music line-up

Twelve years in, Urbanscapes continues its tradition of bringing access to a diversity of offstage experiences to those who may not encounter them in daily life. Previous incarnations of this creative arts festival have seen dedicated spaces for growth and stimulation in local theatre, film, spoken word poetry, experimental projects, fashion designers, graffiti, dance, outdoor and participatory art— curated and extracted from the distracting city to bring a breath of fresh air. This year is no different, and stuff like this sets their festivals apart from their Satellite concerts.

Visit a town that believes thinking is deadly

This year, Urbanscapes will sport an intriguing and unusual first— an entirely fictional town of North Bangsar, or rather, the Democratic Mayor’s Republic Of North Bangsar. The town not only has its own back story, but a mayor and its own indoor building at the centre of the festival action decked with a music stage, bookstore, a pharmacy-cum-bar, zoo, jail, and even a red light district. The Mayor— the committed comedian Kuah Jenhan— spouts rhetoric on his beliefs that bring the levity of satire to the festival, but also give you pause considering Malaysia’s news climate this year. North Bangsar may very well have lessons for us next year.

What will the creative arts of this year tell us about life in the next?

Keep an eye out this year for ideas that indicate the next trends and collective trains of thought— as it was in previous Urbanscapes. For example, the idea of being a consumer will be tackled away from the shopping bazaars at Urbanscapes with The Market Of Experiences. The market will be curated by The Generalist, a collective interested in rejuvenating human experiences. One of them, Norman Teh, says, “All of the Markets we’ve done have been commissioned as art projects. We look at participation and engagement of people beyond just as spectators and consumers.” In an urban life saturated with advertising, it’s a refreshing experience not to be sold to, and to engage with such an experience through art. Another non-music name to look out for at the festival tomorrow is Biji-Biji Initiative, who very recently won the Alliance Bank SME Innovation Challenge 2014. In a sea of aspiring businessmen, Biji-Biji was the only social enterprise to be shortlisted. Their win could be indicative of a rising interest in sustainable living, a direction people of KL could definitely lean to in the future—now with bicycles, waste management, and using less plastic all gathering popularity.

Creative arts brings a life to discussions we’re already having

Anyone who’s been to a handful of Urbanscapes festivals will know that away from the music stages are people using art to explore conversations about life in Malaysia— or at the very least, give us ideas for our next profile photo. So take a breath of fresh air in Genting tomorrow and consider that within the value of your ticket is not just a line-up of music, but other experiences of a good day out, distilling the best of a city’s evolving scene into a festival for you to explore year on year. Get ready to find something to remember right here on the soil Malaysia calls home that could stay with you long after the international artists fly off to their next stage.

A version of this article was first published on / 

Leave a Reply