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We The Fest: A music mecca

THE MESS WE’RE IN - Ian Urrutia - The Philippine Star
We The Fest: A music mecca
Lorde reigned over the weekend with her heartbreak-on-the-dance-floor anthems.
Photo by Mary Christine Galang

Jakarta’s most prestigious music festival is more than just about star power or drawing in numbers. It’s a marquee event that deserves to be in your radar for more years to come.

There’s more to Jakarta than the monuments of its semi-conservative past. The thriving megalopolis has now evolved into a major cultural and entertainment hub in Southeast Asia, where Western and Eastern influences blend seamlessly with modern urban living. There’s a place for every culturati out there seeking refuge in historic districts, posh cafés, museums, music venues and nightlife happenings. It’s a city now wide awake from sleep.

Reinvigorating the city’s robust potential is We The Fest — an annual music and arts festival that attracted more than 50,000 people this year. A majority of the attendees were Indonesians, but a significant and growing number of festival-goers were tourists from neighboring countries and globe-trotting music fans in Europe, Australia, Japan, Canada and the United States. Like Hong Kong’s Clockenflap and Kuala Lumpur’s Good Vibes, the summer fest organized by Ismaya Live presented a carefully selected roster of international headliners and local acts. It combed through festival favorites in the indie circuit (Honne, Alt-J, Vince Staples), massive pop/R&B personalities with acclaimed albums (Lorde, SZA and Miguel), and hometown champs (Maliq & D’Essentials, Padi Reborn, White Shoes & The Couples’ Company) to feature a lineup that is loaded from front to back.

Sidelights

What it lacked in promotion of cultural heritage and social consciousness, it more than makes up for in focus on a sprawling global audience. Quaint food trucks serving mouth-watering delicacies stand side by side in a well-curated lifestyle and art village. Interesting installations flourish alongside a makeshift skate-park, a gaming area resembling themed carnivals, and a silent cinema showcasing arthouse fanfare. There’s also a lounge designed specifically for women where they can hang out, retouch their makeup, and chill while waiting for their favorite bands.

While the side activities bolstered the festival experience with rewarding highs, music remains the biggest selling point of We The Fest. As a reliable host of global talents, the three-day festival has adopted left-of-center music programming as part of its core format, with music genres spanning from Top 40 to electronic music, indie-rock to shoegaze, big-tent dance music to bedroom pop, hip-hop to internet underground.

Word of the Lorde

As expected, Lorde reigned over the weekend with her heartbreak-on-the-dance-floor anthems. The Royals pop star performed songs off her acclaimed records, “Melodrama” and “Pure Heroine,” and waltzed through the stage with a fragile mix of emotions. On stripped-down numbers like Liability, she got the crowd singing along to the words, quietly steering them into the cut’s somber moments. But on endorphin-kicking pleasers like Green Light, Supercut, Homemade Dynamite, Team, Royals, and Perfect Places, the 21-year-old chanteuse from New Zealand pranced around in all directions, spinning off fabulously to the last drop. It was a glorious sight to see: Lorde, charmingly awkward onstage, ruthlessly throwing punches at an imaginary ceiling above her head. She effortlessly made us cry-dance like there’s no one watching. In the church of Lorde, feelings are celebrated, no matter how complicated, stirring and provocative they may be.

Other festival standouts

SZA threads the confessional lane that Lorde explores in her songwriting, but does it skillfully from the perspective of a flawed, sexual, but fearless black woman who needs love and attention. The R&B star bounced around the stage and rummaged through chart-topping hits such as Supermodel, Love Galore and The Weekend. The CTRL singer-songwriter/performer was obviously the main highlight of day three, and so was Miguel who won the ladies over with his smooth brand of neo-soul, and rapper extraordinaire Vince Staples whose infectious energy gave every song its own piece of enormity.

It’s also hard to ignore the arena-churning spectacle of Alt-J’s set, the surprise that is Albert Hammond Jr. and his powerful solo stint, Honne’s crossover potential, and James Bay’s gospel-inflected hits, all pulsating vibrantly in the outdoor speakers. These gents went all out as performers and braved the tropical heat to entertain their regional fan base.

For three solid days, We The Fest provided an inclusive safe space that respects cultural diversity, religion, social status and sexual preference. It’s no longer just about music; it brought people together in the name of community spirit. It also showed the welcoming side of Jakarta — a bright, beaming city set to create a music mecca that knows no bounds. In the biggest Muslim-majority city lies love. It made us feel at home.

INDONESIA

WE THE FEST

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