I honestly thought I was alone when I began, two weeks ago, a campaign calling for the organizers of the 7107 International Music Festival to reveal their whole line-up, so those who want to go but are still having second thoughts can make their decision quickly. The thing took off slowly, and only a few of my friends were on board (after some prodding on my part). All I really wanted was for the producers to notice my little call – assuming that all they were doing was holding off on the announcement and that everything was in place.
We don’t know whether that’s true, but it’s likely that their complete line-up wasn’t in place until the time they finally confirmed their whole line-up on 17 January. (The second phase of the reveal, which boasts of Kendrick Lamar and Kaskade – and, well, nothing else, really – was leaked two days prior.) They did boast of a significant roster of international acts: the rumor machine threw many names out, and the festival’s Twitter account itself teased with lyrics to Skrillex and Calvin Harris songs. The self-propagated hype – “the biggest music event of the year” – didn’t help matters; when the full line-up was revealed, with an unusually high number of local acts, there was widespread disappointment from both the ones waiting and the ones who have bought tickets. “Can I get a refund?” one asked. The festival organizers specifically said no. The event will go on their website says, rain or shine, performer cancellations be damned. “Can I resell my ticket?” Same thing.
(Not that there’s anything wrong with local acts. But as one of those who commented on my blog entry pointed out, why would you spend at least P10,000 to watch a festival mostly composed of acts that you can watch for way less?)
The post-reveal disappointment led to an outpour of blog entries critical of the festival. Now that’s something I did not expect. I know some people were grumbling, early on, about the way the festival organizers did things, but it was mostly within closed circles. Why was it taking so long to reveal the line-up? Why are they raising expectations to an unsustainable level? Is this festival really a way for Janet Lim Napoles to earn more money? The skepticism were limited to whispers on Facebook inboxes, however, until the final reveal, when people felt comfortable enough to rant against what they thought was an excessive, ridiculous, and, perhaps, shady event. (A couple of blog entries I’ve seen about this here and here. I’m sure there’s more; drop me a comment with a link if you see one.)
It’s not that they’re doing everything wrong. Then again, I’m not in a position to decide that. The people behind 7107 aren’t newbies. Granted, this is their first major music event, but they have done some club nights, and have been behind Philippine Fashion Week for the past few years. But, as I said, Filipinos are generally new to music festivals. Pulp magazine’s annual Summer Slam has been going on for a decade now, but it’s been initially packaged as a big one-night concert with several metal acts, and slowly the metal crowd understood it, especially when foreign acts began to grace the event. The other major music festival we’ve seen, last year’s debutante Wanderland, aimed for an audience that knew what music festivals are.
7107, on the other hand, aimed a wider audience, one that does not necessarily know how music festivals work. And this is, unlike Summer Slam or Wanderland, a bigger event: two days, two stages, a venue far from the usual. The name itself suggests inclusiveness, the idea that everybody who comes will find something to enjoy. It may be expensive, but, as their Twitter account often bleated out, you’re not paying for the chance to see these big acts live; you’re paying for the experience.
I can’t certainly tell if the backlash is because of our many, varied expectations of what a big music festival should be like. I mean, the earthings! team alone have different music tastes. I was expecting a bunch of (the more mainstream) indie bands to be in the event. I’m okay with the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Empire of the Sun; I like Asteroids Galaxy Tour, but not enough. Jayvee was interested to see if they could bring Kanye West and Jay-Z as previously rumored; he’s also just okay with Kendrick Lamar, but he himself told me that his appeal is only limited to hip-hop aficionados. If you think about it, in the pop scheme of things, Kendrick’s only just a featured player. With that in mind, someone will always find the line-up underwhelming.
Could it be because 7107 itself hiked up expectations? Likely. A common thought from some of my friends is that they aimed too high: they should have started small like, well, Summer Slam or Wanderland. Again, it’s mostly because music festivals are alien to us. We’ve yet to be comfortable with the idea of going on a few days off to watch bands. I’m sure that’s what they’re aiming for. Again, the Coachella comparisons. I’ve always compared this to Glastonbury, though: the biggest music festival in Britain, held across five days in a big farm, with hundreds of acts across several stages. That’s the “experience” they’re talking about. You camp out, you get stuck in the mud (it rains on most years) and you watch the Rolling Stones, one of last year’s headliners, go through their biggest hits.
Maybe it’s just because nobody really trusts 7107. I know we as a country have trust issues, what with politicians often screwing us over and all that. You come in calling yourself the best thing since cereal milk and we will be skeptical. I know I was. I got wind of the festival when it just opened its Twitter account and they were, from the beginning, claiming to be so big you’ll have to go. But who are you guys, though? Why should I believe you? Why should I give you my money? (I did feel the same way for Wanderland when it debuted last year. I was irked with the promotional tweets essentially going “we are Karpos Multimedia and we will stage this awesome event!” Self-glorification aside, it turned out fine; my friends who went there were glad they went.)
And then the Napoles rumors came in. When it was revealed that one of the producers had a business venture with one of the children of the alleged pork barrel scammer, the rumor went around that the event was bankrolled by Napoles and, in effect, we’re all giving money to one of the most notorious figures in recent history. On my end, it went as far as a friend saying “I trust this friend of mine, so no, I won’t go anymore.” I never mentioned it on the blog because I found it a bit ridiculous: one business venture in the past doesn’t mean the same is the case in the present. You know people in the higher echelons of society. It’s a bit incestuous, that one. They meet in the same places, drink in the same events, and things get hatched from there.
That rumor’s been swirling since right after the reveal of the first half of the 7107 line-up, and it took the organizers a long time to address it. (“As much as people would want to assume that, it’s absolutely not true,” Tina Herrera told the Inquirer, in an article that went live yesterday.) In fact, the organizers seem to be averse to any negative criticism – just ask me about how they blocked me on Twitter a week after this blog began its campaign. It’s one thing to only retweet the fawning tweets from celebrities tasked with plugging the event; that’s expected. It’s another thing to act like Noynoy Aquino, always dismissing critics as haters and covering his ears when they raise valid concerns.
The lack of transparency did not go well among a public who generally wants to know more about something before committing to it. (Whether that level of “something” is sufficient enough is a different thought for a different blog.) Not that I expected 7107 to be completely open about things – will you place your confidence on a music festival who’d admit that they failed in getting, say, Lorde? – but they didn’t have to be so evasive when asked legitimate questions. Saying “great things take time” when asked about the long wait for a line-up does not cut it. Frankly, it’s just bullshit.
Sure, the 7107 producers might know what they’re doing. (To quote Tina Herrera on the Inquirer again, “I know how to make an event happen.” She’s confident the event will break even, thanks to tickets and merchandise sales, as well as support from Smart, who was revealed as a sponsor in the press launch two days ago.) But they’re not marketing it well. Think about it: 7107 is a bit of a vanity project. For all of the good things it will do to the local music scene, it’s ultimately a bunch of people trying to prove to themselves that they can successfully run a music festival like no one in the Philippines has seen before. It’s a bunch of people pushing their idea of cool, and the people who want that idea of cool will buy, blindly.
That said – and I’ve mentioned this before – a bigger number of people, those outside of that incestuous circle of cool, will be interested, and they’re being pushed out by the hype, the aversion to criticism, and the general sense of “be thankful we’re allowing you to be cool like us!” And the result is an online backlash against the festival that can only grow as 22 February comes nearer, as the producers finally decide to reveal more information about tickets and line-ups and all that.
I still want the 7107 International Music Festival to be successful. I still think it will do a lot for how we consume music in the country. We need a push. 7107 may not be the ideal people for that, but we’re here already, so, you know, might as well. To their credit, they’ve done a few things to placate the skeptics, notably finally selling passes over the counter rather than online, in a hotel in Clark and at a coffee shop in Glorietta. But the past few weeks have caused irreversible damage to 7107. There are far too many skeptics now; the fans seem to mostly be fashion bloggers, radio DJs and starlets paid (with tickets) to promote the thing. At this rate, I highly doubt there will be a next year. [NB] (More updates and thoughts on our 7107 open thread, which we’ll update throughout the next four weeks.)