This 10 and 11 September, a lone man from Fiji will be boarding a plane to make a 10-hour trip to our shores, for the purpose of watching a man in a giant mouse head drop bass lines that will be musically snorted by everyone in attendance. “Dude, I don’t know what’s happening there but someone from Fiji is coming to party in Singapore,” Alex Chew chortles.
Chew and his partner Raj Datwani are the men behind Ultra Singapore, a massive music festival that started in Miami in 1999 before spreading across the globe. Today Ultra is held annually in 14 locations, with Singapore being the latest addition. Chew and Datwani reveal what it’s like to organise the grandiosity that is Ultra.
Do you think the festival scene in Singapore and the region is saturated?
Datwani: Festivals have become a big thing, and that’s coincided with the rise of social media. If you look at Singapore, you’ll see there is a limit to what the country can hold, but then Ultra is a festival like no other.
Chew: It’s one of those festivals you want to tick off your bucket list. And we’re bringing in three stages – the Main stage, which is EDM-focused, and the Live and Resistance stages. That’s rare. Singapore is only the third country to have the Live stage.
There’s been a lot of talk about the EDM bubble bursting though. SFX Entertainment, the organiser of Tomorrowland and other dance music festivals, filed for bankruptcy.
Datwani: That’s the cost of big business. In my opinion, the reason the bubble is bursting is mainly the astronomical DJ fees. Businesses aren’t sustainable based on these amounts of money.
Chew: High DJ fees are a fact of the business and we do our best to deliver the best experience possible for fans and artistes while managing costs. That’s not even considering the booking process for these DJs, which started in October last year. It’s a long, long procedure and their fees can shoot up very quickly if they have a hit song. Some of the artistes we’re speaking to had their fees multiply 10 times since we first started speaking to them. It’s ridiculous. To be fair, they do work hard for it. Skrillex did 300 shows last year. How do you accomplish that in 365 days travelling across continents?
Tell me about the business costs associated with a music festival.
Chew: Fans don’t realise how much it costs to create Ultra. I don’t want to reveal too much but it’s in the tens of millions, below $50 million.
Datwani: It’s also always the same 20 people who put together the stages of the different Ultra festivals around the world, which is why the quality is always top-notch. Planning for Ultra Singapore started 18 months ago, which adds a tremendous amount of cost. It’s not easy to find the right balance between putting on the best production possible and making it affordable for the fans.
Chew: Many fans think organisers like us are out to financially gouge them. That’s not true at all. When you look at music festivals in Europe and the US, two- to three-day tickets will easily cost you US$500. We’re charging less than US$200 for a two-day ticket to Ultra Singapore. We could have said, “Guys, this is Ultra. It’s a big brand and therefore we’re charging big prices to cover the costs.” But we’re not. At the end of the day, it might seem like a simple equation – get the right artistes, market them right and have enough people to buy tickets (laughs). But there are so many moving parts though, it’s crazy.
Get your Ultra Singapore tickets at ultrasingapore.com. Full line-up below.