The Woodstock Resurgence: Music Festival Culture

The now-defunct NU107 was the radio station of a strong underground culture back in the day. Any Filipino act that gained significant airplay there was sure to have some sort of following. We discovered new local and international music, and we kids would grow ecstatic over single-headliner concerts at Mango Square (back when it wasn’t the grim place it has become) or a bar in the city that gathered the likes of Cynthia Alexander, Sheila and the Insects, Smooth Friction or Sugarfree. It’s the among the significant reasons why its demise in 2010 was mourned from Aparri to Jolo.

When internet progress came speeding in, music production, collaboration and sharing became even more accessible, providing audiences with an unlimited array of music to choose from. For musicians, it became fairly easy to drown in a sea of new acts. So the music scene shifted slightly from big booming stages to pocket events in bars and clubs, creating small communities that overlapped with each other.

And then perhaps somewhere along the way, this smorgasbord of choices went back to the big stage. These days, it’s the Woodstock phenomenon happening all over again.

The Philippines was a little late catching up on the resurgence of the music festival culture worldwide, but that’s not to say it’s not growing locally. Exactly how it will impact the industry though remains to be seen, it seems.

Everywhere else, it’s becoming evident.

According to an article in Rolling Stone, Outkast earned more from playing fewer shows last year than when they did on the Stankonia Tour. The difference: each of those 2014 shows were in music festivals. Time and again we’ve heard local artists lamenting the decline in record sales and all that jazz, but it looks like outside the country, artists earn because for one, they skip the overhead cost of producing their own shows that are already covered by the festivals. Two, they’re playing for an even bigger crowd. We wonder how we will see this happen locally.

Other online content point out the fact that even other industries are benefiting from music festival economics. More brands are advertising. Even fashion is being shaped by these events, with even the sartorial talking about comfy boho-esque festival fashion.

And what’s making this a promising venture is the evolving sensibilities of the music-loving youth. Where a strengthening subculture grows, money flows.

Festivals of all sorts everywhere – EDM, world music, jazz, or multi-genre ones — draw sizable crowds composed of domestic and foreign attendees, all looking to enjoy music, food, culture and revelry anywhere from the span of 12 hours to a few days. But unlike the single-headliner concerts of our college years, it is no longer just the music offerings that attracts flocks of people to the events.

Take the EDM culture, for instance. While many deride it as nothing but tugsh-tugsh, there is an experience among EDM event attendees that holds true for any other kind of festival.

In a TED Talk by Dr. Charles Limb, who is both a researcher and a jazz musician, he studied two musicians – a rapper and a jazz pianist – while they improvised. But what he wanted to find out was what happens to the brain on improv, so he placed them under MRI scanners. He found that the part of the brain responsible for communication became highly active. He concluded by saying that perhaps there is a neurological basis for the saying “music is a language.”

It’s a little off tangent, but come to think of it: indeed, even science proves what kinds of power music and music events hold, one of them being connection, and on a large scale at that. It’s a similar connection that attendees and performers experience both in specialized or multi-genre festivals. There’s always some sort of diversity converging in this common platform and even if some of these festivals may look like duplicates, as Huffington Post points out, it is here where people can freely express themselves individually while basking in the feeling of belongingness. How is this possible? The article mentions a pertinent factor: here, one is not under any pressure to determine who or what they are except to be comfortable about themselves.

Put that together with an overwhelming aural and visual stimulation: costumed festival goers, expertly engineered lights and sound, larger-than-life art installations, a majestic stage whereupon artists dish out their goods. And what do you think people experience? A magical night with strangers and your favorite people, all moving on an expansive dance floor, pulsing to the same beat. It’s almost other-worldly. It’s not a surprise then that audiences feel as if they belong to a collective uniqueness.

So, no — music festivals aren’t going away anytime soon. They seem to be making an impact both culturally and economically, and offers experiences beyond an already powerful medium: music. The music industry has been one confused system since it lost its way with the coming of technological advancements but if we do this right it just might help save the future of music.