By MIKE IVES
A water park in Hanoi, Vietnam, where seven people died after taking drugs at a music festival. The deaths prompted a temporary ban on music festivals. (Luong Thai Linh/EPA, via Shutterstock)
HONG KONG — When the members of Bottlesmoker, an “indietronic” band from Indonesia, landed in Vietnam, they were looking forward to their set at Quest Festival, an annual event billed as a “wondrous, wild wonderland of nature, art and eclectic entertainment.”
But the next day — after bands and fans had traveled to the festival site near the capital, Hanoi — the Quest organizers told Bottlesmoker by email that the event was off. “After supporting us until today the authorities have decided to withdraw our festival license for reasons that are still unknown to us,” they wrote.
“Bottlesmoker was waiting to play at Quest Festival for, like, almost two years,” said Anggung Suherman, who plays synthesizers in the band. “So it’s really broken our hearts.”
Asia is a growing market for Western-inspired music festivals where electronic beats blare into the wee hours. In China alone, the number of electronic music festivals was around 150 this year, up from 32 in 2016, according to a recent survey.
But promoters across much of Asia are increasingly at odds with conservative governments that see the events as threats to public safety, political stability and social and religious values.
The concept of a Western-style music festival is still new to many officials in the region, and specific rules to regulate them are scarce, said Reason Xie, the program director for Looptopia, Taiwan’s largest outdoor music festival.
“Most Asian governments would rather you not do parties so you don’t cause trouble,” he said, adding that his comment did not apply to Japan or South Korea. “The authorities wouldn’t want to take responsibility because a festival, to them, is like a liability.”
The Quest event is just one of several high-profile music festivals to be canceled across the region in recent years.
The Quest Festival was scheduled to take place about two months after the state-run news media reported in September that seven people had died after taking drugs at the Trip to the Moon electronic music festival at a water park in Hanoi. The deaths prompted the city government to issue a temporary ban on all music festivals.
In 2015, the authorities in Taiwan banned the 2F: White Party music festival after an explosion at a water park in New Taipei City killed 15 people and injured hundreds.
The year before, the Future Music Festival Asia in Malaysia was canceled on its third day after 19 festivalgoers were arrested on suspicion of drug possession and six others died from heatstroke.
Festival organizers tried to move the event to Singapore in 2015, but officials there declined to grant them a public entertainment license.
This summer, two of China’s largest electronic music events — the Ultra festivals in Shanghai and Beijing — were not held as planned. Questions have been swirling over what happened and whether the events have a future in the country.
Mr. Xie noted that the Chinese government is notoriously suspicious of popular subcultures, and that electronic music festivals would naturally raise red flags.
“They banned hip-hop,” he said, referring to recent efforts by Chinese officials to suppress references to the genre on television. He added that dance music “is the next thing they’re monitoring now, especially when music festivals involve thousands and thousands of people gathering together.”