'Life will go on, but with altered perspective'

Evan Murray spoke to Gracie V Geikie Director at Place Borneo, Malaysia.

Place Borneo Sdn Bhd is a full fledged PCO and MICE management company specialising in conferences, media and event management, product launches, event publications, music and video production work and music festivals. Located in Kuching, Place Borneo's international conferences are conducted throughout Malaysia.

Hope all is well and everyone around you is healthy. Could you give us an update on the status of the festival for the time being ? Possibly an insight on how things have been shaping up lately ? 

We are all good here at Borneo! All our live music festivals, namely our own Miri Country Music Festival (November ), Kuching Waterfront Jazz Festival which we manage for SEDC are now put on hold and will not happen this year.

We are yet to announce the dates for the coming year but we are hopeful that music festivals in Sarawak will continue to happen with guidelines and precautionary measures in place. The current guidelines for mass gatherings will acutely impact our numbers but we believe now is the time to focus our thought processes on how we can continue to run our festivals without compromising the quality and content. We are re-visiting our venues and locations as well while we await further government instructions and guidelines.

What are some of the biggest challenges the festival is facing as of the moment ? 

Our biggest challenge is finding a suitable venue that allows us to prepare and adhere to the necessary guidelines. If we have too many do’s and don’ts in place, managing visitor's expectations will be difficult.

Our music festivals have always been staged outdoors, so we will need to seriously rethink that aspect. Another challenge will be the numbers. With a restricted cap on the number of physical festival goers allowed, we will be hard pressed to keep our expenses at a minimum in order for us to engage more international performers and bands.

Are there any plans in place now if the scenario repeats itself ?

We are now finalising  our plans on how we will manage our festival the coming year, it will mean re-formatting the program, possibly with multiple stages and locations to spread the numbers around and of course how to  manage the additional costs.

We had experienced  a bad haze over Sarawak last year on September for the Kuching Jazz Festival and moved the festival indoors. We managed to achieve that in under 10 days in order to be in time for rehearsals and sound checks.

Once we have our new format for Miri Country Music Festival in place we will apply that, should the situation arise (again) and I certainly believe that if it were to happen again all music festival goers here in Malaysia will have a new format for music festivals and live events such as concerts. 

What do you see changing in the music industry with the impact the pandemic has had? 

I see better measures in place such as crowd control (that’s something I really need to get my head around to, imposing crowd numbers!). Small can be sweet now and big can be bad,  because of what we have gone through and what we have learned about the virus’s impact on us. Technology will play a big part on how we  attract numbers, both physically and digitally. 

Life will go on but with an altered perspective in terms of live events. People will be more careful. Masking the face will be the new trend and a highly sanitised festival environment will become the new norm.

Simultaneously,  we may also see reluctance in performers to travel long distances, all the way to Borneo, to perform one or two sets and fly back home again. How do we ensure that they’re COVID free while travelling and how do we deal them having to be in quarantine when they arrive? And how do we ensure they won’t get infected during their stay here? I am still trying to wrap my head around all the possible situations and worse case scenarios. 

As music trends roll, do you have any predictions of what’s next? From your point of view, where is the live music industry headed? 

It will be tough for us – to conform to guidelines and strict measures while at the same time preventing monetary loses from the event. We need to improvise and innovate but the numbers won’t jive for sure.

Everyone is talking going virtual which will likely be the future for some concerts or festivals. The live music industry will have a dull phase for now, at least for the next 12 to 18 months. But I feel we can make a come back but with different terms and arrangements. Let’s see. 

Any comments or open thoughts for us to brew on ? 

I hope we will come out of this stronger and build a resilient plan for live events in the future. Human interactions and connections are very much a part of live events and we need to work around that.

Once we have a way to combat this virus with a vaccine in the near future, life will go back almost to how it used to be. Lifestyles will change and I’m sure live events will evolve to a new dimension that is just as enjoyable. I am keeping my fingers crossed for that.

EVAN MURRAY is Event Co-ordinator at Live at Heart, Newfoundland, Export Development Officer at Vision 360 (Canada) and Canadian Coordinator at Live at Heart, Sweden. He is also International Music Consultant at Wonderwall Media, India.