Future Music Festival Asia organiser says it's normal to promote events before getting a permit

The organiser of the dance music festival that has been twice denied a licence says it is normal to promote events before securing official permission.

Future Music Festival Asia (FMFA) 2015, which made headlines last year when six of its concertgoers died from drug overdose in Kuala Lumpur, has been denied a licence for the show to be staged here next weekend.

Its organiser told Life! that its application for a licence has been rejected by the police twice, on Jan 29 and Feb 27, and it is appealing the decision.

About 15,000 tickets have been sold for the show slated to be held in Singapore for the first time on March 13 and 14 at Changi Exhibition Centre. The capacity is 20,000 a day.

Mr Iqbal Ameer, group chief executive of The Livescape Group, which is organising the festival, says that he understands that "it is normal for event organisers to promote their events without a permit as it takes a long time".

He adds: "If we were to wait for a permit we would not have enough lead time to promote a show, especially one as big as FMFA."

Malaysian company The Livescape Group had last organised the five-day, four-night music cruise It's The Ship last November.

Livescape might have been confident of getting a license as the festival's move to Singapore had been welcomed by a few government agencies, says Mr Iqbal.

The dance festival started in Sydney in 2006 and has since expanded to other cities to become one of the largest electronic dance events in South-east Asia. The annual festival, which took place in Kuala Lumpur for the past three years, is jointly organised by Livescape Singapore and Future Music Group Australia.

Livespace has budgeted $5 million for the event and has spent about half so far. This includes the setting up of an office here and Mr Iqbal says there are plans to expand the business here to turn Singapore into its regional office.

Prices of tickets to the festival range from $148 for an early bird one-day pass (for March 13) to $388 for a VIP weekend pass. The line-up of dance music stars include Fatboy Slim and The Prodigy and hip-hop legends Public Enemy.

In response to media queries, the police say a Public Entertainment Licence was not issued for FMFA because of "serious concerns with potential drug abuse at the event, in the light of the drug-related activities that had taken place at past Future Music Festival events, including its March 2014 event in Kuala Lumpur that resulted in drug-related deaths and hospitalisations, including several Singaporeans".

As a result, the third-night of the festival in Kuala Lumpur was cancelled. Otherwise, an estimated 85,000 people would have attended the event.

According to Mr Iqbal, the second application addressed the drug abuse concerns by saying that security personnel will conduct random drug tests and that the number of medical staff members at the festival will be boosted. Also, the number of closed-circuit television cameras on site will increase to 33 from six last year (2014).

The police noted that Livescape Singapore has appealed to the Minister for Home Affairs on March 3 and "the appeal is being considered".

Voice-over artist Audrey Lim, 28, had paid $148 for a one-day pass and she thinks that police concern is exaggerated. "Just because it happened at one place doesn't mean it'll happen all the time."

Concert promoters Life! spoke to suggested that it would be prudent to sort out the permit early, particularly in the case of a big or new event.

Mr Michael Roche, managing director of concert promoters Live Nation Lushington, notes: "For something like a big festival, I think it's worthwhile getting the permit sorted well ahead of time, or at least engaging with the police or licensing - "these are our issues and what we hope to do" - so they can be a part of the process."

Mr Ngiam Kwang Hwa, managing director of concert promoter One Production, says that the usual practice is to apply for a permit at least two months before the event date. Asked if the permit has to be approved before tickets go on sale and he responds "apparently not", but adds: "In our contract with the ticketing agent and venue, it is the promoter's responsibility to make sure we obtain all the necessary permits."

All is not lost for the festival, says Mr Iqbal.

"The appeal's still under review. One of the main reasons why the Future Music Festival came to Singapore in the first place is because of Singapore's no-tolerance stance on drugs."

A statement sent out to media on Thursday by Livescape addressed what happened previously: "These isolated incidents had taken place outside Singapore, and cannot and do not carry any implication that FMFA is in any way linked to drug use nor is it any indication that there will be drug abuse at the event."

In a bid to get the dance festival going, the organisers have also turned to social media and started a hashtag #KeepFMFAAlive on their Facebook page.

A post by FMFA in the early morning of March 5 reads: "To the fans, at the moment, we are working relentlessly around the clock to fight for your right to party. We ask that you give us 48 hours to work on the issue at hand. An update will be provided then."

Stas Madorski, 27, one half of local DJ duo Rave Republic, who is slated to perform at FMFA, says that cancelling the event would go against Singapore's attempts to position itself as an entertainment hotspot in Asia.

He adds: "Given the cancellation of previous festivals such as 1 World Music Festival, I fear that many international artists will simply feel like boycotting Singapore (as well as people who have bought flights and accommodation already)."

Additional reporting by Melissa Kok and Eddino Abdul Hadi.