Electronic dance music storms into Myanmar

International DJs headline the 808 Festival Yangon in Myanmar.
International DJs headline the 808 Festival Yangon in Myanmar.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

YANGON • Lasers cut across the sea of ravers bouncing to the beat at 808 Festival Yangon, as Asia's US$1-billion (S$1.35-billion) electronic dance music (EDM) money machine careers into Myanmar, whose millennials are, at last, able to connect with their global peers.

With its high-voltage staging and superstar DJs, EDM is winning devotees with dollars to spend in the poor but emerging frontier market.

Martin Garrix, Armin Van Buuren and Hardwell, each of whom bill hundreds of thousands of dollars a set, have led the vanguard of big names to play in Myanmar in the last year, adding the country to their mega tours of Asia.

Myanmar's former junta viewed modernity and outside communication as a threat to its rule. But that has changed under the civilian government and EDM's DJs and festivals are streaming in.

And as Myanmar opens up, social mores are also shifting.

Dressed in hot pants, her eyes rimmed with sparkling silver make-up, Khin Wint War Myint, 21, said: "I wear traditional clothes in my day-to-day life. This outfit is only for when I come to EDM events."

She joined 12,000 other dance fanatics at 808 Festival Yangon, one of several major events studding the city's party calendar.

"Mingalabar" - hello in the Myanmar language - shouted Australian DJ Timmy Trumpet before dropping Party Till We Die.

The line-up included Israeli psytrance pioneers Vini Vici and Canadian duo DVBBS, playing for the second time in Myanmar.

"If you look at the global scene, Asia is the only region where EDM is growing," Kaung Sett from 808 Festival Yangon promoters H-Life, said.

"In the West, hip-hop is coming back... but Asia is where the money is, where the market is."

Each year, EDM nets about US$7.4 billion globally and about US$1 billion pours in from the Asia-Pacific, according to this year's IMS Business Report.

South Korea is Asia's biggest market and China its fastest-growing, with major global festivals such as Ultra partnering up in the region.

But festivals curated by Asian promoters, including ZoukOut and 808 Bangkok, are also flourishing as social media and streaming sites grow fanbases in unlikely corners.

"The 20-year-old kids in Yangon are listening to the same thing as the 20-year-old kids in Los Angeles," said Kaung Sett.

But admission to a festival that would cost more than US$100 in the West is less than US$20 in Myanmar, one of South-east Asia's poorest countries with a pool of just about 14,000 EDM fans.

"If 5,000 people come, we don't break even, so we push for 8,000, 10,000... we have to try different marketing strategies to pull more and more people in," said Kaung Sett.

Asia's music honchos are also hunting for home-grown headliners, who are cheaper to book.

M-invaders, a quartet who are regulars at clubs across Myanmar, have set their sights on making it to the global party outside their country's borders.

Two years ago, they played at Together Festival, Myanmar's first major EDM event, alongside DVBBS and Belgian DJ Wolfpack.

"You're playing on the same stage as the international DJs," said DJ Lu Lu, 30.

"You all wear the same badges and bracelets saying 'Artist'. It's just really exciting."


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 18, 2017, with the headline 'Electronic dance music storms into Myanmar'. Print Edition | Subscribe