Upfront with Adrian Yap

source: WordsManifest

We’re no stranger to the works of Adrian Yap, co-founder and chief executive of Freeform (hint: Urbanscapes!) and co-owner of The Bee. Adrian’s passion for youth events is the rocket fuel behind many of his projects, and now with The Bee, the Upfront concert series is his new brainchild. With mouth-watering acts such as The Vaccines, How to Dress Well, Grimes, and Delphic already headlining the Upfront series, JUICE is craving details on what’s to come. We get cosy with Adrian to get the lowdown on the origins of Upfront and The Bee.

First of all, we must say, good job on bringing down some pretty niche acts to KL. We believe that Upfront is making a huge contribution to the music scene in KL. How must that feel like for you?
Well it’s good. It’s nice to be doing something else apart from the usual. Collectively, the idea has always been that there really isn’t a live show culture in KL, so with the space at The Bee in Publika, which was large enough to accommodate a good amount of people, we grabbed the chance. I think everyone is proud of the series. We’re still learning as we go, because there are still things we can improve and work on, in terms of acts that would resonate with the local audience. As much as Upfront is about bringing acts to our scene, it’s also acts that we think people should check out. It’s part education as well.

The Bee was originally launched as a coffee house back in 2010, and with the bigger space in Publika, The Bee became more events-oriented. Was this always part of the plan?
I would say that my partner and I wanted a space that would be community-centric. The rational of making The Bee that space was that we didn’t just want a conventional space where people only gather and meet up. The idea of The Bee was never restricted to what it is in Jaya One. That outlet was just to see whether we could make it work. For us, we don’t see it as a big departure, we always did events here. So yes, it was always part of the plan. Of course for the Jaya One outlet there is a bit of space limitation but we still do our Feedback nights and that has been going on for years. The idea was always there. It just depends on the space. We’ve tried doing Feedback at Publika but it didn’t feel as intimate as it should be. Both venues give us different kinds of opportunities.

With the recent mushrooming of independent coffee houses, how is the The Bee any different, besides the events? Feel free to brag about your coffee.
(Laughs) I think we have decent coffee. We actually take the trouble to roast our own blend. But I also know our shortcomings, compared to a strictly coffee house joint, which specialises in coffee. People like Artisan and Espresso Lab, they do make very good coffee, kudos to them, but I wouldn’t even say that I’m on that level just yet, since they are dedicated to their craft. For us, we try to focus on a more total experience. It’s important to care about our food and drinks but at the same time we also care about the little things. It’s a combination of a lot of things, and we’re looking at a more holistic level – what it means to be community-centric business. We want to be a gathering point for people. We want to commit this space to that, but it also happens that we’re a restaurant, you see. You know how back in the day, people would gather in community halls in neighbourhoods and there are dance classes, badminton, karaoke, and etcetera. So we draw our ideas from that, a space where people can engage one other, either for business or just to enjoy a show.

What made you decide to start the Upfront series?
We wanted to bring acts and the live show culture… that was the general idea. We think Upfront is a really cool platform and I think no one was really doing it that much on a regular basis. We’re trying to change the perception that shows are not really a one-off concert that people do once in a while. Instead, it could be something you could go to regularly. We get to bring in more interesting acts and people get to have a more diverse experience when it comes to KL. For example, when you go abroad, going to a gig is a regular Friday night thing, as opposed to going to a club. Although we aren’t so lucky with the financial part, where we are able to afford bringing them every week, but that was the idea.

Upfront is important to us just like a lot of activities that The Bee does. We try to do something different that not many are doing at the same time. That’s another rational behind why we think so highly of Upfront. We try to add something to KL, as opposed to add more and more of the same thing to compete with one another.

Is crowd attendance a factor when selecting acts? Were you worried about ticket sales at any point?
Yes. I won’t lie, it’s definitely challenging. But then again good things are worth the challenge in early stages. I have an amazing team and we work very hard to make this happen. We managed to get some sponsors to help us from time to time and we are trying to get people more open to the idea of buying tickets to a show. You see Malaysians have a habit of wanting free tickets, so from the onset we knew that wasn’t going to happen, people can’t just get free shows. So it’s a balance for both sponsors helping out and ticket sales. In a greater context, we are trying to get people used to the idea of paying for shows and people are trying to evolve as we get less people asking for free tickets at the last minute. The challenge for Upfront is really financial, it’s a great gig, people want to come for it, but sadly bringing in bands are not cheap, so hopefully with support from the media, the word will get out there and more people will continue to support Upfront.

Crowd attendance is definitely important, I mean, that equals ticket sales right? But sometimes, not all the time we’re so lucky, and that’s why we need help in that regard from the media in terms of what we can do to get people used to the idea of coming to Upfront. We definitely want to bring more acts – it’s a great platform and it’s exciting, but the challenge is always the finances.

How tough was it to land names like The Vaccines and Grimes? What was your bargaining chip?
The Bee. They all wanted to come play at The Bee (laughs). Well, we work with good agents who are often open to letting their acts come to new places for new experiences. The Vaccines, for example, they play huge venues in the UK. They’re opening at Hyde Park for Rolling Stones this year and they play the main stage in Glastonbury. But their management was cool enough to say, “Hey it’s Asia, not many know about us yet, so let’s try it out.” So that’s how we got them. The thing is, when they play abroad, they’re at really big venues, so they miss the intimacy. Maybe the financial part doesn’t work so well for them, their management abroad might not want them to play such a small venue. But for us here, they might be able to take a chance on it since they’re coming to this part of the world anyway. And they enjoy themselves too. They miss playing in a small venue where there’s more energy… even for Radio Dept., when they came on for the encore, it wasn’t part of the plan but they did it anyway.

How do you select your acts anyway? Is there a definitive way of going about it?
Oh, they definitely have to be on tour. We can’t afford them if they’re not coming to this part of the world. The other part would be trying to find out acts that have a decent fanbase here, but is not being addressed. I know people say “oh, it’s very indie” but it just so happens it’s for these few acts. But that being said, we do have other platforms for other international acts such as Joe Brooks and Dia Frampton that aren’t branded under the Upfront umbrella. We also have Lot 36, which is our jazz and soul platform. So we have a few different platforms for other things, but Upfront would be more indie and maybe rock.

What is your vision for Upfront? Will you continually focus on more intimate gigs or are there plans for something bigger?
No, I think Upfront will remain a Bee project, maybe if we ever do anything, it would be a one-off kind of thing outside the Bee. And the whole idea for the Upfront series was meant to be more intimate live shows, where we’re really close to the stage and so on, so to take it out of that context would kind of ruin its charm.

The other thing I want to point out about Upfront is the whole meet-the-fan sessions. Like having the ability to see a show so close and personal, and then get to hang out with them. Thankfully all our acts have done that. Even The Vaccines.

Word on the grapevine is that the sound system at The Bee could be better, is this matter of concern for you guys?
Oh yeah, of course. It think it’s very important – like I said, The Bee is all about experiences, and everything adds up to it. The component of meet-and-greet is really important. We definitely care about every aspect. The sound system, yeah, we constantly look at ways of improving it. Different acts have different needs and expectations so we will continue to improve as we go along. The Radio Dept. was a clear improvement but we’re going to continue fine-tuning it.

You were previously in publishing, and now you’re a restaurateur, but it always revolved around music – whether local or international. Tell us about your relationship with music.
I wouldn’t say it revolves around music. I’m very interested in youth culture in general… well, culture in general in terms of what matters to people. What I did in publishing always revolved around that to some extent. With Urbanscapes the business model might be slightly different but we work to engage with the same type of audience.

Just a little sidetrack, would you indulge us in a preview for Urbanscapes? How are you planning to one-up bringing Sigur Rós last year?
(Laughs) You’ll find out soon enough.

Get up to date with the latest happenings at The Bee at www.thebee.com.my