Music

“We Almost Gave Up”: The Story of Wanderland Music Festival

The country’s biggest indie music festival has had its ups and downs over the years.
IMAGE Hub Pacheco
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The United States has Coachella, Bonnaroo and Burning Man. The UK has Glastonbury and Parklife. Japan has Summersonic and Hong Kong has Clockenflapp. Australia and Singapore have Laneway (although the Lion City is skipping the event this year). 

And what of the Philippines?

Well we have Wanderland, of course.

First held in 2013 on the Globe Circuit Event grounds in Makati, the country’s biggest (and arguably best) indie music festival is going even bigger on its seventh edition this year. Now held at the Filinvest City Events Grounds in Alabang, Wanderland 2019 is being held over two days, on March 9 and 10, still with a full slate of international and local heavy-hitters, led by Two Door Cinema Club, The Kooks, Honne, Gabrielle Aplin, Masego, Charlie Lim, Reese Lansangan, Clara Benin, Unique and more.

Other productions given us some memorable music moments over the years and there have been dozens of explosive one-off concerts featuring the world’s biggest music superstars in Manila. Stilln none of them can compare to the consistency, staying power and immense scope of a genuine music festival like Wanderland. Today it’s become an essential date on the music fan’s yearly calendar.

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How exactly did Wanderland come about?

From graphics design to concerts

The music festival is a production of Karpos Multimedia, a company that originally didn’t have anything to do with music. Run by the Uy siblings—Stephanie, John and Nicole—Karpos is a family business that started out as a graphics and web design company.

“We’re a big family of seven siblings,” Steph tells Esquire Philippines. “We all have the same likes, interests, hobbies and we’re business-minded. We were all studying before Karpos. With guidance from our Dad who’s an executive in a TV station and support from our mom and older sister, we started Karpos.”

Something royal’s coming in 3 days & we can’t help but #throwback to when we d-d-danced all night to The Royal Concept...

Posted by Wanderland on Sunday, 23 September 2018

Steph says a cousin who worked at a music label company invited the siblings to invest and produce concerts.

Karpos’s first-ever show featured Irish band The Cranberries in 2012. The fledgling company encountered numerous challenges back then, being newcomers to the events and concert production business.

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“It was super stressful because we had little idea about the ins and outs of production, getting sponsors, promoting the show and attracting ticket buyers,” Steph says. “Those were the major struggles we encountered during our upstart days. But we’re thankful that we met people from the industry who guided and helped us to achieve what we have today.”

IMAGE: Hub Pacheco
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A bright idea

The idea for Wanderland started when the siblings, still in their teens and early 20s back then, were hanging out in John’s bedroom one day. John and Nicole were still in college at the time (De La Salle University, while Steph is from College of Saint Benilde).

I remember thinking, ‘Why don't we have a music festival the same as the ones abroad?’” Steph says. “I told John that we should start one. And then we did. We just went for it.”

Undoubtedly, they weren’t the first to come up with the idea. The difference however is they had the tenacity and determination to follow through. Of course, it helped that they had their parents by their side the whole time.

“(We thought of) this without prior knowledge about mounting a festival,” Steph says. “We started preparing everything—from branding, (a list of) bands to tap, venues, possible suppliers and partners, and whatnot. We presented the whole idea to our dad. At first, he was hesitant because it involved a lot of money and was a big risk but thankfully, he agreed and supported us throughout the whole process.”

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IMAGE: Hub Pacheco

“To be completely honest we had no idea if the Philippines was ready for an indie music festival,” John says. “We just really wanted it and believed in it. I guess it kind of jumpstarted the music festival scene (here). We’re happy to be one of the first ones to really invest in it.”

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Steph says she was the one who came up with the name Wanderland. “It took us two weeks to finally decide on it. ‘Wander’ means to roam and ‘land,’ as we all know, is an area. The concept is pretty simple—we just wanted a place where people can roam, wander, enjoy, and discover good music.”

As expected, putting together a music festival from scratch was far from easy.

“The first year was really a trial for us,” Nicole says. “We didn’t know how, where to start, but we just did what we had to do. The concept was simple—a music festival in Manila. It was inspired by a lot of music festivals around the world.”

Amazing Crowd at Wanderland 2013!! Made possible by: Karpos Multimedia Inc. Photo by: Magic Liwanag Photography www.magicliwanag.com

Posted by Wanderland on Tuesday, 28 May 2013

Almost quitting

The first Wanderland featured headliners The Temper Trap, Neon Trees and Nada Surf, as well as support acts Avalanche City, Colour Coding, Tully on Tully and local acts UDD, Yolanda Moon, Pulse Taken By Cars and She’s Only Sixteen.

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“The process was pretty simple,” John says. “We listed down the acts that we wanted to see live ourselves. We started reaching out to them and see if they’d be interested. From there, it was narrowed down to the ones who were available. The next step was figuring out which ones would fit the budget. This was the toughest part as we were very young and new to the industry so naturally agents and managers didn’t trust yet so they would only listen if the money was significant.

“There was never a year that our desired lineup came to life!” he says laughing. “It’s always Plan C or D or even Z!”

Asked to reminisce about the very first edition of Wanderland, Steph says it was getting their parents’ approval to mount the big music festival in the first place that was the most memorable.

IMAGE: Hub Pacheco
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“Planning the whole festival in less than two months with only us siblings working and on top of everything,” Steph says. “I remember I was in awe the first time seeing Wanderers and all the people having fun, chilling. It felt like I was in a music festival abroad." 

“Personally the most memorable experience I can think of was that moment when we were about to open gates,” John says. “Me and Nicole were sitting in the grass thinking of just quitting and not pushing through with it. Luckily, we didn’t. All that feeling of defeat went away when we started seeing the Wanderers all having a damn good time.”

“What John said!” Nicole laughs. “That story never gets old. We share it every time people ask us about Wanderland. I’ll never forget that moment where we badly wanted to give up. Thank God we didn’t.”

Amazing Crowd at Wanderland 2013!! Made possible by: Karpos Multimedia Inc. Photo by: Magic Liwanag Photography www.magicliwanag.com

Posted by Wanderland on Tuesday, 28 May 2013

I was at that first Wanderland and can remember the fun, festive atmosphere. Finally, I thought, local music lovers had a festival featuring a stellar lineup of acts in a fantastic setting. We didn’t have to travel abroad to get our festival fix.

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The siblings felt it, too.

“When I saw the audience reception and the festival aftermovie I got teary eyed,” Steph says. “At that moment I knew we were going to do this long-term.”

John says he knew they were going to do a repeat the next year as soon as the festival wrapped.

“Of course we were all optimistic and weren't really thinking about all the work and money involved,” he says. “But we just couldn’t let it go. It had so much potential!”

Nicole agrees. “I think it was the night of the festival (when we knew we would do it again the next year)! “It was unexpected, everyone was just happy, enjoying the Wanderland experience. We knew we had to do this again and again.”

???? Magic Liwanag

Posted by Wanderland on Monday, 20 March 2017

Indie music superstars

Over the years, the lineup of artists who have played the Wanderland stage reads like a who’s who of the world’s superstar indie music acts. My personal favorites are The Drums, Death Cab For Cutie, the Royal Concept, Neon Trees and Explosions in the Sky. The siblings all have their own favorites throughout the six previous editions of the festival.

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“Honne, Bon Iver, Death Cab for Cutie, Daniel Caesar, Nada Surf,” says Steph. 

“The Royal Concept, Bon Iver, Kodaline, FKJ, The Paper Kites, Basically Saturday Night, IV of Spades,” says Nicole.

John admits that he finds it hard to pick a favorite, mostly because he’s too busy working behind the scenes to really take in and watch the acts perform live. “Maybe just Temper Trap,” he says. “But out of all those short watching opportunities, I really liked the following sets: Bon Iver, Death Cab for Cutie, IV of Spades, Ben&Ben, The Paper Kites and The Temper Trap. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to catch FKJ, Kodaline and Daniel Caesar last year but if I did I’m sure they’ll be on the list.”

IMAGE: Hub Pacheco
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IMAGE: Hub Pacheco

As organizers, the siblings have the enviable opportunity not just to watch but to actually meet and interact with the artists.

“The time before and after their performance are always the best moments,” Steph says. “We get to hang out with them, talk about random stuff, how well they did on their performance and sometimes even personal stuff. We get to know them on a personal level.”

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Nicole says she can’t forget that time she did a “face swap” with Justin Vernon aka Bon Iver. “Snapchat was very in during that time and he didn’t know how to use one so I taught him.”

Throughout all the highlights and challenges of mounting the country’s biggest music festival year after year, John says they want to stress their belief in the talent of local artists.

Where have you been, Wanderer? IV of Spades brought the disco to #WanderlandMusicFest & helped stage the first #WanderlandProposal! Scroll through what you might’ve missed here! #TakeMeBackToWanderland

Posted by Wanderland on Friday, 16 March 2018

A homegrown headliner

“My dream is that one day we will see a homegrown act headlining the Wanderland stage,” he says. “I think we are blessed to be in a position to influence the listening behavior of our market. So we take advantage of that by educating them on how good our homegrown talents are. On the other hand, Wanderland in general challenges these homegrown talents to work harder in terms of their live performances. I’m proud to say that Wanderland is (in my opinion) one of the gamechangers of our music scene locally and we will work harder to help it flourish even more. We’re very, very excited for the future of our homegrown talents.”

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This year, the Karpos team is raising the stakes by holding the festival over two days, when in the past years it had been just one. Steph says it’s twice the work for everyone involved.

IMAGE: Paul John Caña

“I can definitely say that things are easier to manage since we already have a good foundation: a great team that has been with us since our first year and plans that we tweak every year.”

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John says the idea of holding the event over two days has been part of conversations every year. “It makes a lot of sense, business-wise, to utilize these massive production, stages, installations, etc. for two or even three days. We’re losing money on those potential other days but of course we waited until we felt that the market is ready. So yes, we have a strong feeling that the Wanderers are ready now.”

Countless people must have mouthed the words “We should organize a music festival!” throughout history, expecting the glamour of rubbing shoulders with music superstars and actually getting to enjoy concerts as a livelihood. But for the Uy siblings, who are part of the very few who have turned those words into reality, things are never as simple, and indeed as glamorous, as they seem.

IMAGE: Paul John Caña
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“We just recently watched the Fyre documentary and I think that’s a good testament to how difficult and challenging it is to mount a music festival,” Steph says. “It’s a totally different ball game from the usual concerts/shows. There are so many logistical factors involved outside of the actual production and programming.

“What we’re trying to say is that many people think we have the coolest jobs in the world. It’s cool yes but it’s literally blood, sweat and tears. And it’s a very risky business—it’s either you lose big or you win some.”

Still, the Uys and the rest of the Karpos team have already committed to being in this for the long haul. The dream is for Wanderland to be the benchmark of Philippine music festivals, if it isn’t already.

“We are working hard to make sure that Wanderland is THE premier Music & Arts Festival of the country,” Steph says. “We want it to be top of mind locally and hopefully one of the best festivals in the region. Overall, we’re focusing on elevating the experience of our Wanderers not only music and programming-wise but most importantly the things that allow them to have a safe and clean environment. The Arts part is also something that we’ve focused on for the past two years. We are trying to figure out the best way to showcase it even more. A lot of things are lined up that we are excited to share but I guess it’s best for you to experience it instead.”

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Wanderland 2019 happens on March 9 and 10 at the Filinvest City Events Grounds, Alabang, Muntinlupa City. For tickets, visit wanderlandfestival.com

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Paul John Caña
Associate Editor, Esquire Philippines
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