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The trials and tribulations of bringing UMF to Korea
Seoul ticks off yet another crazy festival in its tireless efforts to become Asia's biggest party destination
What is going on with the ridiculously impressive roster of names that Korea has managed to lure to the peninsula this summer?
Jisan Valley Rock Festival, which spread over three days at the end ofJuly, drew 101,000 music lovers to catch bands like The Stones Roses, Owl City, James Blake -- and of course Radiohead.
Coming up on August 24 is Super!Sonic, with another star-studded lineup that includes the likes of the Smashing Pumpkins, New Order, Foster the People, Gym Class Heroes, Soulwax and the Vaccines.
And just last weekend, on August 3-4, at the first Asian debut of the world's largest electronic music festival, Ultra Music Festival, electronic dance music giants Steve Aoki, Skrillex, Tiesto and Carl Cox spun to crowds of 25,000 on the first day and 30,000 on the second day, leaving decidedly staggered by the Korean crowds.
As Skrillex proclaimed on his Twitter soon afterwards, "UMF KOREA was easily top 5 festivals I’ve ever played…that was intense. Crowd gave me goose bumps the whole time."
Carl Cox did more than tweet, playing more than two hours overtime, reminiscent of Radiohead's 40-minute overrun at Jisan Valley Rock Festival.
Bringing in the fun
According to the organizers of UMF Korea, quite a lot of behind-the-stage efforts went into bringing the world's largest electronic festival to Korea.
For starters, there were basic human difficulties, like the sweltering heat. Those lucky enough to have invites into the Red Bull lounge got Red Bull cocktails and air conditioning, and those with VIP or VVIP passes (selling at ₩250,000 and ₩3,000,000 per table) had places to rest between sets.
But the real difficulty was persuading the original festival headquarters that Korea would be a good place for the Asian UMF.
UMF Korea, born from the collaborative efforts of the original UMF Miami staff and UC Korea, the Korean company that brought UMF into the country in the first place, ended up attracting guests from neighboring China, Japan and places as far off as Indonesia, as well as Korea. Not too shabby.
According to Yoon Yong-seop, International Productions team manager at UMF Korea, the hardest part was pitching to UMF Worldwide that Korea would be the best location for an Asian debut for the popular festival. (UMF Miami has attendance rates of a 200,000 a year).
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A premier party city?
Sure, Korea may be on a roll with its music festivals, but with UMF, it was being compared against the world's premier party cities.
"The other UMF locations -- Ibiza, Miami, Brazil and Argentina are countries with a pretty strongly cemented party reputation. That's a huge factor in choosing the location for the festival. It's about electronic music too, but it's also about people who know how to party," says Yoon.
"To paraphrase what they said at UMF Miami, Poland was chosen despite its relatively lackluster party reputation because of the excellent venue, and various other encouraging factors. Korea's winning factors were its emerging reputation as a hot spot," says Yoon.
Of course, it wasn't easy.
"It took three years of persuasion before we were picked as the first Asian UMF host nation," says Yoon.
"For those three years, our company -- UC Korea -- wooed the headquarters with our reliability and passion. When they visited, they were impressed with the Olympic Stadium as a venue. I also believe that the recent popularity of K-Pop, or Korea's recently burgeoning influence in beauty, fashion, and Hallyu culture played a huge role."
So, does this mean Seoul set to be Asia's next party capital, or is this all ballyhoo? And if there is substance to the smoke, is it a good thing to be known as a partying city?
"It's a good thing," says a representative for the Presidential Council on Nation Branding in Korea cautiously when asked what the Council thinks about Seoul's budding reputation and efforts to become Asia's party destination.
"As long as the partying is in moderation of course, but that seems to be a positive direction that adds to our aims of increasing the awareness of Korean culture overseas, and because of the tourism boost," says the representative, who declined to be named.
The festival did give many travelers in the region a reason (or an excuse) to fly to Korea for the weekend.
"I've always wanted to check out UMF in Miami but never got a chance," says Bonnie Lo, who flew to Seoul from Hong Kong just for the festival.
"When Ultra decided to come out here to Korea, I couldn't pass up the opportunity with just a short plane ride away. Also, the lineup was amazing and that definitely made the decision to fly in much easier."
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