Keeping up with Urbanscapes

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How Malaysia’s longest-running creative arts festival continues to push boundaries and reinvent itself to stay relevant

By Ellisha Rosli & Melissa Wong  | January 6, 2020

“We want to create the KL festival.”

In 2002, Urbanscapes’ founder, Adrian Yap and his team set out to create an event that would showcase the rich diversity that Kuala Lumpur is known for. The first Urbanscapes event was held in a now-defunct restaurant in Bukit Bintang, hosting about a thousand people and featuring local artists. Today, it has grown into arguably Malaysia’s biggest creative arts festival with a reputation for featuring some of the best acts in the country.  

From the beginning, the team had a clear idea of what they wanted to achieve with Urbanscapes. They wanted to push the boundaries of what a traditional music festival is by featuring not just music acts but also art exhibitions, film showings and interactive installations. They also wanted to create a festival that is completely unique to KL, where city residents and Malaysians alike could come, have fun and be inspired. 

Urbanscapes 2019 happened a few weeks ago. And it didn’t disappoint!

Themed ‘Reconnect KL’, this year’s festival was spread out across the city’s historic core and encouraged Malaysians to re-discover some of the more forgotten parts of KL. Like many other cities, KL has gone through periods of renovation as older shops close down and new businesses and customers move in. In fact, some of these former shops have been turned into unique event spaces – something that Urbanscapes 2019 took full advantage of. For example, the main part of the festival was housed in Sentul Depot, a former train depot used in the 1900s that’s been given new life as a modern exhibition space. 

Just like KL, Urbanscapes has had to constantly reinvent itself to keep ahead of the latest art and music trends. Adrian describes it as “a living organism that changes every year” depending on the people and artists they work with to put on each festival. 

Urbanscapes has come a long way since 2002; it isn’t easy for festivals like this to stay true to its roots while keeping up with trends. To understand how they pulled it off, we sat down with Adrian and Urbanscapes’ Head of Project Management, Khalid Kamal, to ask about Urbanscapes’ transformation into the massive creative arts festival it is today.