Jason Swamy on Sustaining New-Age Music Festivals and Creativity - Men's Folio
Lifestyle, Culture

Jason Swamy on Sustaining New-Age Music Festivals and Creativity

  • By Ben Kwok

Music and entertainment maestro Jason Swamy has a near-endless CV of projects and contributions to the industry — Wonderfruit, Robot Heart (at Burning Man), and the list goes on. He shares his creative inspirations, and where the future of music festivals lies.

DJ, entrepreneur, producer, creator, and cultural tastemaker — these are but some of the many hats that multi-hyphenate music and entertainment maestro Jason Swamy has worn over his extensive time in the industry. Arguably one of the biggest contributors to the music and nightlife scene, his accolades include the likes of birthing the Deep House genre of electronic music, to establishing Burning Man’s crowd-favourite Robot Heart stage, and even founding his own creative agency, Do What You Love. More recently, he helped found Asia’s first sustainable lifestyle festival Wonderfruit. Never one to rest on his laurels, Jason has been neck deep in his next project for a while: Suara Festival, set to be held this July in Bali’s brand new city for creatives, Nuanu City.

Men’s Folio recently had the opportunity to chat with Jason — discussing his creative identity, his sources of inspiration, and what the future of music festivals holds.

Hi Jason! How would you define your creative identity and vision?
My creative identity is deeply rooted in a love for cultural diversity and a passion for creating immersive, transformative experiences. My work is a mix of art, music, nature, and technology, all coming together to create something new for people to enjoy – I’m a huge fan of innovation and the importance of community. My vision has always been to design events, environments, spaces, and experiences that are not only entertaining but also enlightening. I want to provide a space for people to connect deeply with themselves, each other, and their surroundings.

How would you say your creative identity has evolved over the years?
My creative identity has evolved so much over the years – from event logistics and organisation, all the way through to embracing a really holistic lifestyle that integrates a lot of different disciplines. Initially, my focus was on the excitement of the music and prioritising the crowd’s energy. Over time, I have come to appreciate the importance of creating environments that promote reflection, connection, and a sense of wonder, encouraging guests to feel curious about their surroundings.

How has this evolution changed the way you approach music and events?
This evolution has significantly changed my approach to music and events. Now, it’s about curating a complete experience that tells a story and creates an emotional journey. I pay closer attention to every detail, from the music lineup to ensure diversity of sound, through to the environmental design and art installations I partner with. I want to ensure that all the elements of a project will contribute to creating a cohesive and welcoming atmosphere. Incorporating sustainability and cultural integration are also at the core of my work, ensuring the events I produce are not only enjoyable but respectful of where they are taking place — always ‘leave no trace’.

You mentioned that you’ve settled down in Bali — why Bali, and what aspects of Balinese living do you hope to incorporate into Suara Festival?
Bali’s rich culture, warm and welcoming people, and breathtaking natural beauty has always captivated me. My first visit 20 years ago left an impression, and the island’s unique blend of spirituality and culture has always aligned with my values — be they personal or professional.

I’ve lived in many different places around the world — the UK, Hong Kong, the US, India, China and now Bali. Living amongst all these different cultures has hugely influenced who I am today and it’s something I try to show by creating meaningful and culturally rich experiences no matter where I am in the world. With Suara, we’re hoping to imbue the essence of Balinese living through emphasising community, craftsmanship, and sustainability.

Something I’ve always looked to is the concept of ‘Tri Hita Karana’, which essentially is the ‘three causes of wellbeing’ – a Balinese philosophy reflecting the harmony between God, humanity, and nature. These pillars not only inform and influence how the Balinese interact with the world, but also guide them towards a content, peaceful, and community-focused life. With that in mind, Balinese spirituality will be woven throughout the entire Suara Festival experience.

What are some of the sources of inspiration you find yourself always turning to?
I’ve always turned to my surroundings for inspiration. Whether that’s being immersed in nature in Bali or in the concrete jungles of New York and Hong Kong. There are so many interesting patterns and beauty to be found in nature. On the other hand, I can be equally inspired by the sharp lines, noise, and chaos that come from living amongst towering skyscrapers.

Travelling as frequently as I do exposes me to new ideas, perspectives, and ways of life all the time. I’m constantly learning and refreshing my creative outlook through art, architecture, food and music, which in turn offers me so many new ideas for concepts or additions that we can implement in our projects.

How have music festivals been changing over the years? Where do you think the future of music festivals/events lies?
Music festivals have evolved from simple gatherings centred around music, to complex cultural events that prioritise sustainability, inclusivity, art, culture, and immersive experiences. They are increasingly becoming platforms for social change and innovation, rather than just being music events, and are incredibly important to many communities across the globe. Unfortunately, we are seeing many incredible festivals around the world disappear due to the rising cost of pretty much everything. Insurance, talent fees, the cost of living – it all adds up. Festivals in places like the UK and Australia are in particularly dire need of saving not just because of the jobs that they provide, but the local economies that they support and the positive impact they have on people’s lives and enjoyment. If protections aren’t put in place soon, these countries are at risk of losing a really important pillar of their cultural offering.

In saying that, the festival scene in Asia is flourishing. From Wonderfruit to Ultra, as well as Clockenflap (there’s even a rumour that Tomorrowland is coming to Thailand soon), there’s no shortage of incredible world-class events taking place in the region. Despite the global cost of living crisis, the desire for ‘experience tourism’ is on the rise, and festivals that offer the opportunity to immerse oneself in the local culture are in high demand. Being able to tie together a holiday with a local experience integrated into the magic of a music festival really offers a lot of bang for one’s buck.

What advice do you have for young, aspiring creatives/musicians?
For young, aspiring creatives and musicians, my advice is to dive in and gain practical experience as much as you can – don’t be afraid to roll up your sleeves and get involved in as many projects as possible, even if you think they are not in your reach. Volunteer, but stay true to your vision and values. Be open to learning and adapting, and ensure you spend time building a strong network of passionate and diverse people across a range of industries. Remember, it’s a marathon, not a sprint – persistence is key to long-term success.

If you could only listen to only one genre of music for the rest of your life, what would it be and why?
One day when I was an intern at Star TV, a colleague of mine invited me to a rave where I saw a performance by Welsh DJ and record producer Sasha. That experience quite literally changed my life and entire trajectory. A lot of my career has been centred around underground electronic music – its vastness and versatility make it endlessly fascinating alongside the different kinds of emotions each track can evoke. It is constantly evolving, blending with other genres, and incorporating new sounds, which keeps it fresh and exciting. In saying that, if I could only listen to one genre of music for the rest of my life, it would probably be classic rock – it is quintessential, authoritative, and something that always makes me feel good.

What is the biggest takeaway from your numerous years of experience in organising and conceptualising music festivals?
The biggest takeaway from my years of experience organising and conceptualising music festivals is the importance of being adaptable and creating community. Each event without doubt presents unique challenges. Being able to pivot and find creative solutions is crucial. Building and nurturing a strong community, both among the team and the attendees is paramount. You need to create a supportive environment that enhances the overall experience as it helps to ensure a festival’s long-term success. Collaboration, clear communication, and a shared vision are essential elements for any event.

If you could pinpoint one most unforgettable experience you’ve had in your line of work thus far, what would it be and how do you think that has been significant to bringing you to where you are today?
I’ve had a lot of ‘unforgettable experiences’ throughout my life, but I have to say that this particular project, Suara Festival, is one that I am hoping will take the crown. It is a culmination of 25 years of crafting nightlife experiences across the globe and it really is going to be something completely unlike anything that the region has ever seen. The scale of the space alone is on an entirely new level. Nuanu City is immensely impressive in every possible way. From rolling hills, to jungle, pool club raves, spectacular light shows, wellness workshops, inspirational talks, and so much more, it really is a festival producer’s dream. Being able to use it as a creative canvas to bring thousands of people together in such an iconic location is a blessing.

None of this would be possible, though, without the hard work and input from a lot of people whom I have the pleasure of calling coworkers. You can have a solid vision, but without the help of a skilled team and the participation of attendees, it is impossible to pull off.

Once you are done with this story, click here to catch up with our May 2024 issue.