Asia's Best Music Festivals

Article by: Marcus Dowling|@marcuskdowling

Thu October 08, 2015 | 00:00 AM

Music festivals are not just a North American, South American, or European fascination – they're blowing up in Asia as well. If you're looking to expand your music festival palate and immerse yourself in totally different cultures while you're at it, India, Japan, China, South Korea and other countries in this region are the ones to put on your bucket list. Some amazing events are transpiring there, and these 14 are the festivals that are emblematic of the region's legacy and festival explosion. Book your trip, stat. 

Sunburn Festival, Goa, India

EDM has swept India in a major way lately, and the festival most responsible for this rise is Sunburn, Goa’s multi-stage event in Vagator. Influential festival organizer Percept has been at it for nearly a decade in India, bringing roughly 150,000 people from around the world together for the chance to enjoy Indian and international DJs over three days in December. Christmas in India, anyone? Sunburn’s been lauded as a top 10 global festival experience by the likes of CNN and InTheMix, and won the Best Festival award at the WOW Awards in 2011.

Insofar as the caliber of talent the Goa-based event attracts, Sunburn hosted one of the nights of Swedish House Mafia’s final tour in 2013, as well as other huge names like Avicii, Afrojack, Pete Tong and Armin van Buuren. Not quite impressed yet? Take into account that Sunburn has expanded outside of the one-off festival realm to brand a nationwide Indian club tour, as well as a merchandising arm, restaurants and record label, too.

NH7 Weekender, Multiple Cities, India

A traveling two-day event that transpires in multiple cities in India over a six-week span between October-December, the NH7 Weekender is just over a half-decade old. During this run, a slew of high-powered corporate sponsors pair with Indian artist management firm Only Much Louder to bring the self-proclaimed “happiest music festival” to India. One hundred bands across six stages in multiple cities have included global heavy metal icons like Meshuggah and Megadeth to more Indian-based closers like Asian Dub Foundation, MUTEMATH, The Raghu Dixit Project, and Indian Ocean.

Midi Modern Music Festival, Beijing, China

Fifteen years in, Beijing’s Midi Modern Music Festival is typically held during China’s May holidays. Thematically, the event typically delves into environmental themes like raising awareness for animal extinction or air pollution. Beijing’s Midi School of Music hosts the event, which draws 100,000 festival-goers to experience a blend of genres including rock, jazz, blues, pop, Latin, country, funk, and EDM –the musical education genres in which the Midi School specializes. Past performers include The Wombats, Crimea, Kava Kava, and Dave Stewart of the Eurythmics.

Ultra Music Festival Japan, Odaiba, Japan

The globally renowned Ultra Music Festival has finally reached Japan; 2014 was its debut, and the EDM extravaganza was held on the beaches of Odaiba. 90,000 total attendees were present for the festival’s inaugural three-day edition, and were treated to an explosive, multimedia EDM spectacular comparable to the Ultra events held in Miami, Seoul, Cape Town and other global locales. Lauded in the Japanese market for having “the biggest impact” on the nation’s pop music scene, this event has hit at the perfect time in the Land of the Rising Sun. Do expect this one to grow quickly.

Zebra Music Festival, Shanghai, China

China’s MTV-style, multi-platform music broadcaster Zebra Media are the hosts of this nearly 10-year-old festival, which draws 150,000-plus people and an estimated 100 million viewers via TV and the internet. Chinese, Taiwanese, Japanese and South Korean pop and rock acts converge at venues like Shanghai’s Jianshan Beach in May for the festivities.

Clockenflap, Kowloon, Hong Kong

Kowloon, Hong Kong has played host to late November's Clockenflap Music and Arts Festival for nearly a decade. 50,000-plus attendees attend yearly, flooding the West Kowloon Arts District for diverse acts like Chic, The Flaming Lips, The Libertines, Flying Lotus, Ratatat and CHVRCHES. Its annual, bold lineups have been praised by NME for playing a huge role in "pioneering the Chinese indie and alternative music scenes, as well as bringing international talent to Chinese audiences." In the words of the festival's organizers, "[Clockenflap] is about music at it's most inspirational. Art at its most accessible. It's about discovery, about community. About laughter, camaraderie and unashamed nonsense. It's about the independent spirit, celebrating creativity and paying it forward."

K-Pop World Festival, Changwon, South Korea

South Korean pop music is doing huge global business of late, and it has never been more apparent than at Changwon’s just over half-decade-old K-Pop World Festival held in mid-October. The event is the culmination of a multiple-round, global search that truly highlights the worldwide appeal of the catchy pop-derived sound. The finals are held by the South Korean government as a show of international goodwill. With 2014’s winners being Ireland’s GGC Crew, and other contenders from the past five years coming from such far-flung locales as Uzbekistan, Indonesia, the Philippines and yes, the United States, it’s a truly global affair.

Jeju International Wind Ensemble Festival, Jeju, South Korea

For over two decades, 50,000-plus people have gathered on the southern South Korean island of Jeju for two weeks for the Jeju International Wind Ensemble Festival. The event celebrates the playing of brass and woodwind instruments, and the island’s idyllic and romanticized landscape provides an exotic backdrop for the music. There’s a competition for young musicians occurring throughout the event, as well as performances from artists from well over 20-plus countries worldwide.

Summer Sonic Festival, Chiba and Osaka, Japan

Occurring in two locales over the same three-day period in Chiba and Osaka, Japan’s Summer Sonic Festival, is a highlight each August. Event promoter Creativeman has been linked with America’s LiveNation since 2011, which means Summer Sonic attracts top talent and sports a streamlined vibe for attendees. Regardless of its connection to LiveNation, Summer Sonic always brings its A-game. For almost twenty years, a literal who’s-who of talent has performed, like Ariana Grande, Marilyn Manson, The Pixies, Kraftwerk, Ellie Goulding, Pharrell Williams, and The Chemical Brothers, while legions of smaller, up-and-coming acts have also graced its stages. Chiba’s Marine Stadium and Osaka’s Maishima Sports Island host Summer Sonic, thus allowing for crowds of well over 100,000 people to attend at both spaces.

Wonderfruit Festival, Pattya, Thailand

Pattya, Thailand’s Wonderfruit Festival succeeds at its intended aim of “bringing communities together in Thailand, to nurture collaborative, creative cultures and inspire celebration of the arts and the adventure of sustainable living.” Maybe Asia’s most significant crossover “transformational” event, the musical selections trend more in the direction of atmospheric techno and indie rock. While essential, music is not the only ingredient in this tasty fest; significant work being done in the realms of sustainable farming (the festival is on a farm), wellness, and “natural adventures” that include cycling, running and swimming events are also a big part of Wonderfruit.

Eclipse Festival, Sulawesi, Indonesia

Eclipse Festival 2016 Press Photo
Photo by: Eclipse Festival

2016 finds Indonesia jumping more and more into the festival realm with the first annual Eclipse Festival. Eclipse will be unveiled from March 7-11, 2016 in a valley in the Ngata Baru region of the Indonesian island of Sulawesi. Organizers promise "lush hills and mountains with a river below where eclipse chasers can visit and be surrounded by thousands of butterflies." The location is also important because Sulawesi is not only the world's 11th largest island, but is also one of the few locations in Indonesia where the total solar eclipse scheduled for the festival's third day – March 9 – will be fully visible for the full two minutes and 55 seconds it's scheduled to occur. Acts booked for the event include a global and native Indonesian collection of DJs and musicians, like UK DJ/producer Eat Static. With a big afterparty as promised in Bali, Eclipse is putting its best foot forward to establish itself in the Asian festival market.

Quest Festival, Hanoi, Vietnam

Hanoi, Vietnam's Quest Festival features music and arts, and occurs yearly in early November. Vietnam’s only weekend camping festival, the event is held at the Son Tinh campsite 40 minutes outside of Hanoi, a lakeside site named for the mythical God of the Mountain and the God of the Water. Themes are key at this event; 2015's is the "Monster Quest," so whimsical and even scary costumes are actively encouraged for the festivities. Artists performing this year include both Vietnamese and global DJs and bands across three different stages. 

ZoukOut, Siloso Beach, Singapore

December's ZoukOut festivities see Singapore's Siloso Beach become a multi-stage epicenter of EDM from around the world. The event finds a top tier slew of dance maestros descending on the area, like Porter Robinson, Tiesto, Kaskade, Hong, Armin Van Buuren, Syafii, and way more. The festival was born out of Singapore's famed, 25-year old Zouk Nightclub, voted a top-10 favorite of DJ Mag for the past decade. ZoukOut itself is 15 years old and is attended by roughly 50,000 festival-goers over a two-day span. The festival is also a huge tourist benefit to the region, with 40% of the attendees being non-Singapore natives.

Djakarta Warehouse Project, Jakarta, Indonesia

DWP nears one decade of existence as Indonesia's premier dance event and a marquee stop on many top-tier North American and global DJs Southern Hemisphere tours during the Northern Hemisphere's winter months. Mind-blowing sound and visual experiences are a hallmark of the event, which occurs in the second week of December. Indonesia boasts globally renowned talents like electro producer Angger Dimas, alongside the likes of Dillon Francis, Claude VonStroke, Axwell ^ Ingrosso, Major Lazer, Cashmere Cat, and more.