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Malaysian events industry figures & LGBTQIA+ community respond to The 1975 incident

We reached out to key individuals, gathering insight on how Matty Healy's behaviour has "left a trail of consequences for Malaysians"

  • Words: Amira Waworuntu | Image: Future Sound Asia
  • 2 August 2023
Malaysian events industry figures & LGBTQIA+ community respond to The 1975 incident

The cancellation of Malaysia’s Good Vibes Festival has sparked conversation among many, especially within the country itself.

What was meant to be a three-day event got cut short after only its first due to a profanity-laden outburst on stage by The 1975 vocalist Matty Healy, who then publicly kissed on stage with bassist Ross MacDonald.

His controversial actions are seen as a violation against the guidelines set forth by the Central Agency for Application for Filming and Performance by Foreign Artistes (Puspal) — who authorised the band to perform in Malaysia — and towards the country’s laws and regulations.

Additionally, Healy’s inappropriate behaviour included him spitting, holding what seems to be a bottle of an alcoholic beverage and aggressively destroying a drone which was festival property.

In collaboration with events and industry NGO Arts, Live Festivals and Events Association (ALIFE), festival organisers Future Sound Asia (FSA) held a press conference on 27 July titled ‘Setting The Record Straight’, addressing not only the festival’s cancellation but also efforts in moving forward in the interest of industry and economy in Malaysia.

During the event, FSA founder Ben Law explained how the festival got cut short due to Healy’s “unruly conduct, which included the use of abusive or provocative language, destroying equipment, and engaging in an indecent act on stage,” condemning the act and adding how “his display has left a trail of consequences for Malaysians.”

Before the press conference was held, Mixmag Asia reached out to key figures in both the events industry and the LGBTQIA+ community to obtain a comprehensive view of the matter at hand.

ALIFE Vice President and Founder of The Livescape Group Iqbal Ameer states “This incident has not only been challenging for our friends at Future Sound Asia, but collectively for the live events industry. We acknowledge and recognise that it has resulted in broader implications for the music and live entertainment industry in our country.”

Iqbal underlines how organisers have always prioritised an enjoyable and safe environment for all festival-goers; “We understand the significance of upholding respectful behaviour on stage, and we firmly believe in fostering a positive and inclusive atmosphere during events.”

He goes on to add how the Communications and Digital Ministry’s decision to cancel the remainder of the festival potentially raises concerns within the industry, making it tougher on event organisers due to fears of new, stricter restrictions.

“Events like music festivals are significant contributors to the local economy, attracting both local and international attendees, creating job opportunities, and generating revenue for various stakeholders,” highlights Iqbal.

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In addition to concerns relating to Malaysia’s events industry, there’s also another pressing matter to attend to; the country’s LGBTQIA+ community, which Healy was supposedly trying to defend.

Based on many comments and posts circling social media, citizens of Malaysia are otherwise condemning Healy for setting back the community’s efforts.

“While activism is rooted in human rights, it is crucial for people to recognise that strategies vary across regions due to cultural and belief differences in each country. What may be effective in Britain or other countries may not necessarily be applicable in Malaysia, where both civil and shariah laws continue to criminalise the LGBTQIA+ community,” explains Mitch Yusof, Executive Director of SEED Malaysia.

Pertubuhan Pembangunan Kebajikan Dan Persekitaran Positif Malaysia also known as SEED Malaysia is a non-profit organisation that provides support for the Trans, homeless and other marginalised communities of the country.

Speaking to Mixmag Asia, Mitch mentions how Healy’s actions will undo decades of work and advocacy by local activists, instead further exposing the community to persecution and oppression of religious and political groups.

“If Healy wanted to send a message, he could have rejected the offer to perform [in Malaysia] as a way of making a stand. I saw a statement from Healy saying he’s willing to even go to prison for what he believes in. But after his gimmick, Healy fled on the first flight out to Singapore. So, his motives are clearly suspect,” Mitch conveyed.

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However, Mitch also expresses unease towards the government’s reaction and the potential tightening of Puspal’s application process for foreign artists, especially in a climate where the creative industry is already grappling to bounce back after the pandemic.

“We certainly do not want to create an image where Malaysia is seen to be too harsh or regressive,” he underlines.

According to Mitch, the government’s reaction also raises concerns about further infringements on the rights of the LGBTQIA+ community as a spillover effect. “Therefore, we would like to appeal to the government to ensure that the community is not further victimised and their rights are protected under international human rights law.”

Also speaking on the impact of Healy’s behaviour towards the local LGBTQIA+ community, Malaysian drag queen Carmen Rose shares her views with Mixmag Asia.

“If he was advocating for LGBTQIA+ rights here, what he displayed at the festival wasn't it,” further highlighting that what the vocalist did was merely performative.

When asked about the overall sentiment of the community in Malaysia towards Healy’s onstage behaviour, Carmen responded “We are upset, because the stunt he just pulled does more harm than good to the community that's actually going to face the implications of his actions, while he gets to jet off without any consequences whatsoever.”

She further adds how minorities in Malaysia are now potentially even more susceptible to hatred by opposing groups and individuals; “what he displayed, gives them more excuse to punch us down and further alienate us.”

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Healy’s controversial conduct took place during the first day of Good Vibes Festival, held at Sepang International Circuit.

On July 26, the Sepang Municipal Council stated that upcoming events in the district should not include international artists following Healy’s onstage behaviour.

Council president Datuk Abd Hamid Hussain has asserted that organisers must adhere to the “additional requirements”, which include ensuring that artists' conduct and behaviour comply with the applicable laws at all times.

The British band are also facing a class action lawsuit over the festival's cancellation, prepared by local artists and festival vendors, in addition to being banned from the country and having as many as 18 police reports filed against them.

Though there are still tensions and concerns regarding this issue, as Para Rajagopal, Chairman of ALIFE mentioned during the press conference; “We have to move from [The] 1975 and come back to 2023, and forward.”

For those wanting to support and donate to the LGBTQIA+ cause and community in Malaysia, below is a list of local NGOs you can reach out to.
- PT Foundation
- Legal Dignity
- Queer Lapis
- SEED Malaysia

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