How Quest’s Founders Run Vietnam’s Most Dynamic Festival from All Corners of...

How Quest’s Founders Run Vietnam’s Most Dynamic Festival from All Corners of the Globe

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© Cosmo Hirst-Mahal

The Quest Festival team talk day-jobs, festival logistics and jumping out of planes.

“I woke up at 8am and checked my emails on the short drive to the airport. I then got in a jumpsuit, was flown up to 12,000 feet and jumped out. Luckily I made it to safe ground and by 3pm I was back answering emails and on calls.”

This may sound like an overworked Type-A businessman taking a rather extreme break but it is all in a day’s work – and travel – for Luke Poulson, Music Director of Vietnam’s premier music festival, Quest. We caught up with five members of the team across five countries to understand the personal journeys of the Quest Festival squad; it seems that running one of Asia’s biggest events is one decorative string on a number of very elaborate bows.

The geography of the Quest team six months prior to the November event is as extraordinary as the festival’s international audience. While the Quest headquarters has been firmly based in Hanoi since the festival’s creation six years ago, the team themselves can be found travelling and working over three continents.

It all began as a ripple effect from their first festival in 2013 and has evolved into a tidal wave of creative energy. This evolution has both influenced and been influenced by the expansion of the festival over the last six years.

In 2016, the directors hired Pouch Nation – a brand activations and event analytics company – to initiate a cashless system for the festival and they haven’t looked back. Now, Festival Director Malcolm Duckett heads their Vietnam operations and is currently travelling non-stop across Vietnam and Thailand, bringing RFID (radio-frequency identification) technology to a diverse range of events.

“It’s been a great synergy”, says Malcolm, “I’ve learned how to apply the system to maximum effect at the festival, which has led to a much smoother experience for both us and the guests, [and] I’ve been able to bring my Quest experience to Pouch to help further shape it into an optimal solution.

“It’s also been great to connect and work with other event organizers throughout the country. There seems to be a growing awareness of the importance of experience here. Organisers know they can’t just put a band or a big EDM act on the stage anymore and hope to be successful; they need to curate the experience more.”

© Derry Ainsworth

There’s maybe no one who knows the importance of experience better than Creative Director Mark Harris. Based in Hanoi, Mark runs GingerWork Productions, which just celebrated its fifth birthday with a visually stunning Gatsby-esque mansion party outside the city (complete with full building projection mapping, 15 piece band and international DJ’s). Mark and his team are the creative direction and production house behind Quest Festival and, alongside commissioned production work, they run independent creative community events all year which act as a launch pad for the festival.

“By attracting and supporting creative contributors we are able to deliver grassroots projects at an international scale and quality,” says Mark. “Quest and GingerWork have grown together over the last 5 years and we are very proud of the relationship which has seen both entities grow from seedlings. Our mission for Quest is to connect & inspire creative collaborators & facilitate the creation and development of their ideas.”

With founding Director Jeremy Wellard constantly on the road supporting NGOs – working in and out of countries as wide-ranging as Afghanistan, Korea and Australia – and Business Director Hien Hoang running not one but two venues in Hanoi, including the new jazz club Soul Bar, the Quest team somehow still manage to carve out time to create and cultivate a world-renowned festival. Jeremy, who has over 15 years of experience in running music festivals in Australia and Asia, says the secret is having a shared vision, building strong relationships with local partners, and being willing to support a diverse and evolving festival team.

At the time of writing, Music Director Luke Poulson is in New Zealand talking to artists from around the world and Marketing Director Luke James is riding a bicycle across Cambodia while running a team across two continents from his laptop.

With music and performance applications coming in from as far-flung destinations as Mongolia, Poulson has his work cut out to find the perfect mix of genres and artists for Quest 2018. For this, he has a great team behind him.

“Luckily, over the years, the music team has expanded from just myself to a crack team of musical ninjas, tech crews, stage managers, an artist liaison department and a long-struggling assistant.”

Indeed, the festival would not be able to operate without the dedicated efforts of the hundreds of employees and volunteers who work behind the scenes to make Quest as magical as it is.

The festival’s growth has been deliberately slow and steady. The team have taken time each year to take risks, to observe and to learn, building and evolving from the ground up. As Jeremy says: “We have taken our own path and managed to build a festival that we run our way, which does not rely on big sponsors or brand-name artists, and is built on a core audience that wants to be part of something really special.”

And the numbers keep growing, with Quest attracting close to 5,000 revellers in 2017. And, as the team and audience expand across the globe, the more diverse and international the offerings of the festival become. With a recent lineup announcement featuring international acts from the UK, Hong Kong and Japan, it’s clear the celebration of freedom, art and creativity will be just as monumental in 2018.

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