Wake Up Call: W Hotels’ bold rewrite of what a music festival can be

You have to be careful when promised a luxury festival experience nowadays. One minute you’re proudly uploading Instagram stories and living your #bestlife, the next minute you’re stranded in The Bahamas being chased by rabid dogs, desperately downing questionable ham sandwiches, and watching through tears as your tent is used as fire fuel. Okay, maybe just be careful when you’re promised a luxury festival experience from Ja Rule. They aren’t all like that – most certainly not Wake Up Call: an interesting disruption to the general framework of a music festival by W Hotels.

W experimented with the idea of Wake Up Call back in 2016 at their Scottsdale, Arizona property, and it was obviously a big enough hit for them to continue rolling with the vision – three-days rewriting the rules of what an ambitious live music event can be, on the expansive grounds of the property with full performances from the likes of De La Soul, Mike Posner and Cee Lo Green. Zip to 2018, and iterations of Wake Up Call have taken place at W Hollywood, W Barcelona, and most recently W Bali, eagerly trading fields of muddy gumboots and bottleneck crowds for luxury digs, pool parties and table service areas. It’s the first multi-city music festival that takes place entirely on hotel property, which opens up some really cool possibilities unique to the settings.

W Bali, sans music festival, from above

Though this comes as little surprise. As a brand, W have for years sat very comfortably at the intersection of the hospitality and music industries; most importantly, they’ve done so with credibility – amongst artists, amongst labels, and most importantly, amongst guests. Combing through the stack of their many big-name guests, you’ll find that Prince once famously staged an impromptu performance at W Hollywood. The group’s luxe properties around the world also regularly host major DJ’s and live music; they partnered with Billboard to support emerging artists; and a handful of W’s now come with well-appointed recording studios – dubbed W Sound Suites – each overseen by the respective property’s music curator. The latter was an idea spurred by W’s North American Music Director Paul Blair (AKA DJ White Shadow) who is perhaps best known for producing both Born this Way and Artpop for Lady Gaga. Even W’s sister brand, Aloft, hosts an annual international band comp in partnership with MTV.

W Bali’s Sound Suite launched in 2016.

While visiting musicians and DJs, and even hotel guests (you can book lessons or just a hands-on session to make your own tracks), have made use of W Sound Suites in destinations like Barcelona and Bali, the brand has also evolved into managing its own record label, the very recently launched W Records: a logical next-step that will see W initially working with four artists over the next 12 months – the first being New York R&B singer-songwriter Amber Mark – while supporting them with recording space, video shoot locations, mixing and mastering, and distribution via live performances at W properties, streaming and vinyl production.

Obviously a very strong connection to the music world has given W access to a plethora of diverse talent for Wake Up Call. W Hollywood’s festival was headlined by the likes of Phantogram, Charli XCX, and Chromeo, while Barcelona got down with Booka Shade, Black Coffee and Martin Solveig. Bali’s Wake Up Call, the festival I attended myself, was no less impressive, albeit wildly different with dynamic acts like FKJ and Slow Magic, and headliners Tove Lo and Angus & Julia Stone.

Throw in amenities like the ritzy 24/7 “AWAY Spa” (a one hour massage was around AU$70), expansive fitness centre, and the WET Deck (basically the expansive grounds around the pool), and you’ve got a luxury, experimental music festival done exactly right.

W Bali continued as normal, with one big difference.

W Bali was business as usual during the two-day festival, and the impressively spaced schedule ensured that having live music on the grounds wasn’t as big an interruption to the everyday function of the hotel as one would expect. We still slept soundly in those endlessly comfortable guest rooms; we still woke up early to have a dip in the pool – usually tri-layered to resemble Bali’s rice paddies – and dig into the breakfast buffet at either Fire or Starfish Bloo; we still lazed around sipping cocktails, staring out at Seminyak beach from private sofas at WOO Bar; we still ducked out through the Insta-famous entry tunnel, defined by it’s arched bamboo, to explore Seminyak and it’s high density of restaurants, cafes, shop and nightlife; and those who wanted to get their hands dirty at a mixology class or sign up to W’s “FIT” program (sunrise Yoga and cardio on the beachfront, for example) could easily do so each day.

The only difference was that the two generous stages set up, one by the WET Deck and one over at WOO Bar, were pumping with live music from the early afternoon to well into the night (Saturday finished around 4am at WOO Bar’s cavernous underground club). EDM and house dominated throughout both days, from DJ’s like Nightmare on Wax and Sam Feldt while the night belonged to live artists, bringing in various other textures like FKJ’s jazz-infused R&B, Angus & Julia Stone’s melodic folk, and Slow Magic’s hypnotic tribal rhythms, the latter reaching a high-point with a percussive live remix of Blink 182’s “All the Small Things”.

FKJ was a highlight of the two-day festival.

The sold-out crowd ate up every last bit, and I’m not just talking about the plentiful food stalls that framed WET Deck, but the entire vibe of the festival. Not in many years have I been to a new event so infectiously fun and easy-going as this one, and whether people were throwing shapes on the makeshift dancefloor in front of the main stage, or partying in the pool with cocktails in hand, it seemed everyone was having the time of their life.

WOO Bar hosted the festival’s second stage.

The rapture was, of course, in no small part thanks to the unconventional structure of the festival itself, and the hotel’s superlative amenities. You don’t trudge through thick mud, angrily queue for unforgettable (in a bad way) portable toilets, and fumble your way back to a tent at night. You dance on soft sand, have access the hotel’s many pristine bathrooms, and retire to a beautifully air-conditioned guest room whenever you feel like it. You might have even scored an invite to an unofficial after-party in one of the villas or suites, or just stumbled out to Seminyak to continue the vibe at one of the area’s many nightclubs (nearby Mirror Lounge is the best). Warping the expected rollout of a typical event like this reiterated that music festivals should be enjoyed, not endured. And without the usual annoyances, you were free to enjoy every second.

W Bali’s Wake Up Call was the last for 2018, but seeing as the event went from a standalone in 2016 to three festivals with different line-ups this year (there was event a package where you could fly between all three), it wouldn’t be unusual to see this as a regular W occurrence in the future, especially now that W Records has launched. They still one have one more planned as part of the current schedule, and it’ll be at the forthcoming W Dubai – The Palm which, from photos, looks to be one very unique setting for a music festival. Let’s just hope they bring it down to W Brisbane, and the forthcoming W Sydney and W Melbourne.

W Dubai – The Palm will host the next Wake Up Call sometime in 2019.

No date has been locked in for Wake Up Call at W Dubai, but keep an eye on their website for details as they are released. Note that Wake Up Call Festivals are only available to members of Marriott’s loyalty programs Starwood Preferred Guest (SPG) and Marriott Rewards, but elite membership is not a requirement, so you can simply join a program at any time, for free, to gain access to tickets.

Chris Singh

Chris Singh is the Deputy Editor of the AU review, an obsessive hip hop nerd, a whisky drinker, and a lover of all things travel. Follow him on Instagram and Twitter with @chrisdsingh.