There’s Something Indie Air Tonight

Published on 22 November 2015

Why homegrown artists are buoyed by the current wave of music festivals.

BY DAPHNE ONG

Indie music lovers in Singapore no longer have to glance enviously at glossy media shots and Instagram snaps of Coachella and Burning Man. Music festivals are popping up here with increasing regularity as organisers wise up to the burgeoning market on the island. Who hasn’t danced the night away with strobe lights overhead and sand underfoot at ZoukOut? Or bopped to the rhythms at Baybeats, the local hothouse for homegrown talents?

The advantages that music festivals have over conventional one-act concerts are quite obvious. “Festivals tend to bring in bands that we would not have had a chance to watch in a solo setting due to budget issues,” says Hayashida Ken, keyboardist and producer for Singapore electronic-pop quintet Riot !n Magenta.

POP HITS Lost Weekend is one of more than 30 acts performing at the new Neon Lights festival. PHOTO  Isaac Newtan

Arif Yohannes Atmadja, guitarist for another Singapore band, Lost Weekend, agrees. “Fans get to enjoy a wider swathe of music, get exposed to new artists and revel in the festival atmospheres. The cynic in me also wants to point out that music festivals are hugely profitable business models!”

The surge of music festivals is great for audiences and for businesses, but what does it mean for local artists? The unanimous consensus among the Singapore bands is that festivals are definitely fertilising the ground for home talents.

Even with oodles of talent teeming in the country, emerging individual artists and bands often struggle to fill seats when they take the plunge with their own concerts and recitals. With no shortage of major international acts taking big bites out of audiences’ wallets — 2015 alone saw the likes of Muse, Taylor Swift and Def Leppard lighting up our stages — Singapore bands find it hard to compete on their own.

EVERY INCH COUNTS Singapore singer Inch Chua is happy to share her work at music festivals.

THE AUDIENCE IS LISTENING

Singapore chanteuse Inch Chua, who plays in the upcoming Bliss-Out festival, points out how festivals can bring attention to artists. “They generally expose the artist to a bigger audience. It’s like a physical compilation album to the audience, where a music lover gets to sample as many acts as possible. Any opportunity to share my music is a privilege. So I’m always very happy to play.”

Lost Weekend, having risen from newbie obscurity to a rapidly growing fan base, are among the bands who benefited from playing to festival crowds. Referencing the upcoming inaugural Neon Lights festival where they will be performing, the band points out that someone attending a festival to catch their favourite international indie musician — say Battles — may be pleasantly surprised to find they also enjoy the music of a local indie act like the Cashew Chemists, for instance.

Riot !n Magenta is a vivid example of how festivals nurture local bands from sapling to tree. “Music festivals give local artists a platform and also first-hand experience performing in front of bigger crowds,” says spokesperson Ken. Born from Baybeats, the band is slated to perform at next year’s St Jerome’s Laneway Festival, one of the biggest indie music festivals in the region.

HOUSE MUSIC Rocktronica duo Ratatat get into the act at Neon Lights festival.

STAR PRESENCE

Performing side by side with established acts from around the world also drives Singaporean artists to up their game. The Skechers Sundown Festival, which played on 21 November, had a lineup of bands from six countries, including Singapore. Neon Lights will see an extensive star-studded lineup that includes headliners like American disco legend CHIC featuring guitarist Nile Rodgers, Damien Rice, Rachael Yamagata and many more from across the globe.

Chua shares her take on playing alongside other acts: “It feels great and challenges me in a different way. It’s about being able to play and put up a show at an international level. It definitely spurs me to do better.”

ACROBATIC FEATS Champion street performers, The Lords of Strut, will be defying gravity at Neon Lights.  PHOTO  Conor Buckley/Piquant Media

“It’s always good to be able to meet and interact with musicians from foreign shores,” muse the members of Lost Weekend. “We enjoy hearing about other music scenes and there’s always something to learn from them.”

Some festivals are innovating and going beyond just the music. The Bliss-Out festival combines yoga and music to offer participants, well, a blissful evening. It starts with yoga sessions, after which Los Angeles-based indie electronic band The Naked and Famous will take over alongside Chua’s fresh sounds.

The much-anticipated Neon Lights festival features not just an impressive lineup of international and local bands, it also boasts an array of arts activities. Visual and performance artists are getting into the act with drama and movement, zentai, installations, stand-up comedy, spoken word, and more. Even kids get to be a part of it with a dedicated arts and crafts workshop.

If Shakespeare had lived in our times, he might have said something like, “If music be the food of love, rock on!” Independent music is fed by love; the independent music scene is fed by festivals. “The biggest advantage is that they get people excited about music again,” shares Arif. Chua agrees: “It adds vibrancy to the industry. Many years ago, the options weren’t even there, especially for the indie music scene. The industry has come very far.”

Music Menu

Indie music festivals to check out.

NEON LIGHTS

WHEN 28 & 29 Nov

WHERE Fort Canning Green & Gate

WHO Damien Rice, Rachael Yamagata, UNKLE Sounds, Nouvelle Vague, Lost Weekend, plus many more

WEBSITE www.neonlights.sg

BLISS-OUT

WHEN 12 Dec

WHERE The Meadow, Gardens by the Bay

WHO Inch Chua, The Naked and Famous

WEBSITE www.blissout.com.sg

ST JEROME’S LANEWAY FESTIVAL

WHEN 30 Jan 2016

WHERE The Meadow, Gardens by the Bay

WHO Battles, Big Scary, Hudson Mohawke, Cashew Chemists, Riot !n Magenta, and many more

WEBSITE singapore.lanewayfestival.com

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