Festival review: Great Spy Experiment's Saiful Idris takes centre stage as frontman of The E's

Singer-songwriter Saiful Idris, once fronted The Great Spy Experiment, one of Singapore's most popular indie bands, until they disbanded last year.
Singer-songwriter Saiful Idris, once fronted The Great Spy Experiment, one of Singapore's most popular indie bands, until they disbanded last year. PHOTO: THE E'S

Baybeats 2016

Friday & Saturday (June 24 and 25)/Esplanade outdoor stages

When the audience jumped up from their seats to dance and sing along to home-grown rock 'n' roll band Cashew Chemists at music festival Baybeats last Saturday(June25), it was an affirmation of how far the band had come since they last played the annual festival in 2012.

Four years ago, they were one of the new names under the festival's budding bands programme. Their return set showed how much their music had matured and the packed Arena (Esplanade Outdoor Theatre) was proof that the band had blossomed to become crowd-pullers.

Witnessing the growth of home-grown music talents has become a hallmark of Baybeats, the Esplanade's alternative music festival, now in its 15th year.

Over the weekend, a large number of the 35 acts in this year's line-up were established Singapore acts, such as indie/pop-punk outfit Plainsunset and post-rock quintet I Am David Sparkle, as well as upcoming ones, including synth-pop band Disco Hue and hardcore group Isles, both part of this year's budding bands programme.

In the case of The E's, they were both a new act and yet not - an extremely popular local rock outfit in a new guise and would probably not be seen again for some time.

So a little rain was hardly enough to deter fans from hopping over to the Arena stage on Friday, the first night of the three-day festival to catch The E's perform, with some listeners even standing willingly in the drizzle at the sides of the packed covered space.

After all, this may be the only chance that they ever get to see The E's play live - a point that singer-songwriter Saiful Idris made in the middle of the 40-minute set.

"I really intended The E's to be an online-only project until Baybeats called, and I'll probably keep it that way. You may never see The E's on a stage like this again," he said during the set that closed Friday's Baybeats line-up.

Saiful, once fronted The Great Spy Experiment, one of Singapore's most popular indie bands, until they disbanded last year.

The songs he released under The E's were tunes that he had written from as far back as 2009 and which were intended for The Great Spy Experiment's sophomore album Litmus (2013).

Backing him up for The E's are guitarist Tan Shung Sin, also formerly from The Great Spy Experiment; drummer Martin Kong from Caracal; and guitarist Tan Peng Sing and bassist David Siow, both from indie-rock band Take Two.

When Saiful suddenly said that the band would be doing one cover song, fans cheered loudly, knowing full well that it would be a Great Spy Experiment song.

One particularly eager male fan ran up to the front of the stage, dancing all on his own and mouthing the lyrics as Saiful delivered a soulful cover of the song Late Night Request from Great Spy's 2007 album, Flower Show Riots.

Earlier in the evening, rock bands False Plaintiff and Wicked Aura got crowds bobbing their heads over at the outdoor Powerhouse stage.

False Plaintiff singer Brandon Tanoto put in so much energy jumping around on stage as he sang songs such as The Journalist, that he had to catch his breath during the breaks when making his thank-you speeches.

On Saturday, I Am David Sparkle played an expansive set that encompassed crushingly heavy riffs as well as moody and ethereal build-ups, closing the Powerhouse (Esplanade Waterfront Carpark) with a late set that ended close to midnight.

Earlier on the same stage, Japanese rock trio Unclose showcased a bizarre set. Singer and bassist Rei put on a dramatic performance, peppering their set with monologues and alternating between manic and melodic singing, while guitarist Naoki and drummer Yu-Ra played passionately while wearing pimped-out gas masks.

There were some new tweaks to the festival this year, such as the addition of a fourth stage, the Open Stage (Esplanade Forecourt Garden), for open-mic performances by undiscovered acts such as signer-songwriter Ethel Yap and grunge band Lula The Magic Queen.

The Powerhouse stage, the festival's largest platform, has also been moved slightly and was set up at the Esplanade's waterfront carpark. Still, the sizes of the stage and audience area seemed to be unchanged.

Its old location nearer to the Makansutra Gluttons Bay has now been taken over by a wider variety of food and beverage options such as Old Chang Kee food trucks and popsicle stands.

On the Chillout stage at the Esplanade concourse, the proceedings were more subdued but not less heartfelt as singer-songwriters Ferry and Nicholas Chim separately performed two sets each.

Chim, who had just returned from touring Germany, made audiences laugh as he recounted stories from his trip before singing songs such as Overboard and Under Your Scar, taken from his latest EP, The Greatest Enemy (2016).

The festival continues tonight (June 26) with performances by acts in the festival's current budding bands programme, including metal band hrvst and Your Sister's Postman, folk singer-songwriter The Little Giant and Australian pop-punk band The Dirt Radicals.