Top dance music festival Ultra lands in Singapore with DJ Kygo, biggest name in EDM

Mega music festival Ultra debuts in Singapore on Sept 10 and 11

A mostly empty 30,000 sq m parcel of land at Bayfront Avenue near Marina Bay Sands houses just a nondescript Singapore Power building.

But next weekend, the atmosphere here will be electric, when the space is transformed to host what could be one of the largest music festivals Singapore has ever seen.

Ultra, one of the most iconic music festivals in the world, is debuting its Singapore edition on Sept 10 and 11, a first for South-east Asia. Japan and South Korea are the only other Asian countries to have played host to the full-fledged version of the festival.

Ultra was founded in 1997 by executive producer Russell Faibisch and the first Ultra music festival ran in 1999. This year's Ultra Miami, the flagship held in March every year, drew 165,000 people. Including Singapore, there are now 10 full-fledged Ultra Worldwide festivals, in countries such as Croatia and Brazil. There are also nine smaller-scale Road to Ultra festivals in cities like Bangkok and Manila. 

Ultra Singapore's executive producer, Mr Alex Chew, 31, says securing the event was a massive coup.

"When we announced it was official on April 1, people thought it was a joke," he says.

Now, he and his team have to pull it off.

  • BOOK IT / ULTRA SINGAPORE

  • WHERE: Ultra Park, 1 Bayfront Avenue (next to Marina Bay Sands Hotel Tower 1)

    WHEN: Sept 10 and 11

    ADMISSION: US$115 or S$157 (one-day general admission), US$130 (one-day premium general admission), US$190 (two-day general admission), US$225 (two-day premium general admission). Go to www.ultrasingapore.com

Held just a week before the annual Formula One Singapore Grand Prix, Ultra Singapore will feature the who's who of the electronic dance music world, including Norwegian superstar DJ-producer Kygo and Canada's deadmau5. Popular names and festival stalwarts such as Axwell and Ingrosso, Afrojack and DJ Snake are set to feature alongside elusive AmericanChinese producer Zhu and techno world doyenne Nicole Moudaber.

Home-grown names such as upand-coming DJ-producer Myrne, rapper Shigga Shay and The Sam Willows are also getting stage time.

Almost 50 artists are playing at the event.

There will be three stages - the Main stage, Live stage and Resistance stage - and up to 20,000 partygoers are expected a day.

Comparatively, ZoukOut, which is one of the region's largest dance music festivals held in December annually, drew 45,000 over two days last year in its 15th edition.

Mr Chew and his team are expecting people from more than 60 countries, flying in just for Ultra. Ticket sales are "moving well", he says.

He adds: "I don't think there's been a line-up this big in Singapore. It's monstrous."

The 84m-long Main stage will have the same technical production of Ultra Miami's colossal, LED- covered stages. It will also be purpose-built for Singapore. "That's what people look forward to and we can't disappoint them," says Mr Chew.

It is a mammoth task for him and his business partner Raj Datwani, 34, who have been working on the project for almost two years now.

This will be the first large-scale festival for the duo, who are behind one-Michelin-starred restaurant The Kitchen at Bacchanalia as well as executive business lounge Madison Rooms.

Mr Chew admits it is a big step up, after having brought in the smaller one-day event, Road To Ultra, last year. It saw DJs Skrillex, Alesso and Nicky Romero play to an 11,000strong crowd at Sands Expo and Convention Centre on Sept 19.

He declines to reveal how much was spent on producing Ultra Singapore, but says the Miami team was involved in everything, from stage to sound design.

Ultra Singapore will be held from noon to 10.30pm daily because of licensing regulation. Ultra Korea and Ultra Japan also typically end before midnight.

Mr Chew declines to reveal how long the contract lasts, but says he intends to run Ultra here for "a long time more".

Now that the groundwork has been laid and the stages are going up, he says: "To see a year's worth of work really being built in front of you now, it's very exciting."


Main stage
Kygo

Call it a homecoming of sorts.

On Sept 11, his 25th birthday, Norwegian DJ and producer Kygo, electronic dance music's (EDM) biggest name at the moment, will be playing his maiden show in Singapore, where he was born.

"Singapore was where I was born, so it's a very special place for me and I'm excited to go back," he tells The Straits Times in a telephone interview from Bergen, Norway, where he lives.

His parents spent three years here when his father worked in the maritime business, selling technical equipment for big ships. Since his family moved back to Norway when he was 11/2 years old, he has been back thrice for personal visits.

He is coming here to helm the early evening set on the Main stage of Ultra Singapore, fresh off a massive performance at the Rio Olympic Games closing ceremony on Aug 21.

In what he describes as "the biggest performance of my life", he played the song Carry Me to a crowd of almost 80,000 at Maracana Stadium in Rio de Janeiro and millions more via television broadcast.

He admits it was a lot of pressure. "It's something I never thought I'd get the opportunity to do... to be there was very unreal," he says, still sounding overwhelmed by the experience.

Kygo, whose real name is Kyrre Gorvell-Dahll, made a breakthrough in the EDM scene with his 2014 release of the track Firestone, which catapulted him to international fame. With the tune, he was also the fastest artist to hit one billion streams on Spotify for a song.

The popularity of the sub-genre tropical house, with its pan pipes, steel drums and beach vibes, is often credited to him. Its sound has permeated much of pop music in the past year, in everything from Justin Bieber's What Do You Mean? to Sia's Cheap Thrills.

As the poster boy for the tropical house movement, he understands its merits.

"It's a very good genre because it fits in so many different settings and has a very wide appeal - a lot of people listen to it, whether they are 10- or 50-year-olds," he says.

At the same time, he wants to stretch himself artistically. "I don't just wanna make tropical house. Some of the new stuff I'm working on definitely has the tropical house feel, but is going in a new direction."

In fact, he eschews the concept of genres, saying: "I never like to put a name on my music because it's just music and genres are just everything blending into one another.

"Some of the stuff I have coming out is kind of new, so I don't even have a name for it."

The Ultra Singapore audience might get to hear some of his new material.

While he says he does not have his entire set planned, he adds: "You can definitely expect a lot of my own music and maybe a new track... I definitely have some new stuff I'm excited to show people."

He has released a minimalistic clothing line called Kygo Life, comprising mostly athletic wear and basic items such as T-shirts and sweatpants.

But he is adamant that fashion is not his second career.

"If I wanted to make money by just selling clothes, I would sell more fan merchandise... The clothing thing is just something I'm having fun with on the side. My main focus is definitely music and it's always going to be music."


Resistance stage
Nicole Moudaber

Nicole Moudaber - doyenne of deep house and techno, the elusive, darker realm of dance music - is unapologetic about the avant-garde and underground style she champions.

She compares her kind of music with the far more commercial electronic dance music (EDM): "In the supermarket, you see a copy of Picasso that you can buy for $10. Or you can go to the proper gallery and start digging more into that world and discover quality. It's up to the individual to do this and if he wants to dig deeper, he will reach us.

"A discerning artistic clubber would definitely choose to come to our stage," she says matter- of-factly.

Moudaber, who considers dance music legend Carl Cox a mentor, will be playing Ultra's closing set on the Resistance stage on Sept 10.

A fixture at some full-scale Ultra festivals around the world, the stage is typically reserved for proponents of deep house, which is probably the antithesis of commercial EDM.

"That whole commercial EDM style needs to stop because it's just not what we do and cannot be associated with what we do," she says.

EDM is going to be played on the Main stage at the event.

Moudaber, who never reveals her age, maintains that her relationship with Ultra is "fantastic". She considers the brand penetrating the Singapore market on such a big scale this year to be a promising sign.

"I think Singapore fits really well (on the dance music map), but it needs to be developed," the Nigeria-born Lebanese DJ says, speaking to The Straits Times from London, where she is based.

She last played in Singapore in February last year.

"Now, we need to bring over quality DJs and artists from all over the world, to bring the sound that we champion all over the world."

Moudaber, with her husky voice, is no stranger to the Ultra stage, having played in Miami, South Korea and all over Europe.

But be it a large festival or an intimate club crowd, she insists the intensity is exactly the same.

"At the festival, you've got to choose all the bombs and crank them out in one hour and a half. The energy you have at festivals is just tremendous,very big and you feel that energy no matter how long you play," says Moudaber, who releases her Breed EP today. It features reinterpretations of her collaboration with Skunk Anansie frontwoman Skin.

"Playing long sets in clubs is also special because it's meaningful and you connect more with the crowd and take them on a journey."


Live stage
Myrne

Since Singaporean DJ-producer Myrne signed to top record label Mad Decent less than a year ago, he has played at almost every major music festival in the region.

But his Sept 10 engagement at Ultra Singapore will be his most meaningful one yet - it is certainly his biggest here.

"This will be my first major festival in my home country, so getting the call was a dream come true," he says.

Myrne, whose real name is Manfred Lim, has been going places, having played in locations as far-flung as Mongolia, at the Hunnu Music Festival, and regularly going to Indonesia and Australia for club shows.

His largest show to date is last December's Djakarta Warehouse Project in the Indonesian capital, where he filled in for American DJ Dillon Francis at the last minute on the Mad Decent stage, playing to a crowd of more than 7,000.

But, among the big-name festivals around the world, Ultra is special to Lim, 21.

"When I was getting into production in 2011, while I was in junior college, I'd stay up watching all my idols performing on these stages and try to improve my own production," he says.

Three months ago, he played at Ultra Korea on the Underground stage - reserved for more niche artists - to 2,000 people, many of whom were, surprisingly, familiar with his material.

"A lot of people knew my songs, and to turn down the filter and hear them chanting and singing over Tiger Blood was crazy," he says of the track, a collaboration with Hawaiian producer Graves, which has racked up more than a million plays on SoundCloud.

Ultra Singapore is going to require the sum of all his experiences. "For festivals as big as this, it's probably going to take all the experiences I've had around the world," he says.

Playing an hour-long afternoon set, he will be sharing the Live stage with the likes of Korean-American rapper Jay Park and electronic musician Zhu.

While Lim does not usually plan his sets beforehand, preferring to react to the vibe of the crowd, he says this set will have a lot of unreleased songs.

"Crowds at small shows are more open-minded and ready to accept something more unconventional. But I feel every artist should branch out and give people what they need to hear, not what they want to hear. That's one of my philosophies as a DJ and artist."

Lim has just started reading social sciences at the Singapore Management University and trying to balance school and gigs is a challenge he is willing to tackle head-on. "I'll probably bring my textbooks to the festival."


Correction note: This story has been updated for clarity.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 02, 2016, with the headline 'Get ready to party'. Print Edition | Subscribe