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Local music takes centre stage: Four festivals this month including alternative music fiesta Baybeats

There are four live music festivals taking place this month alone - from alternative music festival Baybeats to We Love Jazz Party, for lovers of all things jazz

Pack your drinking water and dancing shoes. July is the month for the live gig fan, packed as it is with four music festivals.

Two major events are happening this weekend alone.

The Esplanade's 16th edition of its alternative music festival Baybeats, considered the mother of all local music festivals, takes place at various venues within the arts centre tonight, tomorrow and Sunday.

Expect to see home-grown stalwarts such as Amateur Takes Control and emerging bands such as FXTRT rock the stage with new material and old favourites.

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The other biggie this weekend is 100 Festival, which features 100 Singapore-based acts performing at the former Bedok Town Secondary School.

The festival will continue over the next two weekends.

Here, in the school hall and library, you can check out a wide range of emerging and established acts - literally a hundred of them, including indie bands, singer-songwriters, hip-hop and electronic acts.

  • BOOK IT / BAYBEATS 2017

  • WHERE: Various venues within the Esplanade, 1 Esplanade Drive

    WHEN: Today, tomorrow and Sunday, from 6pm

    ADMISSION: Free

    INFO: www.esplanade.com/baybeats


    BOOK IT / 100 FESTIVAL

    WHERE: Former Bedok Town Secondary School, 232 Bedok North Street 3

    WHEN: Today, tomorrow and Sunday, July 21 to 23 and July 28 to 30, 3 to 10pm

    ADMISSION: Free

    INFO: www.facebook.com/100bandsfestival


    BOOK IT / WE LOVE JAZZ PARTY 2017 [UNITY: DIFFERENT, TOGETHER!]

    WHERE: The Great Escape, 6001 Beach Road, 05-00, Golden Mile Tower

    WHEN: July 22 and 23, from 2pm

    ADMISSION: From $25 for a one-day concession ticket, from $35 for a one-day standard ticket. Available online at wljp2017.peatix.com


    BOOK IT / IGNITE! MUSIC FESTIVAL 2017

    WHERE: Republic Polytechnic Lawn, Republic Polytechnic, 9 Woodlands Avenue 9

    WHEN: July 28 and 29, from 4.30pm

    ADMISSION: Free

    INFO: www.ignitemusicfest.com

The line-up was programmed by events outfit Rockstar Collective, whose founder Razi Razak says "there can never be too much music".

In this "more is more" environment, quality may be uneven, but you may want to watch out for seasoned acts such as punk band Generation 69 as well as discover rising names such as 16-man band Motus.

The two other festivals taking place this month are a jazz festival and another one organised by Republic Polytechnic.

In its second edition, We Love Jazz Party involves more than 100 artists, including home-grown veteran and jazz violinist Julai Tan, Thai outfit Sunny Trio & Natt Buntita and Singapore-based musician Aynsley Green.

It will also feature Singapore's first inter-school jazz competition, pitting musicians from institutions such as Lasalle College of the Arts, Singapore Polytechnic and the National University of Singapore Jazz Band against one another.

The event takes place at The Great Escape at Golden Mile Tower on July 22 and 23.

We Love Jazz Party was inaugurated last year as an intimate, casual event to mark SJ50, the 50th year of diplomatic relations between Singapore and Japan.

The artistic director of its organising committee, jazz stalwart Aya Sekine, says this year's edition was expanded "to push our mission of strengthening the community and introduce the world of Singapore jazz to a larger audience".

Finally, in the last weekend in July, there is Ignite! Music Festival, an annual music festival at Republic Polytechnic on July 28 and 29.

The 10th edition of Ignite!, organised by Republic Polytechnic students and alumni as well as the school's The Republic Cultural Centre, takes place this month to avoid the exams and school vacation period.

The line-up includes rapper Shigga Shay, R&B and electronic singer Sam Rui as well as alternative rock outfit Tell Lie Vision, whose members were from the polytechnic.

The explosion of music festivals in July was not planned.

Esplanade programmer Cecilia Chow says: "We do stay in touch with other festival organisers to reduce the possibility of affecting one another and find ways to amplify and cross-market one another's efforts.

"We will continue to observe the overall calendar of the music community in planning for future editions of Baybeats."

The bonanza this year means some acts are playing in more than one festival. Indie band Subsonic Eye, for example, will play at Baybeats and Ignite!.

Guitarist Daniel Castro Borces, 19, says: "It's so surreal and at the same time nerve-racking. We're still not that used to playing at these large-scale events and stages, so we probably need to drink a bit more than usual before playing.

"But yeah, it's such a blessing to have the opportunity to play both events."


Guitar-riffing gongfu 'masters'

Mix a love of wuxia series The Return Of The Condor Heroes, metal bands such as Pantera and System Of A Down and funk-rock outfits including Red Hot Chili Peppers and you get home-grown band Supersect.

A weird combination perhaps. But that is the unique, genre-defying groove that the young quintet work in.

In their live shows, they are often decked out in martial arts costumes from period dramas.

One of the tunes in their debut album, which they launched on Sunday with a gig at The Substation, is a rap-metal cover of The Sar-Vivor rap, a 2003 song originally sung by Channel 5 comedy character Phua Chu Kang about the Sars outbreak.

Another song, Genocide Extermination, lists all the "petty things that make us angry", including finding a regular fry among their curly fries and people who cut queue.

The idiosyncratic millennial concerns could be due to their age. The band members, all 23, are drummer Billy Chua, bass player Nicholas Jyitung Wong, frontman Nigel Poo and guitarists Pan Zai'En and Wong Zhi Hao.

All of them graduated from Singapore Polytechnic's Diploma in Music and Audio Technology department in 2014, the same year the band were formed.

Their brand of humorous lyrics coupled with intricate guitar riffs and groovy rhythms won them the Noise Singapore Award last year after going through the National Arts Council's Noise Music Mentorship programme.

On the Phua Chu Kang-inspired song, bass player Wong says: "That song was huge when we were in Primary 3, it was such a big part of our childhood."

Their songwriting process is intuitive and all-embracing.

He adds: "We don't plan and say 'let's write a funny song', we just don't have a filter and we don't go 'hey no, that's not an appropriate idea'."

While they also perform with other bands - Chua, for example, is also part of synthpop band Disco Hue - they decided to play together as Supersect because of their love of heavier genres such as metal and rock.

Their set at Baybeats this year takes place at the Arena Stage at the Esplanade Outdoor Theatre tomorrow at 8.50pm.

This will be the second time the band will perform at the festival. They played last year at the Open Stage, a platform for new bands.

Getting to play on a bigger and more prominent stage this year is a dream come true, says Chua.

"As kids, we all went to Baybeats thinking 'I want to play on that stage someday'," he says.

"We were inspired by the bands that we saw at Baybeats and now it's our turn to inspire others. It's like coming full circle."


Obedient Wives Club in rare showcase this year

Arthouse films inspired the third and latest EP by fuzz-pop band Obedient Wives Club.

Titled Cinematica, the five-song release is influenced by their love for films by auteurs such as French- Swiss director Jean-Luc Godard and American director John Waters.

Moody, lush and atmospheric, songs such as Baby Bye Bye and Moonlight Rendezvous hark back to the 1960s and could well be a soundtrack to films from that era.

To experience more of their new material, head to their set at the Arena stage at the Esplanade Outdoor Theatre tonight, where the EP will be launched.

The band, cheekily named after a cult-like group aimed at teaching women how to please their husbands better, have come a long way since their first showcase in 2012 at Baybeats under the festival's Budding Bands mentorship programme.

Since then, the band have played shows in Singapore and Malaysia and have built up a discography that includes several singles and two EPs.

Drummer Lennat Mak, 37, says: "On our earlier recordings, the songs sounded so fuzzy and lo-fi that you can hardly hear the vocals.

"We've cleaned up a lot for the new EP, there's less fuzz because we want to let the harmonies take centre stage."

While early recordings were low- budget affairs, some of which were recorded by themselves, the band, which also comprise singer YinQi Lee, guitarist Keith Tan, guitarist-singer Cherie Ko and bassist Sulaiman Supian, went for a polished sound in Cinematica.

They enlisted producers such as home-grown indie pioneer Patrick Chng, American producer Brad Wood, known for his work with alternative rock acts such as Smashing Pumpkins and Liz Phair, as well as American mastering engineer Hans Dekline, who has worked with prominent acts such as Pixies and Snoop Dogg.

Most of the songs are written by Lee and Tan, who are married to each other.

Mak, who also works as a marketing manager at Warner Music and is manager to Ko's other indie band Tomgirl, is looking forward to Baybeats as she has a long history with the festival.

Over the years, she has performed with other bands such as ETC and Midnight Marvel.

She also helped this year's batch of budding bands by conducting a publicity workshop for them.

The Baybeats set tonight might be the only time Obedient Wives Club fans will be able to see the band play live for a while.

Says Mak: "We don't have any more shows for the rest of the year, so we're going to make this one special."


Being in a band is about marketing too

Being in a band is a lot more than just making music, as the members of home-grown indie band Subsonic Eye discovered in the past year.

Other considerations are their image, the branding that comes from the design of album covers, as well as how to reach out to audiences effectively on social media.

Guitarist Daniel Castro Borces and singer Nur Wahidah, both 19, say participating in mentorship programmes opened their eyes to different aspects of being an artist.

They joined the National Arts Council's Noise Music Mentorship last year and are part of Baybeats' Budding Bands initiative this year.

Wahidah says: "We care more about design and stuff than before.

"We're also more careful about what we post on Instagram. Previously, we'd just put up random posts which we thought were funny, but now we're more cautious about putting up posts that are relevant."

Borces adds that the band's whimsical artwork and design reflect their "dreamy-ish" music. Their Instagram posts now also include information on their upcoming live performances.

The two-year-old outfit, which released debut album Strawberry Feels in April, will be performing at two upcoming festivals - Baybeats at the Arena, Esplanade Outdoor Theatre tomorrow, and on July 28, the first day of Ignite! Music Festival 2017 at Republic Polytechnic.

The band also comprise guitarist Jared Lim, 18, bassist Spencer Tan, 19, and drummer Lucas Tee, 20.

All of them are currently studying music and performance-related courses in Singapore Polytechnic and Lasalle College of the Arts.

The band's unique sound is a mix of each member's distinctive taste in music.

Wahidah takes her cues from Icelandic art-pop icon Bjork while Borces and Lim are influenced by dreampop and shoegaze outfits such as British band Slowdive and American outfit Beach Fossils, while Tan and Tee are into math-rock, jazz and R&B.

Signed to home-grown music label Middle Class Cigars, the band have performed at high-profile events such as Singapore Biennale 2016 and did an opening set for British band Yuck's gig here last year.

With a show in Hong Kong in the works, the band are hoping to play more shows outside of Singapore.

Wahidah says: "People (from all over the world) are discovering our songs online and we want to play live for them."


Singapore's oldest jazz musician

At 92 years old, jazz violinist Julai Tan is possibly Singapore's oldest surviving jazz musician who is still playing gigs.

His upcoming performance at The Great Escape on July 23 will be one of the highlights of the We Love Jazz Party, a two-day music festival that celebrates Singapore's jazz community.

Billed as an "SG Jazz Legend", he will perform and take part in a discussion about his seven-decade- long music career.

Soft spoken but looking dapper in a batik shirt, Tan tells The Straits Times: "I am very happy when I pick up the violin. The music just flows through me."

Tan, who also composes and arranges music, performs two to three times a year at corporate shows and private events such as birthday parties.

At We Love Jazz Party, Tan will be accompanied by a group of musicians that include pianist Sammin Ang, and his set list will feature his unique rendition of Indonesian standard Bengawan Solo.

"I play it in a jazz style but it retains its Indonesian flavour," he adds in the interview at his three-room HDB apartment in Farrer Park, where he lives with his 73-year-old wife.

The couple have no children but Tan has a step-daughter from a previous marriage in the United States.

Tan says he got into jazz during the pre-war years. He studied the violin from Filipino musician Marcello Anciano.

In the 1950s, he joined the Singapore radio orchestra, dubbed the Malayainnaires, and was often seen playing live after Radio Television Singapore started airing television broadcasts in the 1960s.

He moved to London to be the only Singaporean musician in the BBC orchestra from 1964 to 1967 and returned to Singapore in the late 1970s.

"You've got to mix around more with professionals, that's where musicians can learn. When you meet more people, that's where you get ideas," he says.

In 2010, he was given the Lifetime Achievement Award at the 15th Composers and Authors Society of Singapore (Compass) Awards.

He performs with his trusty violin, which he has been playing for more than 30 years.

He does not know the brand or model, but says that it was gifted to him by an American fan after his original violin was stolen from a car.

The violin's former owner told him that the instrument is more than 100 years old.

He does not see himself hanging up the violin anytime soon and says that he is open to any gig offers that come his way.

"It's the love of music that keeps me going on and on."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 14, 2017, with the headline 'Step to the beat'. Print Edition | Subscribe