Electronic dance music festival Ultra Singapore was a gargantuan undertaking for its main man Alexander Chew, the festival’s executive producer and partner.
After a serendipitous meeting with the Miami originators of Ultra Music Festival, the savvy 33-year-old entrepreneur landed the contract for Road to Ultra in 2015, a one-day, single stage event of the main festival.
“People were hungry” for music events and after all, he notes, “Our competitors had already been educating the market for years about this genre of music, so it was easier for us to come in than start from scratch.”
The event sold out, drawing about 11,000 party-goers from across the region, from countries such as Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand. That success convinced the event’s pioneers that a full two-day Ultra festival, with three stages, could be held the following year.
Launching the full-fledged version of the internationally renowned event — it drew 45,000 in 2016 and 47,000 last year — called for savvy and coordination (its budget is so big, he can’t reveal the numbers as there’s a non-disclosure agreement).
First, there was the matter of securing the venue at Bayfront Avenue, and sewing up sponsorship deals. He also had to get EDM headliners with enough clout such as Alesso, deadmau5 and Kygo to draw crowds.
The set-up itself was huge, calling for elaborate performance stages and pyrotechnics to generate that mega-wow factor. Ultra’s team also had to find security and tentage vendors and food and beverage operators to cater for the huge audience.
On the upside, the timing was right, as EDM’s popularity was cresting in the region, taking its place on Singapore’s festival calendar together with the long-running ZoukOut, Mosaic Music Festival and the St Jerome’s Laneway Festival.
Turning play into work
Mr Chew is no stranger to big bashes, specialising in monthly pop-up restaurant parties from 2011 to 2012 with his business partner Mr Raj Datwani. In 2013, the two opened their own fine dining restaurant, Bacchanalia, holding nighttime parties there. They also organised Formula One weekend parties between 2012 and 2015, which attracted up to 1,000 people.
Even so, on the day itself, he was confronted with snaking queues for wristband collection, and credit card machines at food and beverage stalls that were slowing down transactions. He and his team stayed till 4.30am the next day to create extra bar counters for bottled water and beer, set up additional entry points, and hired more staff.
He recalls: “It was one of the most depressing days for me. We worked on this for 18 months and I felt like I’d let my partners in Miami down. Fortunately, they were very encouraging. That was one of the days that will haunt and drive me forever. Credit goes to the team who stayed late and were back on site at 10am the next day.”
All that effort paid off and in 2017, the festival went off without a hitch.
“Seeing the expressions on people’s faces — 20,000 people at the closing set of Axwell — made us realise that we made this happen. This is what we live for,” he says.
At the next Ultra Singapore in June, he expects a 50,000-strong crowd and plans to up the ante by giving festival-goers a more memorable experience.