Local bands have their day at Baybeats

Mix of old and new acts to perform at annual free music festival Baybeats

It is that time of the year again, when fans congregate at the Esplanade for Baybeats, the biggest music event here to feature mostly bands and artists from the homegrown alternative music scene.

The 15th edition of the annual free music festival, organised by the Esplanade and with performances at three stages around the arts centre, starts today and goes on till Sunday.

In the line-up are 35 acts that also include regional talents from Hong Kong, Japan, Malaysia and Indonesia, and genres on display run the gamut from indie rock and synth-pop to folk and posthardcore.

These include returning favourites such as post-rock juggernauts I Am David Sparkle, which will play their first Baybeats set in 11 years, and indie/pop-punk veterans Plainsunset, which will play their final Baybeats show.

As in past years, the festival is also a platform for new and rising acts to shine.


  • WHERE: Various venues at the Esplanade

    WHEN: Today, from 6.40pm; tomorrow, from 5pm; Sunday, from 5pm


    INFO: For the full line-up and timings, go to www.baybeats.com

Eight upcoming bands, such as rock quartet Koji and sludge metal trio hrvst, which have gone through mentorships with scene veterans in the festival's Budding Bands programme, will perform. The initiative is part of the festival's Budding programmes, which include mentorships for young photographers, writers and video artists.

Away from the main stages, there will be music-related discussions at the Observation Deck (Esplanade Festival Corner), merchandise and music booths at the Baybeats x Bandwagon Festival Village (Esplanade Lawn) as well as a new open-mic platform, Open Stage, for aspiring singers.

Nicholas Chim

For home-grown singer-songwriter Nicholas Chim, his two sets at Baybeats tonight will be like a homecoming .

"It will feel like a family reunion of sorts. Baybeats was the biggest stage I performed on when I began," says Chim, who has performed in previous editions of the festival with now-defunct indie rock band Vertical Rush.

"Through the years, I still see a lot of old friends turn up to watch the bands and catch up with everyone."

The 32-year-old indie-folk singer has been building up his name as one of the scene's most prominent troubadours in recent years. His heartfelt songs are found in two albums, I Have Damned Every Moment Over (2009), Forgiefan (2011) as well as his latest work, The Greatest Enemy EP, released last month.

He also does regular tours overseas. In the past month, for example, he trekked across Germany playing at events such as university festivals and intimate concert venues.

"I think the overseas shows have helped me to mature as an artist, more than performing every Friday at the same bar ever could," says the bachelor.

"I've had to perform my best in situations you can't expect in Singapore, from the basement of an abandoned bakery filled with cigarette smoke to an outdoor stage in bitter, cold air while being terribly sick, and it's that experience that makes you grow."

Chim credits his growing-up years in church for his early exposure to music. At the age of 12, he picked up the guitar and started writing tunes.

"Everything I've written comes from events and people in my life. There's this constant internal debate and such events serve to trigger my mind to put melodies and lyrics together."

Despite securing a spot in Ngee Ann Polytechnic's Film, Sound & Video course after his national service, he decided to study music at Lasalle College of the Arts instead.

"At that time in Singapore, making music your career wasn't so readily accepted. My friends and family were concerned about whether I would be able to take care of myself doing music. After showing them how much I wanted this, I think everyone accepted the idea."

Besides his works, he is also keen on helping younger musicians here and collaborated with Noise Singapore Award winner Jaime Wong on her debut EP last year.

Baybeats audience can expect to hear the stories behind his confessional tunes.

"That's never been easy for me, talking about those things and feeling vulnerable. But I'm learning to be comfortable with that. You might cry, you might even feel bad for something you've done, but in the end, I hope the music takes that weight off your chest."

Eddino Abdul Hadi

• Nicholas Chim performs at the Chillout Stage (Esplanade Concourse) today at 7.50 and 9.50pm.

Wicked Aura

In the last 13 years, percussion rock troupe Wicked Aura went from busking on Orchard Road to performing around the world at venues such as Times Square in New York.

Tonight, the 14-man group - known for their boisterous live sets - will close Baybeats' biggest stage, the Powerhouse, as well as release their sophomore album, Beginning The End.

Frontman Idham Budiman, or Budi as he is commonly known, says their early busking days have made them seasoned performers who are ready to rock any crowd.

"The sidewalk is a very unforgiving place. It taught us the mechanics of live performance... and how to excite a seemingly dead crowd," the 43-year-old bachelor says.

"We never believed in that difficult audience phenomenon. If you're gonna play a rock 'n' roll show, it's your responsibility to speak to your audience and you better be breaking your back giving all you've got."

While their early tunes were more rhythm-based instrumentals driven by Afro-Brazilian percussions, on Beginning The End, the band fully embrace the mix of rock, funk, pop and electronica that they have been flirting with in recent years.

Adding Budi's singing parts as well as instruments such as guitars, bass and synthesisers allowed them to "unleash all the pent-up rock and pop sensibilities in us ageing counterculture kids", he says. The result is a multi-layered, eclectic sound.

The title of their latest album is about "flirting with death, yet feeling most alive". The album artwork shows someone doing a handstand on a pile of furniture at the edge of a skyscraper's rooftop.

Originally known as Wicked Aura Batucada, the group started out as a one-off project for a performance at dance music festival ZoukOut in 2003 and comprised Budi as well as several drummers and percussionists from the home-grown independent music scene.

They had so much fun that they decided to continue by busking on the streets and playing at parties, festivals and events. Over the years, the group have also performed extensively overseas in countries such as China, Britain, South Korea, Spain and the United States.

The line-up has been fluid over the years. Its ranks include full-time musicians such as National Arts Council's Young Artist Award winner and renowned percussionist Muhammad Riduan Zalani, 31, as well as lighting engineers, a civil servant and a cafe owner.

Budi, who also directs Singapore Management University's percussion group Samba Masala, says the band are raring to play their Baybeats set, their first time performing at the festival.

He says: "We're taking this gig as if we're an unknown new band doing our best to put on a good show and gain new fans. "

Eddino Abdul Hadi

• Wicked Aura play at the Powerhouse (Esplanade Waterfront Carpark) today at 9.40pm.

Budding Bands: Disco Hue and Tell Lie Vision

For two rising names in the home-grown music scene, synthpop group Disco Hue and alternative rock act Tell Lie Vision, being part of music festival Baybeats' Budding Bands programme helped to fine-tune their approach to gigging and songcraft.

Disco Hue went through a mentorship with prolific producer Leonard Soosay, who helped define the sounds of successful Singapore indie bands such as Electrico and The Great Spy Experiment.

Band leader Auzaie Mohamad Khanafi, 23, says that Soosay's advice and guidance were crucial in helping them to get a good sound in their recordings and live shows.

"There aren't many bands who sound like us here to take reference from. Leonard gave us an idea of how the guitar should fit in with the synthesisers and make space for the vocals."

As for Tell Lie Vision, they were paired with Daniel Sassoon, a veteran in the alternative music scene who plays in progressive rock band In Each Hand A Cutlass and formerly played in Electrico and Livonia.

Guitarist Vikkash Suruchand, 24, says it was Sassoon who suggested they tweak their music by adding more vocals to back up main singer Hasif Jasman, 27.

"All of us had to download singing appSing Sharp on our phones and we used it to practise singing in key."

The Budding Bands programme, which this year also includes new acts Adir Kaisan and The Cosmic Owls, hrvst, Isles, Koji, Victoria Street and Your Sister's Postman, has been a key component of Baybeats since 2007. Each year, hundreds of new acts auditionand those that get through are mentored by scene veterans and play a set at the festival.

Besides Soosay and Sassoon, the other mentors this year are singersongwriter Bani Hidir from 53A, B-Quartet and YouthWreck; and Mr Errol Tan, co-founder of record label, artist management company and gig organiser KittyWu Records.

Disco Hue, which comprise keyboardist Auzaie, singer Sherlyn Leo, 20, guitarist Rush Ang, 22, and drummer Billy Chua, 22, were formed in 2012. The band have been building quite a buzz in recent months, thanks to videos of songs from their recently launched debut EP, Arcade, going viral online.

Besides helping them with their sound, their mentor Soosay also coached them on their stage presence and even brought the band to watch a recent gig by Rachael Yamagata at the Esplanade Concert Hall to take notes on how to interact with the audience.

Auzaie says: "Leonard taught us we shouldn't just play our songs, but should also put on a show."

Tell Lie Vision, which also include bassist Irfan Samsuri, 22, guitarist Hairul Azman, 23, and drummer Lester Chua, 21, were formed in 2012. All the members are from Republic Polytechnic's music CCA, Jammerz Arena.

While they have performed at other local music festivals such as Ignite! and 100+50 Bands, Baybeats will be a landmark gig for them.

Irfan says: "Playing at Baybeats is a milestone for us. It's a goal that we have been planning and working hard towards for a long time."

Eddino Abdul Hadi

• Disco Hue perform at the Arena (Esplanade Outdoor Theatre) tomorrow at 5.40pm, while Tell Lie Vision perform at the Powerhouse (Esplanade Waterfront Carpark) at 7.10pm today. For details on other budding band sets, go to www.esplanade.com/festivals-and- series/sites/baybeats/2016/budding-programmes/bands

The E's

A year ago, the now-defunct group The Great Spy Experiment played their swansong set at the House Of Riot gig at the Esplanade Concert Hall.

It was a teary event. The 10-year-old group, one of Singapore's most popular indie bands, disbanded to the dismay of fans. Former frontman Saiful Idris, 37, never played live again.

Till now. The charismatic yet intensely private singer-guitarist is taking the stage for a one-off gig at Baybeats, playing songs that were meant to be released under the band, but never saw the light of day.

Tonight, he will be performing these tunes under his new venture called The E's.

In March, he released an EP of songs under that mysterious monicker. He later revealed on social media that the recordings, on which he sang and played most of the instruments, were of songs that he had written as far back as 2009 and were intended for The Great Spy Experiment's second and final album, Litmus (2013).

The E's were never meant to play any live shows, he says. But his performances at Baybeats remain special to him, so when the Esplanade invited him to perform as The E's this year, he could not say no.

"But it'll probably be a one-time thing. The E's were never meant to be anything more than that."

The Great Spy Experiment were the first act here to top the Singapore iTunes digital music charts. Reasons for the band's break-up were never made public, but Saiful says it had to do with his discomfort with being in the limelight.

"The conflict between being onstage and fronting one of Singapore's most loved bands and wanting to be out of sight and out of mind was becoming too much to bear."

He says a reunion is highly unlikely as a reason for the disbanding was his "faults and issues".

He says he has not really spoken to any of his former bandmates since their farewell show, aside from guitarist Tan Shung Sin, better known as Song, who is part of The E's line-up.

Others backing him up are drummer Martin Kong from post-hardcore band Caracal as well as guitarist Tan Peng Sing and bassist David Siow, both from indie-rock band Take Two.

They will play tracks from The E's EP, Memories Of Melancholic Horses, as well as some of his unreleased songs.

Saiful also plans to sing at least one The Great Spy Experiment song, although he declines to reveal which, hinting only that it is a "personal favourite".

"I'm just looking forward to being able to share the music directly with the audience."

Eddino Abdul Hadi

•The E's perform at the Arena (Esplanade Outdoor Theatre) tonight at 10.20pm.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 24, 2016, with the headline 'Back to the Beats'. Print Edition | Subscribe