Esplanade's Mosaic returns as festival, still committed to adventurous programming

The Mosaic festival returns, albeit over a shorter duration, but its programming remains adventurous with myriad genres

The demise of the Esplanade's Mosaic series of concerts as an annual 10-day music festival in 2014 caused dismay among many discerning music fans here and in the region, who had loved the event for its adventurous programming.

While the Mosaic brand had been retained for one-off concerts - "to present music at its artistic best in an acoustically appropriate environment", according to Esplanade - its return this year in a festival format, for a shorter duration from Sept 1 to 4, is a cause for fans to celebrate.

For network consultant Jason Lim, who is looking forward to Irish singer Lisa Hannigan's first concert in Singapore at the event, the series has always been about unearthing new acts that have not played here before.

The 33-year-old says: "The Mosaic experience is always about bringing foreign undiscovered acts together and exposing them to Singapore shores.

"I've followed a few artists that I got to know about through Mosaic, such as Melody Gardot and Esperanza Spalding, and I would love to discover more through it."

When the Esplanade announced the end of Mosaic as a festival two years ago, it pointed to the "growing number of commercial concerts and festivals serving audiences" and said it was "a good time for Esplanade to look at how it can contribute to the music scene in ways that others are not or cannot".


  • WHERE: Esplanade - Theatres on the Bay, 1 Esplanade Drive

    WHEN: Next Thursday to Sept 4, various times

    ADMISSION: Ticketed gigs cost $25 to $88, with various concessions, from Sistic (go to or call 6348-5555). Other shows are free


It has since realised a festival has more impact than one-off concerts in introducing new music acts to the Singapore scene.

Programmer Melissa Poon, 26, told The Straits Times earlier this year: "While audiences have been supportive of the standalone Mosaic Music Series presentations, there is an intensity of music experience that can only be achieved when more programmes are aggregated together over a longer period. It will be a power-packed experience, a gathering of music lovers to discover or rediscover great music and artists."

Keeping true to the Mosaic brand, the shows this year feature home-grown and international acts playing myriad genres, from jazz to indie rock to folk.

Taking place in various indoor and outdoor stages in the arts centre, these include free and ticketed gigs, which start from $25.

Some acts, such as English singersongwriter Patrick Wolf, are making their Singapore debut, while acclaimed Singapore acts such as The Observatory's Leslie Low, roots rock band Cheating Sons and powerhouse jazz singer Alemay Fernandez and the Oliver von Essen Piano trio will also perform.

The Straits Times speaks to three of the acts playing ticketed shows.

Lisa Hannigan

Irish singer-songwriter Lisa Hannigan's fans sat up and took notice when she performed contemporary dance moves in her latest music video, Fall.

Alas, her fans here will not be able to see her dance live when she performs at the Esplanade Concert Hall next Friday during the Mosaic Music Weekend.

She tells The Straits Times in an e-mail interview: "I don't think I would have the coordination to dance and play at the same time. I'm not at all a dancer, but felt that it was right for the Fall video. There's something about that song in its tempo and lyrics that invites movement."

The 35-year-old's upcoming show will be her first in Singapore and is a double-bill concert with English singer-songwriter Patrick Wolf.


  • WHERE: Esplanade Concert Hall

    WHEN: Next Friday, 7.30pm

    ADMISSION: $48 to $88 from Sistic

Fall is taken off her latest and third album, At Swim, released earlier this month.

The album is shaping up to be her most acclaimed release yet. British music magazine Mojo dubbed it "a much more emotionally spooked record than either of its MOR predecessors".

The Telegraph has praised her as a "writer of great care, with an eye for an arresting image".

The songs were mostly written during her travels. "I spent a good deal of time away from home while writing this record and felt very adrift for much of it. That feeling of unease and displacement is found throughout the songs to differing extents. I got quite low at some points and sort of wrote myself out of it."

She also worked on the album with Aaron Dessner, guitarist and keyboardist of acclaimed American indie rock stalwarts The National.

"It was wonderful," she says of the collaboration process. "I heard from Aaron at a time when I was very stuck in the writing of the record and he really helped me gather momentum to finish it."

The pair wrote three songs together and she describes having Dessner interpret her music as an interesting process. "He wanted the focus to be more on rich textures than lyrical melodies, which was very different for me. I loved working with him on it and feel very proud of what we've made."

Born in Dublin, Hannigan came to prominence as a singer on fellow Irish singer-songwriter Damien Rice's artistically and commercially successful albums O (2002) and 9 (2006).

In 2008, she released her debut solo album, Sea Sew, which was nominated for both Britain's Mercury Prize and Ireland's Choice Music Prize. The follow-up, Passenger, was also nominated for the Choice Music Prize.

She is relishing the chance to play her new material live on a tour around the world. "I love playing live and am very excited about getting back on the road, particularly if that road is leading to places I haven't yet been, like Singapore."

Patrick Wolf

Singer- songwriter Patrick Wolf. PHOTO: ESPLANADE

British singer-songwriter Patrick Wolf does not want to perform his concert here at Esplanade's Mosaic Music Weekend next Friday like a "travelling businessman".

"I was looking for places (in Singapore) to go to because we're going to stay for a week," says the 33-year-old, explaining an Instagram photograph he posted recently of a giant crab with a boy's head, one of the bizarre figures found at Haw Par Villa theme park.

It is rare that he gets to stay long in the places that he travels to for his shows, so he wants to make the best use of his time in Singapore to explore the country.

"It makes me a lot more connected with the concert," he says.


  • WHERE: Esplanade Concert Hall

    WHEN: Next Friday, 7.30pm

    ADMISSION: $48 to $88 from Sistic

His concert at Mosaic, a double- bill show with Irish singer- songwriter Lisa Hannigan, is his debut show in Singapore. It will be a stripped-down affair, with just him and violin player Victoria Sutherland on stage.

"It's really important that the Singapore audience gets to hear our kind of connection," the bachelor says of Sutherland, one of his best friends who has been playing music with him since he was 13.

The concert will be him "telling stories in an intimate way".

"It's very much the new Patrick that has kind of grown out of all these years of experimentation, who can be calm enough to sit down, sing the songs and be focusing again."

The London-born Wolf, whose critically acclaimed music career started with his debut EP in 2002, has released six studio albums.

A multi-talented poet and musician who plays instruments ranging from the violin to piano, his music runs the gamut from folk and electronic to baroque-styled pop.

His most recent album, Sundark And Riverlight (2012), saw him come full circle and contains reworked versions of the songs from his debut full-length, Lycanthropy, released a decade earlier.

He has been hard at work in his studio, working on the next release.

"The Patrick Wolf in me is actually quite responsible, thinking about what is it that I can take out of my life that is inspiring to people, that isn't just moaning, isn't just pure, solid misery."


Tomgirl’s Cherie Ko (left) and Ted Dore. PHOTO: YAK

On the strength of one single and a music video, pop duo Tomgirl have snagged themselves a headlining gig on Sept 4 at Esplanade's Mosaic Music Weekend.

The buzz surrounding them in the Singapore indie music circles is due to the female half of the duo, singer-songwriter-guitarist Cherie Ko, a familiar face in the home- grown scene, having gigged and recorded with Obedient Wives Club, Pastelpower and Bored Spies.

She formed Tomgirl with Australian-based musician and songwriter Ted Dore, whom she met through mutual friends at music festival Laneway in 2014.

Finding their tastes to be similar in music and films, they started jamming and writing songs together. They continued to collaborate online after Dore, 28, returned to Melbourne, where he lives.


  • WHERE: Esplanade Recital Studio

    WHEN: Sept 4, 8pm

    ADMISSION: $30 from Sistic

Ko, 25, says: "For my past projects, I've always treated them like a hobby, so I've never really actively pursued them seriously. For Tomgirl, I feel this is the first time I am making more of an effort to really promote myself and do the best I can for this project."

Esplanade is taking a gamble on Tomgirl, who are untested in a live setting. Their show at Mosaic, which is ticketed, is their first concert. The other ticketed acts in the series are internationally established names who have released multiple albums, including English singer-songwriter Patrick Wolf and Irish troubadour Lisa Hannigan.

The Esplanade has a history of working with Ko, says programmer Melissa Poon.

"She has evolved as an artist, from her time as part of Obedient Wives Club in Baybeats 2012 to when she was part of Pastelpower at Baybeats 2013.

"With Tomgirl, we celebrate Cherie's re-invention as an artist."

The duo place as much emphasis on their monochrome, motorcyclechic look as they do on their music, which they describe as "dark noir pop".

Their debut single, Darker Now, topped iTunes rock charts in Singapore, Malaysia and the Philippines.

Ko says: "Crafting the band's aesthetic and image is like an art form which we take really seriously, as with all other things in the band. Everything that we put out is highly controlled. We just want it to be completely seamless."

Their gig, where they will also launch their eponymous debut album, will be "an immersive experience", says Dore, who travels frequently to Singapore and whose mother is Singaporean.

"We're channelling B-movies, film noir, just really moody atmosphere and we basically channel that into the music.

"Everything that went into creating that album, that whole vibe, the mindset that we're in, that whole space - we're trying to translate that visually. It's gonna be not your usual rock show."

They will be backed by musicians that include drummer Martin Kong from Caracal and guitarist/singer Jean Low from Giants Must Fall.

Ko, who also runs indie music label Deer Island Records, travelled to Melbourne earlier this year to shoot their music video as well as to finish the album, which was recorded in Dore's basement studio.

Ko and Dore say they are not romantically involved, although they project that vibe and share physically intimate scenes in the Darker Now music video.

Ko says: "That is something recurring in many girl-boy duos that we know of, for example, The Kills and The Raveonettes, which are both bands we like. I think they also play off that closeness and intimacy with each other.

"It's really important for our on-stage performance as well. It's something we want to project, the tension between us, the danger and sexuality - it all kind of ties in into the band's image."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 26, 2016, with the headline 'Bold, new world'. Subscribe