Music festival Baybeats is back showcasing old and new talents

Knightingale members (from left) Faiz Lattif, Ashwin Rao and Deon Chan hope to play at Glastonbury.
Knightingale members (from left) Faiz Lattif, Ashwin Rao and Deon Chan hope to play at Glastonbury. PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI FOR THE STRAITS TIMES
Exhibitors comprise (from left) Christopher Thein, Zulfarhan Amin, Muhammad Adryan Maarof, Low Wei Hao and Nicholas Phang.
Exhibitors comprise (from left) Christopher Thein, Zulfarhan Amin, Muhammad Adryan Maarof, Low Wei Hao and Nicholas Phang.ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG
I, Devotion
Aquila Vasica
Daniel Sassoon
Bani Hidir
Leonard Soosay
Errol Tan

More than a decade after it started back in 2002, the Esplanade's Baybeats is still the biggest music festival here that focuses primarily on acts from the independent and alternative music scene in Singapore.

This year's instalment, which takes place over three nights from June 26 to 28 at various stages within the arts venue, features 28 home-grown acts including alternative rock band Caracal, electronic act Riot !n Magenta as well as seven regional bands including Indonesian roots rock outfit Matajiwa and Japanese indie rockers Oversleep Excuse.

As with recent years, a significant part of the festival is its budding bands programme, in which eight new talents are mentored by music industry veterans, and will perform at two of the festival stages, Baybeats Arena (Esplanade Outdoor Theatre) and Powerhouse @ The Edge.


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    BAYBEATS 2015

    Where: Various venues within Esplanade

    When: June 26 to 28, from 5pm onwards

    Admission: Free

    Info: For details on the line-up and timings, go to

Life! speaks to three of the budding acts making their Baybeats debut - garage rock trio Knightingale, singer- songwriter Theodora and hardcore quintet Exhibitors, as well as the team behind Mixtape, a new exhibition space and stage this year which traces the festival's colourful history.

Knightingale trio to debut six songs

Who: Knightingale

Genre: Garage Rock/Grunge

Where: Arena (Esplanade Outdoor Theatre)

When: June 26, 6.30pm

Mentor: Bani Hidir

Next weekend, garage-rock trio Knightingale's set at Baybeats will be their most significant gig to date, as they are debuting at least six new songs. They also plan to wear costumes, but declined to reveal details, hinting only that their Baybeats set will contain a "visual surprise".

But the 1½-year-old band also have loftier dreams.

"We are aiming to play at festivals like Glastonbury," says guitarist and singer Faiz Lattif, 24, referring to the annual British event, one of the largest music festivals in the world. "Our priority is to have our music heard around the world and to play shows everywhere."

Faiz is studying digital audio and video production at the Institute of Technical Education (ITE).

The other members of Knightingale are drummer Deon Chan, 22, a national serviceman, and singer and guitarist Ashwin Rao, 25, who is doing an audio production degree at SAE Institute.

The band started when Rao, who came into prominence as a solo singer-songwriter through the National Arts Council's youth initiative Noise Singapore in 2013, decided to expand his then folksy sounds by forming a band.

Through local online music forum Soft, he found Faiz and Chan, kindred music spirits who shared his love for noisy but melodic music.

Rao credits his then Noise mentor, veteran musician Randolf Arriola, for inspiring him to explore new genres and experiment with technology to beef up his guitar sounds.

"I ended up reading a lot of biographies of musicians, discovering a lot of past genres like punk and grunge and going back to the roots of rock music," he says.

The group's subsequent involvement with Baybeats' budding bands programme, and their mentorship under multi-instrumentalist Bani Hidir, have also helped them refine their sound.

"We have been experimenting with our instruments, we've got a lot more dynamics in our songs now," says Rao.

Screaming vocals from Exhibitors

Who: Exhibitors

Genre: Melodic Hardcore

Where: Powerhouse (The Edge)

When: June 28, 6.15pm

Mentor: Leonard Soosay

The throaty, screaming vocals, abrasive rhythms and dark lyrics that characterise hardcore quintet Exhibitors' music might seem to be driven by rage or depression.

Singer and lyricist Muhammad Adryan Maarof, 22, says their tunes might come from a dark place but the band always make sure that there is a positive spin to their music. Their latest single and music video, Deceased, for example, encourages listeners to spend more time with people who are important to them.

In it, an actor is looking for his grandfather and when he reaches the place they were supposed to meet, the older man is not there.

Adryan says the story was inspired by his relationship with his late grandfather, adding: "I'm sure many people can relate to it.

"They spend too much time with friends, work but not enough time with family, until it's too late."

Their fans can certainly identify with their music, often singing along at their live shows, with Adryan often letting them take over his microphone.

Exhibitors were formed in 2012 but all five of the band members are active members of the home- grown music scene who also play in other bands.

Two of the musicians have also been part of previous Baybeats budding bands programmes, albeit with different acts. Guitarist Nicholas Phang, 22, also plays for hardcore outfit False Plaintiff, who were part of the programme last year, while fellow guitarist Zulfarhan Muhammad Amin, 24, formerly played for metalcore band Embrace Them Ghosts, which played Baybeats in 2012. The band also include bass player Christopher Thein, 23, and drummer Low Wei Hao, 23.

They maintain that Exhibitors' music is distinctive compared to their other bands, though. For example, Phang and Zulfarhan say that their music emphasises melodies.

Thein says their upcoming set will feature more of the high-octane, onstage hijinks that the band are known for. "We're always engaging the audience," he says. "You'll never see us standing still."

'Creepy kid' blossoms into singer

Who: Theodora

Genre: Indie Folk/Pop

Where: Arena (Esplanade Outdoor Theatre)

When: June 28, 6.30pm

Mentor: Errol Tan

By her own admission, this singer-songwriter was a "creepy kid" when she was young. "My mum said I would just sit and sing to myself. The first thing that I ever wanted to be was a singer and I have always liked singing," she says.

She picked up drumming from a family friend, studied guitar under Mandopop star A-mei's guitarist and collaborator Jonathan Koh, and took some piano lessons.

She wrote her first song at 14 but says the resulting tune was so "gross" that it took several years for her to be comfortable with coming up with her own lyrics and melodies. More content to sing songs by her favourite artists, she would make videos of herself singing covers by acts including Americana duo The Civil Wars, folk singer Iron & Wine and pop singer Ellie Goulding, and upload them on her YouTube channel.

Lau, 18, who is studying for a mass communications diploma at Ngee Ann Polytechnic, says she found her footing only when she was selected to be part of the music mentorship programme under the National Arts Council's youth initiative Noise Singapore last year.

"I find songwriting very interesting because there is a lot of tension in having to articulate things I don't want to access and finding the most accurate way to express them," she says.

Rather than write songs inspired by her own feelings, she says her songs are based on "concepts".

One of the first tunes that she wrote, Rabbit Hole, was based on "the whole idea of taking on somebody else and their beliefs to the extent that you lose yourself the moment you are separated".

With veteran singer-songwriter Kevin Mathews as her Noise Singapore mentor, she started scoring live gigs at venues including TAB, Resorts World Sentosa and the Esplanade Recital Studio.

For Baybeats, Lau is mentored by Errol Tan, founder of independent music company KittyWu Records, who together with the other mentors, encouraged her to expand her repertoire by assembling her own backing band.

She credits her parents for nurturing her love for music, especially her housewife mother, an amateur singer who composed and co-produced an independent album of worship songs in 2012. Her father works in the fleet management industry. "They gave me the space to find what I feel I'm good at and let me run with it," she says.


Mentor: Daniel Sassoon, veteran guitarist who plays with progressive rockers In Each Hand A Cutlass and was formerly part of indie rock bands Electrico and Livonia

Baybeats Budding Bands: Arson (Arena, Esplanade Outdoor Theatre) on June 27, 7pm and I, Devotion (Powerhouse, The Edge) on June 26, 8pm

What he says: “I’m proud to be working with two very talented bands, I, Devotion and Arson). They’re both enthusiastic and have some great songs and are filled with passion for what they’re doing. They know how to rock and put on a good show and I have no doubt they’ll be continuing to make good music and gaining new fans with each show they play. I can’t wait to see hem hit the stage at Baybeats.”

Mentor: Bani Hidir, singer and multi-instrumentalist who plays with acts including experimental rock group B-Quartet, pop-rock act 53A and grunge trio YouthWreck

Baybeats Budding Bands: Cadence (Powerhouse, The Edge, on June 26, 7pm) and Knightingale (Arena, Esplanade) on June 26, 6.30pm

What he says: "I'm with both bands, Cadenc and Knightingale, because all of us love and play rock music. We communicate easily. The guys in the bands are respectful to one another.

If you don't have respect, you don't have a band."

Mentor: Leonard Soosay, music producer and founder of Snakeweed Studios

Baybeats Budding Bands: Exhibitors and Aquila Vasica (Arena, Esplanade Outdoor Theatre) on June 28, 5.30pm

What he says: “I look for artists who have good songs, who can play and express themselves through their music and who I feel will remain relevant in the future.

“I believe the bands I’m mentoring this year – Aquila Vasica and Exhibitors – will impress with their approach to songwriting and performance. Both bands fuse different genres to create music that’s original and exciting.”

Mentor: Errol Tan, co-founder of record label, artist management company and gig organisers KittyWu

Baybeats Budding Bands: Vessel (Powerhouse, The Edge, on June 27, 6.15pm) and Theodora (Arena, Esplanade) June 28, 6.30pm

What he says: “Vessel and Theodora – were chosen because I saw the potential in them to push their brand much further. They are already quite polished in their musicianship, craft and technical abilities, and just needed guidance in the areas of branding and marketing of their band name and their music.”

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 18, 2015, with the headline 'And the BAYBEATS go on...'. Subscribe