Smaller acts outshine heavyweights at Ultra Singapore 2017

ST VIDEO: CHARMAINE MARIA JACOB

SINGAPORE - While the main stage at Ultra Singapore played host to some of the biggest names in the Electronic Dance Music (EDM) world, it was the smaller Live Stage that was a true showcase of talent and showmanship in the form of bands such as Pendulum and DJ-producers Myrne and KSHMR.

According to organisers, there were 50,000 people at the two-day outdoor music festival held on June 10 and 11 at the open field next to Marina Bay Sands Tower 1. The crowd however, looked thinner than last year's inaugural edition, which 45,000 concertgoers attended over two days.

EDM heavyweights such as Tiesto and Hardwell headlined the Main Stage, while the Resistance stage, dedicated to techno and deep house, featured iconic UK duo Sasha & John Digweed. The Live Stage, located at the opposite end of the grounds to the behemoth main stage, had considerably smaller LED screens, and fewer pyrotechnic and confetti guns. But it did not need the bells and whistles to shine.

American DJ-producer KSHMR, whose real name is Niles Hollowell-Dhar, brought on cinematic, animated visuals, a live string and wind section and even dancers for his set. It was the most packed the Live stage had been over the weekend, with people spilling past the sound console. Part of the draw of his set on Sunday (June 11) was the diversity of genres and influences he displayed, from the Indian-influenced Mandala and Bazaar to hardstyle track Wildcard. He also treated the crowd to brand new releases such as Power, a track with Hardwell, and Harder, a collaboration with Tiesto.

Another Live stage band that drew in the crowd on Sunday was Australian band Pendulum, who seamlessly combined the raw energy of rock with the funk of drum 'n' bass and electronica.

They made their live debut in Singapore, albeit 20 minutes later than expected, due to what looked like technical issues. But once the four-piece band were in full swing, the screeching guitars, synths and breakbeats kept the crowd pumped for their hour-long set that included classics like The Island, Watercolour and Witchcraft.

Lead singer Rob Swire sounded incredible live. Earlier in the day, he and band member Gareth McGrillen, who are also electronic duo Knife Party, performed double duty by playing an unannounced DJ set at the main stage as their fellow DJ Don Diablo was delayed.

The most underrated act was Singaporean DJ-producer Myrne, or Manfred Lim. He also played at last year's festival at the same stage, but this time, he landed a prime 6.15pm slot on Saturday (June 10). The 22-year-old, who has been playing a steady stream of shows in clubs and festivals overseas, proved his chops as he powered through a rain-induced temporary power outage. He managed to keep the audience pumped throughout the challenging conditions, and proved that he is ready for bigger stages and bigger audiences.

During his 90-minute set, fellow Singaporean singer Sam Rui joined him on stage to perform her own track Boys as well as a cover of American singer Jeremih's Oui. Up-and-coming local singer Jasmine Sokko also came on for a performance of her song, 1057.

Notably, many of the main stage headlining acts - Tiesto, Steve Angello and Steve Aoki, for instance - have performed in Singapore before, whether at club shows or at year-end dance music festival ZoukOut.

While their sets were entertaining, every other act - be it Dash Berlin, Nicky Romero or Hardwell - was guilty of resorting to playing remixes of pop songs by Coldplay, Dua Lipa or Zara Larsson, with a firm favourite being Ed Sheeran's Shape Of You. While those tracks might have been wedged into their sets for mass appeal and singalong potential, there was a lot more original and refreshing material coming out of the Live Stage.

While last year's Ultra Singapore was plagued by teething issues such as long queues both inside and outside the venue, this year's two separate entrances for General and Premium General Admission pass-holders made for organised lines to get into the grounds.

This year, Ultra Singapore was also held on the same weekend as Ultra Korea, and featured a near identical line-up. Mr Max Tan, 21, who was at Ultra Singapore for the second time, also noticed the less-than-packed grounds. "It's very apparent that the crowd this year is much smaller," says the student, who was there on Sunday at around 3pm.

Ultra Singapore also went cashless with the introduction of RFID (radio frequency identification) wrist tags. Top up queues moved quickly, as did lines for payment at food and drink stalls thanks to the technology.

The thorough security checks, where concertgoers were made to empty out their bags and get full pat-downs was particularly important for Ms Ray Pong, 41, who is currently unemployed. It was her first time at Ultra, and in the wake of terrorist attacks in London and Manchester, she says she "felt very safe".

With additional reporting by Charmaine Jacob.