Ultra a standout after fixing first-day woes

Afrojack performing at the inaugural edition of the electronic dance music festival last Saturday.
Afrojack performing at the inaugural edition of the electronic dance music festival last Saturday.PHOTO: RUKES

A dreamy, chilled-out tropical house set by Norwegian producer Kygo, electronic dance music's (EDM) biggest name, proved to be the highlight of the inaugural edition of Ultra Singapore, held over the weekend.

Despite day one's shortcomings, mainly crushing queues inside and outside the venue, Ultra Singapore's executive producers Alex Chew and Raj Datwani - both new to holding a full-fledged, two-day EDM festival - managed to turn things around overnight and make day two a standout.

The festival, a spin-off of the famous Ultra Miami, was held at an untested venue: an open field next to Marina Bay Sands Tower 1.

Kicking off at noon on both days, the first day was an extremely muddy affair following a downpour earlier last Saturday morning. Long lines to get into the venue, and queues lasting one or two hours at food and drink stalls on the grounds, plagued partygoers all day, with more than a few looking dehydrated and faint.

Even the "U" sign on the colossal main stage, a focal point of all Ultra stages around the world, disappointingly did not seem to be working.

But the second day was a sea change with improvements on all fronts including fast-moving queues, stage problems properly fixed and an electric atmosphere at the festival.

Responding to overwhelming feedback on day one, the organisers indicated in a statement on the Ultra Singapore Facebook page on Sunday morning that they "made certain logistical changes to deliver the best possible second day of Ultra Singapore".

This was manifested on day two with more staff on hand to direct crowds, five more satellite bars handling cash-only purchases of water and beer that were added to the initial 16 food-and-beverage outlets, and generally happier customers.

One of them was Mr Ian Goh, 20, who had purchased his tickets to the event nine months ago, even before the line-up was announced. While he had queued up to 11/2 hours for drinks last Saturday and ended up missing half of Dutch electronic duo W&W, he was able to buy drinks almost immediately on Sunday.

Though he wishes more big-name acts such as American duo The Chainsmokers and Dutch wunderkind Martin Garrix were in the line-up, he is already making plans to attend another Ultra festival.

"I became a fan of Ultra after watching YouTube videos of Ultra Miami. After this one, I plan to head there," he says.

A total of 45,000 partygoers attended the two-day festival, according to the organisers, who had earlier been expecting 20,000 visitors a day. All online tickets were sold out by last Thursday and there were only limited general admission tickets, priced from $155 to $256, available at the door.

Almost 50 international and regional acts were featured across three stages - the Main Stage, Live Stage and Resistance Stage - on the 30,000 sq m parcel of land in Bayfront Avenue near Marina Bay Sands.

Parisian DJ Snake brought the house down last Saturday, putting on a 75-minute high-energy set at 8pm, including new material from his debut album Encore. Despite being released only last month, the new hits, including his Justin Bieber collaboration Let Me Love You, got the crowd singing along.

Sunday saw back-to-back power-packed sets on the main stage by EDM's hottest names, including masked DJ and producer Marshmello, trap specialist DJ Carnage as well as Kygo, whom most punters had gone to see.

Playing in Singapore for the first time on Sunday, also his 25th birthday, Kygo lit up his stellar sunset set with smash hits such as Stole The Show and Firestone. Other than debuting an unreleased original track titled Carry On, the crowd also sang him Happy Birthday at the end of his performance.

Hours before the gates opened on Sunday, it was announced that one half of Swedish DJ duo Axwell & Ingrosso, Sebastian Ingrosso, had pulled out "due to an ear infection". But Axwell did not seem to miss his partner, throwing down an epic closing set with the best visuals, pyrotechnics and confetti showers of the night.

The smaller stages also hosted standout acts. At the Resistance Stage, which featured a superb sound system and great lighting set-up, techno doyenne Nicole Moudaber held court during the closing set of day one.

At the Live Stage, American-Chinese singer and producer Zhu, who was joined by a guitarist and saxophonist, proved that his material sounds even better live, even though the volume at the stage could have been turned down a tad.

Both days of Ultra Singapore ended on time at 10.30pm, with partygoers seen leaving the venue on a high.

Capitalising on the groundwork laid down by its EDM festival predecessors such as the 16-year-old ZoukOut - a two-day, dusk-to- dawn festival - Ultra Singapore as a daytime festival has added diversity to the dance music scene that seems to be thriving in Singapore.

In an earlier interview with The Straits Times, executive producer Chew, who has worked on Ultra Singapore for two years, said he intends to run Ultra here for "a long time more".

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 13, 2016, with the headline 'Ultra a standout after fixing first-day woes'. Print Edition | Subscribe