Perfect 10 for Mosaic

This story was first published in The Straits Times on March 20, 2014

In its 10 years, the home-grown Mosaic Music Festival has helped to invigorate the live music scene in Singapore and many are sad to see it end.

The final edition of the Esplanade's annual 10-day indie and jazz music event ended on Sunday, featuring acts such as jazz chanteuse Dee Dee Bridgewater and indie singer-songwriter Neko Case.

Singapore now has a packed calendar of non-mainstream music concerts and festivals. While the arts centre is retiring the Mosaic festival, this does not mark the end of the Mosaic brand, as ad-hoc concerts will continue to be held under its name.

Co-founder of indie music label KittyWu Records Errol Tan, 38, ticks off the many Mosaic festival highlights for him over the years from Scottish post-rock band Mogwai and Norwegian folk-pop duo Kings Of Convenience in 2006 to Canadian indie supergroup Broken Social Scene in 2008.

He recalls that back then, it was "almost unheard of for these bands to make it down to Singapore. Even if they made it to the region, they would make a beeline for Japan and Australia and bypass us".

He adds: "On the whole, it has brought fresh new music to the general music-loving audience in Singapore."

Life! music reviewer Yeow Kai Chai agrees. He has attended all 10 editions of the festival and says that it has kept to the spirit of discovering new acts and balancing that with more familiar ones. For him, Mosaic is about "respecting the music and it's all about the music".

Offering a different perspective was Keith Tan, 33, guitarist for local band Obedient Wives Club. While he used to go for shows "night after night" early on, he has been going for fewer Mosaic gigs with each passing year. This time around, he went for only American indie act Washed Out.

In part because musicians now make more money touring than selling records, he says, the live music scene in Singapore has opened up to such an extent that there is now an "over-saturation" of shows. And because he does not rely only on Mosaic for music performances, he is also "indifferent" to the festival winding up.

In its ninth year last year, the festival drew a crowd of about 90,000 to all performances, both ticketed and free. This was down from 135,000 in 2012 and 120,000 in 2011. The Esplanade no longer releases attendance figures for its shows.

But whether a show is well-attended or not has no bearing on whether it was good.

Referring to folk music muse Vashti Bunyan's delicate gig in a sparsely filled Esplanade Concert Hall in 2010, Mr Yeow notes: "It's not always about the numbers but the memories that stay with you years later."

The music festival's appeal is not just local and it has had loyal fans from far afield zeroing in on it each year.

Take lawyer Richard Savage, 62, and his wife, property manager Katalin Savage, 59. The Sydney- based Australian couple do not usually go to music festivals. Mosaic is the first that kept them returning for more since its inception in 2005.

The festival had opened a new world of music to them. Mr Savage likes jazz, and his wife, classical music, but they explore new genres at Mosaic each year.

Their most memorable act was The Roots in 2008. Despite not listening to hip-hop, they found themselves at the front of the audience during the concert.

"We were like, 'Wow, this music, what is it?'" recalls Mrs Savage, her eyes lighting up at the memory. "Because we couldn't get out, we listened to the music and eventually thought, 'I kind of like it, we're going to stay.'"

As for their take on this year's edition, Mrs Savage says: "The whole festival is a big thing for us this year. It's like you're trying to absorb everything you possibly can because you know that this is the last one."

According to the Esplanade's audience surveys, about 9 per cent of fans are from overseas. Another is Ms Helene Vigeant, a 64-year-old jazz enthusiast who has been flying from Canada for Mosaic every year since 2008. She found out about it when visiting her sister, who used to live here.

"The name itself was very telling. It wasn't a jazz festival, but had all these different pieces," says the retiree. "I will miss discovering artists, and the good times with happy music."

The festival's Singaporean fans are sad to see it end as well, and look forward to future events under the Mosaic name.

Mr John Tan, an entrepreneur who started going to Mosaic in 2007, likened its vibe to that of London's music scene.

"Every night of the week, there is something going on," says the 32-year-old who had studied in London.

The Esplanade says fans can look forward to more music experiences under the Mosaic brand, though it declines to say when the next event will be.

"Putting together this festival is a labour of love for the Mosaic team, so we will miss seeing the excitement of the audiences at the festival," says Mr Clarence Yap, the arts centre's head of music.

The upside, he says, is that Mosaic as an ad-hoc series "will continue to focus on the music and the artists" without being "constrained by a time period to create a celebration of music".

Reviewers note a certain elegiac tone to the year's festival since everyone knew it was the last edition. And it was appropriate that melancholic American singer-songwriter Case was one of the closing acts.

Says Mr Yeow: "She's been around and so has Mosaic. It wasn't overly sentimental and that's important. It's not the end, it's really about opening another door."

Life! was the official newspaper of Mosaic Music Festival 2014.

This story was first published in The Straits Times on March 20, 2014

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