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Zentai Art Project experiments with sounds and their impact on the body; it's one of the arts highlights at Neon Lights Festival taking place next weekend at Fort Canning

In Singapore, Laneway has become so popular it had to move from Fort Canning where the first edition was held in 2011 to the roomier Gardens by the Bay to accommodate a bigger crowd.

Death Cab for Cutie, which played sold-out shows here in 2008 and 2012, will be performing a sideshow outside WOAH fest "to get the buzz going".

More buzz in music festival scene

Singapore looks set to become a mecca for music festivals with both new and old ones drawing a growing number of 'live' music lovers.
Nov 20, 2015 5:50 AM

A music and arts fest made for S'pore

COME next weekend, Singapore will stage its first two-day weekend music and arts festival. In some ways, Neon Lights is set to become our answer to Coachella, the famed Californian festival that has become a must-go for music lovers everywhere. Both feature an eclectic line-up of bands alongside an equally robust and significant arts component.

It's the brainchild of Irish husband-and-wife team of Declan Forde and Jennifer Jennings, who are the event's managing director and arts director respectively. Both are veterans, having co-founded numerous similar award-winning festivals in Ireland (Electric Picnic, Body and Soul, Forbidden Fruit) and Australia (Harvest Festival) before seeing the opportunity to do the same in Singapore because there isn't any here.

Joining the musical bill that includes funk legend Nile Rodgers of CHIC, reformed shoegazers Ride, Irish folk-pop singer-songwriter Damien Rice are circus acts, stand-up comedians, visual artists and more, so festival goers can expect an all-round immersive and engaging creative journey.

The idea for Neon Lights to be neither genre- or age-specific is to provide a good mix that will create a family-friendly vibe, shares Jennings.

Forde, who overseas the music side of the festival, explains: "We've tried to appeal to different pockets of people but maintained a cohesion in that the different elements, and their respective audiences, all blend well. The only common theme is quality and diversity."

Jennings, whose background is in performing arts and who also runs her own theatre company THISISPOPBABY, adds: "Arts can elevate a music festival to a sublime place - it engages and inspires people who might not think they were creative and their lives can be enriched by that."

Over 140 local and international artistes are set to perform across four of the festival's six stages as well as conduct workshops.

The couple also stresses they chose to launch a brand new festival here instead of importing one of the successful ones that they have worked on because they want Neon Lights to be recognised as something for Singaporeans by Singaporeans

Hence on the music bill are homegrown acts like Hanging Up The Moon, Lost Weekend and Shigga Shay; while for the arts programme, Jennings worked with local curators and collectives including Word Forward, Noor Effendy Ibrahim, MySuperFuture, Becca D'Bus, Comedy Masala, Recognize Studios and Sideshow to come up with the line-up that will include performance, comedy, spoken word, sound art, children's workshops, digital installations and more.

The nine food vendors have also been hand-picked by artisanal food movement The Local People to showcase the spirit of innovation in the Singapore culinary scene. The likes of The Lab and The Hanhar, Two Men Bagel House and Momolato will set up stalls to feed hungry festival goers.

"We are at pains to emphasise that Neon Lights will be a distinctly Singaporean festival with its own identity," says Forde, who adds that the name also has a distinctive local flavour. "It took us a while to think of the name Neon Lights, but once it came out we knew it was a keeper (because) I feel it's distinct enough to encapsulate Singapore's unique urban beauty, but also vague enough for people to interpret it in their own way."

There are also no plans to export the festival and the organisers are targeting 7,000 people for each day. "It's a distinctly Singaporean event and it will find its own identity organically in the coming years," Forde says. "We just need to ignite the right energy and let it happen: Singapore will do the rest!"

  • Neon Lights Festival will take place at Fort Canning Green and Gate on Nov 28 and 29. Adult (S$240), youth (S$150), child (S$40) and group two-day advance weekend tickets are on sale now. Single-day tickets are priced at S$25 (child), S$90 (youth) and S$150 (adult). For more info, full line-up and ticketing details, check

Growing the world's biggest 'small music' fest

THE Laneway Festival's moniker is slightly misleading: when it started 10 years ago, it lived up to its name by being staged in the back alley of a bar in Melbourne.

A decade on, it's become an Australian institution and now not only tours every major city Down Under but also includes stops in New Zealand, Singapore and the US.

Not bad for a music festival which uniquely features only emerging artists instead of big names as headliners. The aim is for punters to accidentally discover new bands while attending the show.

In Singapore, Laneway has become so popular it had to move from Fort Canning where the first edition was held in 2011 to the roomier Gardens by the Bay to accommodate a bigger crowd.

Matthew Lazarus-Hall, CEO of Chugg Entertainment, which is behind the festival says the real challenge now is for them to find ways to keep the event as intimate as possible despite its unstoppable growth.

In Singapore, for instance, the organisers declined to release more tickets after all 13,000 for this year's event were snapped up weeks in advance for the comfort and safety of the festival-goers.

"One of the things we always say about Laneway is that it is really the world's biggest small music festival," muses Lazarus-Hall, "We have the same number of bands as any big festivals but we never want to lose the intimacy."

Calling Laneway a true music lovers festival, he adds that the artists on the bill are themselves fans of the other acts playing.

But one of the things the organisers are most proud of is the way it engages local audiences wherever the festival goes. In 2014, it put homegrown experimental rockers The Observatory on the main stage - something no imported festival has done before - and this year it doubled the number of local acts on the bill. In the first round of announcements for 2016, three Singapore bands have already been named - electronic-DJ Intriguant, rockers Cashew Chemist and neo-jazz outfit Riot !n Magenta - alongside international indie acts like Battles, Grimes, Beach House, Metz and Chvrches.

The Singapore offerings also extend beyond the music: this year's edition featured (surprisingly affordable) cafe-quality grub from the likes of Kith and Tiong Bahru Bakery plus a buzzing marketplace with pop-up stores where you could even get a shave or haircut between catching the bands.

"I always say music is an important part of Laneway but one of the things we also do is touch the five senses of the people," says Lazarus-Hall. "People buy a ticket because they want to see their favourite bands but they also know they'll have a great experience when they come because it's also about the food, drinks, family and friends."

He notes that Laneway Singapore has also become a destination event, attracting punters from Malaysia and Indonesia, so there are no plans to stage it in neighbouring countries. But there is still room for growth, he adds: "We might add another night or stage another event at a different time of year, maybe in 2017 or 2018."

  • St Jerome's Laneway Festival 2016 will take place on Jan 30 at The Meadows, Gardens by the Bay. Standard tickets on sale at S$180 or S$999 (for group of six). Check for line-up and more info.

Electrifying line-up promised

IF the upcoming Neon Lights and Laneway are not enough to satisfy your festival fix, another new one will premiere in April 2016.

Organised by homegrown boutique promoter Symmetry Entertainment, WOAH Festival will be a full-day event that will establish its roots here first. "We decided to hold the festival at a level that gives us room to develop and grow in the coming years," explains Symmetry's founder and director, Tim Kek. "It will be Singapore-only at the beginning as it's the market I know best but there are regional plans at the back of our minds for sure."

He adds the name of the festival is exactly what he hopes punters will think, say or exclaim when they see the line-up and when they are at the event; or even when they reminisce about it.

So far, only one band has been announced: American alternative outfit Death Cab for Cutie, which has previously played sold-out shows here in 2008 and 2012. The band will be performing a sideshow outside the festival "to get the buzz going".

But Kek promises the line-up will be a relevant and cool one. "I think the youths who listen to indie and electronica will be very pleased and we will also have acts there for the old (at heart)," he reveals. "We are striving really hard to make the line-up one that is perfectly curated - the music and energy from the live/DJ performances will be revitalising and electrifying."

As a hint of the unannounced artistes' headliner-worthiness, he adds one or two more sideshows are also in the works; while the venue will also be a special one. "It's a personal goal of mine to seek out an unused or new location for an outdoor music festival," shares Kek. "I'd want the inaugural WOAH Fest to be a unique and unforgettable experience."

He is also confident the event will add extra buzz to the "live" music calendar in Singapore as well as complement the other festivals. "I think Laneway's foothold on the local festival scene is still indubitably strong and Neon Lights, with the myriad arts on show and the great experienced folks behind it, will be a fixture for years," Kek says. "Hopefully we can establish WOAH Fest as the fresh and electrifying festival for years to come in Singapore."