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Surreal (from left) Jon Chan, John Chiong, Gordon Khoo, Luke Teo and Marcus Wong.Image: Esplanade

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.

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Also featured are TypeWriter (from left) Desmond Goh, Robin Chua, Yee Chang Kang, Alan Bok and Patrick Chng. Image: Little Ong

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.

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

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Knightingale members (from left) Faiz Lattif, Ashwin Rao and Deon Chan hope to play at Glastonbury. Image: Lim Yaohui for The Straits Times

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

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Exhibitors comprise (from left) Christopher Thein, Zulfarhan Amin, Muhammad Adryan Maarof, Low Wei Hao and Nicholas Phang. Image: Mark Cheong

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

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Theodora. Image: Daniel Neo for The Straits Times

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.

Mixtape features return of bands

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Mixtape will feature The Fire Fight (from left) Jonathan Leong, Joshua “Barker” Tan, Iain Tham and Joshua Tan. Image: Esplanade

Baybeats this year will feature something new – an exhibition and extra stage dubbed Mixtape.

In line with SG50 celebrations, the platform along the Esplanade’s waterfront traces the evolution of the alternative music scene in Singapore as well as the growth of Baybeats since it started in 2002.

Esplanade programmer Cecilia Chow says Mixtape seeks to “celebrate the spirit of Singapore’s alternative music scene in daring to dream and believing in what the community can achieve together”.

The Mixtape stage will feature the return of bands that have played in Baybeats past. These include power-pop outfit TypeWriter on June 26, emo rockers Surreal on June 27 and indie rock outfit The Fire Fight on June 28.

TypeWriter and Surreal were part of Baybeat’s inaugural line-up while The Fire Fight were one of the acts selected when the festival first started auditioning budding bands in 2007.

Mixtape was put together with the help of John Chiong and Esmond Wee, both formerly part of Wake Me Up Music, a music collective which co-produced the early editions of Baybeats with the Esplanade.

Chiong says Baybeats has grown over the years to become more than just about the bands and the fans. He says: “I’ve always believed that music brings people together. When we started, we experienced a lot of collaborative efforts between different promoters.”

Wee is heartened to see Baybeats grow into “a staple event” that continues to draw new audiences each year.

“Though the flavour may be different, the spirit of the festival is alive and kicking.”

 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

This story was first published in The Straits Times on June 18, 2015. For similar stories, go to 

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