Battle of The Bands at The CineIndieFest


“All the world’s a stage, And all the men and women merely players.” William Shakespeare

When William Shakespeare coined the above quote, he was of course referring to the performance of life itself. Of course, he existed in simpler archaic times. But, Shakespeare’s words still have relevance today. In our modern age of social media and video games, life itself continues to be one hell of a show. Dare we say a video game! So putting that idea into a musical context, how does one go about in the rock n’ roll game these day?

Traditionally in a role playing game (RPG), the main protagonist is assigned several attributes that must be levelled up before progression. Attributes such as strength, dexterity and charisma might be vital in fantasy adventure setting, but three chords, attitude and a dream are more likely the necessary prerequisites in becoming a rock n’ rock god (or a golden god, if you are an ‘Almost Famous’ fan). Or, at least that is what the punk rock and grunge revolution has taught us. Is this a naïve view of the ruthless modern music industry? Is there a secret cheat code in the music game? Taking the recently concluded CineIndieFest as a microcosm of the modern music industry, Bandwagon is proud to present an exclusive walkthrough to being a winning local music outfit!


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The Rock N' Roll Game

Organized for the first time by Cathay Cineleisure Orchard, CineIndieFest is a battle-of-the-bands competition. There are three stages; auditions, semi-finals and the grand finals. Taking place at the iconic youth haven of Cathay Cineleisure Orchard, 20 up-and-coming local bands slug it out to vie for the top three prizes of S$3000, S$2000 and S$1000. In addition, the CineIndieFest champion also gets a bonus prize of a three-month in-mall ad feature in Cathay Cineleisure Orchard. So, that’s the premise and prizes. But, what must the band do to get their hands on it?

Basically, each band is given 10 minutes to set up and perform one song (original or cover) to impress the panel of judges. That is until they reach the grand finals stage, where they will have 20 minutes to perform a two-song set for the top coveted prize. Judged on the three pillars of creativity, showmanship and musical versatility, the bands really have to bring their A-game for this musical showdown.

So far, pretty normal stuff. But, this is a competition with a twist. Unlike conventional battle-of-the-bands competition, there is also a mentorship component to foster and help the bands ‘level up’. Just like a game’s training stage, the semi-finalist bands will all undergo a mentorship programme with the battle-harden competition judges to understand the basics of being a successful band.

So, who are these wise competition judges/mentors? Consisting of renowned industry figures like music producer Don Richmond, singer Nathan Hartono and Bandwagon’s very own Clarence Chan, this motley crew of musical sifu(s) help train the CineIndieFest bands into seasoned musical combatants. Walking the bands through their stagecraft, Richmond is quick to downplay his efforts by stating that he merely points out “minor things like a key change for a band to match the singer, teaching them how to stand in front of a microphone stand and little things that people take for granted.” Agreeing with his fellow competition judge/mentor, Chan goes on to stress how important “these minor things” can help band members “look, sound and feel the part of a band.”

The Players

Now that we have painted the game scenario, it is time that we meet the idealistic torch bears of our local music scene. Armed with unbridled enthusiasm and their instruments on their backs, there is definitely the distinct smell of teen spirits in the air. So without further ado, let us meet the CineIndieFest bands.

Accent Blend

Resembling a musical U.N. assembly, Accent Blend is a melting pot of various musical influences. Claiming to have picked up a member from the side of the road, this multi-ethnic group consist of Jia Min on vocals, Nusruddin manning the guitars, Sufi taking bass duties, Jacob handling the keyboards, Dino banging away on the drums and Englishman Theo tearing it up on the violin.

Choosing to unleash a mash up of ‘Sweet Dreams (Are Made Of This)’ and ‘Seven Nation Army’, their eclectic arrangement of two polarizing anthems certainly earmark them as a band to watch out for.

Guilty musical pleasures

We have a lot of guilty music pleasures. But right at the top of the list, it will have to be jazz, classical and EDM music.

Band anthem song

We will have to say that it has to be our mash-up of ‘Sweet Dreams (Are Made Of This)’ and ‘Seven Nation Army’!

Famous last words as a band

End of Accent Blend; end of an era.

Describe CineIndieFest in one word

Exhilarating. It has been quite the ride for all of us after all the sacrifices that we have made individually and collectively as a band. 

On their CineIndieFest training

With our mentorship, we really learnt to be more dynamic. The programme also gave us lots to think about our music direction and future plans.

Advance Press

Armed with boyishly good looks, ADVANCE PRESS consists of three good humoured friends from Singapore Polytecnhic’s Music and Audio Technology diploma programme. Already attracting some very vocal female fans (dare we say, groupies), the trinity of sound comprises of vocalist/bassist Ahmadul, guitarist Michael and drummer Christian. Doing their reggae-inspired rendition of The Neighbourhood’s ‘Sweater Weather’, ADVANCE PRESS certainly draws their audience in with a tractor beam of hip sound.

On the band name

Basically, we were all playing FIFA. And, you know you got to press the ‘X’ button to swap players. So one of the guys passed the ball to me, but I had already switched over to another player. As a result, I was apologizing that I ‘advance press’ the button too soon. And, that was how the band name came about. 

On a unique band trait

We are all very childish. Whether be it in or out of band practice, we all take turns to be irritating. Besides the music, we play around a lot. Ahmadul, our vocalist makes a particular sound whenever he gets excited. He is really hyper and makes random noise.

On their band’s unique selling point 

We have a youthful musical vibe that packs a lot of energy. Plus, our band performance always brings about a feel-good factor. Whenever we are having fun, the audience seems to enjoy our performance. Though we are still trying to find our ‘sound’, the vibe is there.

On their most memorable gig

It will have to be our diploma course’s bi-annual concert in May. Our band invited the most number of people, so it was more or less our concert. The crowd was really responsive and everything went well. And, Ahmadul (vocalist) even asked a girl out while he was onstage! But, it was all part of the performance.

Summing up their CineIndieFest experience…

It has been enriching because we have really learnt a lot. In other competitions, they don’t usually have renowned judges. The CineIndieFest judges give us a lot of feedback and that’s good. For example, we didn’t have a good sense of showmanship during our audition. But, the judges told us to be lively and smile more. And, we worked on it and improved quite a lot.

The Façade

All decked out in a preppy chic attire, vocalist Brendon, guitarist Jerald and bass player Vidas presented quite The Façade for the CineIndieFest audience. Having met in Nanyang Polytechnic’s pop singing group, Soundcard, it is a common love of music that binds this mysterious trio together. Their original composition, ‘Half’ respectfully reflects their musical idols such as The 1975, Jason Mraz and The Sam Willows.

Summing up the band

We are enigmatic. Why? We wouldn’t tell you.

On joining CineIndieFest

It’s good exposure for us. The mentorship programme and networking with other bands was very fun and enriching.

On their mentor

Clarence, our mentor told us that we had to go on stage with a purpose. It can be anything from winning a competition, charming the audience or to touch hearts. And, also we had to be aware of our band’s ‘packaging’. That was the one point that hit us the most. Thus, we have decided to go with the preppy attire to pull off the smart sexy look.

On their guilty musical pleasure

Taylor Swift for sure! Brendan loves ‘22’, which happens to be his current age while Jerald is more of a ‘Sparks Fly’ kind of guy. And, Vidas will probably opt for ‘Begin Again’.

Their band anthem

If we were to listen to anything before we perform, it will probably be ‘Chocolate’ by The 1975. Or, maybe ‘Sex’.

Summing up their CineIndieFest experience

It has been stressfully enriching. It has been enriching in the sense that we had the mentorship session as well as making new friends like The MadHatter Project. And, it was stressful because we faced a few hiccups along the way. We are still finding our band’s ‘sound’.

And the CineIndieFest winners are...

2nd Runner Up: A Chord for Twenty

Branding themselves as phunky (that is spelled with a PH so as to be unique), A Chord for Twenty immediately set themselves out from the pack as a fun loving bunch of guys that we want to hang out with. Between band practice and weird rituals like tapping their foreheads before a gig, the wholesome foursome also intend to write the next Team Singapore cheer to celebrate their common love for football.

United in their football jersey band uniforms, the one year-old band was formed when vocalist Zachary, guitarist Francis, bassist Jon and drummer Ashwin were studying in Republic Polytechnic. With the band motto of “We love to move, and we love making you groove”, the rocking outfit does just that with a tight performance of their original song ‘Fever’.

On their awesome mentor

It’s not every day that you get input from music professionals. So, we feel that we have to thank Don Richmond for his input that improved ‘Fever’ to what it is now. It was the extra push that we needed because we don’t know what we were doing wrong.

By breaking ‘Fever’ down to the individual instruments, Don told us to make some subtle changes. And in the first jam after, ‘Fever’ became mind-blowingly good! Though he is the only producer we have worked with, we can tell that he is one of the best. He’s very fun, energetic and always on his feet all the time.

On spending their moola

We know for sure that it’ll definitely be spent on much needed band equipment. Jon desperately needs a new bass bag! And, we need recording equipment as well. Actually, we record and produce our own music. As such, we hope to be able to upgrade our home studio to deliver a high quality track. Also, we want to be able to record our live performances and share them on Youtube.

Most memorable gig

It will have to be this gig we played at Temasek Junior College in April. We managed to share the stage with big names in the local music scene such as Plainsunset and Caracal. So, we were really overwhelmed. And, we were really nervy. But, the crowd was just amazing. They were dancing and Ashwin even splashed water into the crowd! But, they didn’t complain. It was like holy water to them.

On their choice of musical artist to be stranded with on a desert island

We are thinking of Scarlett Johansson. She sings right? *laughs* Ok seriously, We’ll like to say Red Hot Chili Peppers but we’ll prefer the Bee Gees. They have so much more experience and are a brand on their own. Besides, it will be so cool to see Robin and Maurice coming down from heaven!

On their quintessential band anthem song

It has to be our first original song, ‘Fever’. Not only did it influence our band’s image, you can tell that it is written for our shared passion of football. We can’t be professional football players, but we can be professional musicians. So, we incorporated these two ideas and decided to go with football jersey as the band’s uniform.

1st Runner Up: Afterglow

Grabbing what is easily the quote of the day in our books, "They say that the band can't be bad if they have a member with dreadlocks"; Afterglow is a three-year-old neo-soul band that has been making their rounds in the local music circuit. They are so established that they can even boast a media kit!

Drawing influences from jazz, hip hop and other timeless music genres, the group references everyone from Robert Glasgow to Snarky Puppy in their groovy musical vibes. Fronted by sassy vocalist Beth, Afterglow is rounded up by Marcus handling the guitar, Nick (the one sporting the noteworthy dreadlocks) manning the bass, Ryan on the keyboards, Ting Wei swirling the drums sticks and Vincent the saxophonist. Surprising everyone with their interpretation of Justin Timberlake’s ‘Suit & Tie’, Beth and co can only be busking in the afterglow of their victory.

On the birth of Afterglow

The band was formed when our drummer, Ting Wei wanted to join the Nokia REKONSTRCK competition. He was looking for band members and we had just met through Singapore Polytechnic’s jazz band. At that time, we were under a different name. But soon enough, Afterglow was formed.

On the motivation to join CineIndieFest

We just needed to keep getting our music out there. By joining the competition, we hope that the experience will help us in the launch of our EP and maybe a regional tour. So, any little step will be helpful towards that.

On spending their hard earned prize money

We’ll probably be spending the money on press kit materials. Plus, we are also going to use it for future projects like our EP.

On their choice of musical artist to be stranded with on a desert island

We’ll probably go with the 40 member-strong funk group Snarky Puppy. Then, there will be more people to share the workload.

On shameful musical pleasures

Our keyboardist, Ryan loves Disney songs! And if we all had to select one particular song for him, it will definitely be ‘Beauty And The Beast’.

CineIndieFest Champions: The MadHatter Project

Teasing us with Oasis’s ‘Don’t Look Back In Anger’ during their sound check, the six-month old band threw us a curveball before launching into their “hippy” rendition of John Lennon’s ‘Imagine’. Straight off the bat, it is hard not to be intrigued by the self-professed idiosyncratic foursome who claims to “play music that they like”. With no guitars in sight, their dynamic keyboards driven sound (not one, but two full keyboards) left a haunting impression on us.

But, it isn’t just their sound that is off-beat. Their whimsical band vibe is best encapsulated in a quirky knitted cone hat which graces the head of charismatic frontman and keyboardist Mark, second keyboardist and synth master ZZ, bass slinger John and drummer Jamie. Thanking their appreciative audience’s affection with their winning statement, “your applause is our currency”, it is no wonder that Mark has earned his reputation as Singapore’s Jamie Callum.

Describing their sound

It’s very very inconvenient that we have to lug two keyboards around. You don’t see many bands doing that. Most bands have guitars, but we don’t have a guitar sound at all. Mainly, it’s based around the piano and synthesizers. But, we have to say that we are still in the process of finding our ‘sound’. Who knows, things might just change in the next few months. But there isn’t too much out there like us, so we can’t reference ourselves to anybody. Depending on your perception of life, it can be either a very good or bad thing.

Describing their CineIndieFest experience

It has been amazing. We got to learn from Nathan Hartono, which was a very cool experience. And obviously, he is a very sexy man. All our friends envied us, just because we got to be mentored by Nathan.

But, we did learn a couple of cool things. For instance, Nathan taught us how to find the right key for our vocal range. He talked to us about being energetic. You always need a third party to give you objective feedback so that you can learn something. In addition, Nathan also suggested we should cover Iggy Azalea’s ‘Fancy’. By doing it our own way, we have grown to like it and we are pretty sure that the song will be on our set list for a while.

Plus, we got to meet all the other cool bands. Every band’s style is different, so there’s always something to learn. And along the way, it helps us to refine our ‘sound’.

On walking away with the top prize

Actually, we are feeling pretty hungry at the moment *laughs*. But considering the quality of the other bands, this win is quite an achievement. We are really really happy, though it is still slowly sinking in. Regardless of the win, we think the greatest thing was that we were able to play our music. Plus, we managed to get good comments from the judges and made quite a lot of new friends. That’s the more important thing. It is still a very long journey before we are professional musicians. But, this win is a nice affirmation.

On spending their cash prize

Eat zi char (Chinese stir-fry kitchen)! Mark hasn’t eaten half-cooked hum (clams) in a long time. We are local people, and we need our stingray. We’ve been eating MacDonalds far too often. So, we need to treat ourselves! But Jamie wants to watch an R-rated Korean show, so maybe we’re going to go *laughs*.

Having said all that, we are looking for a chance to record our original songs and use that as a platform to move forward. And, these things don’t come cheap! So, the money will be useful.

On a good local food recommendation

For zi char, Two Chefs Eating Place at Commonwealth is not bad. And, the chili crab at Ang Mo Kio Avenue 1 is also really good. But actually, we are prata (local Indian flat bread) people. So, we/ll recommend The Roti Prata House at Thomson Road despite what people say. Although, Jaime and John still prefer Maggi soup. They can eat like five years’ worth of Maggi soup.

Most memorable band gig to date

We played a weekly series called Casual Concepts at Arab Street. And, the line-up is completely random. So, we got grouped with a bunch of metal-heads and an indie folk-singer. But, it was a really fun night in that we didn’t know who we were playing to and what the reception was going to be like. As a result, we were exposed to a completely different sub-culture. Plus, we made some friends there!

On their choice of musical artists to be stranded with on a desert island

It will be a different choice for everyone. ZZ will choose his favourite funk band, Snarky Puppy. While Mark will probably pick his hero, Jamie Callum. It will be fun jamming with him on a desert island using coconuts, just because Jamie Callum looks like the sort who can create great music out of nowhere. John opts for the great Freddie Mercury. Lastly, Jamie says that she’ll just pick the hottest musician around. And, that’s why she’s the bimbo of the band *laughs*.

Guilty musical pleasure

Taylor Swift; once we had to cover ‘Everything Has Changed’, and through the process we found out that John’s guilty pleasure is Taylor Swift. Ultimately, what you hate is what you really love. 

On the next step for The MadHatter Project

The most important thing about playing music is playing it, so we love to continue to play. We are trying to look for more venues to play. It’s not easy starting out in the music scene. Plus we are still a young band, so we are still growing as well. Hopefully, we can still write songs together in our unique style. So, there will be some more recordings along the way.

We are perfectionists, so we wouldn’t release anything just for the sake of it. But, an EP may be on the way. You can rest assured that it will be ‘holistic’. And in the process, we hope to gain a foothold in the local music market. By putting our music out there, we hope that people will like us.