August is Singapore’s birthday month – but it’s also the calendar month where some of the most buzzing and vital underground names in Made In Singapore music share the stage with their regional and international counterparts in a befittingly epic shindig: Baybeats.
The 2019 edition of the Esplanade-run festival happened over the course of the weekend of 23 – 25 August, and was a veritable spectacle of sound with a genre-confounding array of acts. From hip-hop to doom metal, artists invoked the legacies of vast and storied canons to a captive audience whose collective size was tangibly monumental and inspiring.
Baybeats 2019 was the site wherein strode returning heroes, fledgling talents and emergent head-turners.
Bandwagon was on-ground for the whole thing and what follows is a day-by-day recap of the best moments of the festival.
Stopgap & LEW
Opening the bill for the festival, we saw Stopgap playing an up close and personal acoustic set at the Chillout Stage as a precursor to its main-stage performance the day after.
Located at the Esplanade Concourse, the Chillout Stage is a relaxed venue for festival-goers to sit back and rest their weary feet while taking in music from the more stripped-down sets of the event. This makes it the best stage to host LEW – a Singaporean artist who takes the clichéd singer-songwriter mould and reshapes it into something that is as devastatingly heartbreaking as it is heartwarming.
Accompanied by his guitarist and keyboardist, LEW delivered raw and honest performances of songs such as ‘Red Flags’ alongside several unreleased tracks. At this intimate and engaging performance, he showcased his undeniable skill as a storyteller and musician as he captivated the audience with soothing vocals and tranquil guitar melodies.
Tell Lie Vision
For fans of bands such as Thrice, Underoath and Sent by Ravens, alternative rock quartet Tell Lie Vision took on the Arena to deliver a face-melting set to the masses. This was Tell Lie Vision’s triumphant return to Baybeats, following its 2016 debut on the now-replaced Powerhouse stage as part of that year’s Baybeats Budding Bands programme.
Comprising of Vikkash Suruchand (vocals/guitars), Hairul Azman (vocals/guitars), Irfan Samsuri (bass) and Lester Chua (drums), Tell Lie Vision’s most recent release is its Regression EP from March of this year. With its return to Baybeats, the band showcased a brand new dimension to its music – a good gauge of where its upcoming new material is headed.
The virtues of being humble culminate in transcendence. Most significantly, why Iman’s League will always stand taller than any opinion on pop punk’s relevance is because the trio has mastered making songs that resound with a poignance that is life-affirming. Seeing a packed-out crowd – within the amphitheatre, there was no space – at the Arena stage supporting the band with impassioned gusto was an incredibly edifying experience. At one point, frontman-guitarist Iman prefaced a song with the rallying cry, “Believe in yourself!”
In that atmosphere, the echoes of that slogan felt exquisite. As for the brass tacks, the band played a tight and effective set, peppered with rousing moments such as ‘Lisa’.
One of the most resonant and powerful sights of the entire festival was being in the midst of the full Arena Stage and hearing the crowd chanting the band’s name before its set. “Rudra! Rudra! Rudra!” was both a mantra and war cry – affirming both the band’s legendary status and the fact, that, as frontman-bassist Kathir opined at one point, “Heavy metal is not dead in Singapore!”
Few bands not in the privileged US-Europe orbit can make an impact that resonates beyond their home countries. Fewer still can accomplish that by furthering an uncompromisingly original sound. Rudra is that band. In its 27-year existence, the blast radius of its pioneering Vedic metal signature has penetrated the global metal consciousness and emblazoned it with its mark. The band’s Baybeats set was a homecoming celebration of this fact. The riffs were titanic, the rhythms seismic and the solos, sublime.
A movement that is more than the sum of its choruses, EMONIGHTSG is always a good time. But as the closer for day one of Baybeats 2019, it resounded even more gloriously with its merits: Completely independent, youth-built, music-celebrating and ground-up.
From 11pm to 3am, Bryan Ulric Santa Maria, Amelia Chen and Edwin Waliman unspooled song after song from the second-wave emo and pop punk spectrum. The full-house crowd at the Annexe was essentially treated to a four-hour-long musical catharsis, wherein nostalgia reigned. Hearing My Chemical Romance and co. lead the charge from the house speakers will never get old because the community that keeps that music alive is single-mindedly devoted to spreading positivity in the process.
Anthem after anthem, the mood was infectious, intoxicating and fun. For this writer, it was a legendary night.
Malaysian psychedelic rock outfit Golden Mammoth brought its brand of hypnotic music across the causeway with its performance on the LiveWire Stage. The group played to a sea of people at the Esplanade Forecourt and charmed its way into their hearts with catchy basslines, full-bodied vocals and experimental-yet-melodic guitar riffs.
Blues-flavoured and jazz-infused, Syabil, Que, Zaki, Faris and Ojay lit up the stage and delivered a mesmerising set to the post-dinner crowd. Just as its name suggests, Golden Mammoth’s honeyed soundscape brought about a certain zen to the hustle and bustle of the Esplanade and the festival.
Helming the Annexe, Shye brought together the youths of Singapore for an intimate performance of an intimidating proportion. Throngs and throngs of people filed into the Esplanade Annexe Studio to catch the Singaporean chanteuse in her natural habitat.
Conversing effortlessly with the crowd, Shye made it seem like she was playing to family and friends – and maybe, she was. Her down-to-earth attitude has endeared her to her fans, and that has worked highly in her favour. To top it all off, Shye busted out a white Fender Stratocaster and played some songs live on the guitar for the Baybeats attendees.
In the zeitgeist of Singaporean indie rock, Sobs occupies a place of considerable prominence. The Celine Autumn-fronted outfit is one most cultishly beloved bands in the country and its flock is as devoted as it is legion. At its big-stage Baybeats showing, the crowd most definitely made its presence felt.
And the band amply rewarded us. As the mouthpiece and cynosure of the endeavour, Autumn was transfixing – her syrupy sweet voice has a range of it own that immediately compounds the shoegaze-y visions of her bandmates into something beautiful and surreal.
Besides songs from its name-making two projects Catflap and Telltale Signs, the band also played a slew of new songs that featured more expansive arrangements.
After its acoustic sets, Stopgap brought out the big guns for its LiveWire Stage outing. This marked the first time in a hot minute that the band had played live and watching them at it proved how much they were missed.
The band’s most winning quality is the winking, playful verve with which it sneaks technicality and complexity into the lexicon of pop music, expanding it in legitimately enjoyable ways. As frontman Adin Kindermann sang and danced, his band unraveled dreamy, shimmering textures and voluptuous grooves. There were pockets of people dancing throughout the space – bobbing heads and moving bodies furnished a wordless testimony of the set.
Se So Neon
Baybeats 2019 also brought South Korean indie rock band Se So Neon to Singaporean shores for the first time ever. Hailing from Seoul, Se So Neon is made up of So-Yoon (vocals/guitar), U Su (drums) and Park Hyunjin (bass). Despite only being in its third year, this band has already been awarded ‘Rookie of The Year’ and ‘Best Rock Song of The Year’ at the 2018 Korean Music Awards.
Part of its Hello World Tour, Se So Neon opened its Baybeats set with rolling drum beats courtesy of U Su. The rest of its performance was a bounce-inducing one as So-Yoon’s distinct voice stood in contrast to the groovy bass-driven instrumentals. For the people in attendance, the set was an apt introduction to what Se So Neon is all about.
No Rest for the Weary
Heavy music has always had a home at Baybeats and this tradition was upheld at the 2019 edition. On Saturday, No Rest for the Weary and I, Devotion presented a one-two punch of brain-battering music.
Opening the Arena Stage, No Rest for the Weary brought forth a bounty of pummelling deathcore. Splitting the difference between various schools of metal, the band was a beyond-convincing proposition. By the time they played the closer ‘Desolation’, it was clear that they more than did their 10-year legacy proud.
I, Devotion was likewise formidable but the band’s set also heralded a tearful occasion: This was the band’s last show for the foreseeable future. Bringing on multiple guest singers, and invoking their blend of melody and distortion, the band was absolutely unrelenting. At one point, tearing up, the members hugged each other – their sadness was palpable.
Closing the second night at the Arena were two stellar performances by Franco and Speak Up. For their set, Franco brought with them soaring vocals, punchy guitar riffs and devastating percussion. Franco flew the flag of the Philippines high and proud as they introduced their unique blend of alternative rock with a reggae twist to the Singaporean masses. Songs such as the surf-based track ‘Aurora Sunrise’ got the crowd on their feet and swaying to the melodic offerings of Franco.
Indonesian punk rock band Speak Up played right after Franco’s set. Invoking sounds such as those of Bad Religion, The Ramones, Rise Against, Speak Up presented the audience with soaring singalongs and fist-pumping guitars. Despite the language barrier for some, due to the band performing in mainly Bahasa Indonesia, Speak Up brought the energy and grittiness of punk rock to Baybeats – a perfect way to end a fun-filled night..
Last year, hip-hop was embraced by Baybeats for the first time. And this year, its ambassadors were simply exemplary. Coming on first, Airliftz, one of the most vital rap voices in Malaysia, delivered an utterly soulful and uplifting performance. Backed by live musicians, he brought a funked-out, soul-accented warmth to the rap mode. His newest song, ‘SEA GYAL’, was superbly received.
MEAN is an esteemed presence in Made In Singapore hip-hop. We don’t get to see enough of him live but when we do, we’re gifted with a show-stopping performance. Likewise melding his beat-heavy arsenal with live instrumentation, MEAN turned in a fiery, intense performance.
Just like Airliftz, he barely had recourse to a backing track, rapping his catalogue, including his stellar 2017 EP By Any Means – it was nice surprise when Airliftz came onstage for his part on ‘Pull Up’ – and his Kidkanevil-produced single ‘Fall Out’, bar for bar.
He closed off day two of Baybeats in spectacular fashion.
cues & Plate
As Singapore’s pioneering alternative music festival, Baybeats has been crucial in cultivating the local music scene over the last 18 editions. The Baybeats Budding Bands programme is an artist development programme aimed at identifying and showcasing local independent bands with the potential to excel musically and in their music career.
This year, math rock outfit cues and ambient rock band Plate were among the six bands who emerged victorious in the programme. Each of them were allotted a 30-minute set, and both bands made the most of it. cues and its sweeping instrumentals opened the LiveWire Stage while the skilled musicians of Plate warmed up the Arena on the final day of the festival.
The lone female hip-hop voice, Indonesian sensation RAMENGVRL held court majestically at the Livewire Stage. Hyping over her spare, bassy and minimals cuts, she cut an alluringly menacing and ice-cold figure. Her massive crowd was palpably into her every word. There was dancing everywhere – the vibe was resplendent. Hers was a set of fist-up hooks and pulsing beats. The interpolation of Travis Scott’s most resounding calling card ‘SICKO MODE’ was a turbocharged surprise.
This trio’s rep as jokesters belies their formidable musical chops. Musical agility incarnate, the band flitted from three-chord punk, ska, hardcore and metal in the span of a single song – with seamless aplomb and gimmick-free distinction. Muscular, dynamic and always hilarious, Amterible’s performance was a banner for how the “alternative” in alt-rock could be singular and beyond the pale in the best possible way.
Marijannah’s understanding of the value of power accrued through rhythm is a boon to heavy music of any canon.
When it opened with its newest song, ‘Bloodsucker’, it shook the stratosphere with its weaponised cocktail of dense riffs and juddering rhythms. Every Marijannah song is a sledgehammer of sound. Receiving them live is to bear witness to the sheer, pulverising majesty of volume and how it is a canvas unto itself – one that Marijannah knows how to fill with meaning and its own one-of-a-kind image.
As final strains of the unreleased closer ‘1966’ echoed into the atmosphere, those of us in attendance knew we has just experienced something mythically special.
Filipino rock/metal band Slapshock brought the Arena to a pounding end with its head-banging offerings. Formed in 1997, the band celebrated its 22nd anniversary with the Baybeats crowd. This is part of Slapshock’s Bandera tour, in promotion of its 2017 album, atake.
The performance was an electrifying display of camaraderie between the band and the crowd – interaction between both parties were highlighted by claps, head-banging and cheers. Loud as they are, Slapshock’s lyrics were amplified tenfold by the crowd literally screaming them back.
The Analog Vault Selectors x .gif
On the final day of Baybeats, The Analog Vault joined forces with Singaporean electronic duo .gif for an eclectic DJ live set at the Annexe. The space was transformed into an atmospheric vacuum of rumbling beats and distinct vocals courtesy of Weish, Din and The Analog Vault Selectors. Decked out in fairy lights against the backdrop of Singapore’s cityscape, this special ambient performance showed how they could harness and release energy with a subtle power.