Last week, Neon Lights Festival returned and brought a head-turning array of artists to our shores. Boasting a stand-out line-up that saw the likes of Mumford & Sons, HONNE, Mura Masa, AURORA, Nick Murphy FKA Chet Faker, King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard and more perform over two days, this year's edition had its fair share of ups and downs.
For one, there were the astounding sets that we got to take in for the price you'd normally pay to see a single headliner. But there were also setbacks that marred the experience, such as the technological difficulties that, according to the organisers, let to Nick Murphy performing a surprisingly short set, as well as the entrance delays during peak hours on day one, where crowds peaked right before HONNE was scheduled to take the stage.
While undoubtedly frustrating for some, there were moments to cherish for many. Below, we celebrate the highlights of Neon Lights 2019.
KING GIZZARD & THE LIZARD WIZARD
To say that King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard deserved to perform in front of a larger crowd is an understatement. Taking the stage at 3:15pm on Saturday, day one of the festival, the Australian standouts played to a small-but-appreciative crowd. While the band is used to performing in front of massive crowds at festivals now, the seven-piece outfit put on a tight, intimate set. As the band called everyone to get closer to the stage, mosh pits broke out, and everyone in attendance – whether they knew of King Gizzard or not – had a good time.
As King Gizzard noted, this would be its final performance of the year, and the seven members made damn sure they gave us everything they had. Kicking things off with 'Venusian 2' and 'Self-Immolate', King Gizzard threw out solo after solo and thrashy riffs, fast and heavy. For a moment, you'd forget that you weren't at a metal festival. Giving the fans what they wanted, the band played hits like 'The Lord of Lightning' and 'Wah Wah' before closing the set out with 'Planet B'.
If you weren't present for King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard's set, you really missed out.
MUMFORD & SONS
It took 12 years, but Mumford & Sons finally made its way onto Singaporean shores for a show. Undoubtedly the biggest act on the Neon Lights bill after Halsey's unfortunate pull-out, Mumford & Sons drew in the single -biggest crowd of the entire weekend, and rightfully so.
After taking the world by storm with its debut back in 2009, just two years after its formation, the quartet finally made its long-awaited debut in the Lion City and bestowed upon us a performance that more than surpassed anticipation. As the band made its way on stage, the excitement on the festival grounds was at fever pitch, as fans roared and clapped thunderously. Then, with a four-count of a hi-hat, we were off.
Kicking off the set with 'Guiding Light', the band's signature sound filled the air at Fort Canning, and got the crowd jumping and dancing along instantly. After playing through 'The Cave' and 'Beloved', the band greeted the Singapore crowd, and spoke of how special the show was for them, as it was a homecoming of sorts for bassist Ted Dwayne, who had spent his formative teenage years growing up in Singapore. This, of course, was met with deafening roars and applauds.
As we carried on through the set, the band pulled out their biggest hits, such as 'Little Lion Man', 'Lover of the Light' and 'Ditmas', before closing things off with 'I Will Wait'. As they bid the crowd farewell, and took their bows, Mumford & Sons promised to return to Singapore soon, and that's a promise we sincerely hope they live up to.
It's no secret that Singapore loves HONNE. After packing out the Capitol Theater twice in March this year, HONNE would return to Singapore to take on its biggest stage in the country yet. As the beloved duo rocked the main stage of Neon Lights, drawing in the second-largest crowd of the weekend, it can rest easy knowing that this performance was quite possibly its best set in Singapore, so far.
From the opening track, 'Warm on a Cold Night' to 'I Got You', to final track 'Day 1', the crowd sang along to every song, and reveled in the good vibes and sultry sounds that band has come to claim.
There are good artists and then there are phenomenal ones – the fine line between them being that the latter wholly embodies their music. AURORA is testament to that. While her sound already brims with an undeniable and distinct resplendence , seeing her in the flesh was an utterly spellbinding experience and solidified a singular truth: She lives and breathes her music.
Opening with ‘Churchyard’, she instantaneously electrified the shared space as her limpid voice fused with cheers from the audience. Then, she delivered ‘River’ and ‘A Different Kind of Human’, both immensely moving, tender and powerful all at once. Her sonic force and sheer energy ascended to a heady intensity, wholly captivating the audience as we swayed and jumped in tandem with her, when she performed her defining, empowering anthems ‘Apple Tree’, ‘The Seed’ and ‘Queendom’.
The power of the crowd arrived at a pinnacle during a power trip which plunged everything into silence during ‘Running with the Wolves’. Undaunted, the audience filled the temporary void, shouting the lyrics to the chorus before AURORA joined back in, appearing awestruck, the fire in her voice rekindled.
She ended her set with ‘Daydreamer’, enveloping us with an uplifting vision and reminding us to believe.
G-Flip was tasked with the gargantuan duty of replacing day two's headliner Halsey on short notice. Given her unusual circumstance, and the absolutely unwarranted hate directed towards her, G-Flip handled herself like a consummate professional.
After a less-than-satisfactory performance from Nick Murphy due to the unfortunate technical issues, the crowd's energy was at an all-time low. But G-Flip turned things around, and easily won over what was left of the crowd. This being her first time performing in Asia, the Australian multi-instrumentalist and singer put on a showcase that won't soon be forgotten.
As she drummed and sang her heart out, the crowd reciprocated, as they welcomed her with open arms, and let her lively persona and music close out the festival. You may have been bummed that Halsey did not perform at Neon Lights, but there's no denying that G-Flip has proven she rose to the occasion and converted bystanders to fans.
Mura Masa closed out day one of Neon Lights with a beautiful set after a significant portion of HONNE's and Mumford & Sons' fanbase had left the festival grounds. Being one of the biggest acts on the bill, the young producer's production for his special live set was nothing short of astounding.
Mura Masa, accompanied by an incredible backup singer in Fliss, put on an incredible show that undeniably capped off a wonderful night of live music. Fliss' energy onstage was equal parts electrifying and infectious, as she got the crowd jumping along with her during tracks like 'Love$ick' and 'No Hope Generation'. Mura Masa took on vocal duties for a handful of tracks, and thanked the crowd for staying throughout the festival to catch his set.
While his set wasn't the best performance of the weekend, it sure did resonate with a lot of festival-goers – and left them satisfied for the night.
Local pop stalwarts Disco Hue took the stage at Neon Lights on day one, right after King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard's frenetic set, and was tasked with taking punters to a lighter, breezier realm, as they prepared for upcoming sets from HONNE, Mumford & Sons and Mura Masa.
As the evening crowd strolled in to secure their spots for the remaining sets of the night, they were treated to the marriage between funk, pop and soul that occurs whenever the quartet gets together.
For anyone watching for the first time, Gus Dapperton’s flamboyant idiosyncrasies, wholly amplified by his Technicolour aesthetic and boundless exuberance, were thoroughly riveting. Transcending the sterile space of the Internet, he effectively delivered his blend of gauzy bedroom pop, soft rock and R&B-driven groove, packed with an unrelentless ardour that was evident in sound and his physical manifestation.
While delivering his hit tracks ‘I’m Just Snacking’, ‘Ditch’ and ‘Gum, Toe and Sole’, he single-handedly erased all notions of physical boundaries, grooving hard with his band members and affectionately smushing his forehead against theirs. Next, he compellingly continued to draw us into his meandering journey in love with ‘Verdigris’ and ‘Moodna, Once With Grace’.
Then, he made himself comfortable with his band during ‘My Favourite Fish’, as they sat cross-legged in the middle of the stage. Accompanied by only an acoustic guitar at the start, Gus delivered this stripped-back, vulnerable track as he arrived at the apex of true love, and most poignantly, we were standing there with him.
Four-piece jazz ensemble BADBADNOTGOOD has long since proven its sonic expansivity with its eclectic and progressive discography which straddles jazz and experimental electronica. At the festival, the band transcended even that, improvising with a fluidity that surpasses the traditional lexicon. Singular parts effortlessly bled into one another, with an elegance that disrupts the canon yet creates a higher-order harmony.
However, while the scheduled hour-long set might have proven too long to sustain the unwavering attention of the crowd, BBND remained undaunted. With each disparate unit playing an equally significant role throughout, the collective delivered a scintillating performance packed with unrelenting energy, unspooling its sophistication in sound marked with a vibrant, sparkling effervescence.
BONUS: FRINGE ACTIVITIES AND FESTIVAL GRUB
Other notable things that occurred during the arts and music festival were the art installations, the smaller stage, at which Clean Bandit performed a DJ set, the Silent Disco, and the fantastic food options available.
While festival-goers waited for their favourite acts to take the stage, they killed the changeover time by checking out the interesting, and thought provoking art structures. Over at the cozy food village, that featured fan-favourite festival cuisine such as tacos, sliders, Nashville hot chicken and vegan dishes, there was something for everyone.