Asia for beginners. Paradise for expats. Cashed up kids with a lotta love for music. Singapore has a lot going for it, and concert professionals have been working it for years, to varying degrees of success.
Singapore’s music scene is growing. No doubt about it. U2 will play there for the first time on Dec. 1 with their Joshua Tree Tour, details for which are splashed on cabs in the city state. Former Chugg Entertainment CEO Matthew Lazarus-Hall recently relocated to Singapore to join AEG Presents in a pan-Asian executive role. Laneway Festival, organized by Chugg and Lunatic Entertainment, was a regular feature on the Singapore events calendar until skipping this year and next. Neon Lights isn’t going anywhere.
On a wet late November weekend, the music and arts festival celebrated its fourth year with a lineup featuring the likes of Mumford & Sons, Nick Murphy (aka Chet Faker), Mura Masa, Hot Dub Time Machine and G-Flip, the latter two replacing Halsey’s day two-headline slot after the U.S. pop artist pulled out in the week leading up to showtime and slotted right into the AMAs lineup.
Neon Lights is held at Fort Canning Park, a historic, elevated green space where Malay royalty once ruled in medieval times and where, as its name would suggest, a former military fort once sat.
Music festivals in Singapore are in a much earlier stage of evolution than in Europe, North America or Australia, and NL is trying something different. Running for 11 hours each day, across multiple music areas with roving acts and kid-friendly spaces, Neon Lights can claim to now be one of Singapore’s longest running multi-stage events booking international indie and electronic acts alongside buzzy local artists.
Rain threatened, sometimes it poured during the Nov. 23-24 fest. In Singapore at this time of year, it’s never far away.
It didn’t dampen the spirits. The Neon Lights crowd, which numbered an estimated 8,000-plus each day, was a melting pot of personalities. Of Hijabs and tattoos, young, edgy locals, 30-something Brits, Americans and Aussies with their kids riding piggyback, grown men in Santa hats.
When it rains, it pours. And when it’s hot in Singapore, you wear shorts.
Trousers above the knee were the order of the weekend, not just in the crowd but on stage. During their sweaty late afternoon day 1 set, Aussie psychedelic rock outfit King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard set the tone with five of its seven members wearing shorts. On day two, both members of compatriot disco-leaning electronic duo Cosmo’s Midnight went with short pants, as did members of Canada’s instrumental outfit Badbadnotgood later in the day.
Marcus Mumford apparently didn’t get the memo. Clan in black, the London rocker and his band Mumford & Sons played to a packed main stage crowd Saturday night. “It feels like playing in a hot bar,” noted the frontman, who made his apologies for never bringing the band to Singapore in years past.
“(Bass player) Ted lived here as a kid. He’s been begging us for 12 years to come here and now I see why,” he told the heaving crowd, as his group launched into their 2009 breakthrough hit “Little Man Lion.”
If a festival was a sporting contest, then Neon Lights was a game of two halves. On day two, the heavens opened early to create a sleepy Sunday feel. The vibe on site was chill as a succession of mellow, electronic practitioners worked the main stage.
Clean Bandit ratcheted up the energy levels with a DJ and MC afternoon set on the second stage. “We’ve been to Singapore a few times and we always have a sick time,” Yasmin Green told the eager audience.
Neon Lights will return in November 2020, though a date has yet to be announced. Billboard caught up with Neon Lights’ promoter Declan Forde, a live events veteran who has staged festivals in Europe, Australia and UAE.?
Billboard: Why Singapore? What are the audiences hungry for?