Sounds of Singapore: Inside the country's slow-burning BIGSOUND rise
This year, three incredibly different acts from Singapore showcased the region's multi-faceted music world.
All images by @hishamthamc.
One thing perhaps surprising to those who see nothing of BIGSOUND aside from endless social media self-promotion from developing bands and the cliché industry roll call, is that it's not just a thing for Australians. Over the years, a growing number of international artists have found their footings in the Australian market through BIGSOUND - New Zealand's The Beths as early as last year - while others use the festival as a stepping stone in the midst of greater tours on the go; their standard Brisbane show absorbed into BIGSOUND to cater to the dwindling number of free live music venues in the area.
Singapore, meanwhile, are a country that utilise BIGSOUND to celebrate something bigger, with a strategic showcase every year - under Hear65, an initiative of the National Arts Council and produced by Bandwagon - introducing the Australian audience to a select collection of artists that feel like the next frontier of their local live music scene. It's an opportunity for two incredibly unique musical worlds to combine; the community-centric aspects of both sides coming together as a ground-built Australian music conference and festival hosts a smattering of Singapore's hand-chosen next-best-things, and the result is a celebration of exactly that, and a glimpse of a larger, building musical world beyond the saturation of Australia's many facets of talent.
This year, Singapore's Hear65 showcase felt its most diverse - to date, at least - as they explore they internationally introduce the fringe of their music world, capturing what's going on away from commercial heavyweights that are often associated with their music culture - JJ Lin, for a Singapore-centric example currently eyeing the top of their local chart, holding off the near-domination of South Korea's increasingly global k-pop market. Much like in Australia, it proves that often the best bits are away from what everyone else is looking at, bubbling under the radar waiting to be discovered and unearthed as the next big thing.
Despite only welcoming three acts this year, they each stood entirely different to one another to showcase their respective sounds as a whole - not just who they were as a band explicitly. Lincoln Lim, for example, provides a peering eye into the intersection of indie, electronica and pop, introducing us to the a more commercialised side of Singaporean music even if he doesn't have the grand pull of some of the country's heavyweights. .gif, the second band, was a summation of Singapore's glitchy electronic experimentation, while Caracal brought the rock - and a lot of it - as they introduced us to the realm of Singapore's heavy scene.
However, regardless of the music each act makes and the genre boundaries it may be boxed within, it was clear that these three acts were the best - or perhaps the most exciting - of their respective sounds.
First, came Lincoln Lim. Introduced to us as a creator of glistening indie in a similar vein to Ben Howard and James Vincent McMorrow, it wouldn't be a surprise to see someone like Lincoln Lim to use his showcase to highlight the beauty of his sound - the sparse productions and how they ebb and flow amongst the vocal around it. Instead, however, it was fiery and rich with the upbeat passion that you can hear teased throughout his dripping vocal brought to life; his music feeling more charged and uplifting when it's backed by a full band that squeezes the energy out of his swaying indie-electronica.
Then, in a rapid change of pace, came .gif. On introduction, .gif were a pairing who explored this Kllo-esque niche of electronica, adding a swaying, Singapore twist to this down-tempo electronic sound which could easily pick up at home. At BIGSOUND, however, their live show morphed into a moment of experimentalism, moving from Björk-esque bird calls to clanging percussive dance as the set grew longer; allowing each of their songs to span long durations to allow the layers to gradually conjoin and flourish, eventually falling together as something remarkably special.
Finally, in yet another change of sound, was Caracal. After discovering the madness of their aptly-titled single Mouth of Madness, we knew that Caracal's set at BIGSOUND was one that was going to stand out - and that, it did. It was a performance of their defying, high-energy power; rapid guitar riffs and charged vocals combining as the group inject a heavy rock madness into BIGSOUND in a way that very little other bands did. It captured the mayhem of a band all about spotlighting exactly that, and when the performance eventually came to a close, it felt like that was your only chance to breathe - the blistering punk of Caracal proving attention-dominating for the entire time they were on stage.
Together, these three acts highlighted Singapore's music scene as a glowing, multi-faceted pot of genre-bending excitement, and showcase exactly what Hear65 envision with their yearly trips to BIGSOUND. That is, that even if you don't hear about it as much as the all-consuming music cultures around it, Singapore has something special going on.
Stay tuned, as no doubt, next year will see Singaporean music steal the show once again.