The outdoor picnic party at Fort Canning Park by Sunshine Nation finished strong, despite technical difficulties and questionable pacing of acts
I firmly adhere to the belief that you don’t fix something that isn’t broken, but that doesn’t necessarily mean there’s no room for improvement. Over the weekend, Sunshine Nation’s Garden Beats Festival returned for another picnic party in the heart of Fort Canning Park, and it’s something that veteran punters should be used to by now.
The scenery is a familiar one – flocks of fest-goers sporting warpaint and donning flower crowns, some chilling in default horizontal positions while others sashay carefreely near the front of the stage. Inebriated individuals tumble over one another while partaking in a drunken game of Twister, aromas of grilled sandwiches and kebabs waft through Deliveroo’s food corner, and a couple makes out near the bushes ’cos all is full of love.
It’s a good vibe, perhaps, for first-timers to the festival or for more blasé punters. But when it comes to a unique music festival experience – and promoters, Sunshine Nation, have undoubtedly thrown a bevy of them – this round of Garden Beats wasn’t a fantastic one.
Like the pacing of a good film, the sequence of acts in a music festival is just as crucial; no one wants to be roused and warmed up for hours only to hit a dud in the subsequent chapter. After brilliant opening sets from tag-teaming stalwarts, KFC and Brendon P, and hotshot from Headquarters by The Council, Julien Brochard, Nils Hoffmann showed deck dexterity beyond his years with a deep, tech-teasing set that gave everyone chills despite the sweltering heat.
So when the much-anticipated Ava Asante came on after, the loudest and most alarming thing that could ever happen at a festival happened – silence. Unfortunately for the Ghanaian vocalist-violinist, her set was derailed momentarily (though at a festival with plenty of fidgety, boozed-up people, this would feel like forever) by technical difficulties, nastily interrupting the otherwise-streamlined flow of her hour-long set. Hiccups aside, Asante’s performance was a spellbinding one, and she deserved more than an hour to show off her chops – especially with the disappointing showcase that followed.
For the record, I’ve nothing against the tropical house phenomenon; I can jam to a Kygo choon if I really wanted to. Autograf is known for churning out such a soundtrack, but I’m convinced that letting them come on with their slow, plodding grooves after the upbeat vigour of the preceding acts wasn’t the best of strategies. Granted, Autograf certainly picked up in their second half as they swerved – abruptly, at that – into a perkier, housey direction, but they sure took their time getting there, and I don’t mean that in a good way.
Thankfully, at least their change in trajectory provided a somewhat sturdy foundation for headliners, Tube & Berger, to pick up from. Once they came on, it was as if the festival had been jolted with another – and much-needed – lease of life; the silhouette of ravers against the spotlights visibly grew larger and more animated as they bounced to the melody-driven house music of the German duo. A big finish? Most definitely.
You might wish to bear in mind that I’m approaching this review from a punter’s point of view, where the music, at a festival like this, is of paramount importance. The concept of Garden Beats remains a unique and exceptional one – many festivals still abhor the notion of BYO-food – and both security and bar crew were admirably on the ball. But if Garden Beats wishes to remain outstanding as a festival – and I do want it to be – it needs to be tighter in its lineup decisions. A somewhat thorny edition, this one, but I’m keeping my fingers crossed that this garden continues to grow.