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Ever since the first Baybeats at Esplanade thundered onto the Singapore music scene in 2002, the Powerhouse stage has been a beloved staple of the multi-venue alternative music festival. Who knows how many have slamdanced, moshed, crowdsurfed, even stagedived (!) at this makeshift stage, meticulously constructed year after year, known for its imposing size and behemoth sound.
2018 marks the last time the Powerhouse makes its appearance at Baybeats, with the venue’s site marked for construction of a waterfront theatre, due to be completed in 2021. We take a fond look back at some memorable moments at the Powerhouse, from its simple beginnings to even a wedding proposal!
What better place to begin than the beginning? The very first ""Powerhouse stage"" at its iconic location was actually called the Arena at the inaugural Baybeats in 2002! It had an airiness that was similar to the Esplanade Outdoor Theatre, and boasted a much simpler set-up than what we’ve gotten used to in recent years. That debut year, we got a taste of how hard the Baybeats crowd would rock out for the next decade and a half.
Annabelle Faye Danker, who was the stage manager then, remembers, “It was a little stage at the Waterfront Carpark (called the Coach Park then) with barricades that threatened to collapse under the weight of the crowd. It was pretty lo-fi and grungey, so it’s very special to see how much it has grown since.”
With its reputation, the Powerhouse can be an intimidating space to enter. For the fledgling Baybeats Budding Bands, doing this was probably even scarier. Cecilia Chow, former lead programmer of Baybeats, muses, “What stays with me the most are the moments when I stand with the Budding Bands at the side of the stage just before they go on stage for their first Baybeats performance. The excitement can be quite nerve-wracking and you’ll see the bands doing all sorts of things to calm down and get ready!”
Even seasoned musicians can get caught off-guard at the Powerhouse. The crowd might not know it, but crew members get to see all the reactions. Alexandra Chan, former Powerhouse stage manager, shares, “I was backstage with Iman’s League in 2015 and the band was not expecting the crowd that showed up that night. When the crowd screamed as the emcee announced the band, the look on all the band members’ faces was priceless! During the show, the crowd seemed to be singing even louder than the band!”
Sometimes, beloved bands drop off the radar for long periods of time, only to suddenly emerge at Baybeats. And when their comeback takes place at the Powerhouse, their return is all the more triumphant. Popular surf rockers Force Vomit was one of these bands, and their 2013 return to the music scene was a much-awaited one.
Eddino Abdul Hadi, the band’s lead guitarist and vocalist also known as Dino Vomit, remembers their Powerhouse performances, “The thing about playing at the Powerhouse stage is seeing the crowd going nuts in front of you, and this is a cliché but as a performer, you feed off the energy of the crowd and it really amplifies your enthusiasm to play. I always ask myself, where are all these people at the regular shows that we play in other venues? Without a doubt, Force Vomit’s best audiences have always been at our Powerhouse performances.”
Being an outdoor venue, sometimes the weather can get in the way. But for former lead programmer Cecilia Chow, Plainsunset’s comeback in 2016, which turned out to be one of their last shows before they bade Singapore music farewell with a final show at the Esplanade Annexe Studio at the end of year, remains one of her favourite Powerhouse moments. She says, “I will always remember dancing in the rain at Plainsunset’s performance.”
With Baybeats usually happening close to Singapore’s National Day, sometimes the festival gets to enjoy surprise special effects courtesy of the National Day Parade that takes place right next door at NS Square (formerly Floating Platform). It’s a good thing that the Powerhouse mainly features hard-hitting music, because these effects can be pretty hard-hitting too.
Eddino of Force Vomit, shares, “I remember when Embrace Them Ghosts, a Budding Band, played the early Powerhouse set in 2012. They were ferocious on stage but what made it even more memorable was when the helicopters and jets from the National Day Parade preview show flew over the stage. That was super heavy!”
The Powerhouse has seen its fair share of emotional moments, with debuts, comebacks and fond farewells. But none has been as poignant as when Wicked Aura closed the evening at the Powerhouse in 2016. On stage with the band for the very last time was the band’s chocalho (shaker) player Sarong, who passed away about two months later from cancer.
Wicked Aura frontman Budi recalls, “It was a bittersweet performance for Wicked Aura because amidst the loudness of the fans and the din onstage was the heaviness in our hearts as our brother Sarong had been suffering from stage four cancer. One of his last requests was to be onstage with his bandmates one last time. So with permission from his doctors, he joined us with his chocalho. No other gig has been more glorious and meaningful to us all in the Wicked camp.”
More often than not, experiencing a Powerhouse performance makes our hearts race. Little did we know that at Baybeats in 2013, our hearts would melt instead. As grindcore band Wormrot ripped through a blistering set, things took an unexpected turn when lead singer Arif Rot brought out the band’s stage manager Azean Rot, and proposed to her in front of a cheering crowd who gave what they were seeing on stage their roaring approval.
Rock out one last time at the Powerhouse at Baybeats 2018 from 17–19 Aug, 2018.