Monday, 27 July 2015

The Story Behind IGNITE! Music Festival

by Nellie Qistina

IGNITE! Music Festival is in its eighth year running. That’s a substantially long time. And every year, it proves to be a roaring success.

But what is the story behind the iconic IGNITE! Music Festival? How did it start, and how did it become a signature event in Republic Polytechnic and eventually, for the local music scene? There’s no one else better to ask than Mr Ganesh Kalyanam, the Festival Director of IGNITE! Music Festival.

Spotted at IGNITE!: Festival Director, Ganesh Kalyanam with his daughter at IGNTE! Music Festival in 2014. PHOTO BY: Gowri Shaan

IGNITE! Music Festival: Passion & Compassion

When It All Began: IGNITE! in 2008 was not held at RP’s Lawn. In fact, it was at the open space next to TRCC.

It all started in 2008. They were sitting around and dabbling with the idea of hosting music festivals and considering what aspects to focus on. After speaking to many students and a lot of brainstorming, there was a realisation.

“There were no real platforms for local musicians,” said Ganesh. From there, they felt that it would be a great idea to showcase this local talent that was present then.

Apart from that, they also realised that in RP, there were a lot of fledgling bands and even students who were involved in bands and music. These students often find themselves questioning whether they’ll be able to make it or do well in the industry.

“So we felt, hey, this is a great opportunity for us to have a festival showcasing local bands who have made it, have done well and hopefully those bands would ignite the passion in our students to pursue and continue to pursue their interest in music,” he added.

That was how they came up with the name, “IGNITE!”, to ignite the passion of these students.

IGNITE! was not only about ‘Passion’ but it is about ‘Compassion’ as well.

It Comes From The Heart: The IGNITE! crew during Project Passion with Beyond Social Services. They taught these children a thing or two about Body Percussion.

As they were trying to convince people about the music festival, some people had negative perceptions of musicians. “They think that they are all either satanic or drug abusers or you know, people who are not the main stream. So there was a very negative impression of musicians as such,” Ganesh mentioned.

Many people hold pessimistic views of these musicians but fail to realise that they are likely to be everyday people who hold jobs whilst pursuing music in their free time. Some may be fortunate to do it as a profession but many others are ordinary members of the workforce, or even students who are struggling to keep their passion alive.

“We felt that IGNITE! would give another opportunity to showcase musicians, highlight their passion but also show that there is a good side to them as well. We wanted to highlight the compassion part of things, that just because ‘I play hard metal or heavy metal or anything of that type, it doesn’t make me a bad person,” he added. This part, was another dimension of the music festival.

We all know that many music festivals are predominantly about the music, the fun and all. But IGNITE! looks at using music to bring in different types of people together and not only promote passion but also ignite the compassion amongst these people.

That, is how we have ‘IGNITE! Music Festival. Passion and Compassion’.

Why A Music Festival?

Big Stage, Even Bigger Crowds: IGNITE! showcases acts of various genres every year to cater to the different likings of its audiences.
PHOTO BY: Benjamin Ng

But why a music festival? The answer to this was simple. The reason why a music festival was preferred compared to a rock concert, was because the Singapore music industry, as well as the bands in RP, were very wide-ranging in genres. Ideally, a music festival would allow for them to listen to a wide range of genres of music.


They call themselves the “ignitebestcrewever” and notably so, with the amount of hard work they put in each year, they are the “best team ever”.
Perhaps, the cutest one too.

As I listened to the story of how IGNITE! came about, I was amazed at how it all came together and produced a festival that has been running for 7th, coming to its 8th year. Presumably, something as big-scale as IGNITE! has to have a strong team and it does.

Initially when IGNITE! started, it was very much staff-driven. It was the staff’s contacts and the use of their experience in these areas. The students came in just to help out here and there. But now, IGNITE! is almost 90% run by students themselves. Kenny, the main producer for IGNITE! is an alumnus of RP and a lot of the people involved and running the different teams are either current students or alumni. Almost every aspect, from the production to the programming, logistics and the marketing, are all student driven.

As each year passes, IGNITE! has close to about 1000 students involved and they cut across all schools in RP. “For me, it is an even bigger achievement because as an educational institute, I think it is critical that any of these platforms that we create needs to be an opportunity for our students to apply what they have learnt and grow as a person, in terms of being able to manage resources, manage people, manage the event. And I think that, we have been very successful with,” he said.


“GREAT JOB, BRO!”: Two very familiar faces in the local music scene, ShiGGa Shay and Benjamin Kheng of the Sam Willows on stage at IGNITE! Music Festival last year.
PHOTO BY: Benjamin Ng

One other factor about IGNITE! Music Festival was that it is 100% local. Local bands perform and local brands at the village. “Why is this so?” I asked.

Ganesh replied: “Initially, the honest truth was nobody would have come because they don’t know who we are. So we relied a lot on our ‘kakis’ or those bands that we know who came and said “Okay lah, I know you all don’t have the money to pay me but I will come and play.” We relied a lot on our friends, who are all in local bands.”

Then as IGNITE! grew, they got more and more bands from all over the world writing in to them, asking if they can be part of the music festival. And at that point, the team had to make a decision; do they allow international bands to come or do they keep it local?

As discussion took place, they realised that a lot of festivals that brought in international acts ended up becoming more international than it is local and this is partly because of our local behaviour. We cannot deny that one would be willing to pay hundreds of dollars to see an international band but one wouldn’t want to pay to see a local one perform. Additionally, a lot of festivals have already given platforms for international bands to perform and thus, the decision was made to keep IGNITE! purely local.

They saw a trend that initially, when they get established bands to come and play, they were actually achieving what they have hoped for – which is for these experienced bands to inspire and ignite the passion among the younger bands.

Playing at IGNITE! also gives up and coming bands a sense of status and branding. “Every festival, you have a couple of acts that are more established and they become the headliners to attract the crowds. But when the crowds come in, they get to hear these new bands that they may not have heard of before. Many bands have come, played, and moved on to bigger stages and we are happy for that to happen. It is heart-warming to know that in our own small way, we have helped pushed the local music industry,” he stated.

Over the past 7 years, IGNITE! has definitely grown in its depth and its quality is improving. IGNITE! Music Festival is definitely so much more than your run-of-the-mill music festival. As the interview came to a close, I can safely say that the Festival Director himself is very proud of how IGNITE! has evolved, providing platforms to not only local bands to showcase their talent but also to students to further explore their potential and skills with an event such as this one.

Now that we know the story behind IGNITE! Music Festival, let’s hope that it will continue to write even greater ones in the future.

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