Sonica Music Festival, held at the Sidney Myer Music Bowl on a Friday (March 17) evening was, in theory, the perfect way to unwind ahead of the weekend. Despite the festival’s promising line-up, Sonica regrettably fell flat due to a lacklustre execution.
The first performance of the evening was Hong Kong’s Gareth.T decked out in the iconic bright yellow jumpsuit worn by fellow martial artist Bruce Lee, as a way of honouring his hometown. He performed tracks from his discography such as ‘Benjamin Franklin’ and ‘Whole World’, prompting the crowd to move to the music, creating a genuine moment of connection with the audience through heartfelt music. Gareth.T was a striking sight as he evoked a sense of intimacy with his audience by paying attention to the details of his performances and a curated setlist featuring different languages paying homage to Hong Kong and his culture.
After saying his goodbyes to the crowds, DJ Small FRY takes the stage to play her remixes of popular K-pop songs to amp up the crowd’s energy. Emcee Andy Trieu helped dial the energy of the festival to an 11 with giveaways of goodies autographed by Sonica’s performing artists between acts, maximising these spare pockets of time by hosting various challenges. However, the constraints of the venue itself left many festival-goers – especially those scattered around the far ends of the bowl – missing out on the giveaways and thus, a tougher crowd to please when such interactions were limited to those holding front-stage tickets.
The second act of the night was Singaporean singer-songwriter Gentle Bones, opening his set with ‘Good In Me’, which set the tone for a melancholic setlist revolving around the woes of falling in love. Despite his best efforts, the crowd was ostensibly indifferent to his performances, perhaps due to a widespread lack of familiarity with his discography. During his set, he also sang an unreleased single titled ‘Please Excuse My Hesitation’ – an enchantingly wistful track that highlights his vocal ability. He ended his set on a dreamy note with the performance of his last few songs: ‘settle down’, ‘until we die’ and ‘Dear Me,’ backed by the strumming of his acoustic guitar.
As the sun sets, Amber Liu’s appearance on the stage is heralded by blinding strobe lights and the roaring of an electric guitar. Amber did not shy away from being vulnerable despite being in the spotlight that night, subsequently captivating the audience with a motivational speech about believing in themselves and how doing that has since inspired her to keep pursuing her craft. This made for an impactful segue to the live debut of brand-new track ‘No More Sad Songs’, which was released the same day of the festival. The feat of connecting with everyone in the audience that day by providing a glimpse into who she is – and more importantly her vulnerability – was incredible to witness.
Amber’s vibrant personality and commanding stage presence were infectious presences, as everyone promptly got on their feet to dance to ‘Countdown’. She later ends her set on a high note to ‘Other People’, everyone was pumped and excited, elevating the energy of the audience. It was a delight watching her perform with such fervour; there was the comfort of knowing she was having just as much fun on stage as we were in the crowd.
An ocean of glimmering light sticks illuminate the Sidney Myer Music Bowl, in stark contrast to the darkness of the stage. The sound of a violin erupts from the stage – a dramatic entrance fitting for Henry Lau as he enthusiastically belts out a remix of ‘Dance Monkey’ by Tones and I and ‘Attention’ by Charlie Puth. What was a initial wave of confusion turned into awe as Henry continued to impress the crowd with his ability to wield the violin, a keyboard and his voice in one number.
Credit: Sonica Music Festival
Henry’s set stood out from the rest due to his resourcefulness, making use of everyday objects like plastic water bottles, rubbish bins, and more to aid his performance. With a drumstick in hand and his electric keyboard, the tunes melded to form the instrumental to Imagine Dragon’s ‘Believer’. Not only did his musical talents leave a substantial degree of impact on festival goers that night, but his charming personality also shone through with Henry actively engaging with the audience as he crooned the lyrics to ‘Monster’.
Despite being a whopping five hours into the event, the crowd’s energy never wavered. Henry’s violin never left his side, even as he rounded out the last two songs on his set – ‘Moonlight’ and ‘It’s You’. To the dismay of the crowd, everyone began chanting “encore” for the first time that night. The familiar and welcome sound of his violin cut through the chanting and Henry emerged amidst the audience, before he performed an electrifying cover of Lil Nas X’s ‘Old Town Road’. The way Henry created this immersive experience for everyone in the audience that night was impressive, due to his showmanship. This remains true even for those who were unfamiliar with his music.
After Henry exited the stage, colourful lights began flashing across the stage and the cheering of the crowd rang across the venue as Zico – the final performer for the night – lunged straight into ‘Freak’. Zico’s upbeat stage presence was unmistakable; you can’t help but be drawn to the sheer excitement radiating off the stage. The familiar, catchy tune to ‘Any Song’ began playing after. This was a song that I was thrilled to hear live, and Zico did not leave me disappointed. We are later privy to Zico’s melancholic side as he performs another viral track, ‘I am You, You are Me’, which aptly showcased his diversity, despite being more widely known as a hip-hop artist specialising in rap. He later powered through dynamic, self-written rap verses on ‘New Thing’, ‘Geobukseon’, and ‘Okay Dokey’ with unrivalled charisma. After what seemed like the end of his set – and by extension, Sonica Music Festival as a whole – Zico made a final return to the stage for an encore (as demanded by the audience) with ‘Boys And Girls’, ending the festival on the perfect high note.
Despite the slow and laidback pace the festival started with, the night ended satisfactorily, if uinexceptional. The way in which Sonica Music Festival panned out didn’t skew too far on either side of the scale of good and bad, but it definitely demanded extra effort to connect with the artists if their music was unfamiliar to the average festival goer. As it always does with festivals of this scale, sets felt faster when the audience is engaged, which only grew in the second-half of the line-up where the musicians, specifically Henry, went the extra mile to curate a setlist that was friendlier for the general public. Likewise, the order of the line-up played a crucial role in setting the mood for the festival, with the more reputable artists playing towards the end giving an unfair advantage to those performing in the beginning. It was regrettably a lot quieter in the beginning, a time when a majority of concert-goers had yet to take their seats in the arena.
Overall, Sonica Music Festival had done its due diligence in showcasing a variety of Asian pop artists as promised, but the execution definitely left something to be desired with the lack of consistent stage presence and audience engagement across its line-up.