Indie music, handmade crafts and gastronomic delights come together to #GETWEIRD as Haw Par Villa celebrates its 80th anniversary.
A fascinating backstory
It’s been a while since Haw Par Villa had seen so much life beyond its intricately decorated gates. Born in March 1937, this eclectic Asian cultural park was a twist on any traditional Chinese garden the world had ever seen – a magical, mystical journey into Chinese mythology.
It was conceptualised from the unusual but ingenious mind of Aw Boon Haw, curated for his younger brother Aw Boon Par. Together, they formed the duo who brought us the ointment we all know, Tiger Balm), giving rise to the name “Haw Par Villa”, a combination of the two names.
Haw Par Villa used to be a familiar family playground, but has since fallen out of favour in recent years with younger Singaporeans and become rather worn down. However, in an attempt to re-engage younger Singaporeans and in celebration of the weird and wonderful that Haw Par Villa symbolises, the National Arts Council brought us the inaugural Noise Invasion Festival. NOISE Singapore and Invasion SG were the organisers, supported by the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth.
Culture and heritage hub by day, indie arts hub by night
I arrived in the late afternoon, and the daytime activities of the Haw Par Villa 80th Anniversary Fiesta, organised by Journeys Pte Ltd, were just concluding. The recently refurbished dioramas of Chinese folklore were greeted with eager visitors and their cameras. Unsurprisingly, the famous Ten Courts of Hell gained the most attention. Other activities included sunset yoga, parkour and calligraphy workshops.
As the sun was setting over the park, the crowd seemed to exponentially increase in size. The Festival activities began. A NOISE spokesman told The New Paper that the festival’s concept revolved around “embracing all that is strange and beautiful”.
The best dressed group of 4 stood a chance to win a staycation at M Social Singapore. As I made my way around the park, I bumped shoulders with people who fully committed to the theme. Humongous sparkly bows, elaborate animal costumes, faces full of dramatic makeup, and a few vampires and witches here and there in the spirit of Halloween.
A feast for the eyes
Behold, the first sign that indicated to me that I had reached the main festival area. Visitors tried their hand at street art on the Great Wall of Art. Later in the night, the veteran street artists Slacsatu and Freaky Fir spray painted over what had been done and produced a giant wall of art, in accordance to the theme #GETWEIRD. (Better to let the professionals manage something that will be there for quite a while, I think.)
As far as I know, the mural art will be at Haw Par Villa for an indefinite period of time, so do go check it out and get some Instagram-worthy shots!
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Local art explosion
In front of a walkway decorated with fairy lights was the sign “Art Market”. Within that walkway were two rows of local artists selling an array handcrafted goods, inclusive of unique jewellery, clothes, watches, and even makeup – I know right, what? Faux Fayc Cosmetics, a homegrown makeup brand selling mascara and lipsticks among other products, had their lipstick collection on display, going for $16 each.
Brands by Singaporeans
I had the lovely opportunity to talk to two of the local artists, Si Qi from Laugh and Belly (IG|Website), and Cheryl from The Sugar Fox (IG|Website). Si Qi, affectionately known as Sushi, had on sale watercolour cards and stickers all designed by her. Her business, previously a hobby, also includes holding watercolour and brush-lettering workshops, among others.
Cheryl was selling her handmade pins and patches, and even produced some in collaboration with tattoo artists. Cats and food – the two things that she love, inspired most of her items. Despite being a 2-year-old business, she ships internationally and learnt how to produce everything by herself!
Food for the ghouls
Ever-hungry Singaporeans, myself included, made their way to the food street before the musical line-up began to perform. Lines began to form in front of the food stalls. Among them were Enchanted Cafe, The Cultured People, Churros Factory and The Fab Five. Somehow, even the vendors managed to tie in some of their food with the theme #GETWEIRD; on the menu were otah burgers from The Cultured People and cendol softees from Churros Factory.
If you weren’t up to try something weird, Enchanted Cafe brought a small selection of their menu. Pesto Linguine, Li Rou Rice Bowl, Creamy Carbonara all at $7.90 and Mushroom Soup ($4). The Cultured People offered Pumpkin Salad ($7) and Grilled Calamari ($12). The Fab Five prepared one item all night – some good old Mac & Cheese ($8). For those with a sweet tooth, Churros Factory offered Churros at $5 and $9 servings.
Just before catching the music, those craving some alcohol were able to pick up U Beer. Launched by Singha, it was going at $8 a cup, and only $6 for those who showed their student IDs!
Music couldn’t get any ‘Better’
Bright coloured lights and smoke coming out of smoke machines signalled the beginning of the musical lineup. I managed to catch the talented folksy/indie turned electronic/R&B singer-songwriter Sam Rui, whose songs sung included her latest single, “Better”, which topped Spotify’s Singapore Viral 50 charts.
After Sam, alternative/indie-pop band M1LDL1FE, previously Take Two, took the stage. They dressed up to theme in animal onesies, hyping the crowd with songs from their new EP, including “How You Forget”. Lead singer Paddy accurately proclaimed “This is the best place to be on the weekend”. Band members chiming in – “it’s free”, and drummer Jeryl seconding that with a sting.
Good music continued later into the night, with hits from Wicked Aura and Amateur Takes Control. In the cosy little amphitheatre-like space, sweaty bodies closely sat together, food and drinks in hand, everybody just having a good time.
Would I go again to Noise Invasion Festival?
The members of M1LDL1FE were right – with free admission and free good music, I would go again in a heartbeat. Adding on to that, Kwirke (a photobooth company) was there to provide free holographic photo prints. Families could get free face glitters and painting for their children. This service was provided by the Cahava collective, a group of dedicated artists. It is truly an inclusive event.
But truth to be told, it doesn’t matter how much weirdness exist in your bones. You can be an adult looking to reminisce about Haw Par Villa. Or a Gen Z Singaporean finding a good hangout spot for the weekend with food, art, music and dance. Or an expat settling in within the local community, there was something everyone could appreciate at the Noise Invasion Festival!
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