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Finding the Light in A Sea of Darkness: A No-Holds Barred Breakdown of the Singapore Night Festival

The Singapore Night Festival (SNF) is back in full force for 2023 to light up the Bras Basah.Bugis (BBB) district with a whole range of programmes, including a partnership with SMU’s very own Arts Fest. Editor Xing Yu gives you the low-down on this year’s event.

[SPOILER ALERT!] This article contains spoilers about the event. If you’d like to experience the event yourself, click here instead to check out our spoiler-free Instagram post about five things you need to know before visiting the Singapore Night Festival.

The Fun Returns to BBB

Lights, lights, and more lights. That was the mental image that formed in my head when I was first reminded of the upcoming Singapore Night Festival.

Being a recalcitrant member of the “Go home after class club”, I hadn’t been present for any of the previous renditions of the Night Festival. For that reason, when the opportunity came up to cover this year’s edition, I felt it was finally time to see why a mere lights festival needed so many advertising posters along Bras Basah Road.

As a result, here’s my unbiased, and unfiltered experience of attending SNF 2023. I also took the liberty of rating each part on a highly scientific and objective scale so that you can decide for yourself if it’s worth the trip.

The Not-so-Fun Experience of Navigating SNF

A light display, “Preserving Paradise” by Teo Hui Ling on the far Western edge of SNF near Armenian Street. Credits: Singapore Night Festival.

Quite a large portion of the action is centered around the SMU Campus, with the main Festival Village being located right here on Campus Green.

However, there are also many experiences that are a good distance away from campus, such as the light displays at Stamford Arts Centre, the performances in front of The Capitol Building, and the exhibition at Fort Canning. This means that if you want to see everything that the festival has to offer, be prepared to do quite a bit of walking.

Compounding this, would be the issue of deciding where to even go first. There are so many programmes happening at once that I had to literally create an Excel spreadsheet of all of them to keep track of their timings and locations.

Stumbling upon the entrance to the Theatre screening of Four Horse Road while walking along Waterloo Street.

For someone attending the festival casually, it may be more fun to just give up on the idea of seeing everything all at once, and just enjoy a few programmes that are closest to you (unless you plan on attending over multiple days of course).

On the bright side, the list of programmes and their information were prominently displayed at many of the festival locations. Staff members were also on scene to hand out informational pamphlets.

Festival Layout Rating: 3.5 / 5 - Would definitely be lower on a hot and humid night

A Tale of Three Villages

Seemingly in a nod to Singapore’s past as a fishing village, this year’s Night Festival features not one, but three Festival Villages. The villages are located at Campus Green, Armenian Street, and CHIJMES respectively. Each village serves as a central meeting point with their own unique set of performances and retail offerings.

The Festival Village located at Armenian Street (outside YPHSOL) is probably the most interesting one of the bunch. Themed “Port City 2.0”, it features a festival bazaar with a couple of stalls selling novelty items, a Goodburger truck, and a lineup of performances at the stage outside the Peranakan Museum.

Armenian street has been transformed into a Festival Village for SNF.

What makes this bazaar so special is that vendors here accept both conventional payment methods, and barter trade as modes of payment. Do note however, that items considered acceptable for trading may differ depending on the conditions set by each of the vendors.

Top-left to bottom-right: A wide variety of novelty goods on offer.

Bottom-left: A band performing at the Festival Village @ Armenian Street.

Additionally, visitors can also look forward to live band performances, and light displays at each end of the Festival Village. The Peranakan Museum and the Children’s Museum, which are also hosting programmes as part of SNF, are easily accessible from this location as well.

The Festival Village @ CHIJMES to me, was unfortunately the least interesting one of the bunch. It mainly consisted of booths hawking alcoholic products, located amongst the fancy eateries of CHIJMES.

“Port(al) City” by Chris Chai, a projection mapping display at the Festival Village @ CHIJMES. Credits: Singapore Night Festival

While there were a few projection mapping shows here, I didn’t find much else to do here since I wasn’t hungry for expensive food, or looking to get drunk.

The Main Festival Village @ SMU Campus Green stage and the Samsung Galaxy Studio.

The Main Festival Village @ SMU Campus Green is arguably the main centre of attraction of the entire Festival. The grassy expanse of Campus Green had been transformed into a performance venue with an F&B bazaar selling a dazzling array of novelty food and drink options.

The gastronomy options at the Festival Village @ SMU Campus Green, featuring brands like Loco Loco, The Swag Social and SOHTT.

The food options screamed “Gen Z” with a wide variety of fusion food offerings ranging from “Sushi Tacos” to “Proffles” (No, I still have no idea what a “Proffle” is). Be prepared to shell out some money if you intend to fill your belly here though, most food items are priced between $5 to $20. Alcoholic beverages are available here as well.

Overall Ratings:

Festival Village @ Armenian Street: 4.5 / 5 - The bazaar was interesting.

Main Festival Village @ SMU Campus Green: 4.5 / 5 - Main Festival Village, good F&B options.

Festival Village @ CHIJMES: 2 / 5 - Not that interesting, unless you’re searching for restaurants, or watching the projection mapping shows.

SMU Arts Fest: The Social Post

Of course, one of the main reasons to patronise Campus Green during SNF would be to check out its headline act: “The Social Post,” as part of the collaboration between SMU Arts Fest and SNF 2023.

This epic event will see a mix of music and dance performances happening on the opening and closing weekends of SNF (18-19 & 25-26 August). Being present on the opening weekend means I got a chance to witness the magic that went down once the sun set.

The opening weekend saw a mix of SMU CCA’s and guest performers wowing the crowds with their tremendous talent.

Guest performers from NAFA & Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts.

The performances opened with performers from NAFA & the Western Academy of Performing Arts doing their energetic “City Tours” dance routine. This was followed by an electric lineup of performances from LaSalle, and SMU CCAs Funk Movement, Samba Masala, Stereometa and Eurhythmix.

Performances were scheduled every 30 minutes starting from 7.15pm.

Top-left: Dancers from LaSalle. Top-right: Dancers from SMU Funk Movement. Bottom: Dancers from SMU Eurhythmix and the DJ from SMU Stereometa.

The highlight of the performance segment was certainly the appearance of SMU’s home-grown Afro-Brazilian percussion band, Samba Masala!

Perennial crowd pleasers SMU Samba Masala performing their signature Afro-Brazilian percussion music routine after a rousing entrance.

Making their grand entrance from the Northern gate of the Festival Village, Samba Masala’s dynamic beats drew crowds out onto the pavement outside the Festival Village even before the performers reached the stage. Their addictive beats and whistles created an exuberant atmosphere that seemed to energise visitors and onlookers who had stopped to watch their performance.

Other highlights of the performance segments include a mini EDM rave led by Stereometa’s own DJ, and SMU Funk Movement’s performance choreographed to Shigga Shay’s song “Tapau”.

All in all, the Social Post was an unmissable event that featured the best of dance and music that SMU had to offer. Even if you’re not interested in the rest of SNF, dropping by to check out the performances should still be on your bucket list.

SMU Arts Fest: The Social Post Rating: 100 / 5 - Kudos to everyone that performed!

The Story of Singapore: TL:DR Version

Top-left: Port(al) city by Chris Chai. Top-right: Birth in Bloom by Ashley YK Yeo. Bottom: 700 Years by Zizi Majid, Muhammad Izdi. Credits: Singapore Night Festival

Each show has their own intriguing theme and story to tell; “700 Years” for example, tells the story of a female protagonist who embarks on her own "Back to the Future" journey to present-day Singapore. The show portrays Singapore’s growth (in reverse) over the past 700 years through colourful animations projected onto the grandiose facade of the museum.

Coupled with the audio effects, it was a really novel experience, and almost felt like watching a drive-in movie, albeit a short one since the entire show is only six minutes long. Overall, watching the shows is a great way to kill some time, especially if you find yourself with a full belly at CHIJMES.

Pro-tip: You can catch 700 Years (at the National Museum Singapore) without leaving the Festival Village @ SMU Campus Green! Just walk over to the Southeastern corner of the Festival Village and take in the sounds and sights.

Projection Mappings Ratings: 6 / 5 - If only my classes went by in six minutes.

Hunting for Lights Across Bras Basah

Of course, you can’t have a festival at night without light shows can you? SNF is certainly no exception.

Even though there weren’t as many light displays as I had initially expected, I still wanted to see most of them, which was when reality hit me again and I realised that they were all scattered across the entire district. With a cold drink in hand, I set off into the darkness in search of the proverbial, and literal, light at the end of the tunnel road.

A Stone’s Throw (Away) by WY-TO Group. Credits: Singapore Night Festival.

Finding the first light display was easy enough, located between the National Museum Singapore and SMU Connexion was an odd orb of light. The Display: “A Stone’s Throw (Away)”, was inspired by the legend of the Singapore Stone, which the British summarily blew up back in 1843 to widen the mouth of the Singapore River.

While this display doesn’t explode, it is hollow, and each side lights up when you step onto the marked area in front of it.

Continue to explore the district and you will find more unique displays lighting up the night. This one called “Flowing Water Road”, located in front of Raffles City mall, was meant to represent what a shrine built to appease the old Stamford Canal spirit would probably have looked like.

The smiley “Flowing Water Road” shrine by Mindflyer. Credits: Singapore Night Festival.

Smiley shrines aside, here’s “A Global Bugis Phinisi” hidden behind the red doors of the Stamford Arts Centre.

Symbolising trade commerce and the vastness of the seven seas, “A Global Bugis Phinisi” by Tay Swee Siong can be found within the Stamford Arts Centre.

While on the hunt for lights, I also happened to stumble across a little music performance in front of a quaint yellow building at the junction of Waterloo Street and Middle Road.

Musicians belting out a rendition of Hokkien song “Wa Meng Ti” as part of the “Waterloo Street Stories” event.

Titled “Waterloo Street Stories”, the event pays tribute to the history and stories of different Waterloo Street Personalities through dance, music, photography and plays.

After a while, I got pretty tired of hunting for lights and decided to return to Campus Green to soak in the remaining performances before calling it a day. While the light shows were indeed interesting, the amount of physical effort required to see them did in some ways deter me from checking out the ones off the beaten track.

Light Displays Ratings: 3.5 / 5 - Interesting, but more of a stopover rather than a destination.

Closing Thoughts

As the night drew to a close, I couldn’t help but realise just how much energy and excitement the festival had brought to the Bras Basah Bugis District. Despite being just a week long, the festival is looking on track to achieve its goals of bringing people together to celebrate the history of the district, and Singapore as a whole.

Having said that, my energy was totally drained so I went and did what any reasonable person would have done: buy some ice cream.

Hokkaido Milk ice cream with biscuits from Sofnade at the Festival Village @ SMU Campus Green.

Yes, it was delicious.

Overall Rating of the Singapore Night festival 2023: 4/5 - Loved the lights, music, and drama; hated the walking.


The Singapore Night Fest 2023

The Singapore Night Festival returns this year to light up the Bras Basah.Bugis (BBB) precinct with the theme “Singapore, the Great Port City”. Connecting its rich history of trade and exchange with contemporary experiences, this year’s edition of the festival showcases Singapore’s evolution and growth beyond its early role as a port city into a dynamic modern metropolis where worlds meet.

The festival runs from 18-26 August, 7.30pm - 12am. Find out more about the programmes on offer here.

SMU Arts Fest: The Social Post

The Social Post draws inspiration from the theme "Singapore, the Great Port City" of the Singapore Night Festival. It also celebrates Singapore's growth as a thriving digital hub, where diverse cultures and talents intersect in physical and online realms. Through a series of dynamic interdisciplinary performances, informed and influenced by social media trends and engagement, this showcase features SMU's best music and dance groups, with guest performers from partner institutions in the Bras Basah.Bugis Precinct, led by Bryan Lee.

The second run of The Social Post performances will be held on the closing weekend of SNF23, on 25-26 August, from 7-10.30pm. Find out more here.


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