A Hot Day Out at Aliwal Urban Art Festival
We were seated at a well-known sarabat stall, steeling ourselves for the long day ahead. As the sun beat down relentlessly, it wouldn’t be a longshot claim to say that the Aliwal Urban Art Festival was happening on the hottest day in Singapore.

We downed the remnants of our iced coffees and rose to follow the moving crowd. Already, I was regretting the outfit I’d chosen for an all-day event under the sun: An all-black ensemble even Ozzy Osbourne would have thought twice about.

Hafidz the Camera Guy was all-smiles and already breaking out his best dance moves as we got closer to the venue. I, on the other hand, must admit that I’m not big into hip hop culture or its subculture cousins like turntablism, skateboarding and graffiti. Instead, I prefer the dark synth sounds of Light Asylum and old bats like Gary Numan.

The Aliwal carpark was packed with spectators and an impressive gathering of Singapore’s finest skateboarders. Participants across all age groups were shredding the rails and skate ramps as part of the Asphalt Challenge, which consisted of a Skate Jam and the crowd favourite, the Best Trick Contest. Frenzied clapping erupts from the onlookers as a participant perfectly lands a very complicated looking kick flip as he bounces off a rail.

In the ensuing commotion, Hafidz and I were able to slip away towards a group of street artists spray-painting a massive canvas wall. A crowd, undeterred by paint fumes, watched on.

Naturally, I made a bee-line towards the merchandise booth around the corner. If I had my way, I would have bagged all the terrariums, handcrafted art pieces and jewellery. As I peeled my eyes away from the pop-up stores, I realised that I’d lost my camera guy in the crowd.

Perhaps he’d had enough of my comments of ‘Oh my goth, it’s so cute,’ and decided it was best he worked alone.

“Alright, guys and gals! If you’ve always been interested to learn turntablism, this is your chance! Come up on stage and give it a spin!”

The announcement drowns out the music playing as a DJ invites turntable beginners and enthusiasts to try their hands at beat mixing and scratching. Event-goers hurry on stage and take their place next to the best turntablists from E-TracX, one of the most established DJ schools in Asia.

“Oi, Nat. Don’t want to try ah!”

Seemingly appearing out of nowhere, a friend bellowed in my ear as he joined my party of one. Hafidz soon reappears, furiously tugging at his shirt collar in a failed attempt to cool himself down. Wiping at the sweat forming above his lips, he gestures towards the growing crowd outside the Aliwal Multi-purpose hall.

“Mysterious dark noir pop … heavy guitar riffs, fuzzy bass, pounding drums,” I read out from the official programme booklet. “That’s more up my alley, I guess.”

As the evening came around, the festival turned into a bloc party packed with gyrating bodies, kicking it to the music of Hip hop’s golden era. Thundering percussions and guitar riffs from the live indie performances across the street added to the blur of the crowd. It was a mesh of cultures and styles, with each group clamouring to be heard with some voices louder than others.

While art festivals and events are great ways to showcase local talent, the spotlight remains on more popular subcultures. Subcultures involve a way of life and generally need physical spaces to grow in, not just a set of tastes shared over Spotify playlists and the odd Facebook group. Due to the lack of funds for marketing and such physical spaces, lesser known subcultures can become exclusive to in-the-know followers. Eventually, they phase out.

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