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Singapore rides EDM wave with first Ultra Music Festival

Rohini Nambiar | News Assistant

Singapore got its first taste of the global Ultra music festival phenomenon at the weekend, and producers Alex Chew, 31, and Raj Datwani, 34, believe they've only just started to tap local interest in electronic dance music (EDM).

A 45,000-strong crowd turned up for Ultra Music Festival Singapore, held at Bayfront Avenue on Saturday and Sunday, to hear DJs including Kygo, DJ Snake, Alesso, Axwell and Ingrosso, and Zhu.

Chew and Datwani, who cut their teeth with a smaller, one-day festival called Road to Ultra during Singapore's Grand Prix Season last year, told CNBC they had seen a growing appetite in the city-state for a full Ultra event.

"We thought the market here was ready for Ultra, with the production quality, the type of talent Ultra attracts," Chew, Ultra Singapore's co-founder and executive producer, said. "We thought this was just the right time to bring the festival here."

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The event is an offshoot of the Ultra Miami Electronic Music Festival, which was first held by U.S. concert promoter Russell Faibisch in Miami Beach in 1999. EDM, an umbrella term for house, techno and other genres of electronic dance music, has steadily gained global traction since Faibisch threw his first party.

Now, there are Ultra festivals held annually in 19 countries across five continents, and the International Music Summit (IMS) estimates the EDM industry was worth almost $7.1 billion in 2015 - a 60 percent increase on 2012's value.

Sunita Kaur, managing director for Asia at music streaming service Spotify, told CNBC that she saw EDM as one of the fastest-growing musical genres, both in Asia and more broadly.

"In Asia we see EDM as one of the top most-streamed genre amongst Spotify users," Kaur said. "Globally, EDM is one of the top ten most-streamed genres on Spotify."

Datwani, the co-founder and executive producer of Ultra Singapore, is already thinking about how to capitalize on this interest going forward.

"We're already starting to think about next year," he said. "We have a lot of plans for years to come to grow significantly larger."

Kygo (R) performs at the Ultra Music Festival 2016 in Miami, Florida.
Arik MacArthur | FilmMagic | Getty Images

Global EDM stars such as Zhu, the 27-year-old Chinese-American, Grammy Award nominee who was one of the headline acts at Singapore's Ultra festival, also see a big future for EDM in Asia.

"I think Asia will be a great place for electronic music in the future, as long as people innovate," he told CNBC. "It is the biggest concentration of population on this earth and if they all like something, it is an immense market."

Meanwhile, DJs based in Southeast Asia are enjoying the mainstream attention.

DJ Myrne, a 21-year-old Singaporean who appeared at Ultra, said, "Five years ago you couldn't walk into a clothing store and expect to listen to a dance-pop crossover hit, but in 2016, that's the only thing on rotation right now."

Growing commercial interest in EDM means that those who missed out on the Ultra festival will not need to wait long for another event. Cruise giant Royal Caribbean will host the third instalment of It's the Ship - Asia's largest festival cruise - on November 4, when it sets set from Singapore. The 4-day cruise, organized by the Livescape Group, will be hosted by actor David Hasselhoff and feature more than 60 music acts.

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