On Friday, March 17th, the SONICA Music Festival took place at Melbourne’s Sidney Myer Music Bowl. K-pop has transformed the music business. Beyond BTS, the Seoul boy band that is at the forefront of the so-called Korean wave, there is now a sizable global following for East Asian artists.
The New York-based business 88rising has positioned itself as a forum for Asian creatives since 2015. The Japanese-Australian Joji, who just torched Laneway on the back of his chart-topper ‘Glimpse Of Us, is its biggest star.
Melbourne hosted the first-ever SONICA Music Festival one month before BLACKPINK’s iconic Coachella headline performance. ZICO, HENRY, and Amber were all on the first SONICA roster; it was billed as “a music and arts festival highlighting all the finest of Asian pop culture.” All three artists were reportedly visiting Australia for the first time. Rappers 1nonly from the United States postponed “due to unforeseen circumstances.”
[MV] ZICO(지코) _ Any song(아무노래) https://t.co/VGjVpwzKZk @YouTubeより
— 谷口 (@oxOMyWZZQnnWi58) March 15, 2023
Australian music festivals have been hesitant to recognize the local appeal of K-pop; PSY’s attendance at the 2013 Future Music Festival was more a result of the song’s viral success than a more significant acknowledgment of a growing phenomenon. Nonetheless, the all-ages SONICA was targeted toward the primary audience for the music because SBS Pop Asia presenter Andy Trieu served as the evening’s MC. Together with the artists, the celebration of Asian pop music’s culture and community also included the food trucks (the bubble tea queue was epic).
For a first-time event, SONICA’s production level was superb and the programming never faltered. East Asian musicians were given preference at the festival, but unlike K-pop, which is typically associated with groups, SONICA featured solo performers.
With local DJ Little FRY warming up, SONICA’s opening international was Hong Kong’s Gareth.
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T., who was dressed in orange athleisure, gave a spirited Cantopop performance, supported by his band. After a lively opening, Gareth transitioned into three acoustic songs, with 2021’s “honest” highlighting his vocal prowess.
One of the most well-known songs was “Whole World,” which included some colossal rock guitar rips. Gareth, a wannabe DJ, demonstrated a preference for EDM. The “Hong Kong pop star,” as they called themselves, made light of the novelty of flying business class to Australia. An important event at SONICA was when Gareth led the first of multiple “Aussie, Aussie, Aussie” shouts. Thankfully, no shoes were present.
The pace was slowed by Gentle Bones. The Singaporean singer-songwriter is known for her nocturnal bedroom soul, which is reminiscent of both modern avant-R&B and timeless Babyface and Diane Warren compositions from the 1990s. The song “A Day At A Time,” which was originally recorded as a duet with Clara Benin of the Philippines, has emo SoundCloud rap characteristics.
The show was solely carried by the balladeer, with the DJ only providing backup tracks. If you’re going to need to have a………….. Bones wore a guitar for ‘Settle Down’ before finishing with ‘dear me’. The eccentric singer mentioned visiting the Melbourne Museum while in town and taking in the exhibit Triceratops: Fate of the Dinosaurs.
For American-Korean idol Amber Liu, who was formerly a member of the K-pop girl group f(x), also known simply as Amber, the SONICA throng rushed to the front. Amber showcased her skills as a singer, rapper, and all-around entertainer while wearing tastefully damaged jeans and a rock-stylish outfit.
She began with the upbeat song “Easier,” which featured a backing band and several dancers. In choreographed renditions of “Hands Behind My Back” and the power ballad “Numb,” Amber showed off her moves. ‘No More Sad Songs,’ a recent release, was also performed by Amber. Her “jumping song,” “Other People,” served as her capstone. A concert within a concert was exquisite.
OTHER PEOPLE MUSIC VIDEO OUT!! https://t.co/HBksWLluDs
— Amber Liu 刘逸云 (@amberliu) November 7, 2019
Canadian Chinese A great guitarist who also happens to be a pop singer, HENRY may have been the evening’s most revelatory act. He also has a tremendous vibe. HENRY began his professional journey as a member of SUPER JUNIOR-M but quickly went solo. His acting career has subsequently grown, and he has only recently come back to music.
HENRY, a one-man band, bravely experimented by live-looping his performances in the style of James Blake. In a bizarre cover of Tones And I’s “Dance Monkey,” he quickly gained popularity. HENRY acknowledged that he was “nervous” about singing the romantic song “Monster” again, but his anxiety was unjustified.
HENRY customized Imagine Dragon’s “Believer,” using a trash can as percussion and an “intense” style of piano playing, which he later admitted. In the end, HENRY ventured into the audience and played Lil Nas X’s “Old Town Road” on the violin before returning to 2017’s sweeping “It’s You” (from the While You Were Sleeping Soundtrack).
ZICO, a South Korean legend, brought SONICA to a close. Despite staging a brief performance with a DJ (and many foghorns), the streetwise rapper with black shades made his presence known. Early in the show, he gave a TikTok and streaming platform hit performance of 2020’s ‘Any Song.
ZICO’s setlist demonstrated his wide range of sounds even if he now favors trap. In the encore, he sang a funky cover of “Artist” and took listeners back in time with “Boys And Girls” from 2015. I hope we can create happy memories together, he said at one point to the gathering. Both SONICA and ZICO met expectations.