THIRD TIME’S A CHARM!
There is little doubt that St. Jerome’s Laneway Festival (Singapore edition) has become a landmark indie music event in SE Asia since it made its debut in 2011. Fans from all over the region flock to our shores to catch a glimpse of indie artists/bands hand-picked by the team at Chugg Entertainment. With the recent deluge of performances available to Singaporean music lovers, it is sometimes easy to take an event like the Laneway Festival for granted. After all, it’s not often that a true blue music fan gets to watch 14 bands/artists in a single day in Singapore and for a reasonable price (especially in the context of today’s rock concert market).
The 2013 event (recently held on Saturday 26th January) marked a new beginning of sorts, as the venue relocated from Fort Canning Park to the spanking new Gardens by the Bay. Instantly, upon my arrival at the location, it felt like something new, vibrant and exciting! Already, a handsome crowd was queuing up to get in to catch the Festival’s opening act, the ever populist Kings of Convenience. With their easy breezy jazz-folk-pop stylings, Erlend Oye and Eirik Boe captivated the audience even as all concerned baked under the noonday sun. The attractive duo had a definite appeal with the ladies as these were the ones you could see standing up and swaying to the strains of the pair of acoustic guitars.
Meanwhile, over at the media tent, Icelandic group Of Monsters and Men faced up to questions from the press. I asked them about why a country like Iceland, with a population of only 300, 000 managed to produce so many popular bands/artists? Singer Nanna Bryndís Hilmarsdóttir suggested that it had something to do with the fact that Icelandic musicians were into music for artistic rather than commercial reasons. They did not think of radioplay but only about making the best music they could. Inspiring words indeed. Later on, it was clear that the band was a crowd favourite as the audience sang along to all the words and danced along to every beat. Destined for bigger things, I believe, are Of Monsters and Men.
Next up on stage was Polica. Fronted by petite singer Channy Leaneagh, the band parlayed a bass-heavy electro-R&B approach to pleasing effect. There was a certain sweet harshness evident in the contrasting sound. Later, back in the media tent, Channy revealed that she worked in Cambodia for two years and thus was not new to the region. There was a suggestion also that it was really good to play when “strung out” – the band had only arrived in the wee hours of the morning after an exhausting flight from the USA. There was a question about life mantras – with the response being about “working and collaborating with friends”. All told, there was a genuinely warm atmosphere in that media tent (that had nothing to do with the weather!).
Divine Fits – the project band consisting of Spoon’s Britt Daniels and Wolf Parade’s Dan Boeckner (also of Handsome Furs) – seemed more like my kind of rock band as it channeled a fair bit of rock n’ roll, country and new wave into its set. The highlight for me was “Civilian Stripes”, an old school countrified rocker the kind of which we seldom get to hear in Singapore. Pretty pleased!
The standout band for me during the day’s festivities had to be Japandroids! Earlier I asked the duo about their Hong Kong show and drummer David Prowse remarked that the crowd was really into them with all the crowd surfing and stuff. I expressed a hope that the Laneway audience would respond in the same way. Glad to report that Prowse and guitarist-vocalist Brian King blew us all away with their dynamic, energetic, no-holds-barred punk-rock! From my perspective, songs like “Evil Sway” and “Heart Sweat” recalled the alcohol-fueled sonic anarchy of The Replacements and the mosh pit went ape shit! And when the power duo belted out ‘hit single’ “The House That Heaven Built” all hell broke loose and the punters went into a frenzy. It was simply brilliant to see an old fashioned band just rock out, the way the good LORD intended!
The unforgiving weather had began to relent as the sun set and the coolness of the evening descended. NZ artist Kimbra was the perfect artist to begin the night schedule as she impressed with a set that combined jazz, pop and soul elements into a dynamic whole. With a crack band backing her, she eschewed the fey persona (evident on many Youtube videos) and gave it her all! “Settle Down” was a ballsy crackerjack – the girl certainly knew how to work her audience. Kudos!
In this context, it was perhaps surprising to find Real Estate unable to connect strongly enough with the Festival audience. The band seemed somewhat subdued but credit to them for trying out unfamiliar new songs from the next album. Probably, not the kind of material the Festival punters were hoping for – somewhat languid and laid back – but the band stuck to its guns. Thus, it was a special night for the fans – there is something to be said about the understated melodic power of these songs. Respect!
Finally (for me anyways), it was time for Alt-J. With a burgeoning reputation built on an award-winning debut album, expectations were high. Of course, Murphy’s Law dictated that the band had to leave the stage minutes into its first song due to technical difficulties. Vocalist Joe Newman remarked that the band had to play “the set of their lives” to compensate! Alt-J certainly delivered. It’s easy to see why this band is so highly regarded. The quartet never take the tried and tested route, experimenting with different sonic shades and nuances, songs like “Tessalate” rang out truly into the night air. A great future awaits these guys if they stay true to their course!
Regrettably, that was my last action of the night as although the spirit was indeed willing, the flesh was terribly weak and I bade farewell to Laneway Festival Singapore 2013! By all accounts, the likes of Bat for Lashes and Tame Impala made my decision even more painful! But that all said, I had experienced enough to bring home great memories of a memorable music festival! There is no doubt in my mind that this was the best Laneway Festival yet – from the selection of bands to the organization to the handling of the media, everything was top notch. Congrats to the Laneway Singapore team and my heartfelt gratitude especially to Carmel Foley, Andrius Sim & Belinda Tan for making this review possible! Till 2014 then, and with a local band or two to make things positively perfect!