Slowly but surely, Laneway Festival Singapore has been losing its guitar rock roots. When you consider that perhaps the most exciting year was 2012, when it was possible to enjoy the likes of The Horrors, Laura Marling, Feist and M83 all in one night, the 2017 line-up demonstrated how music trends had changed in four short years.
Guitar rock has gone from the pre-eminent Laneway Festival Singapore ‘genre’ to losing considerable ground to hip-hop, rappers, electronica & DJ/producers. And while guitar rock bands could once claim some kind of authenticity in their craft, the reliance on machines and technology to make music has overtaken the old school practice of actually playing instruments & singing about personal and social concerns. That’s entertainment, boys and girls!
As far as Power of Pop was concerned, our task at the 7th Laneway Festival Singapore was to earnestly search for rock authenticity amongst the smattering of guitar rock bands on show.
Unfortunately, our quest was ultimately hampered by a thunderstorm that threatened to equal the “Rainway” of 2010, at the inaugural Laneway Festival Singapore – and that was the only true nostalgic moment we were allowed.
Well almost. In that context, perhaps it was fitting that the class of Singapore 90s rock – as represented by local dream pop champions Astreal – truly introduced the RAWK to the proceedings even as the inclement weather began pounding unforgivingly on festival goers.
Even as Ginette Chittick complained about her hair having a life of its own, it seemed that a slice of Singapore rock history had been revived in Laneway Festival Singapore 2017, highly reminiscent of that evening (the dreaded “dinner break”) when our very own art-rockers supreme The Observatory schooled the clueless younglings in 2014. A proud moment for Singapore rock authenticity in its own right!
Being an festival of Australian origin, it has always been left to the rock bands from Down Under to remind us that even in the most anti-rock climate in recent memory, Oz bands continue to keep the faith and with some aplomb. In that respect, kudos need to be sent the way of Sydney’s Gang of Youths and Melbourne’s King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard.
Gang of Youths put forth a diverse personnel which provided a unique visual appeal. Guitarist Joji Malani is Fijian, keyboardist Jung Kim is American, bassist Maxwell Dunn is from New Zealand while lead singer David Le’aupepe has Samoan-Jewish heritage.
But more importantly, the band certainly knew how to rock and how to sell a message powerfully through glorious rock music that channeled the likes of Bruce Springsteen, U2, Midnight Oil and even Elvis Presley. Authentic as fuck, you might say! Le’aupepe even ended up in the crowd, demonstrating his showmanship abilities which the festival crowd lapped up, naturally.
King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard, on the other hand, provided everyone in attendance a vivid history lesson on late 60s rock music with accurate renditions of the kind of 60s psychedelic rock that would inspire 70s prog, hard rock and even heavy metal! The band – with TWO drummers, no less – were less interested in showboating or playing to the crowd and were more focused on creating a shimmering, colourful psych-rock world where time effectively stood still.
Frontman Stu Mackenzie looked like he didn’t give a fuck where he was or who he was playing in front of – this could have been a Saturday jam session back in Melbourne (and the band members were dressed accordingly)! Meaning: it was yet another resonant display of rock authenticity that proved that despite the rumours, rock is not quite dead and buried yet.
Before the evening arrived and the sun set (literally) on guitar rock at Laneway Festival Singapore 2017 – the programming definitely telling of where the trends are circa January 2017, representatives of North American indie rock scenes White Lung and Whitney did their part to bring the rock, in their own inimitable way.
White Lung’s loud and brash emo/hardcore/punk went over the heads of punters somewhat. It was almost as if Mish Barber-Way and company were performing to the wrong crowd – would have loved to see how our local hardcore kids would have responded but they do not attend Laneway! The band themselves seemed intent to crush all before them as if the sight of weather-beaten poncho-hidden spoilt audience members offended them to such an extent that they had to fight back with unrelenting noise. Perhaps they were right…
… because most of that (soft) crowd inevitably ran for cover into the warm rich tones of Whitney, over at the Garden Stage (yet another quirk of programming – both bands clashed time-wise). Indeed, Whitney’s soulful pop-rock could not have been further away from what White Lung were trying to achieve.
Julien Ehrlich provided the unique sight of a singing drummer (lest you can remember Don Henley or Andy Sturmer) playing a Ringo Starr kit AND with a horn player to keep things as organic as one could possibly get! Authentic? Damn straight!
Sign of the times perhaps but there were more hits than misses at Laneway Festival Singapore as far as authentic guitar rock acts were concerned. And for that we are appreciative, given the circumstances.
Thanks to Laneway Festival Singapore for making this review possible.
… still there’s more …