As my first time to St. Jerome’s Laneway Festival, Singapore, I was naturally excited and nervous but what a way to loose it! Aside from the unlimited sex wisecracks, this ain’t my first rodeo, and these big outdoor festivals can morph into a nightmare fast. Simple but crucial things, like water, food, sanitation or unruly fans can wreck havoc on the overall experience. In their fifth year at Singapore, everything was properly taken care of, all in place, functioning like a well-oiled machine, with a respectful audience that created a joyful gathering for the sold out crowd of 13,000. Not only was I impressed with the garden-like physical set-up, but all the bands took the stage with clockwork accuracy, all precisely on time, give or take 30 seconds or so. Impressive, and this is no small feat, there’s usually always delays, indicates the dedication from the Laneway folks, terrific!
With all in place, no one was distracted from the music, a star-studded line-up of “up-and-coming” indie bands featuring St. Vincent, created a continuous barrage of sound, from lunch to midnight. All performed with skills beyond their years, and I was pleasantly surprised, not a dud in the bunch. The early afternoon heat was tolerable, with a few pesky clouds in that dumped rain, heavy at one point, but it didn’t last long, mostly helped to cool things off. Evening brought pleasant temps with a slight breeze, almost perfect, but you can’t control mother nature.
Here’s a few of my favourite images, presented in order of the bands’ appearances on the main stage…
Enterprise was first up, a four-piece regional band from Malaysia, these guys rocked it and it’s not easy to be the opener at a venue of this size. The challenge is to grab the crowd with confidence and gusto, which they did. Reminded me of Depeche Mode, the eighties sound was a clever choice for starters considering the genre has seen a recent pop resurgence, and made the “older” crowd, like me, feel right at home.
Pond, with a similar vibe to Tame Impala, not surprisingly, because Nick Allbrook is a former member. But it can be challenging to keep track of who’s in this one. They’re unusual, in that, the band intentionally changes the line-up and are open to collaborations, it’s how the morph, very interesting. And Nick certainly was putting the psych in psychedelic rock, his awkward movements on stage kept the crowd curious and interested.
Mac DeMarco, an irreverent rocker, he pushes the envelop, speaks of what most people dare to think. You’d expect folks to shy away from such polarity, but it has the opposite effect, like on-coming traffic slowing down to view a car wreck, you just can’t help yourself.
Here’s Mac at the press-con, appears to have had a few to many, this band is brutally honest, which can be shocking and there’s no attempt to hide anything. And their music is great, reminds me a bit of G. Love and Special Sauce. I just caught the tail end of the media interview, where the conversation had turned to the topic of oral sex, not your everyday media fare.
Their straightforwardness also comes across on stage, the attendees were loving it, the only crowd surfer of the day. Much of their off stage antics are part of the show, if you met them in the lobby and shared some cordial conversion, you’d just think your just chatting with your cousins witty friend from Poughkeepsie. Refreshing break in a politically correct world and doing their best to be good boys and avoid cussing on-stage.
Courtney Barnett’s performance was impressive, a left-handed guitar player from Melbourne with welcoming guitar driven sound and witty lyrics. When I found out I was covering Laneway this year, I contacted my musically knowable sister, asking for input on the line-up, her response, Courtney Barnett outstanding stuff, I’m a fan. When I meet Courtney, I mentioned my sister’s comment, and she wittingly replied, “I like your sister, she’s got good taste.”
Angus & Julia Stone provided the folksy rock sound that’s growing ever popular these days. There’s something special about siblings performing, they almost meld as one, their vocals harmonising closer akin to a heavenly choir. Loved the lap steel guitar, and her trumpet solo, although I missed it on film. And there was quite a buzz over this band, just coming off an amicable split with solo carrier projects, now are back together again, “Big Jet Plane” is my favourite track from them. Look out for their next album, I’m sure it’ll impress.
Royal Blood, a British rock duo, stood out in the line-up, a much harder edge compared to the others, in many respects akin to classic rock. There music has a full sound and it’s only two guys, bass and drums, but play with enough energy that you’d think there’s more members. Mike Kerr, lead vocals and bass guitar, is a whiz on the pedalboard, creating remarkable sounds, while Ben Thatcher keeps it real on the drums. They have even caught the ear of the legendary Jimmy page, he says they’re…’taking the genre up a few serious notches’, among other high admiration quotes. Hanging out the day before the show, I asked him how it felt to be recognised by such an icon. He said it was surreal, and he’s a huge Led Zeppelin fan, listening to them as a kid, the last thing on his mind. He told the story of meeting Page at a recent awards event, it was amazing and humbling.
The crowds response when they took they stage, was similar to an experience most of us has had. You know, hanging at the neighbourhood drinking establishment on a Friday night, with the ubiquitous performer in the background. No one really pays attention to them, let’s face it, you’re just there to socailize. But every once and a while, there’s a performer that gets your attention. The whole room, almost simultaneously stops what they’re doing, you’re thinking, hold on a minute what is this. You don’t fiddle with your cell phone or let your mind drift to vacation plans or the notes you need to prepare for a business meeting on Tuesday. You respond, by paying attention and actually listening, not just hearing the sound. Now picture that happening at an outdoor festival, which by this time of day, probably held had about eight thousand people, give or take 500. You could actually see it, happening right before your eyes, people who were sitting stood up, folks moved from their hillside seats to get a closer look, everyone migrating towards the stage, like moths to a flame.
I heard the mosh pit was at a fever pitch, from afar, you could even see the area they occupied, like the eye of the storm on the nightly news. The atmosphere is hard to describe, almost surreal, you could “feel” it in your bones. The performers soul was out there in the music, in the sound itself, which permeated everything around it, your were part of it. At the end he threw his guitar across the stage, very rock and roll and Ben followed suit, tossing his drum seat, off the front of the stage. I’ll be looking for that next time, if I get the chance. Oddly, the drum seat stayed where it landed for a couple of following acts, almost in the center of the aisle of the photo pit, it seemed no one dared to touch it. Maybe it’s their simple looks, or their down-to-earth vision of what rock music should be, but there’s something special about these guys, more than which words can describe here. Lifelong friends, it showed as they were just hanging out, a couple of fun-loving characters, hope I meet them again.
Jungle, loved it, these guys could entice a statue to get up and dance. Photographically challenging though, with numerous performers and two lead vocalist, who are also multi-instrumental, there’s lots happening on-stage, the drummer even has a homemade percussion instrument made of coke bottles. Impressive sound, tighter than a fresh rubber band.
Future Islands, one of those bands, which may be sound better live, than recorded. Samuel Herring’s movement are theatrical in nature, however heartfelt, terrific to photograph. With some impressive vocal chops, powerful but controlled. And every so often, he adds a an unusual vocal effect, a type of metal-core growl, which catches you by surprise. And by mid-festival, this solid performance maintained a high energy level, perfect timing, my third favourite band of the night.
Little Dragon, one of the more experienced acts of the line-up and it showed, they payed attention to detail in multi-media, the lighting effects perfectly matched the sound which seemed to ooze from every pore of the lead vocalist, Yukimi Nagano. These guys hail from Sweden, so I believe they earned the longest traveled band, we’ll have to check the map.
Banks also provided an outstanding visual experience, with a moody R&B vibe, and soft flowing movements. Her beautiful rhapsodic voice, reminds me of Fiest, and really sustained the festivals momentum.
FKA Twigs, she stopped by the welcoming party to say hello but had to go workout first, and would be back later, now that’s impressive dedication. I heard a few guilty comments, from other artists, myself included, considering the glassed walled gym was adjacent to the patio area, you could see Tahiah Barnett, on an exercise machine while the rest of the musicians indulged in a fine cocktail hour or two.
St Vincent was the perfect choice to cap off the evening. Of course, every one has heard of the old axiom of “love at first sight”, with St Vincent, it’s “love at first sound.” And I overheard that from most of the attending artists, the almost rhetorical question, on the interviewers stack of index cards, “Who’s the band you’d come to see tonight, if you weren’t performing?”, the answer almost immediately, every time was St Vincent. The reason why she garners such admairation from other musicians is respect. I would have loved to have caught her tour with David Byrne, a collaboration heralded by many as a musical match made in heaven. Blessed with a talent level that’s unobtainable by almost everyone, even with a lifetime of practice, only a tiny fraction of artists can do as she does, with what looks like little effort. Along with her unorthodox choreography, almost robotic like, her outstanding vocals skills, and unparalleled guitar techniques, you could plainly see why she’s admired by so many.
Huge thanks going out to all the performers, the Laneway organisation and Rappler for inviting me to be apart of this event.
Memories that’ll last a lifetime! Hoping I make it next year too…