(For the third straight year, The Manila Times is the only Philippines-based broadsheet granted exclusive media access to the biggest indie music festival in the region.)
Singapore: Over10,000 music fans from all over Southeast Asia converged here last January 25, for the kick-off of this year’s St. Jerome’s Laneway Music Festival. Gathering up-and-coming artists and those on the brink of mainstream success, the event is arguably the biggest and most popular festival that focuses mainly on the indie pop and rock genre. The Lion City was the first stop this year in the traveling fest before moving on to cities in New Zealand and Australia.
For the first time ever, the festival featured not two, but three stages spread across The Meadow at Gardens By The Bay near Marina Bay Sands. The extra stage accommodated the increased number of bands, which included (also for the first time) Singaporean artists.
James Keogh aka Vance Joy had the honor of opening the event at exactly 12:50 p.m. Despite the searing heat from the noonday sun, audiences showered the Australian singer-songwriter with enthusiastic applause.
“My band and I haven’t played in two months, so it feels really good to go out there and have the crowd react the way they did,” he said when he met the press at the media tent. “It’s nice to play first, in the daytime. It suits my music, and there’s a relaxed atmosphere.”
Just like in previous years, the festival ran like clockwork, with barely any lull between sets. While the main Roscoe and Derrick stages were right next to each other similar to last year’s set-up, the Cloud stage was about a five-minute walk away, presenting a bit of a logistical conundrum for those who wanted to catch all their favorite acts. After Vance Joy, early birds were treated to the music of Youth Lagoon, Young Turks DJ, The Jezabels, Vandetta, Unknown Mortal Orchestra and Kurt Vile.
Long-haired indie folk troubadour Kurt Vile, in particular, admitted he and his band The Violators had a rough set. “We had to do a quick soundcheck while another band was playing, and there were some issues with the pedalboard, but we were generally just psyched out and were a little stiff with our playing. But, I mean, we won’t claim that we play a good show every time. We’ll definitely get better.”
Scottish indie rockers Frightened Rabbit were perhaps the first act that visibly ratcheted up the energy level of the crowd. The vibrant rhythms and all-out, engaging performance of the band were highlights of the entire show up until that point. “We’ve never played here before,” said vocalist Scott Hutchison. “I guess it’s the Scottish pessimism, but we didn’t really expect much in terms of the crowd response, so it was a huge surprise for us to see everyone so pumped up and singing along. We get that energy from the audience and it spurs us on to do better.”
I was granted an exclusive one-on-one interview with Jamie XX (aka Jamie Smith), who is best known for his work with The XX but played a solo DJ set at Laneway. A recent visitor to the Philippines, he talked about his experience performing in Manila. “It was the loudest crowd. It was insane,” he said. “I also remembered the after-party, although I forgot where it was. Yeah I had a good time there.”
There was a third person in the British duo Mount Kimbie when they faced the press after their set. Dominic Maker and Kai Campos were joined by a guy who introduced himself as “Tony” and said he was new in the band. It turned out that “Tony” was actually acclaimed singer-songwriter James Blake, who is a frequent sessionist and collaborator of the band. He was also scheduled to close the festival later that day. The few press people who were present at the press conference played along and interviewed “Tony.”
It was announced a few hours before the festival started that Gabriel Winterfield of Aussie electronic band Jagwar Ma was unable to make it to Singapore because of a “torn cruciate ligament.” Bandmate Jono Ma was then forced to play a solo DJ set. He didn’t mind though. “It’s a recurring injury,” he said. “The doctor advised him against long flights. [The DJ set] wasn’t too hard, I mean I’ve been doing it before. The only difficult thing was trying to contain it all in just 45 minutes. I could have gone on for another two hours!”
There were some criticisms leveled against the festival for a relatively anemic artists’ line-up this year compared to last year, but the acts who did play proved naysayers wrong. White-hot pop rock outfit Haim—composed of sisters Este, Danielle and Alana—tookthings to another level with an explosive set that featured hit songs including “Don’t Save Me,” “The Wire,” and “Forever.”
“We never imagined in a million years that we would get to play here in Singapore,” big sister Este said at the media tent. “That was some crazy s***.”
After a well-received set from fan favorites Chvrches, led by ethereal vocalist Lauren Mayberry, it was up to Blake to close the show. The British artist, who won the prestigious Mercury Music Prize last year for his sophomore album Overgrown, sent many female hearts aflutter with his languid meanderings on life and love set to a unique electronic music mix. Perhaps his generally chill, laidback vibe lacked that “oomph” that characterized the finale acts in Laneways past (M83, Gotye, et al), but it was nonetheless a worthy and welcome exclamation point to a truly amazing festival. Laneway 2015 cannot come soon enough.
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