Photos by Zaki Jufri, Afiq Omar and Aloysius Lim. Click on images to see photo gallery
From the breezy sounds of Vance Joy to the intense post-punk of Savages, the post-dubstep of Mount Kimbie and the infectious pop-rock of Haim, Laneway’s niche has always been a healthy mix of indie/alternative bands, and those on the cusp of the mainstream.
It was hipster central as slightly over 10,000 people descended upon Gardens by the Bay for the fourth installment of the St Jerome’s Laneway Festival in Singapore last Saturday.
Compared to last year’s scorching 35-degree weather, this year’s cloud cover and breeze was a welcome respite over the 12-hour festival.
The expanded festival grounds this year saw the addition of a third stage, the "Cloud stage" where electronic music acts such as Jamie XX, Mount Kimbie and xxyyxx held court.
Laneway 2014 also saw the landmark addition of Singapore acts to the line-up, including electronic artistes Gema and Vandetta, as well as art-rockers The Observatory taking the prominent 6pm slot on one of two marquee stages.
With a billing of 18 acts, festival-goers were spoilt for choice. The day’s proceeding started with the more soothing sounds of Aussie singer-songwriter Vance Joy and wide-eyed Youth Lagoon as festival-goers filtered through.
Australian quartet The Jezabels' brand of alternative rock provided some much needed edge, with singer Hayley Mary’s exceptional vocal range and commanding stage presence, while Philadelphia country-folk rock'n'roller Kurt Vile’s stoner-rock was a psychedelic departure from the proceedings as he took the stage with his band The Violators.
The rock music continued, thankfully, with Scottish fivesome Frightened Rabbit, whose raucous set had the crowd woah-oh-oh-ing with them in no time.
Meanwhile over at the Cloud Stage, Singaporean Vandetta mixed in a cover of Nirvana’s ‘Come As You Are’ to her set, along with her own tracks. Her tracks started off as electronica, but with the addition of live instrumentation, translated surprisingly well on stage with the backing of a four-person band.
As the evening turned to night, UK band Daughter took the stage for a poignant set with most camera phones going up when they performed ‘Youth’. Lead singer Elena Tonra was profuse with her thanks, bashfully addressing the crowd, almost uncomfortable with all the love and attention she was getting.
But while these acts were competent and kept the good vibes flowing, there were some who were truly exceptional.
Sinister, beautifully evil, confrontational and mesmerizing all at once. Punk rock was represented by the likes of London-based Savages, with enigmatic frontwoman Jehnny Beth leading the charge. Her intense stare and humorless delivery on tracks like ‘She Will’ (“this one’s for the ladies”) and guttural screams on ‘Husbands’ made for a powerful set. Gemma Thompson’s guitar annihilated, while the rhythm sections’ Ayse Hassan (bass) and Fay Milton (drums) provided a steady but ferocious backing for an incredible live performance.
And then there was Haim. Once in a while you witness entertainers as irresistibly compelling as this trio of sisters from California, who were firebrands on stage and equally charismatic off it.
Harkening back to family bands and seventies rock ‘n’ roll, Haim and their drummer Dash Hutton opened with their breakthrough track ‘Falling’. Even though Dash was on hand, the sisters each played elements of a deconstructed drum kit with Alana on the floor tom, Este on the rack toms and Danielle on the kick drum. Coordinated with headbanging, the band brought the energy of the entire festival to a climax singlehandedly.
Devastatingly on form through the 45-minute set, they dropped ‘Don’t Save Me’ and ‘The Wire’. Undoubtedly, many people were there to see them. No matter what they played, choruses were enthusiastically sung back by the audience.
Their hilarious banter and on-stage antics (at one point, Este got on her knees and limbo-ed with her bass guitar) were bar none. Este’s meme-worth ‘bass face’ was also in full effect.
Only the effervescent synth-pop sounds of Glaswegian trio Chvrches could follow up such a high-energy set.While tracks off their debut album ‘The Bones of What You Believe’ are produced to perfection, they sounded even more epic live.
Backed only by a captivating light show, singer Lauren Mayberry was flanked by band mates Iain Cook and Martin Doherty. Opening with ‘We Sink’, the trio went through the paces delivering ‘Gun’, ‘Recover’ and mega hit ‘The Mother We Share’, in a set occasionally marred by technical difficulties with the sound levels. Nostalgic and modern at the same time, it was like the heyday of the 80s with Lauren’s trademark arm pump at the end of the set.
The sublime sounds of headliner James Blake brought the balmy evening to a close, as he took the stage at almost 11pm. The Grammy-nominee (who eventually lost out to Macklemore & Ryan Lewis for best new artist) looped vocals and beats effortlessly, in an entrancing performance. It was a major gear-shift down from the performers who went up before him, but with his quavering vocals over tracks like 'The Wilhem Scream' and 'Retrograde', it was intimate, yet engulfing.
Unlike most festivals which are solely beer and spirits-fuelled affairs, Laneway Singapore had everything from specialty coffee, popsicles, free ice cream and cotton candy (courtesy of H&M) to the usual festival nosh of kebabs and fuss-free burritos. However waiting times in the food queues were a nightmare, with some experiencing a one hour-long queue time.
The minimum spend of $20 for token purchases also proved inconvenient, with food and drink varying in price.
But other than the slight hiccups, Laneway Singapore was bigger, better and more well-rounded and firmly sealed it's place as Southeast Asia's definitive indie festival. We can't wait till next year's Laneway.