The 2012 Laneway Lowdown

Close to 8,000 punters gathered at Fort Canning Park for a day filled with sun (or possibly rain), the smell of fresh grass, and an aural adventure like no other. 2011 marked the first St Jerome’s Laneway Festival in Singapore with oustanding acts such as Yeasayer, Warpaint, Holy F@%k, Deer Hunter, Foals and Chk Chk Chk. Needless to say, this year, Singapore was hungry for more.

Laneway 2012 boasted a stellar line-up comprising of M83, Yuck, Twin Shadow, Chairlift, Girls, Cults, Feist, The Horrors, Austra, The Drums, Toro Y Moi, Anna Calvi , The Pains of Being Pure at Heart and Laura Marling. The artists were slated to perform on two stages spanning an immense width across the bottom of Fort Canning Park.

Those that attended Laneway or rather, “Rainway” in 2011 were well prepared for the elements as heavy showers resulted in a mud-fest last year. Many were seen donning wellingtons, with umbrellas and ponchos in tow. Fortunately, the weather held up this year as the sun beat down on Fort Canning Park, with light showers peppering the grounds occasionally.

Kicking off the festival were Manhanttan-formed band, Cults. With their hit single “Go Outside” being one of the definitive summer tracks of 2011, the crowd seemed pumped up and raring to go.  The 1960s inspired girl-pop sound which the band channelled felt like a sweet breeze flowing through the sun-kissed afternoon.

Four-piece band Yuck were up next with an intense guitar tone that played homage to the 90s. As the band launched into the gritty, distortion-blistered refrain of “Operation”, it felt like their performance would be the next best thing to having Dinosaur Jr or Sonic Youth play live again in Singapore. Yuck was definitely one of the highlights of the festival, thundering through Fort Canning Park with that epic dirt and glorious wah-pedal harmonies.

Next up was synth-pop duo Chairlift, hailing from Brooklyn, New York. Multi-instrumentalist Patrick Wimberly and Caroline Polacheck dished out a cool serving of twinkly synth and were a delight to watch. Their seductively ethereal sound served to highlight singer Caroline Polachek’s exquisite vocals which were immaculate throughout.

More electro sounds followed with Austra. Comprising of vocalist/keyboardist Katie Stelmanis, drummer Maya Postepski  and bassist Dorian Wolf, they channelled enigmatic Gaia-type vibes with their energetic “Mother Earth”-type hand movements. Austra’s gothic, operatic brand of music proved to be an interesting contrast to Chairlift’s performance.

Girls kicked off their set on a somewhat sombre tone with frontman Christopher Owens belting out a heartfelt tribute to Whitney Houston (which by now has probably garnered more than just a few views on YouTube). His rendition of “I Will Always Love You” delivered in his signature croaky, deeply affected manner, got the crowd joining in. Having enjoyed their latest album “Father, Son, Holy Ghost”, I must say that the star of their perfrmance was frontman Christopher Owens who possesses an ability to turn any song into a journey of both hope and heart-wrenching despair. The stage was decorated with bright bunches of daisies that the band members threw to the audience at the end of their set.

Following that were The Drums who had earlier visited our shores back in May, 2011. Lead singer Jonathan Pierce dances like an eerily happy Ian Curtis, which proved to be both entertaining and slightly disturbing. The Drums’ energetic vibe seemed infectious as they worked the crowd up to a frenzy, promising to dance if everyone in the audience danced along.

Anna Calvi came next, firing up her set with an insane distortion-filled guitar intro. As the sun began to set, she launched into her performance with strong power-packed vocals. She seemed to channel some sort of highly-charged female matador-ish vibe which was interesting to say the least. Brian Eno touted Anna Calvi as “the next best thing since Patti Smith”. Patti Smith is a poet. Anna Calvi is an extemely talented musician with a very raw, unique sound who happens to share an uncanny resemblance to Kylie Minogue from certain angles, but she is no Patti Smith. Nonetheless, her performance proved to be an interesting one that had a marked difference from the rest of the acts.

Next up was Twin Shadow, another highlight of the festival. George Lewis Jr’s layers of haunting synth and hazy sounds were a gripping nod to 1980s new-wave. There’s something unique about how his music evokes a sense of nostalgia yet remains refreshing through honest songwriting. In other words, Twin Shadow was brilliant.  He was supported by a full band that channelled pure epicness. Mid-way through his set, he gifted a member of the audience with his Squier Stratocaster, much to the delight of everyone.

Laura Marling followed with a full set-up comprising of a double bass, an array of banjos and everything else in tow. Her brand of folk stood out from the rest of the lineup serving as an invigorating treat for the audience.

Sound glitches plagued The Pains of Being Pure at Heart as their set was halted in the beginning while technicians fiddled around with the mixers and soundboard. A fair bit of feedback and scrambling around ensued before they could get back up and running again. That did not deter the audience as they cheered the band enthusiastically on as they belted out crowd favourites.

Toro Y Moi came onstage thereafter with a supporting band. It was a refreshing set which channelled soulful, funky undertones that got everyone grooving. Props had to be given for managing to get the crowd up and dancing, especially after the sun had taken it’s toll on everyone earlier on. Toro Y Moi delivered an infectious summery soundscape that turned out to be a perfect accompaniment to the evening.

Punters gathered in close anticipation towards the stage as Feist made preparations to begin her set. Afterall, the Canadian singer songwriter was one of the main headliners of the festival. The low hum of her smokey vocals seemed to hold the crowd in a trance as she launched into “The Bad In Each Other” with bluesy gusto.  She said to the audience, “Singapore, you may be wondering why we haven’t made it here in six years” and then proceeded to sing “How Come You Never Go There”.

Up next came much talked-about band, The Horrors. It seemed the crowd was divided by their performance with some being less impressed than others. Performing songs from both “Primary Colours” and latest album “Skying”,  they were easily the darkest outfit of the night. While their sound is distinctively 80s-inspired with some shoegazing thrown in, it is evident that The Horrors take reference from a myriad of influences like Simple Minds, Psychedelic Furs and even OMD. Contrary to what naysayers may think, The Horrors remain strikingly unique in their own way. Despite all that skulking,  they interestingly toe that line between aggressive washes of sheer noise and uplifting melodies that take on feel-good dance vibes.

The festival closed with the epic energy of M83. With a full supporting band, Anthony Gonzalez rained blinding euphoria on the audience. M83 spun magic against the stark night sky as they opened with “Intro” off the latest album “Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming”. Anthony Gonzalez showed his gratitude towards the enthusiastic crowd by thanking everyone profusely several times. It was evident that the band was having a blast throughout their first-ever performance in Singapore as the band members traipsed round the stage, head-banged and swayed through each perfectly overwhelming delivery.

As the festival came to an end, the organizers thanked the crowd for braving the sun and staying throughout the entire festival. They even went as far to state that Singapore was easily one of their favourite Laneway Festival destinations of all. Throughout the day, the acts repeatedly mentioned how grateful and honoured they were to be performing (mostly for the first time) in Singapore and how they relished the experience. Having attended Laneway Festival for two years running now, I can only say that the sense of intimacy between the artists, audience and music seems to getting stronger year on year.

Here’s looking forward to another Laneway Festival in 2013.

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