Despite the rain, the annual St. Jerome’s Laneway Festival at Gardens by the Bay delivered a rewarding lineup for fans old and new
When the St. Jerome’s Laneway Festival first arrived in Singapore in 2011, it made quite a splash – not just because it boasted a strong lineup of indie titans, but also ’cos of the ferociously stormy setting that ushered it in. After all, there’s a reason why seasoned punters always refer to that milestone as “Rainway 2011”. This year looked to be a repeat of that – a damp deluge of déjà vu – as the heavens opened up as early as half-past-two.
Yet, the downpour didn’t discourage Laneway fans to swing by early. On the contrary, even at 1.30pm, the indoor White Room was already playing host to a mob of hip-hop-boppers with ATTAGIRL!’s A/K/A Sounds on the decks. The relative lack of top-tier talents – some have argued that this year’s Laneway was missing the star power of alumni like Grimes, M83 or The Temper Trap – didn’t seem to be a crutch either. Fervent, curious crowds eager to discover new music could be seen trickling in early to discover obscure acts like Wednesday Campanella or Luca Brasi, as opposed to arriving later just to catch more well-known headliners.
Personally, I felt that Laneway made a bold move this year with the lesser-known acts it picked. But despite this, even with the rain attempting to drench everyone’s spirits, it was remarkably a gung-ho move that paid off, cementing the festival as one of the frontrunners of setting trends, and not just recklessly following them. Here are my top five features of what made Laneway rock this year.
Laneway 2017 saw several female-fronted acts in its lineup, such as the rambunctious, punk-pushing Mish Way-Barber from White Lung whose strident show(wo)manship resembled a nascent Courtney Love. Aurora was essentially a Scandinavian synth-pop princess with her pixie-like charm, gleeful dance moves and enchanting croons. NAO could very well be the one who stole the show with her buttery r&b-favouring vocals, but it was Japan’s Wednesday Campanella who took the cake for me, with idiosyncratic stage antics such as singing atop a ladder, and rolling on top of the crowd in a giant, plastic hamster ball a la Flaming Lips’ Wayne Coyne. Nutters.
Three cheers for homegrown music
The wunderkind to watch, Sam Rui proved that she wasn’t just all hype, busting out a sensual, silky-smooth performance that’s bound to make local r&b cool again – even roping in guest rapper, Omar Kenobi from Mediocre Haircut Crew. T-Rex pushed experimentation to the limit, melding math-rock and jazz together to put on what was possibly the most sonically exciting set of the festival. And no one could ignore the glorious comeback of shoegazers, Astreal; they even churned out songs from their upcoming, long-awaited album, and boy, did it sound monumental. Kudos to the Poptart crew as well, for keeping the hipsters happy with timeless indie anthems.
The dancey ones
Laneway is no dance festival, but that doesn’t mean you won’t get your fill of feet-thumping electronic choons. Bob Moses delivered one amorous set that blurred the line between downtempo electronica and deep house. Tourist ended his solo set on a transcendent housey high. And big ups once again to Jagwar Ma, who returned to Singapore with their triple threat of psych-rock, Madchester-influenced baggy and house music, making them adaptable to all sorts of festivals – Laneway was no exception.
A dreamy duo
Two different sets, one seamless head-trip. Many awaited the return of dream-poppers, Tycho, whose divine instrumental music resounded through the fields of Gardens by the Bay. Their trance-inducing synth hooks and floaty guitar riffs were captivating enough to shun the necessity of lyrics. Following that was the much-hyped Glass Animals from UK; another show-stopper, these genre-bending lads put on a spellbinding, seductive set with bubbling tribal-tinted percussions, warm synths, and the band’s forte – Dave Bayley’s earnest stage presence and creamy falsettos.
The blitzkrieg of guitar music
Brushing aside the industry’s saturated infatuation with electronic music, Laneway summoned the likes of bands who could just rock the heck out. Aside from the aforementioned White Lung, moshers were also treated to outlandish psychedelia-peddlers, King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard. Trumpets enhanced the easy-listening grooves of lo-fi indie-rockers, Whitney. The stage was set ablaze with the raucous vigour of Sydney’s Gang Of Youths, fronted by their charismatic charmer of a singer, David Le’aupepe. And even festival headliner, Nick Murphy FKA Chet Faker, shocked jaded listeners with a set that – despite comprising old songs under his former alias which he played back in 2015 – saw a new lease of life with a full-band configuration. This was a revitalised Chet F… I mean, Nick Murphy, that I’m excited to keep an eye on.
This is what, I think, defines the heart of Laneway – even if you’re absolutely unfamiliar with such new throngs of talent (or old ones you’ve lost touch with), the festival’s done its job if it’s made you curious to discover more. Whether it brings down next an ensemble of Glastonbury-worthy headliners, or a burgeoning batch of industry unknowns, I’m sure that the masses will continue flocking to Laneway, as they have for the last seven years.