By JAYDEE LOK
I WILL honestly say we had a rough gig,” said American indie rocker Kurt Vile at his side-stage press conference. “That’s how we get better, unfortunately. We have to make semi-fools of ourselves in front of the audience. It makes us stronger.”
That’s what he thinks, at least.
It’s hard to say if any of the concertgoers actually noticed Vile and his band, The Violators, fumbling on stage because they were too preoccupied with being lost in the sheer romance and faux wanderlust of St Jerome’s Laneway Festival in Singapore last weekend.
What started as a Sunday afternoon bar event a decade ago in Melbourne, Australia has now blossomed into an annual international indie music festival. The Singaporean installment held at Gardens by The Bay was merely the first of the festival’s seven stops this year. The tour will move on to visit cities in Australia and New Zealand.
Hipsters and non-hipsters from all over the Southeast Asian region flew in to the island nation to watch their favourite bands perform on three different stages. Organisers estimate that at least 10,000 people flooded the festival grounds to witness acts like American neo-psychedelic dream pop artist Youth Lagoon, Australian alternative rock band The Jezabels, English electronic duo Mount Kimbie, English post-punk revival rock band Savages, American electronic music producer XXYYXX (yes, that’s his name) and American-Kiwi rock act Unknown Mortal Orchestra.
Several times throughout the one-day festival, it felt like the bands merely served as background music to one large party. With the iconic Marina Bay Sands as their backdrop, attendees were simply making new friends, taking photos, sharing drinks and chatting away. Others tried to sneak backstage to steal a glance of their favourite musicians.
Things started getting a little louder at nightfall however, with the audience cheering on Scottish synthpop band Chvrches (pronounced as ‘churches’) and dancing along to the deejay set by English music producer Jamie xx.
The crowd, however, got wild when American all-sister group Haim started their set. Although the band has only released professionally-produced music since 2012, the multi-talented sisters have been playing together for years and have already made a name for themselves in the music industry. They have worked with Grammy-nominated producer Ariel Rechtshaid and are managed by Jay Z’s Roc Nation agency.
It seemed that the sisters were as excited as the audience and would not stop jumping around. Este Haim, the bassist and the oldest of the trio, said that it was the craziest show they had ever played.
“Coming here was such a far-fetched thing for us,” she said. “We never imagined in a million years that we’d be able to perform here (in Singapore). So to be able to come and play here and have people know the lyrics to our songs is insane.”
The members of British rock band Daughter were not nearly as noisy as Haim. Lead vocalist and guitarist Elena Tonra’s voice shivered every time she spoke on staged and it looked like she was about to have a panic attack. She said that it was a mixture of being in a new place, the pressure of having to perform well and the fact that they were part of an amazing festival line-up that brought on the nerves. Nevertheless, the crowd fell silent and watched in awe as Daughter’s slow beats and Tonra’s haunting voice vibrated through the evening breeze.
“To be honest, most of the time when we play it’s sort of trance-like,” said Tonra as she described how she performs so well even though she’s nervous.
“You get so involved with what you’re doing and it’s like a moment where you’re in a bubble and everything becomes slightly blurry. And looking at our feet a lot as well helps.”
The highlight of the night however was English electronic music producer and singer-songwriter James Blake. Thousands of festival attendees stayed at the venue for a full 12 hours just to watch him play, sample, loop and tear apart about a dozen different musical instruments and gadgets.
The 25-year-old Grammy nominee seemed perfectly aware of his talents and of his adoring fans. When asked about his career, he coolly said, “I like the way things have progressed. I get to travel around the world with my friends. I’m very happy.”