There wasn’t a cloud in sight as the entrances opened to St Jerome’s Laneway Festival 2014. Since the festival landed on our shores in 2011, the weather has not been kind to attendees: the the inaugural festival earned the nicknamed “Rainway” and last year was blasted by sweltering 40° heat. But now in its forth year, the weather seemed finally ready to cooperate and bless Laneway with a breezy day of sunshine.
This year saw many changes to the festival– both in set-up and line-up. The grounds are sprawling now, extending backwards to make space for the new Cloud Stage. That meant there was plenty of walking to do, but it also meant there was no bleeding of sound between the two stages at any point: fantastic.
The line-up this year saw an influx of many girl-fronted bands, perhaps an indicator of the shift in the indie music landscape toward that direction. Moreover, this year also marks the first year in which Laneway Singapore has incorporated local acts. It’s an excellent initiative, although there have been some questions about the choice of bands. Indeed, there’s a huge emphasis on electronic and DJ sets this year with the Cloud Stage almost exclusively dedicated to the genre. Will this be a continuing trend in the years to come? We shall see.
The main stage’s sound seems geared toward projecting the sound at the hills where many festival go-ers set up camp. Unfortunately that meant a dilemma for the enthusiastic fans; sit back and have great sound or get up close and personal with their favourite band? Frightened Rabbit frontman Scott Hutchison had something to say about that: “To all those on the hill – Thanks for nothing!” Okay, so maybe we were just lazy about moving to the front with the mid-day sun beating down on us.
The crowd in front of the main stage grew noticeably larger as the day passed on and the temperature dipped. Unfortunately, though, the Cloud Stage never saw a substantial crowd throughout the day, even with the likes of Mount Kimbie and Jaime XX gracing the stage. Perhaps the problem was the narrow (but probably very literally Laneway-like) and flat standing area in front of the stage — you could hardly see a thing if you weren’t within ten metres of the stage.
Australian indie folk star Vance Joy opened the festival to cheers from the crowd. We heard snippets of confusion (“Who is this guy?” and “What is Vance Joy?”) towards the beginning of his set, but the 2,000-strong crowd who had entered the festival by this time embraced it soon enough. Strumming his ukelele for part of his easy and fittingly afternoon set, the band closed with their hit single ‘Riptide’, which would, the following day, land him the #1 spot in Triple J’s Hot 100. The 23 year-old might have seemed like an odd choice to kick things off, but what better way to set a high bar for the rest of the day?
Things heated up (both literally and figuratively) pretty quickly with the lo-fi dream-pop atmosphere of American dreamers Youth Lagoon. Their songs turned into totally different animals live as a four-piece, providing an interesting contrast to Vance Joy’s up-beat, soulful sound. Partly the super (overly?) efficient stage changeover, and partly just the nature of the band’s music and their energy on stage, it could have been a better idea to have pushed them to a later time slot when the crowd would have warmed up a bit for the intensity of the four-piece.
Aussie indie-rockers and Laneway Festival alumni The Jezabels came out just as the sun was at its peak, and it wasn’t a minute too soon. The band’s high-energy performance got the crowd grooving, and finally kicked everyone out of neutral gear with the sun beating down on them. Much to the delight of the crowd, they played a few songs from their upcoming album, including latest single ‘Look Of Love’ alongside Jezabels classics ‘Hurt Me’ and ‘Endless Summer’, as well as one or two oldies from their first EPs. Lead singer Hayley Mary’s voice is absolutely stunning, with an incredible range and execution that has performer written all over it.
Psych rock band Unknown Mortal Orchestra‘s set offered a nice change of pace: their lo-fi jazzy licks, combined with a beautiful summer day, and a 3.30pm time slot (nap time!) made us want to lie down on the hill and laze the afternoon away… which might well have been the point.
Another highlight of the festival, Scottish indie rock outfit Frightened Rabbit put on one hell of a show. “Perfect festival music!” could very well sum up their performance. The band transitioned effortlessly from mellow and jazzy numbers to thumping snare beats with upbeat guitar melodies. Their accents as much as their music proved alluring to the crowd, who slowly trickled from their afternoon laze to the front of the stage. When asked later, frontman Hutchison admitted that the band did write songs with audience participation in mind — and it was clear that that had totally payed off on the day.
Laneway is a great opportunity for local bands to play alongside international headliners and get some proper exposure to the masses of festival-goers, and local act The Observatory totally proved their place as the only local act with a slot on the main stage: their spacey, ambient sound was a stark contrast to the rest of the bands playing that afternoon, and provided a refreshing change of pace as the sun started to set behind us.
Unfortunately, this didn’t reflect in the crowd. Perhaps The Observatory’s brand of space rock just wasn’t to the taste of the punters, or (more likely) the poor turn-out is symptomatic of our disdain for most things local? Kudos especially to Vandetta and Gema, who had the added difficulty of pulling the crowd over to them at the Cloud Stage, a challenge even for the more widely-known international acts. It is so awesome that Laneway decided to include such great local acts in the line-up, if only we were as willing to give them a chance.
All-girl, punk-revival rockers Savages oozed so much cool it was almost scary. Frontwoman Jehnny Beth recalled the iconic Siouxsie Sioux as she howled her way through the set, not a single hair or piece of clothing out of place. There was something hypnotic about the whole set: tom-heavy beats, killer bass, smoldering lyrics… it was hard not to get lost in Savage’s brand of contemporary punk.
Next up were the sisters of HAIM, who took most of the audience completely by surprise with their polished performance. The trio are so effortlessly comfortable on stage, and, moreover, they really know how to rock: their brand of poppy rock is often compared to Fleetwood Mac’s for its airiness and effervescence, and that sound translates beautifully to a festival atmosphere. Seguing into what almost felt like an impromptu jam session, they went all out noodling on their guitars. At one point, the youngest sister, Alana, jumped off the stage to shake hands and hug eager fans in front of the stage.
Scottish electro-pop outfit CHVRCHES were clearly the act a lot of people had been hanging out to see: almost straight away they had people singing along and clapping to their catchy dance tunes. Frontwoman Lauren Mayberry may look cute and quiet, but when the music kicks off, she transforms into a completely different woman– charismatic and formidable, her voice is at once fragile and triumphant against the beats of her bandmates.
The beautiful weather, amazing line-up, inclusion of local acts, and addition of a third stage meant Laneway has truly made good on their promise of a bigger and better festival for 2014 — and we can’t wait to see what they have in store for us in 2015.
By Joel Teo