Camp Symmetry @ The Meadow, Gardens By the Bay (2.11.13)

It was the most cock-tease weather to hold a music festival in. Stickily hot, humid and muddy, while a most portentous dark cloud loomed directly above threatening to unleash full terror.

Yet the day rolled by without a single raindrop falling. Camp Symmetry, likewise, went above and beyond expectations as it unfolded.

Despite kicking off somewhat ambiguously with a shaky performance by Veronica Falls to a relatively sparse crowd around noon, we saw the early birds warm up by the second act, with fangirls screaming their adulations at Last Dinosaurs on stage. It could almost have been a One Direction concert, except that the music was so good — their mashup of ‘Lady’ and ‘Why Does It Feel So Good’ was particularly electrifying.

Every pluck and strum of the band’s catchy riffs was executed with as much precision on stage as it was on the record, and it was at this moment in appreciating the clarity of the performance that we realized the elaborate set-up of the stage — an organized maze of lighting rigs and a refreshing quality of sound that we couldn’t fully appreciate in the fuzziness of Veronica Falls’ set. The crowd quite surprisingly sang along to a lot of Last Dinosaurs’ songs, and even got a taste of some new material, “aquatic” new songs that were making their live debuts in Singapore.

Photo by Shaun Tan
 

The same fangirls had a treat when Tumblr favourites San Cisco came on immediately after and played their über catchy ditties. By the time ‘Awkward’ came on, the usually stoic Singaporean audience were up on their feet and dancing to happy hopes that Jordi, Josh, Nick and Scarlett would stalk them too. “Stalking is something everybody does anyway,” quips Scarlett Stevens later, backstage. “It’s the normal thing to do, and social media makes it all the easier.”

Jack Tatum of Wild Nothing had his take on the democratising phenomenon of social media as well. “It’s affected the indie scene a lot”, he pondered. “I think indie rock is moving towards the mainstream. It’s almost becoming a microcosm of pop culture, what with all the gossip and everything.”

We’re not complaining. Despite the shortfalls of indie commidification, it’s a phenomenon that has undoubtedly made it easier for these bands to perform in Singapore, and drew the massive and diverse crowds at Camp Symmetry.

And it hasn’t seemed to affect the quality of the performances. Moving past the hiccup of a malfunctioning keyboard onstage that visibly frustrated Jack and the band, Wild Nothing delivered an inspiring set, perhaps one of the most anticipated of the day, with a more expansive and pristine sound than his early lo-fi bedroom recordings (a characteristic he says was an inevitability of “limited resources”), courtesy of his new full band.

It seemed natural that Wild Nothing’s energy was succeeded by the contemplative William Fitzsimmons. If the preceding bands’ sets didn’t feel long enough, this performance felt just right — the acoustic set was a good break for some quiet and pensive time before Ra Ra Riot got the crowd grooving again to their riotous 80s-inspired hits.

The evolution and maturity seen in Wild Nothing was later also evident in Best Coast, who tapered off their familiar  lo-fi 60s aesthetic and opted for a cleaner sound at the festival. Performing a mix of old and new songs from the Crazy For You and The Only Place albums, Beth Cosentino allowed her vocals to break through the filters she normally ensconced her voice with.

This, she says, is party because she was listening to “a lot more 90s music like Nirvana, some Taylor Swift, rather than 60s music” while writing, and also partly because she had a newfound sense of confidence. The singer readily admits the heavy effects used to be a comfortable way of masking her self-consciousness, which has waned with time — undoubtedly helped by accolades from Billie Joe Armstrong who named her “the best singer of her generation.” It was almost uncannily apt, then, when the crowd began to sing a birthday song to celebrate her turning 27 today.

If the turnout for the festival seemed lukewarm so far, as sundown arrived the audience from the slopes began streaming downwards to join the mosh. The Cribs absolutely blew everybody away with their high-octane, post-Johnny Marr brit rock; but it was only when old-timers Mew took the stage that the crowd multiplied threefold. Under the star-less Singapore night sky, the strobe lights matched their soaring, astral tunes, occasionally punctuated by screams from a starstruck crowd. There was definitely some nostalgia for the noughties going on as the indie superstars pulled out older songs like ‘Snow Brigade’ and songs from the cult-status album, Frengers.

There was no better way to end the night than Explosions In The Sky, an appropriate comedown after the high of Mew. The crowd fell silent in awe, exhaustion, or both, as the instrumental post-rock enveloped everyone in vocal-less magic. It was a sublime moment. And as we lay on the grass in silence absorbing the music, we admired the backdrop of Marina Bay Sands, the Singapore Flyer, and the skyline in all its orgiastic beauty, and for once felt a sense of genuine hope for the music scene in the country.

No wonder Best Coast’s Bethany gushed that Singapore was, without a doubt, the “tightest” country she’s been to in Asia. Camp Symmetry’s logistics were run marvellously like clockwork — seamless, bang on schedule to the millisecond, and as tight as the skinny jeans on stage at Last Dinosaurs. Not bad at all for a nascent project. Even the food was fantastic. Forget the soggy hotdogs you normally associate with music festivals — there were fried mantous with pulled pork and crackling, nasi briyani, chicken tenders, and micro-brewed beer from our homegrown Brewerkz. On top of that, you’ve got a bouncy castle and a pingpong table on the flanks to entertain yourself with, in case your bottoms got sore from sitting on the grass.

What else can you ask for?

By Zixin Lin