Hostess Club Weekender @ Fort Canning Park (22.02.14)

Hostess Entertainment is a strange creature. They aren’t a concert promoter, in the way Chugg Entertainment, LAMC or Midas Promotions are. They’re a Japanese music label first and foremost, but they also organise elaborate shows–or ‘Weekenders’–thrice yearly in Japan. These events are showcases for their roster. And boy is it a huge roster, encompassing a broad sweep of established independent labels such as 4AD, Rough Trade and Matador.

It’s hard to appreciate how unique this label-cum-promoter concept is, since most music festivals in Singapore are already watered-down, single-day, city-based, no-camping affairs (to wit, Laneway Singapore is really ‘Laneway Lite’, and Big Night Out is a tiny spin-off from Big Day Out). It’s just as hard to appreciate how diverse Hostess’ acts are, since punters normally associate bands with their international, and not regional, distributors–if at all. The upshot is that Hostess Club Weekenders are virtually indistinguishable from ‘proper’ festivals held here.

This is no complaint, of course. The inaugural Singapore Weekender brought back heavy-hitters Mogwai and The National to our shores, and brought in what many felt was a glaring omission from Laneway Singapore 2014’s lineup: King Krule. Coming on midway through the proceedings, the I-can’t-believe-he’s-only-19 Archy Marshall bristled with loose-limbed, adolescent restlessness. The sublime combination of his gruff, assured vocals, classy jazz stabs and the evening glow provided enough reason for the Fort Canning crowd to get off their picnic mats and jive along.

Earlier, Icelandic flavour-of-the-month Asgeir delivered a surprisingly underwhelming set, whisking through tunes from his English debut In the Silence dispassionately. His five-piece backing band reproduced everything from the strident majesty of Torrent to the laconic longing of Going Home note for note, but without the scale and intensity of the recorded versions. We couldn’t tell if it was his inner glaciers reacting uncomfortably to Singapore weather, but Asgeir just seemed out of it, acknowledging neither audience nor event, and walking wordlessly off the stage after he was done.

Perhaps he should’ve taken a cue from Buke and Gase, who opened the Weekender with aplomb. Sitting in the centre of the stage, in the direct glare of the sun, the Brooklyn duo snapped and banged away enthusiastically at their homemade instruments. They persevered on through the scorching heat, multiplying their output through effects pedals, creating a buzzing, angular and playfully melodic racket many times bigger than themselves. Pixie-like singer (and ‘buke’ player) Arone Dyer paused between songs to towel herself, drink water and exclaim lighthearted disbelief at the weather, eventually tumbling backwards in relief at the end of the set. It was a charming, casual start to the event, and a reward to the few who bothered to turn up early.

Of course, if anyone was going to make an even bigger noise, it would be Mogwai. As night fell, the Scottish post-rock pioneers launched a full-on aural assault, alternating between tense, sparse notes and sledgehammers of sound. Material from their mellower synth-driven latest release, Rave Tapes, sat comfortably with ear-splitting classics like Ithica 27 ϕ 9, though song order hardly matters for a band whose primary weapon is an endless tug-of-war between loudness and softness. When they were soft, you could easily carry on a conversation. When they were loud, their dense, searing riffs, lurching drums and spectral vocoders threatened to burst every speaker at the venue. In fact, they probably did, because The National’s closing set suffered from an unsatisfying sonic mix.

Sound issues aside, The National closed the night–and coincidentally, the Asian leg of their Trouble Will Find Me tour–with a typically grandiose performance. Looking equally dapper and dishevelled, Matt Berninger was the perfect avatar of his band’s whiskey-fuelled first-world misery. He played his part to the hilt, striding uneasily around the stage as if to work off his agitation, taking dramatic swigs from a wine bottle, slamming his microphone into his chest, and dropping to bended knees when the weight of the world got too much. At the show’s climax, Berninger disappeared into the crowd, pushing all the way to the back, like a man who had finally lost both his mind, and his way. Given how much Trouble Will Find Me resembles preceding album High Violet, there was a strong consistency of mood throughout the 19-song performance, though hardcore fans would decry the (necessary) displacement of many of High Violet‘s finer moments, such as Runaway and Conversation 16. Nothing on the new album tops Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks as a lighters-aloft closer, however, and Berninger and Co. sang us home with that number just as they did in 2011, leaving its heartbreaking refrain “All the very best of us / String ourselves up for love” lingering in the air long after the close of the event.

By Don Shiau