Live Review: Skechers Sundown Festival – Marina Promenade, Singapore (21.11.15)

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If there was a theme for this year’s Skechers Sundown Festival, it would simply be titled “Head-bangers Unite!” This you shout out loud amidst the audience, accompanied by multiple hand horns thrown up to the sky.

Held on 21 November at the F1 Pit Area on Marina Promenade, the festival has grown from strength to strength, this 7th edition artiste lineup spanning a total of six Asian countries in the region, comprising both established artistes and rising new acts.

The event opened with local indie musicians taking the stage, Cheryl Loon kicking it off with her self-written tracks, including a song penned for her late cousin, an upbeat ditty titled ‘Dancing with Angels’.

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FARRAGO followed after, lead singer and guitarist David Hawkes getting the crowd on their feet. They sure lived up to their band name, Latin for “a confused mixture”, with their varied music influences and multi-national band members from the UK, Australia, Japan and Singapore.

The trio of fringe acts closed with Cashew Chemists playing their original tracks such as ‘First Kiss’ and ‘Mountains’, their The Strokes-inspired sound earning them new fans. Clearly the quartet’s popularity has been gaining some traction, as they announced their upcoming gig at next year’s St Jerome’s Laneway Festival – excellent news for indie and alternative music lovers.

For the first international act, special guests Ground Zero came on to friendly banter with the crowd, singing a couple of songs from their album Simple Life and even doing a rock song in traditional Taiwanese dialect that was most refreshing and befitting of this festival that aims to unite Asian music fans, no language boundaries included.

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Approaching sundown, the festival kicked into high gear with arguably Singapore’s most well known post-hardcore band Caracal. Having performed at festivals such as Taiwan’s Spring Scream and Japan’s Summer Sonic in recent years, the quintet pummeled through their high octane set with much gumption, all members working off a sweat even before the first song was over.

In between introducing the next number, a female fan yelled into the silence “I love you, Kenneth!” which incited a small smile on the frontman’s face, before he resumed his rocker seriousness and intensely grabbed the mic to delve into ‘Welcome the Ironists’, the title track off the band’s sophomore album that has received rave reviews from industry critics and fellow post-hardcore musicians.

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It was a tough act to live up to when Caracal exited, but Indonesian band J-Rocks only built on the energy, with their Japanese-styled sound and similar get-up reminisce of visual kei rockers from the Land of the Rising Sun.

At one point, lead vocalist Iman highlighted the sombre situation of the current terrorism attacks in various countries and expressed that such acts have no religion, to which the audience agreed with a resounding yes. A black and white image of two hands held together and the hashtag #PRAYFORPEACE was flashed on the screen for the duration of the next song, and it was certainly heartening to know that while musicians love their rock music, they also care about worldly matters very much.

J-Rocks then performed one of their hit singles, ‘Fallin’ In Love’, before ending off with a huge sing-along to their J-rock rendition of the English oldie ‘Can’t Take My Eyes Off You’. As they left and the next group waited for their turn to go up stage, the gloomy sky gave way to small bouts of drizzle that threatened to dampen the festival mood.

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However, it was difficult to be upset by a little bit of rain, when the next artiste was none other than INKT, the five-member Japanese outfit fronted by a very energetic Koki Tanaka. The former KAT-TUN member raised the bar yet another level higher, belting out anime-worthy rock tunes backed by his equally talented band.

Occasionally he would speak to the crowd with his smattering of English that while limited, still got the audience cheering. Of course it was obvious what the cheering was for and Tanaka delivered with plenty of fan service, whipping his hair back and forth and sticking out his tongue to tease the many fan girls who were legitly screaming “Kyaaaaa!” at his every antic.

Nonetheless it was still impressive to see them maintain that exuberance throughout the whole set and before they left they took a commemorative wefie with the crowd, who by now were newly minted INKT fans.

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Finally up next was one of the biggest headliners of the Sundown Festival: in the scene for more than a decade and extremely popular in their home country, Thai rockers Potato took to the stage much to the excitement of their legion of fans. The band performed probably the most number of songs for the night, including their chart topper ‘Do You Still…?’ Immediately when the intro kicked in, someone beside me gasped “Oh my god, I love this song!” although she had no clue what the title was.

Never mind most of us did not understand a single word either – the pop rockers were on top form, charismatic singer Patchai ‘Pup’ Pukdesusook crooning hit after hit, their latest being Left Me Behind. With a very polite “Khopkhoonkhap”, they bid farewell to their screaming fans.

Evidently, most of the crowd was at the festival for the final act and although the wait was long, the fans showed no signs of exhaustion whatsoever, screams penetrating the air even when DJ Tukutz was only fiddling with the turntable in preparation for the show. Then the familiar beats dropped and rapper Tablo jumped up from behind the drum set, surprising the audience and cueing yet another round of screams.

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Fans of Epik High were in for a treat, the threesome packing their set list with newer numbers like Born Hater and Up, as well as their older tracks like Fly and One. Sans their usual featuring vocalists, all attention was focused on the crazy rhymes and witty lyrics that the seasoned hip-hop rappers have come to be recognised for.

Tablo also commented on the difference in weather (winter in Korea versus the unforgiving heat in Singapore) and the members must have felt very warm as they kept dousing themselves with bottled water to cool off in the humidity. They were fairly considerate though, emptying the same bottled water by splashing the audience repeatedly throughout the set, so much so that some fans were begging for them to stop. Not that they had any intention to do so though, as Mithra Jin unleashed another shower of blessings on the crowd.

Closing with ‘Don’t Hate Me’ that got everyone bouncing, Epik High wrapped up the night of rocking good vibes and non-stop head-banging to great fanfare.

All in all, it was an amazing evening spent although there were several weird moments: The sudden appearance of an emcee threw every one off and was also awkwardly timed, as she only came on after majority of the artistes had performed to get people to join in the activities on the sidelines.

Additionally, there were two stages constructed for this year’s event, probably to facilitate the quick AV set up in between each act. That meant that if you were a fan of artistes with back-to-back shows, you had to make the difficult decision of choosing which stage to camp at. Between longer waiting times and missing out on close encounters with my favourite bands, I much prefer the former.

That said, there is much to look forward to for future editions of Skechers Sundown Festival, judging by the eclectic mix of musicians this year. ‘Til 2016!