Festival Review: St. Jerome’s Laneway Festival – The Meadow, Gardens By The Bay, Singapore (21.01.17)

With an eclectic line-up, diverse food options, and plenty of activities, St. Jerome’s Laneway Festival seems to have found the formula to hosting a good festival. This year’s edition saw the likes of singer-songwriter Nick Murphy, psychedelic rock outfit Jagwar Ma, ambient rock quartet Tycho, and indie-electronic band Glass Animals headlining the Marina Bay Sands’ palatial Gardens by the Bay last Saturday.

However, the festival did not go without controversy. Two months before the festival, much-lauded Punk icon Kathleen Hanna‘s band The Julie Ruin unexpectedly pulled out of the line-up, and were replaced by psychedelic outfit King Gizzard and The Lizard Wizard. This year’s line-up also faced claims of being ‘underwhelming, due to the noticeable lack of recognisable or breakout names. There was also a more regional focus this year, with with the number of Southeast Asian and Singaporean acts increased from four to eight.

Thankfully, Laneway has kept all its major hallmarks that we have come to know and love. Without making significant venue changes from last year, Laneway’s spin-off stages Cloud Stage and White Room proved to be huge crowd pleasers. Revellers were also spoilt for choice when it came to food, with international fare like Ramen noodles, Tacos, and Burgers readily available. 

Photo: Laneway Festival SG.

Laneway Festival 2017 saw torrential rains pouring down for a good part of the day, echoing scenes from the inaugural “Rainway” from six years ago. Festival-goers gamely partied in the rain with their ponchos or sought shelter at the White Room. By 1.30pm, revellers were greeted by the raucous, frenetic, guitar-centric riffs of hardcore punk band Luca BrasiMoments later, decisions had to be made between the big-stage debut of Singaporean alternative R&B songstress Sam Rui, or Japanese-pop artist Wednesday Campanella. Those who made it to the Cloud stage were treated to the seductive vocals and mischievous sensibility of the enigmatic Rui. 

It soon came the time for arguably the highlight of the festival – Japanese rapper KOHH. High off the release of latest album Dirt II, the Tokyo-based trap sensation pummeled into numbers like “Die Young”, “Living Legend”, and the biggest cheers were heard when he performed his much-herald verse on Keith Ape‘s “It G Ma” (잊지마). Revellers went completely ham during his set, with even a “wall of death”-style moshpit forming when titular track “Dirt Boys II” was played. Here’s what we have to say: Arigato gozaimasu, KOHH.

Photo: Cliff Yeo.

However, the festival did not stop there. Festival-goers were later blown away by two great Singaporean acts: the shimmering, wall-of-sound onslaught by revered Singaporean shoegaze outfit Astreal, and the stellar technicality of young Singaporean math rock-jazz upstarts T-Rex.

Soon after, ARIA-nominated Australian indie rock band Gang of Youths made their entrance, easing into their downtempo, heart-on-sleeve singles. British breakout BBC sound of 2016 artist NAO showed off sultry songs like “Bad Blood”, “Girlfriend” “Firefly”, while post-punk four piece White Lung stunned with their vicious punk stylings, chunky guitar riffs, and impassioned vocals.

It was still raining sporadically when it approached night, and many went off to the sheltered White Room to catch the brooding riffs of underground hip-hop artist Mick Jenkins. Ambient electronic producer Tourist was a surprise hit that night, with the Sam Smith “Stay With Me” co-writer churning out brilliant indie-electronic house hit-after-hit during his set. Over at the Cloud Stage, frequent A$AP Rocky collaborator Clams Casino left fans reeling in the wake of his ominous, bass-heavy grooves.

Photo: Cliff Yeo.

The next slew of acts were no strangers to ardent concert fans in Singapore. Australian psychedelic stalwarts Jagwar Ma dazzled with their innovative bass beats and hooks, ambient maestros Tycho calmed audiences down with their atmospheric synth-propelled hits, while Mad Decent star Mr. Carmack kept the party going with his trap-and-dubstep-infused pieces.

When it came the time for the two headlining acts, audience members were left to choose between critically acclaimed deep-house producer Floating Points (real name Sam Shepard) at one end, and producer-turned-singer songwriter Nick Murphy (Chet Faker) at the other. Those who turned up at Floating Points set were in for a treat. Using a minimal setup, the electronic maestro immediately showed why his debut album Eleania was so revered, launching into propulsive two-step garage beats and experimental jazz numbers. Floating Points was a complete enigmatic presence, and its safe to say that audiences at the Cloud Stage had a balling good time. Nick Murphy, on the other hand, balanced a well-received repertoire of Chet Faker hits and even showcased songs from his upcoming album.

With an increased number of artists, it was virtually impossible to catch every act this year. However, Laneway has maintained its distinct, fun and off-kilter brand and experience that has made it so widely-loved and cherished. This year’s Laneway presented a brilliant carnival setting, a delicious range of food and plenty of activities. In this, here’s what we can say to you Laneway – Stay same, and never change. As for the line-up, we’re loathe to say – it was a mixed-bag this year. But hey, don’t fret, we’re confident that Laneway will return with a more formidable line-up in the following years to come. 

Lead image by Lionel Boon.