SINGAPORE – There have been sporadic downpours in the sunny old Lion City for the past few weeks, a local shop owner I befriended over a couple of visits told me.
“Great,” I thought to myself. I dreaded yet another episode of muddy lawns and scattered plastic ponchos at this year’s St. Jerome’s Laneway Festival in Singapore. Many festivalgoers have come to wittily call such this phenomenon “Rainway,” since the notorious sludge baths of the 2011 edition in Fort Canning Park, and even just last year. (IN PHOTOS: 14 highlights, Singapore's Laneway Music Festival 2015)
But the show has always gone on for this rising star of the Southeast Asian live music scene – rain or shine.
My worries proved to be unfounded on that unforgettable Saturday, January 30, at the sprawling Gardens by the Bay. The skies were clear and cerulean, with the triple towers of Marina Bay Sands and the Singapore Flyer standing majestically in the background. (READ: First time in Singapore? 12 places to visit)
Although the sun was scorching hot, it was indeed a fine day, and certainly a big one for the Philippines’ very own Cheats. (READ: Laneway Festival SG releases 2016 lineup, including PH band Cheats)
Cheats is an eight-piece act consisting of vocalists Jim Bacarro, Saab Magalona-Bacarro, and Candy Gamos; guitarists Ernest Aguila, Mau Torralba, and Jason Caballa; bassist Manny Tanglao; and drummer Enzo Hermosa – plus Kyle Quismundo guesting on keys. They happened to be the first ever Filipino act to play at the Singapore leg of the Australia-based indie music festival, and they were on one of the twin main stages to boot!
They were incredulous at first, as vocalist Saab told writer and photographer Niña Sandejas of music website RosariOko.com, “It’s just that there’s no Filipino band that has played so far so I didn’t know that was even an option.”
“When Jim and I were in Laneway 3 years ago, [which] seems like such a long time ago, we were watching Yuck, [and] we were saying, ‘Sobrang saya kung tumugtog tayo diyan.’ [‘It would be really great if we perform there’] […] When we started Cheats, we were really joking about it. It was our first out-of-the-country festival,” she added in the same interview.
The band was originally set to open the festivities, but they got bumped to the second timeslot of the day, as New York City-based band DIIV had to cancel their appearance. Singapore’s homegrown Riot !n Magenta instead primed the crowd with their electronic-driven but soulful sounds a little past noon.
As Cheats carefully set up, they played a brief snippet from Flying Ipis’ “This Song Is About You.” An impressed local festivalgoer asked me, “Where are these guys from? They’re good.” With pride, I answered, “Cheats. From the Philippines.”
The three stars and a sun were indeed on high, as Cheats played crowd-pleasers that have churned many mosh pits back in Manila’s SaGuijo and Route 196: from the raucous, high-octane “Crash,” to the indelible “Accidents.” The band even dropped new tracks “Glass Mouth” and “Talk.”
Cheats playing "Accidents" at #LanewaySG pic.twitter.com/sPN1nNXhYg — Paolo is Out of Tune (@PaoloJAbad) January 30, 2016
"Talk," a new track from @cheatsph live at #LanewaySG pic.twitter.com/XTo9Ri9aHp — Paolo is Out of Tune (@PaoloJAbad) February 6, 2016
“You can cheat on me any time!” a young new fan exclaimed, just as Jim introduced the band a few songs into their set.
Knowing that several expats and Filipinos who made the pilgrimage to Singapore were amongst the crowd, Candy called for the Manila delegates. A bunch of festivalgoers up front responded as enthusiastically as the Pinoys had. “You’re obviously not, but we’ll take it anyway,” she joked.
It’s apparent why Cheats has earned a prestigious spot on the bill. From Jim’s gravity-defying leaps, to their overall sound – classic indie rock recalling Arcade Fire, Sleater Kinney, and the like – they’re loads of fun. They’re definitely the kind of exciting, up-and-coming talent Laneway has been championing.
It was mid-afternoon when the audience swelled to the thousands. By the time the festival was in full swing, the crowd was 13,000-strong.
After attending a short media session with Cheats, I managed to catch the prolific bassist, producer, and singer Stephen Bruner a.k.a. Thundercat own the stage. One of the writers behind Kendrick Lamar’s album To Pimp a Butterfly, he even performed a cover of “Complexion (A Zulu Love),” much to the delight of revelers.
The Internet served up some chill urban tunes for the Laneway crowd. Lead vocalist Sydney Bennett, a.k.a. Syd tha Kyd, enchanted the crowd with her sultry singing. Everyone was waving their hands up in the air, just soaking in the suave beats and soulful melodies of tracks like “Under Control,” “Girl,” and “Dontcha.”
Away from the chaos of the main Garden and Bay Stages, Las Vegas native Shamir kept a biggish crowd at the Cloud Stage swaying and dancing. His fabulous, disco-inspired pop was reminiscent of the glory days of Madonna, Prince, Michael Jackson, and David Bowie, such that it was a joy and somehow nostalgic experience watching him perform.
Aussie duo Hermitude took to the decks late in the afternoon, yet they promptly slayed the crowd with banger after banger like “Ukiyo,” “HyperParadise,” “Searchlight,” and “The Buzz.”
Experimental rock band Battles may have run into some technical problems by the time they had to play “Futura,” but drummer John Stanier – with his indispensable chops – saved the day pounding on his kit to keep everyone transfixed.
The 1975 went on stage just as twilight approached, but throngs of giddy fans couldn’t wait for the boys from Manchester – Matty, Adam, George, and Ross – to come out and play their ‘80s-tinged glam rock anthems.
Even one fan was particularly too excited to hear the band play “Chocolate,” but Matty, being the charismatic frontman that he is, reassured the eager one. “Of course, we’ll play ‘Chocolate,’” he said.
After the sun had long set, a somber, dreamy mood enveloped the festival grounds. The spotlights were dimmed, and a hush gave way to the ethereal soundscape Beach House had conjured. Everyone was spellbound.
Pop maven Grimes put on quite a spectacle awash in bright colors. Armed with new material from her critically acclaimed album, Art Angels, she has certainly widened her horizons from the ghostly tunes of her previous opus, Visions.
The biggest moment of her set, in my opinion, was when she performed “Scream” with guest Taiwanese rapper Aristophanes 貍貓, who killed it rapidly spitting Mandarin verses.
Scotland was also well-represented with Glaswegian acts Hudson Mohawke and CHVRCHES blowing away the spectators at Gardens by the Bay.
Electronic and hip-hop producer Ross Birchard, who goes by the moniker Hudson Mohawke, played a live set that just slayed the Cloud Stage crowd.
Two years ago, CHVRCHES just released their debut album, The Bones of What You Believe, yet they wowed Laneway Singapore with their synth pop anthems.
Fast forward to this year’s edition, the trio of Lauren Mayberry, Martin “Dok” Doherty, and Iain Cook returned with a statement: the first two now equipped with impressive dance moves, plus new material from a stellar sophomore effort, Every Open Eye.
I noticed that some festivalgoers rushed out right before the night’s closing sets to catch the subway train’s last service. They were surely missing a lot from Harley Streten, a.k.a. Flume, who premiered an epic stage setup to replace his breathtaking Infinity Prism shows.
Needless to say, Harley, being the boy genius that he is, dropped fiery-hot tracks one after another, mixing up a set that deserves an A+.
Meanwhile at the Cloud Stage, Purity Ring put on a stunning show of their own. The Canadian duo of Megan James and Corin Roddick were surrounded by a forest of lights that pulsed along with their magical sounds.
Megan was in a flowing white dress, and Corin played a custom instrument that resembles an array of glowing crystals. Their performance was an incredible, otherworldly experience, so it was such a shame that their set time conflicted with Flume’s.
Six years in, Laneway Singapore already has a clear sense of purpose and has stuck to it. Aside from showcasing acts on the cusp of fame and acclaim, it has championed homegrown talent, and even those from neighboring countries.
Far from being just an iteration of the indie music giant of the Pacific region, the Singapore edition has made a name for itself, rising to become a destination that is so worth the short flight out. – Rappler.com
All photos by Paolo Abad/Rappler, unless otherwise stated
Paolo Abad is a film/television editor and motion graphic designer. He is also a self-confessed concert junkie.