When you’re spontaneously given a Fender guitar from your idol, just after he played on it, and flowers by other singers you’ve come to see, you know the Singapore St Jerome’s Laneway Festival has raised the bar for future music festivals here, despite this being only its second year.

Unpredictable weather and a hectic 12-hour-long roster on Feb 12 didn’t stop the audience of about 8,000 strong from having the time of their lives at the indie music festival.

This year, with experience and a little help from UrbanWire‘s Laneway Survival Guide, many fans came prepared with ponchos, umbrellas, and even wellingtons after last year’s torrential downpour led to the event being nicknamed “Rainway Festival”. However, despite slight drizzles in the early afternoon, the audience was treated to a typical hot Sunday afternoon – which they basked happily in.

American pop duo The Cultsgave the festival a great start, at 1.30 in the afternoon, as the first of 14 bands to play during the show. Beginning with an entrancing improvised instrumental, the band moved on to showcase their signature “bedroom pop” style of music with favourites such as ‘Go Outside’ and ‘You Know What I Mean’creating a sweet, chill-out atmosphere as the early crowd bobbed along.

Brian Oblivion of Cults looking suave while playing the keyboard

Coming in as replacements for Wu Lyf (who pulled out), Chairlift certainly didn’t disappoint with their synthpop, which was sometimes reminiscent of an old Atari video game track. Lead singer and keyboardist Caroline Polachek wowed the crowd with her haunting vocals mixed with captivating falsettos, while still mashing out electro-lines on her synthesizer and even breaking out in short spurts of dance.

Despite having a dark, gothic musical style that doesn’t always go down well with the majority, Canadian act Austra definitely left a mark on fans with their larger-than-life outfits (think Wonder Women-turned-goth) and quirky interpretative dance moves that wouldn’t be odd in a Bollywood flick.

“Austra’s dance moves make up for what I may not understand about them musically. I won’t be surprised if they fly away on broomsticks at the end of their set,” exclaimed Alexander Goh, a 26-year-old university graduate and an impressed Austra fan.

While most bands opted for a simple stage with minimal decoration due to their short sets, Girls (who aren’t actually girls), lavished theirs with daisies and were constantly giving out fake flowers as mementos to delighted fans. Despite being a rock-centric band, the highlight of their set was when they performed a very emotional cover of ‘I Will Always Love You’ in memory of Whitney Houston, who had tragically passed away earlier that day.

In their sophomore performance here, The Drums still proved to be crowd-pleasers. Their set had the crowd jumping along almost constantly to their post-punk hits such as ‘Money’and ‘Let’s Go Surfing’. Singer Jonathon Pierce made a deal mid-set with the audience, promising to dance if they danced, which instantly transformed the crowd from a jumpy one to a groovin’ one.

The second half of the day featured big acts such as Anna Calvi, who added a bluesy edge to the festival with her virtuosic guitar playing that shows strong influence from the likes of Jimi Hendrix and The Rolling Stones. New wave artiste Twin Shadow shocked the crowd when he calmly gave away his Fender electric guitar to a lucky fan just before ending his set with ‘Forget’ – definitely making it a set to remember.

Twin Shadow having to settle the rest of his set with his Rickenbacker guitar after giving away his Fender

Things started getting more intense when Laura Marling’s highly anticipated set began. Being the only act with a focus on acoustic instruments, her indie-folk crooning added a sweet contrast and was definitely a highlight of day. The 21-year-old songstress showed maturity beyond her years with in her country-esque folk rock, recalling famous musicians such as Ani Difrancoand Alanis Morissette. Her acoustic guitar went through a wide range of music genres, often combining Spanish and Arabic musical influences, infused with folk, in her own unique style. Despite her soaring vocals and impressive guitar playing, the young musician spoke with much timidity when addressing the crowd, often giving them soft “thank you’s” after each song.

Unfortunately, The Pains of Being Pure at Heart had a rocky start. Not only was singer Kip Berman pitchy in their first few songs, but their set was also marred by technical difficulties, forcing them to stop their set for a few minutes due to faulty audio equipment. However, the young New Yorkers weren’t discouraged by this and came back in full throttle after the glitches were dealt with. What with their jumping around while bursting into hit after hit – such as ‘Heart in Your Heartbreak’and ‘A Teenager in Love’ – without a breather, The Pains provided 1 of the most energetic sets of the day.

“Whatever The Pains came off short vocally, they definitely made up for in attitude with their insanely convincing performance on stage,” said Royston Chua, a 21-year-old National Serviceman. The crowd danced and sang along to songs of heartbreak and redemption accompanied by jangly guitars and sun-soaked melodies – a definitive formula for classic indie-pop.

The whole crowd was on their feet during Toro Y Moi’s funk-fueled set. Despite coming out dressed in a sloppy orange tee, looking like he was going to buy groceries rather than performing to a crowd of 8,000, the multi-talented 24-year-old (he’s also a designer and photographer) showed great creativity in his synth-playing, driving the audience wild with his fusion of electronica, funk and dance music. His recent shows have been described as similar to a “flashy, sex-fueled 80s rooftop fiesta” by Michael Roffman of Consequence of Sound and he certainly lived up to expectations in his Laneway appearance.

Don’t let his looks deceive, Toro Y Moi induced the crowd into a crazed dance fiesta

In her return to Laneway after 4 years, Feist proved to Singapore why she once ruled this festival. The Canadian starlet, who’s on her first trip here, teased her fans by asking, “Has anyone wondered how come I never came here?” before jumping in to her recent single ‘How Come You Never Go There’. Her set consisted mainly of songs from her latest single “Metals”, with a few favourites from her back catalogue such as ‘I Feel It All’ and ‘My Moon, My Man’. Her way with the crowd was commendable, spurring a gender-divided sing-a-long for the choruses of ‘The Bad In Each Other’ where the ladies sang, “the good man” and guys went “the good woman”. Supporting her were her 3 back-up singers. Together, they whipped up epic vocal harmonies, including a remarkable segment during a darker, slowed-down version of ‘Mushaboom’ that dropped many jaws. But Feist wasn’t the only one who impressed during her set. The reception from the crowd left the experienced singer in amazement, even sayingthat “Singapore is raising the bar for Laneway” and that the Singaporean crowd was “shaming Australia”.


Photo courtesy of Aloysius Lim

As the last act of the night, French electronic dream-pop band M83 started their set with ‘Intro’. Singing “carry on, carry on”, accompanied by a fuzzy, trance-like synth track, lead singer Anthony Gonzalez delivered a reverberating start to an end. It was a truly mind-blowing set, with both the band and the crowd exceeding expectations. To give the crowd had the full M83 experience, their set showcased fog-machines and intricate lighting setups, perfectly complementing their dream-pop image.

Despite being worn out from almost 12 hours of continuous hard partying, everyone was uplifted by the band’s intense performance. Seeing the whole crowd pumping their fists religiously in the air in unison during hits such as ‘Midnight Cities’ and ‘We Own The Sky’ was enough to make anyone’s hair stand. The response, so unlike the Singaporean reputation of a passive audience, overwhelmed Gonzalez, who exclaimed, ”You guys are the best. The best, the best, the best,” while bowing down in respect to the ecstatic crowd.

The Highlights:
The awesome crowd
Cover of Whitney Houston’s ‘I Will Always Love You’ by The GirlsAustra’s quirky dance
TwinShadow’s guitar giveaway
Much better weather, with nothing more than slight drizzles!
Feist and her amazing back-up singers
Dr. Martens shuttle bus services and survival kits

The Downers:
Technical problems during The Pains
Ridiculously long food and drinks queues (it took some fans over 40 minutes just to get a beer!)
Feist fans want more!