Music and Other Musings

Air @ Esplanade Theatre, 27 May 2017

An amazing thing happened during the Air concert. During ‘Alpha Beta Gaga’, I looked behind and saw a guy who was standing and throwing his arms up urging others to stand. S and I sprang to our feet and grooved to the music, as people around us started to stand. It was an amazingly rousing version which blew me away. The drums were unbelievable and the song positively galloped, the whistles more infectious and urgent. I was expecting a passive, sit-down affair and for the most part it was – I had spent the whole show up until that moment bopping in my seat. The concert got off to a slow start with ‘Venus’ but picked up as they played well-known songs like ‘Cherry Blossom Girl’, ‘Remember’ and ‘Playground Love’. The songs were familiar but sounded different; more energetic and fresh.

I had seen Air at Primavera Sound last year and the two gigs couldn’t be more different. It was at a big outdoor stage, their music disappeared into the air and I was too far away to hear it properly or feel much of a connection. I felt bored and kept thinking they would have sounded better in an indoor venue. Seeing them at the Esplanade Theatre, I was reminded of their festival set and was glad I decided to see them a second time. The visuals were great: there were geometric patterns, colour blocks, shapes that shifted and bubbled. They ended with ‘La Femme d’Argent’ and there were a couple of people in front headbanging. There are lots of bands I can imagine headbanging to and Air isn’t one of them, but it happened. How awesome is that?

Advertisements

Yelle Club Party @ Gallery Theatre, National Museum of Singapore, 13 May 2017

If Cigarettes After Sex was the appetizer and Mew the main course, the Yelle Club Party last Saturday was the perfect sweet ending to a crazy week of gigs. The lively French electronic pop group were in town to play two shows at the Gallery Theatre @ National Museum of Singapore and I went for the second one. I confess I never really listened to their music all that much but I have a new-found love for them after the concert. Their videos are always super fun and entertaining to watch, and seeing them live, it struck me how physical their shows are. Julie Budet was a ball of irrepressible energy on stage, prancing about and deftly maneuvering her body here and there, and dispersing heart flourishes into the crowd. Jean-François Perrier and the drummer (didn’t get his name unfortunately) kept the beat going and matched her antics with choreographed moves and gestures, but it never felt overly rehearsed.

For a band with three albums, their set was a tad too short at an hour and 15 minutes and the audience was definitely left wanting more. Outside, a bunch of us gathered with posters in hand that the concert promoter Figure8 Agency gave out. The band eventually emerged and spent around an hour signing and chatting and taking pictures with everyone. A, E, S and I had attended the Yelle in Context talk at Gallery 10 earlier, where Julie and Jean-François discussed how they use technology, language and culture in their music. Afterwards, I asked Julie which artistes they would love to collaborate with and she said Depeche Mode and Katy Perry. I couldn’t help but notice her awesome shrimp sweater and if I recall correctly, she said it’s by her friend Jean-Paul Lespagnard.

Halfway through May and I’m looking forward to the upcoming gigs next week where I’ll be seeing (coincidentally) a couple of French acts: Worackls and Air. They’re both electronic musicians but have different sounds. Their gigs are back-to-back and I reckon it’s going to be another awesome time.

Cigarettes After Sex + Ulrich Schnauss / MEW @ Urbanscapes, 9 & 10 May 2017

When I heard Cigarettes After Sex were playing Urbanscapes in Kuala Lumpur but skipping Singapore, I knew I had to fly to see them. They’ve been on my radar ever since I heard their 2012 EP I and I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to see them. Ulrich Schnauss got the crowd warmed up with his lush ambient electronic; I wish he was playing a solo show instead because he’s got so much material and one hour wasn’t enough.

Cigarettes After Sex came on at 10.30pm to huge cheers and screams and I have to say I’m impressed with the KL crowd – they enthusiastically belted out the words to all the songs, from the wistful ‘K’. to the dreamy ‘Affection’. The band sounded amazing just like their records, and live their smoky songs were even more intoxicating.

I caught Mew the following night and I was really there to hear their older stuff as I haven’t kept up with their releases. Their new songs sound generic and ordinary though, and just not as arresting as their earlier tracks. 1 and a half hours later and it was over and I was in a cab back to my hotel. What a whirlwind two days it’s been.

Taipei, 26 March – 2 April 2017

My maiden Taipei trip in pictures.

La Femme @ *SCAPE The Ground Theatre, 7 March 2017

10 minutes into their debut gig at *SCAPE The Ground Theatre, keyboardist and co-founder of La Femme Marlon Magnée uttered this sly teaser:

“Hello Singapore, tonight La Femme will give you some pleasure!”

With that cheeky proclamation, we were in for a sexy, rollicking time at the French krautrock band’s show on 7 March 2017. They were playing as part of the Francophonie festival and their 100-minute set was pure unadulterated fun from the get-go. Drawing on influences as varied as psychedelia, pop and punk, they oscillated between the jangly surf rock of ‘Où va le monde’ and ‘Anti Taxi’, to the noir mystery of ‘Packshot’ and the moody synthpop of ‘Nous Etions Deux’, to the dancey new wave of ‘Sphnx’.

It’s crazy to think I nearly didn’t go as I wasn’t taken with them initially and even after a few more listens I still wasn’t fully convinced to part with my money. Vinyl Of The Day had a giveaway and I entered on a whim, and so did E and he won a pair of tickets. Thankfully the gig proved me wrong and I’m glad I went after all. The band had the crowd bopping with every song and they’re friendly to boot, even inviting a fan onstage to dance. 3 days later and I’m humming their songs, if they swing by here again I’ll go again for sure.

 

Neon Lights, 26 & 27 November 2016 / PJ Harvey, 13 January 2017

As usual, I’ve been tardy writing about shows so I’m making up for it by covering Neon Lights 2016 and PJ Harvey back-to-back in this post.

Neon Lights @ Fort Canning Park, 26 & 27 Nov 2016


The weather during Neon Lights might have been stormy but it wasn’t going to put off the crowds who had descended on Fort Canning Park for the festival’s second edition. Standing on the raised platform and clutching the barrier with rain pouring down on me, I even felt fuzzy as it brought back memories of the first Laneway Festival in 2011. Undeterred by the rain and wearing ponchos “in solidarity” with us, Chairlift put on an amazing set, delivering new songs like “Romeo” and “Crying In Public” and older gems like “Amanaemonesia” and “I Belong In Your Arms”. Dressed in a hot pink cropped top and shiny black pants, Caroline Polachek got everyone singing along while dancing gracefully on stage. Theirs was one of my favourite sets of the festival and needless to say, I was pretty crushed to learn just days later that they had broken up. RIP Chairlift. I’m glad I got to see you guys one last time.


Foals was an angry, intense affair reminiscent of their set at Laneway 2011. The majority of the crowd were here for them and the air of anticipation had grown so heavy that you could slice it with a knife. Unfortunately there was a group of drunk guys a few rows behind us who started singing Foals’ songs during Gentle Bones’s set which wasn’t cool at all. I’m not a fan but at that moment I felt really bad for him. When Foals finally came on, it took all my strength not to be swept away by the heaving crowd. A wasn’t as lucky – he lost his footing on the muddy ground and fell; luckily some helpful festival-goers pulled him up. To be honest, I stopped listening to Foals after their second album and was clueless about the more recent stuff they played. It didn’t matter though – they played an energetic set and it felt great to let my hair down and rock out.


Blood Orange kicked off the second day with a stunning set filled with sensual, new wave grooves and melancholic, soulful musings. Equal parts introspective and danceable, he flitted between themes like race (“Augustine”) to heartbreak (You’re Not Good Enough”). Dev Hynes is a crazy talented artiste, and I really hope he returns for a full-length concert because a 45-minute festival set just isn’t enough.


Malaysia’s Yuna was probably the most mainstream of the acts and though her music isn’t what I’d normally listen to, I have to admit I enjoyed her set. She has a good voice and catchy songs and after standing all day, it was nice to sit on a mat and chill to her brand of R&B-infused pop while enjoying the night air.


The largest crowds were arguably reserved for Icelandic post-rock icons Sigur Ros with hordes of people packing the front of the stage to as far back as the eye could see. I saw them at the same venue in 2012 (where coincidentally a light drizzle fell) and remembered being unable to get into their set, much to my anguish. This was my third time seeing them after Primavera Sound several months earlier. I felt their set at Primavera was better in terms of sound and lighting. That said, this was still as ethereal with soaring instrumentals anchored by Jonsi’s incredible falsetto. They ended with a fiery blaze of lights which I thought was a nice touch to cap off a wet and wonderful weekend.

PJ Harvey @ Esplanade Theatre, 13 Jan 2017

I’d seen PJ Harvey at Primavera Sound last year but I knew I couldn’t pass up the chance to see her play here. She was absolutely incredible during the two-hour show, mesmerising the audience with her flawless vocals and bewitching dance movements. Credit too to her backing band who provided the bedrock. Most of the setlist consisted of songs from her latest album The Hope Six Demolition Project, but near the end she switched things up by launching into the angst of “50 Ft Queenie” and the creepy “Down by the Water”. 2017 couldn’t have started off on a better note and I’m looking forward to what the rest of the year brings.

Cambodia, 3 Months Late

After several intense months at work, I was desperately in need of a getaway to recharge. Cambodia was a place I had been vaguely thinking of visiting for the past few years so I figured I might as well go now. My trip spanned 19 to 24 November 2016 and I divided my time between Phnom Penh and Siem Reap. As I only had two-and-a-half days in Phnom Penh, my itinerary was rather predictable and covered the usual stops of a typical first-timer’s visit. First up was the Tuol Sleng Museum of Genocide, or S21 as it is known to locals. The former high school was where prisoners of Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge regime were held. I wandered in and out of rooms gazing at the exhibits while the audio guide told heartbreaking tales of prisoners who had died there. The descriptions of their torture were so vivid that it was hard to take in at times. As I was leaving, a tour group near the entrance was listening to Chum Mey, a survivor, recount his experience of being imprisoned.

The next day, I visited Choeung Ek Genocidal Center, located about 17km from the city. The most infamous of the multiple sites which make up the Killing Fields, this served as a mass grave site and final resting place for victims of the Khmer Rouge, many of whom were transported here from S21. Walking around the serene, leafy grounds, you would never have guessed the terrible things that had happened here 40 years ago. The Killing Tree where guards killed babies by bashing their heads against its trunk was one of the most chilling things I saw, along with bits of bone and teeth embedded in the earth. A stupa in the middle houses over 5,000 skulls arranged according to the type of trauma their owners suffered. It made for a grotesque yet mesmerising sight up close.

Siem Reap could not be more different from the sombre capital – the main tourist drag Pub Street was crawling with visitors and exuded a vibrant party atmosphere. Like everyone else, I came to see the legendary Angkor Wat and it was indeed magnificent. However, watching the sun rise over the temple complex was decidedly not as magical as the reviews made it out to be. It was a gloomy morning and the clouds were grey while the temple was shrouded in shadow. On hindsight, joining the half-day tour organised by my hostel wasn’t a good idea as we were allocated a mere 45 minutes for each of the five temples we visited. It didn’t help that I got lost while trying to find the tour bus as I had exited through a different exit at one of the temples. This resulted in everyone waiting for nearly 30 minutes and cut short the visiting time at the other temples.

Cambodia is still struggling to rebuild itself and it shows in the infrastructure – poorly paved roads riddled with pot holes that make walking extremely difficult and hence require the use of tuk tuks to get around, run-down houses (that are sometimes situated next to imposing government buildings) and mounds of dirt by the roadsides. It was very dusty and hot and I wondered more than a few times why I didn’t go somewhere cooler instead. While the food was decent, it was not very memorable, lacking the variety of Vietnamese food and the bold flavours of Thai cuisine. I enjoyed the $1 fruit shakes from the night market though; they were fresh and delicious and the perfect antidote to the humid nights. I also took advantage of the many fish massage parlours around my hostel and got a fish massage for the first time.

With only a few days, I was too tired and time-starved to venture beyond the city. I’m aware that I’ve only seen a small part of Cambodia and I hope that when I return, I’ll be able to see a different side, away from the cheap souvenirs and war-torn narrative.







2017

This year, I will do my best to:

Eat healthier.
Exercise (groan).
Write more.
Put together my portfolio.
Save more money.
Travel to new places.
Try new dishes.
Explore parts of Singapore I’ve been meaning to check out.

Mostly, all I want is for this year to be better than the last.

Happy New Year and here’s to a fresh start in 2017.

p1130479

Primavera Sound Festival, 1 – 4 June 2016

They say the third time’s the charm, and the lure of seeing Radiohead, John Carpenter, LCD Soundsystem and Lush was too much to resist, so back to Barcelona it was for another summer of music by the sea.










Carry On

The past three months have simultaneously been a whirlwind of days rushing past and a slow-burning series of weeks unwinding at a placid pace. Life after DT is both normal and surreal. The day stretches out before me, a yawning expanse of time I have to figure out how to fill. Instead of churning out articles, I now browse job ads all day in between catching up on news, watching YouTube videos or clicking on whatever catches my eye. The job hunt is slow, agonising and frustrating. Ads blend into one another and become a sea of words my eyes glaze over. With every email that goes unanswered, my heart sinks further and shrivels up a bit more. This is the worst thing about job hunting. It’s been weighing heavily on my mind and I think about it until I feel like I’m going crazy. I know I need to stay optimistic, like one of those cheesy positivity quotes urging you to push on. I know my situation won’t last forever but it feels that way some days. As I enter the fourth month of my search, I’m trying to let go of my worry because it’s pointless and I should just enjoy this free time while I can. I’ve been catching up on reading and films, and started going on walks around my neighbourhood at night. The other day I said to Y, “I need to be comfortable with being uncomfortable.” I am so grateful to have Y to confide in during this period of uncertainty. It really helps to have someone I can talk to. So I’m going to carry on and see what the next few months have in store for me. Hopefully, the winds of change have good news.