Skechers Sundown Festival takes you on an Asian excursion of mystical musical magnificence. Each a little cheeky, each swaggering a little, all full on shining stars. To the baying crowd of teens, the bands surged onto the scene, bursting at the seams with energy at being constrained to roughly 45-minute sets. Brimming with raw, emotive energy, the waves of the congregated masses responded with equal outpourings of affection.
Cheryl Loon – soulful crooner, solo singer, guitarist. Her fine grit burnished vocals drizzled with sticky maple syrup was all dessert to my ears; it was an unexpected confection of honeyed shrapnel as unanticipated as her renditions of familiar tunes like Titanium and Radiohead’s “High and Dry”.
If the kids in the crowd were ambivalent towards the Radiohead cover, I figure it’s because they are a whole generational letter removed. But in my opinion, Cheryl made it her own. At times, her voice exhibited tints of Placebo’s Brian Molko’s light nasal tractioned crooning, an endearing and ethereal resonance.
A description of Farrago begs inventions of all sorts of portmanteaus. Comprising four different ethnicities, the band gave off a familiar homely vibe, just like your cosy heartland British pub (think Colbar).
“We are a local band, although we don’t look like it,” assured lead singer/rhythm guitarist David Hawkes. Keen to shed the foreign-sounding moniker, the 20-year-old resident of our sunny island wrapped up his smart lyrics and eager yet reticent voice with melodic licks from Johnathan Suresh who buillt up a crescendo from shy tentative licks that embellished, to large full-on open chords that rang out and filled out the soundscape.
Female bassist Miwa Furukawa kept the team grounded as she laid on the solid bass tracks in a steadfast manner. Getting into the swing of things, she finally cut loose and raised her mighty war hammer in a toast to the emo alt-rock gods.
Cashew Chemists, your boys next door, exuded a cheeky, cocky charm wrapped in a gauze of reticence. They opened their set with some self-depreciating banter, asking the audience which band they were really here to see. Their sound was a distinctly Singaporean brew of diverse influences — a worldly blend of Katong coffeeshop blues meets Punggol surfside power pop. Their tunes evoked a sense of rose-tinted longing, of loves lost and times passed. Of reminiscing sweet simple times, it beseeched the clock to tick a little slower and coaxed the clouds to linger in the blue skies longer.
What tied the music down, aside from the impassioned lyrics and soulful vocals, was the heavy use of pentatonic clichés that worked well in making the tunes catchy, approachable and simply good. This was layered with a sonic swirl of flanger, what I detected to be chorus and a hint of delay (to slow the passage of time because they’ll miss it?) to create a larger, sublime sound.
Taiwan’s Ground Zero peddled organic rock. They openly decried the prejudiced opinion that hard rock is about angst, civil obedience and frustration. Lead singer, Ray, is a big personality who revels in his interactions with the crowd. A live wire act, he buillt a rapport with the audience, drawing them into the show by constant interaction and involvement. His powerful, clean vocals cut through the sonic dissonance of Ivan’s guitars – a fitting complement.
Jason’s thick backhanded slapped bass dealt a heavy punch to the score giving their compositions a secure mooring as Ray and Ivan (obviously the most flamboyant of the team) raced around untethered, wild and free in their expression of their craft. Their concert rock style was very polished production and the compositions comprised memorable chorus sections that sang of bright, hopeful days — the same kind of emotions stirred when listening to certain songs by say U2 or Bon Jovi.
Caracal, another home-grown act was the real live wire. My pick of the lot, KC, played the part of rock god as he fronted the band with his heavy hitting lyrics and vocals. His stagemanship was consummate, swaying like a reed, posturing, swaggering, like a Jim Morrison reborn. At times launching into moments of angst, hollering into the mic to the point of convulsion. And at other times, standing in near silence, tossed locks whiped across his face, displaying moments of contemplative fragility.
Like a trap door unexpectedly opening from below your feet, the crowd favourite “Welcome the Ironists” exploded with an unabashed frenzy of melodic dissonance, leading into a slippery Vaseline drenched riff, leaving no room for a breather. A roller coaster ride, the slower exhortive verses pulled you back with a whiplash before taking off at warp speed again. A lyrical bipolar split personality, clean vocals were interspersed with growled ones, so evenly that it’s difficult to pick out the personality, a Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde psyche. Watching the music video later, it seemed the exact mental image Caracal wants you to form.
Hailing from Indonesia, J-Rocks started off solemnly by stating that music has no barriers, no religion, condemning the bloodshed that has coloured parts of the globe a crimson red. Channelling flamboyant 80s glam rockers Poison and perhaps more so of X Japan, Iman and the boys – decked in androgynous garb – put on a show to please. Pandering to their supporters, they tackled an English rendition of their 2012 hit “Fallin’ In Love”.
Playing English songs that aren’t their strong suit, but the effort was greatly appreciated by the singalong and applause. The guitar was neat and included a lot of wild runs that hark back to their 80’s influences. In a further tribute to their guitar heros, Iman closed the set by playing guitar behind his head in an attempt at showmanship. Radio-friendly rock ballads, this set was a calmer point at the festival which was a restful respite before the fast and furious next performer.
INKT, a Japanese foursome commenced their set to the cheers of ardent supporters. Also trying their best to give the audience what they wanted, INKT reached out directly to the crowd instead of merely staying silent or speaking through an interpreter. Koki Tanaka could be heard screeching out to his fans to go wild, to sing louder, to party harder.
Koki pulled together guitarist Kei, keyboardist Kissy, bassist Mackaz and drummer Sassy barely a year ago to form the new band. However, the band appeared to have already drawn a youthful following, judging from the teenaged female screams in the crowd behind me. Fast-paced, high energy and eager, the band easily brought the crowd to fever pitch with favourites like “Trigger”. Kei could be seen in various states of guitar-playing ecstasy as he teased the fretboard at times and beat it into submission at others.
Hot veterans from Thailand, Potato is known for its catchy songs. Its members’ pretty boy looks, age and constant internal politics have weighted heavily on them. If the band members were tired from the tumultuous past few years, they didn’t show it in their act. Supporters from Thailand and locals weaned on infectiously catchy Thai rock tunes were in force. Potato intends to stage a return and released three new singles this year, two of which were performed live – สมดุล (Som doon) and ทิ้งไว้กลางทาง (Ting wai klang tang). Showing no signs of slowing down, the quintet was raring to go, with a selection of dishing out heavy aural assault and others where Pup’s crooning voice was the highlight.
EPIK HIGH, a hip hop crew from South Korea was the odd bunch in terms of order of appearance and musical direction from Korea. However, they brought the festival to a climatic close. It was obviously the group most of the estimated 9,000-strong, mainly youthful crowd was waiting for; the spectator area suddenly swelled and the tide of youth was moving to their K-wave beat.
Promoting their upcoming studio album, Shoebox, the band belted out ” Born Hater” and ” Eyes, Nose, Lips” to a raucous reception. All the right tunes and all the right (B-Boy) moves, the crowd lapped it all up. This sound is all about the now and from how it seemed this night, it’s the soundtrack of the coming future too.
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