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Rock on at Laneway Festival

The indie music festival returns with 29 international and home-grown acts

Music festival St Jerome's Laneway Festival, the biggest indie music event here, returns for its seventh outing in Singapore at The Meadow, Gardens by the Bay, on Jan 21.

Featuring a mix of 29 international and home-grown acts playing over four stages, music lovers can expect a smorgasbord of genres, from ambient and experimental pop to folk and alternative hip-hop. There were 27 acts last year.

The 12-hour festival has its roots in Melbourne in 2004 and made its Singapore debut at Fort Canning Park in 2011.

Its attendance has been rising steadily over the years, from 6,000 in its first outing to 13,000 last year - its biggest crowd to date.

The Straits Times speaks to three of the acts performing: Australian psychedelic rock band King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard, a new addition to the festival's line-up; Australian singer-songwriter Nick Murphy, who makes a return to Laneway Singapore after an overwhelming reception at the festival's 2015 edition; and home-grown indie veterans Astreal, who will be releasing new music to coincide with their debut Laneway performance.


King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard get creative

Australian psychedelic rock band King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard, the latest act to be added to the Laneway Festival Singapore line- up at Gardens by the Bay on Jan 21, have always had a way with names.

Formed in 2010, the Melbourne- based group went through several names before deciding on the rhyming, rhythmic and slightly disturbing King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard.

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"It was the most ridiculous name we could think of and it stuck," says frontman and multi-instrumentalist Stu Mackenzie.

Then there is the title of their new album, set to be released next month - Flying Microtonal Banana.

It is named after the custom- made guitars that the members specially created to come up with the unique, singular sounds of their new songs.

Mackenzie, 26, says: "I had a friend build a guitar for me and when we were working on some rough sketches, it was going to be yellow, we got it banana-coloured."

The shape of the guitar was similar to a classic guitar design called The Flying V, he adds in the telephone interview from Melbourne.

"And then later on, we ended up adding some microtonal frets, some extra frets in between the frets, so it became the Flying Microtonal Banana."

He and the other six band members then modified more guitars to suit the new instrument and played them with microtonal harmonicas and keyboards for the new songs. The result is an expanded palette of unusual sounds.

"This is the first time we've done something like that," he says. "Every record we made was an experiment."

The members were playing in various Melbourne-based bands when they formed King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard.

The band's far-out, experimental style was already very much evident in their early days.

The title track of their 2012 debut album, 12 Bar Bruise, for example, was recorded with four iPhones placed around a room, instead of with regular microphones in a proper studio.

Last year's release, Nonagon Infinity, featured songs that seamlessly blend into one another and the whole album can be listened to as an unending loop.

That album is their most commercially successful one to date, reaching No. 19 on the Australian charts.

The band's creativity is bolstered by the fact that they have more musicians than the average rock band. While Mackenzie is the principal songwriter, all the members contribute to the creative process.

"It can be tricky to juggle all that," he admits. "But it all works out in the end."

The band are more than just musically adventurous, they are also known to be highly prolific. The upcoming album is their eighth in four years.

They intend to raise the bar this year - they recently set up their own studio and Mackenzie says they are working on five different albums.

"For me, recording has always been my favourite part of the whole thing. The band started as a recording project and we've always been centred on recorded music."


Nick Murphy as himself


Australian singer-songwriter Nick Murphy is dropping his old moniker Chet Faker. PHOTO: PHILISTINE DSGN

Two years ago, the artist formerly known as Chet Faker played at Laneway Festival in Singapore on one of the smaller stages.

This year, the Australian singer- songwriter returns to the popular music festival to perform on the main stage and with a new name for himself: Nick Murphy.

In fact, that is his real name. Chet Faker, a name inspired by late American jazz artist Chet Baker is, well, the fake one.

Early in his career, when he was making music in many different genres, including folk and electronic, he released them under various stage names. Chet Faker was the one that caught on.

Described by music publication Pitchfork as the "Australian poster boy for the nebulous intersection of R&B and soul-influenced electronic music", the musician had several successful releases under the Chet Faker name, including the 2014 Built On Glass album that went to No. 1 on the Australian charts.

But in September last year, the 28-year-old announced to fans that he would be going back to using his birth name. The reason is that he has become more comfortable with himself and his new lifestyle.

He says in a telephone interview from New York, where he has a music studio: "There's so much magic around the industry, there are also a lot of pitfalls to watch out for.

"After those five years, I know who I am and I have a clearer idea of what I want out of my life and what I'm doing. I think that just came to fruition."

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He used to work in a bookstore in Melbourne and was a part-time musician, but after his career took off, he became a jetsetter.

"I went from just living at home, working at my job and always being at the same place to all of a sudden just being in a new city more or less every single day for about five years. It's not really natural."

After he resolved his identity crisis, he decided to go back to using his real name as he "started to develop the tools to be comfortable with that new lifestyle".

His newest singles, Fear Less and Stop Me (Stop You), released late last year, as well as an upcoming album, will be released under the Nick Murphy moniker.

The new tunes reflect his new creative direction. Fear Less, he says, is about "not thinking too much and letting go" while Stop Me (Stop You) is about "self empowerment".

"I was trying to make myself feel better and to stay confident, which can be so hard sometimes. I'm sure everyone understands that."

Of his last gig at Laneway, he says: "That show was crazy, it was a lot of fun. It was packed, there was not enough room, people were climbing up trees, fences and stuff. I thought it was kind of cool."

He is looking forward to playing at Laneway in Singapore again, this time at one of two main stages.

"I'm experimenting a lot with the live shows, with some new stuff," he says of the upcoming set.

"It will probably be a pretty healthy mix of old stuff and the new stuff."


Astreal return with Laneway gig and album


Astreal comprise (from left) Jason Ang, Joseph Chian, Ginette Chittick and Muhammad Alkhatib. PHOTO: LANEWAY FESTIVAL

Home-grown indie stalwarts Astreal are making a comeback after a quiet past few years.

Not only are they playing at Laneway Festival Singapore on Jan 21, but they are also releasing a new album, Light - their first in 10 years.

While Astreal played their last gig in 2015, singer and bass player Ginette Chittick, 40, says the band have been hard at work in the studio in the past year.

"We've been recording and working on new songs," she says.

"We initially wanted to put out a four-song EP, but we've been industrious and it became a full-length album."

The new release will be available as a digital download and in vinyl.

One of the local scene's longest- lasting indie acts, the quartet, originally named Breed, first came together in 1992.

The line-up experienced several changes over the years and guitarist Muhammad Alkhatib is the only founding member left.

They recorded two demo cassettes, Dive Gemma (1993) and Chlorine Explosion (1994), before releasing their debut album OuijaBlush in 1997. In the same year, the late BBC tastemaker and DJ John Peel played one of their songs, Stay Awake, on his World Service radio show.

The next few years saw the band perform at major events here, such as music festivals Baybeats and ZoukOut, as well as gigs in Malaysia and Thailand.

In 2006, the band released their second album, Fragments Of The Same Dead Star.

Chittick reckons that one of the reasons the band have lasted so long is that their sound, a mix of genres such as shoegaze, ambient and electronica, has remained contemporary over the years.

 
 

"The funny thing about shoegaze is that when you hear it, it brings you back to a certain time period, yet it also sounds timeless. I guess we're lucky that we make music in this genre."

Astreal, whose other members are keyboardist Jason Ang and drummer Joseph Chian, are one of several Singapore acts on the Laneway bill this year. Others include progressive band T-Rex, rising singer Sam Rui and DJs from two collectives, Attagirl and Poptart.

The band's set will not be the first time Chittick is appearing on the Laneway stage - she was among the DJs who played tunes in between band performances at Laneway's inaugural outing at Fort Canning Park in 2011.

A lecturer at Lasalle College of the Arts, she designed customised tote bags for cosmetics brand Kiehl's which will be sold at Laneway. The proceeds will go to the Children's Cancer Foundation.

Having experienced Laneway as a performer and as part of the audience over the years, she is looking forward to playing its stage again.

"I think Laneway typically picks bands that are left of the dial, so I think the audience are more open to music they have not heard as well as genres they are not familiar with."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 06, 2017, with the headline 'Laneway rocks'. Print Edition | Subscribe