Rain fails to drown out Singapore rock at Laneway Festival

Singapore singer- songwriter Sam Rui performing at the Laneway Festival Singapore. ST PHOTO: CHEW SENG KIM
Home-grown band Astreal performing at the Laneway Festival Singapore. ST PHOTO: CHEW SENG KIM
Home-grown band T-Rex performing at the Laneway Festival Singapore. ST PHOTO: CHEW SENG KIM

SINGAPORE - Home-grown bands Astreal and T-Rex may have had the hardest job of all at Laneway Festival Singapore this year.

Playing on Saturday (Jan 21) afternoon at Singapore's largest indie music event, they had to engage a typically thin early-bird crowd. They also had to contend with the heaviest showers of the day at The Meadow of Gardens by the Bay.

Their response? Howling back in their respective styles: veterans Astreal with thundering shoegaze; newcomers T-Rex with audacious, saxophone-led progressive rock.

The two bands were among a handful flying the Singapore flag at the music event, which is now into its seventh year here.

Being featured in the festival alongside international acts is considered an accolade for many bands, and both took the occasion to release new material. Astreal launched Light, their first album in a decade, and T-Rex Volume 1, their debut EP.

Astreal hit the larger Garden Stage first, performing seven songs. Light and Magic and Colossal - two of the newer cuts - had a hopeful tone, signalling a shift from the dark poetry of their 2006 album, Fragments of the Same Dead Star.

Nevertheless, all their tunes worked well together, being passed through the same filter: frontwoman Ginette Chittick's airy vocals and driving bass, and Muhammad Alkhatib's searing guitar lines. These were best heard on live favourite Snowflake, which elicited not only cheers, but also a surreal swelling of the downpour.

Between songs, Chittick bantered about being "attacked" by her "massive" hair, which was blown across her face earlier in the set, forcing her to flub a line. She also plugged the new album, which was being sold on a thumb drive.

The quartet closed out with Morning Star, an eight-minute scorcher.

Extended jams were also the order of the day at the smaller Cloud Stage, where T-Rex held fort. Unlike Astreal, it's anyone's guess how many songs they actually played. Only one was introduced (Tiger Uppercut), while the others melted and morphed into each other with virtuosic brilliance.

Music website Bandwagon describes T-Rex's sound as "math rock meets jazz", which sounds about right. One moment they were New York's Battles, all interlocking polyrhythms; the next moment they were Bitches Brew-era Miles Davis.

At the centre of this instrumental maelstrom was their newest member, the boyish national serviceman Bryan De Rozario. He sported an awkwardly short military haircut, but played his saxophone as if he'd spent twice his lifetime in jazz bars.

From twitchy stabs to long atonal runs, he wrenched as unworldly a tone as he could from his brass, elevating an already exceptional, highly textured performance. With such a prominent role, however, it would have been perfect if he were a little more animated.

The band were content to let their music do the talking for the most part, with drummer Junaidi Kusnong interjecting only to announce the availability of their EP online. Unfortunately, he only had around a hundred poncho-clad fans to share this with, as many others were kept away by the persistent rain.

But T-Rex soldiered on. Like Astreal a short while earlier, they played in defiance of the elements, rewarding anyone who wasn't afraid to get a little wet.

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