Wet and wild spectacle

Dreamy and magical tunes from Malaysian singer Yuna (above) and Icelandic band Sigur Ros.
Dreamy and magical tunes from Malaysian singer Yuna (above) and Icelandic band Sigur Ros.PHOTO: TIFFANY GOH FOR THE STRAITS TIMES
Dreamy and magical tunes from Malaysian singer Yuna and Icelandic band Sigur Ros (comprising, from above left, Georg Holm, Orri Pall Dyrason and Jonsi Birgisson).
Dreamy and magical tunes from Malaysian singer Yuna and Icelandic band Sigur Ros (comprising, from above left, Georg Holm, Orri Pall Dyrason and Jonsi Birgisson).PHOTO: TIFFANY GOH FOR THE STRAITS TIMES

Despite the gloomy weather, this year's music and arts festival, Neon Lights, was filled with well-curated acts and good vibes



Fort Canning Park Last Saturday and Sunday

Neither rain nor mud deterred about 15,000 people - 5,000 more than last year - from turning up for the second edition of the two-day music and arts festival, Neon Lights, held last Saturday and Sunday.

Fort Canning Park was a proper mud bath following a mid-festival downpour on the first day, creating slippery slopes and mud pools which destroyed footwear.

In the midst of the muddy mayhem, the festival's biggest name, Icelandic band Sigur Ros, managed to draw probably the biggest crowd to the main stage over both nights and make the vast space feel intimate.

Now performing as a three-piece outfit instead of a quartet, the experimental rock outfit filled the venue with moody, atmospheric soundscapes as the closing act on Sunday.

There were the familiar tunes such as Staralfur and Saeglopur, but the set quickly veered into darker territory, which the band had hinted they will be exploring on their next album.

Against images of fjords and glacial valleys straight out of Inception, singer-guitarist Jonsi Birgisson's distinctive falsetto was a strange but riveting juxtaposition that kept the audience in rapture.

Equally dreamy and magical, but far more upbeat was the goddess-like Yuna, who took the stage earlier that night.

Backed by a three-piece band, the Malaysian singer-songwriter looked more comfortable than ever on stage, probably thanks to her new direction with R&B- and hip-hop- laced tunes from her latest album, Chapters.

Long-time fans would have been satisfied with her throwback to her older indie-pop songs such as Mountains and Live Your Life - she even threw in a delightful rendition of the Malay song, Terukir Di Bintang.

After apologising for not having R&B superstar Usher with her, she launched into Crush - a sultry duet she did with him - employing the help of the crowd for a singalong - not that the audience needed any prompting to join in.

With six acts taking the main stage on Sunday night, Yuna's tight 45-minute set was understandable. But the schedule proved to be almost hectic for fans at times, such as with Blood Orange's fantastic but brief half-hour set.

Blood Orange, who is New York-based English singer Dev Hynes, channelled Prince and James Brown with his face-melting guitar licks and bendy-legged dancing. In a funky nine-song set, he played plenty of material from his latest album, Freetown Sound, including Augustine, E.V.P and Juicy 1-4.

Backed by a three-piece band and a backup singer who was as much a part of the show as he was, Hynes showcased luscious R&B vocals and fancy footwork in a show one did not want to end.

Last Saturday's headline billing saw British indie rock act Foals throw down a proper rock show. Lead singer Yannis Philippakis was the undisputed star of the show, venturing into the crowd and keeping them hyped despite the weather, before the band wrapped up the heavy-hitting set with an encore of What Went Down and Two Steps, Twice.

The Fort Gate stage at the other end of the grounds was considerably smaller, but still drew packed crowds for acts as diverse as Canadian experimental electronic duo Crystal Castles and Swedish folk singer Jose Gonzalez.

Crystal Castles' raucous, strobe-filled set brought plenty of spectacle. While their original vocalist, Alice Glass, was replaced with new vocalist Edith Frances, the latter delivered the goods on tracks such as Crimewave, retaining the weirdness and intensity that made people fall in love with the duo in the first place.

Singapore's Gentle Bones had a prime evening slot on Saturday, but other home-grown acts such as Cashew Chemists, Disco Hue, Linying and .gif had to make do with earlier time slots on both days.

Fringe activities saw curious passers-by wandering in to intense and confronting performances such as Holding The Fort, a punk musical combining spoken word and punk music by home-grown collective The Scene Kids.

At the Club Minky stage, rambunctious London cabaret duo Bourgeois & Maurice waxed lyrical about everything - from Brexit to United States President-elect Donald Trump - in fabulous, campy outfits.

The mud made it inconvenient to get around an otherwise well-organised festival filled with good vibes and well-curated acts.

But everyone took it in their stride. There were even families with children and infants among the crowd.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 29, 2016, with the headline 'Wet and wild spectacle'. Print Edition | Subscribe