For three nights in late May, MusicMatters took over Clarke Quay with a showcase of music from Singapore and beyond. In fact there were 40 acts from 14 countries playing on a main stage in the centre of Clarke Quay and 7 other venues in the entertainment district. And, for the first time, performances were streamed live on YouTube.
Each act had 20 minutes or so to show us their stuff. Here are some of the bands and performers that caught my ear over the three nights.
I caught this band twice. Both sets were different while still being captivating and inventive. A two piece band from Beijing on the Maybe Mars label, White+ were simply sensational during their main stage performance on the final night of MusicMattersLive. A must listen for fans of electronica and noise-rock.
One of a number of Singapore acts under the KittyWu label, Monster Cat came to my attention through their well produced YouTube videos (in particular this one for the track Underwater). Their sound is still developing and I hope they continue to innovate and explore their range as they write new material. Monster Cat generated a lot of buzz during the conference and their excellent live sets confirmed the impression that this is a band to watch.
From the wide open, stadium worthy vocals, to the searing guitar solos and driving chord progressions, Midnight Youth just hits you as a complete rock band. They silenced the room with their unplugged set on the first night of DigitalMatters and blew the roof off with every performance during the MusicMattersLive showcase. Awesome.
I already knew about SIXX, who are one of the best known bands in Singapore. But, I still wanted to see their brand of tight, funky, urban R&B on the Main Stage. Well, this nine piece band brought the house down, with a great set. Having recently played the Audi Fashion Festival, SIXX are a delightful band, full of personality, who generated a lot of buzz all week (they even got a mention on Bob Lefsetz blog).
Hill & The Sky Heroes
I was looking forward to seeing this band. Lead singer and songwriter Hill Kourkoutis was here last year as keyboard player for Saidah Baba Talibah (who was returning the favour by playing keyboards this time around). A freshly created band from Canada (with Lucas Silveira of The Cliks on bass and Danielle Duval on guitar), they didn’t quite manage to recreate the lushly textured sounds of Hill’s new album. But, this is a very talented bunch of musicians who wowed audiences on every night of MusicMattersLive. Expect big things from Hill & The Sky Heroes.
Apparently USS stands for Ubiquitous Synergy Seeker. One of the most entertaining bands at MusicMattersLive, their final set was epic, complete with an electrical failure that caused their blender to catch fire (yes, they mix their own drinks on stage). This Canadian band are vital, chaotic and unhinged on stage as they combine Alt-Rock (and a hint of Violent Femmes) with Drum & Bass, to produce a wonderfully anarchic and fun kind of music.
Hailing from Taiwan, Orangegrass are an impressive Alt-Rock band, reminiscent of the late 80s to early 90s melodic rock sound (think Dinosaur Jr or The Pursuit of Happiness). Orangegrass was a favourite amongst several people I spoke to. Confident, engaging and winsome music.
Already established as a best selling artist in Australia, Kate Miller-Heidke has also played the North American festival circuit (Coachella, Lilith Fair and Rifflandia) and attracted almost 1.5 Million YouTube views for The Facebook Song. Her acoustic guitar backed cover of Eminem’s Slim Shady was, for me, the earthiest, funkiest and most musically impressive moment of the whole showcase.
I first heard UK singer-songwriter Gary Nock on a lovely Mars advertisement last year. Gary had small backing band (female vocals, violin and keyboards) who helped him recreate the warm acoustic mood and atmosphere of his well written music. I could have easily kept listening to him all night.
The Thursday night K-Pop showcase was an impressive study in Korea’s own brand of precision manufactured Pop music. Of all the artists who performed, DrunkenTigerJK shone through with the kind of hip-hop swagger, stage presence and mischievous rebelliousness that just can’t be manufactured. A real star.
I first about Inch Chua a couple a of years ago, after she was invited to perform at SXSW. Inch is a massively talented local singer-songwriter who performed both with a band and in a more stripped back acoustic mode. Apparently Inch is working on a new album, which is something to look forward to.
I didn’t know Indonesian band Nidji before MusicMatttersLive. Although they site Alt-Pop bands like Coldplay as influences I heard a lot of New Wave (think Duran Duran) in their sound. And, yes, I mean that as a compliment. They were entertaining and tight onstage and drew a crowd who had come especially to see them.
With a powerful and anthemic Rock style, EarlyRise hail from Israel and remind me of the post-grunge sound of Live and A Perfect Circle. Brooding, emotive and powerful, EarlyRise rose to the occasion on the Main Stage.
Canadian acoustic Singer-Songwriter Peter Katz has a pleasant and low-key stage presence that perhaps undersells his beautifully well written songs. Peter creates little worlds in the narrative of his songs and draws you in with exquisitely crafted melodies. Personally, I’d like to see Peter perform with an acoustic band, as I suspect that would allow him to weave even more texture into his songs.
I had a good feeling the moment The Aftermiles opened up. Their sound – full of Brit-Pop, Ska and late Punk references – really won me over. I hope The Aftermiles (from Indonesia) continue to develop their style and swagger, because there will always be a place for jagged and fun-loving Rock in my world.
I love bands that hit the stage with conviction and purpose. Fire Ex. hail from Taiwan, a country that is producing a steady stream of really good rock and pop bands. Drawing from the melodic side of Indie with Punkish overtones, they were solid, fiery (pun intended) and very entertaining.
The Auditory Effect
I was surprised there wasn’t a bigger buzz around Singapore New Wave band The Auditory Effect. Unfortunately, the set I saw was not well mixed. But, what I could make out was memorable, engaging and powerful. This band has the potential to develop a really unique sound. I’m looking forward to hearing their new EP, when it comes out.
With a sound that blends Hard Rock, Grunge and Hip-Hop it’s easy to compareCanada’s Manafest with Eminem. But, that’s a little unfair, since Manafest is a singer with his own personality and sound. Although there’s a really inspiring, hope-filled side to a lot of his songs I wish he had brought a band with him. It’s hard to sell that kind of music singing to a backing track.
There was quite a bit of buzz around Charlie Lim, during the conference. Unfortunately, I only managed to catch his final set. He won over a noisy (and somewhat inebriated) Saturday night crowd at The Shuffle with an infectious blend of jazzy and soulful pop. A lot of people expect big things from Charlie.
Bright new Australian band This Sanctuary might only have one EP to their name, but they already have a well developed sound and seemed to grow into their stage presence over the two sets I saw from them. Signed with Def Records and Valleyarm I’m hoping they continue to develop.
I’m not sure why local singer Shimona didn’t draw a bigger crowd to her sets, because she did a great job of delivering her clever, witty and well written songs. At times Shimona reminds me of Angie Hart from Frente! I adore her Social Media Song and look forward to seeing her play with a full band sometime soon.
One of the artists I was most keen to see before the showcase, Tara Priya has great songs, a winning voice and a cool stage persona. But, I just wasn’t sure about the flat, ultra-clean sound of her band or the slightly cluttered arrangements. Still, I love to hear people explore classic Soul/R&B and Tara Priya goes down that path in a cool way, without resorting to irony or hipsterish retro-ism. And, it helps that she has a killer voice.
The Great Spy Experiment
One of the most mature sounding of the Singapore acts in the showcase, Great Spy, as they are often called, already have a local following and all the other ingredients needed to push out onto the international stage. Hard hitting and occasionally anthemic PowerPop is balanced off with a cool melodic sensibility. They looked at home on the Main Stage.
Orignally from Brasil and now based in Macau, Turtle Giant play emphatic, angular and infectious Indie Rock. Melodic bass lines, stabbing guitars and pulsing drums underscore wistful lyrics and somewhat compensate for a low key stage presence.
Lab The Rat
Is there such a thing as Tropical Pop? After hearing Lab The Rat I’m inclined to think there should be. I had so much fun watching this band play. A party band with a family vibe, they had great songs, cool arrangements and a rich variety of vocal textures. Seriously entertaining.
The heaviest band I heard at MusicMattersLive, Pandorum (from Australia) have a fresh take on Power Metal. Big, technical and almost orchestral, they managed to both sound current and also draw from 80s Stadium Rock (including finger-tapped guitar solos). I played this kind of music once, which I guess gave me an appreciation for how well Pandorum do their thing.
Roman Foot Soldiers
Indonesian New Wave band Roman Foot Soldiers really lit up the Main Stage, with a blissful, mostly uptemo set. There didn’t necessarily have a lot of buzz, but a very quite well -connected delegates strongly suggested I check them out. I’m glad I followed that recommendation.
I certainly noticed a few trends. In particular a lot of bands were drawing from the early to mid 80s UK pop sounds (post-Punk to New Wave), while many others leant into the early 90s North American Alt-Rock sound. And, as often happens in showcases, there were a lot of acoustic Singer-Songwriters – though I wasn’t always sure if they were performing through their acoustic guitars or hiding behind them.
Still, it’s an amazing experience, being able to see so many new acts in one place, for free. There was a lot of talent on display and some really memorable songs. I hope more people come and check it out in 2013.