Kode9 & Spaceape (Esplanade, Singapore, 9 March 2008)

I had left London by the time dubstep nights started taking off, and since dubstep seemed one of the least suitable subgenres of dnb ever for the bedroom speaker experience, I never bothered seeking out much of it apart from the occasional podcast. (One of the differences between 2004 me and 2008 me. I don’t like this difference, but it’s also true that remaining so ignorant means I no longer chafe about Singapore’s lousy club scene.)

So I attended the Kode9 and Spaceape club night in almost total ignorance, which may be why I spent the first 20 minutes channelling Marvin the Martian and whining to Alec “Where’s the kaboom? There was supposed to be an earth-shattering kaboom!” Instead of the ribcage-vibrating, internal-organ-displacing bass beats I was expecting, they were just doing the sort of expansive soundscapes that tend to start and end dnb tracks, with little or no beats. I was dismayed. I had come to get my mellow totally harshed, and it wasn’t happening.

Actually, they had just taken the long view and I was being an impatient child. The music built, gradually but perceptibly, to the point where Spaceape announced “That was all just to warm you up. Now it’s time to dance!” As it turns out, I got my earth-shattering kaboom for the next two sweaty, breathless, epileptic hours. And, as always seems to happen with any club event that actually interests me in Singapore, attendance was low enough that there was plenty of space for completely uninhibited dancing.

I’m too ignorant to name any tracks, but I thought they did a great job of playing tracks that were consistently danceable but with differing intensities – we’d get sections where everyone was dancing with total gorilla abandon, and then a section of slightly less frenetic music as a respite. It is admittedly possible that I entered some zone of transcendental bliss that meant they could fart rhythmically and I’d just happily twitch and jerk along, but I do think they did a masterful job of creating and maintaining a great atmosphere for dancing. I left with ringing ears and the “exercise high” I don’t actually get from normal exercising, only from dancing. Thank you Kode9 & Spaceape, first for exorcising us of the BSS disaster demons, and second for reminding me why I love clubbing. It’s been difficult to hold on to that memory, living here.

Broken Social Scene (Esplanade, Singapore, 9 March 2008)

I’m sure I must have been to duller gigs in my life than Broken Social Scene, but perhaps unsurprisingly, I can’t remember any of them now. In hindsight, it’s ridiculous that I’d been hoping the Esplanade sound system or a large live ensemble would help me appreciate the band’s songs better – at least on my iPod I could always just concentrate on my book and relegate them to aural wallpaper but now, here I was, trapped in an expensive concert seat with no other alternative for entertainment or distinctive musical ideas except Alec’s gentle snores beside me. I later found out Jacob and Pearlyn had walked out halfway, and realized for the second time that sometimes I really have to stop being so damn Singaporean about Getting My Money’s Worth, and just cut my losses and leave.

Perhaps some BSS fan might read this and my previous post on the topic and conclude that there was never any possibility I would enjoy the gig, because I was prejudiced against it from the outset. In fact, I was hoping against hope that like for Tortoise and Jaga Jazzist, I would go in actively disliking their music and emerge wild-eyed, reeling and evangelical. It’s possible my error of judgement here was equating BSS with the other two bands, because I find BSS’s music so pedestrian that I can’t even summon up active dislike for it, just complete indifference.

I don’t mean to enlist other people’s opinions in support of my own, but I enjoyed emptysignifier’s text-messages of outrage too much not to share them. (Again, emptysignifier attended the gig with an open mind, as a self-proclaimed “gigslut” just checking the band out. Although he has been on the receiving end of my music snobbery many times, he pays me no mind whatsoever, which is great.) I’ve received 4 instalments so far, starting immediately after the gig and even extending until yesterday! (Just provide RSS feed already lah!) Some excerpts:

  • “…for a band with a name like Broken Social Scene, they played more like a United National Front!…Why play a 2-chord rock song on FOUR guitars?!?!”
  • “While u rubbished them from the outset, I thought they were at least an erudite, intellectual band making introspective, eclectic, atmospheric music. But they’re really a rent-a-rock-band!”
  • “I mean, what’s with the woman and the trumpet? She had it hooked up to an uber cool utility belt of FX pedals, which was totally set up for consciousness-expanding sounds, but no matter what she did it still sounded like a goddamn trumpet!”
  • “…the ending was a fucking NDP warm-up cheering session!”
  • “Kevin Drew is the poor man’s Wayne Coyne!”

Even on a personal level and totally disregarding music, this gig = FAIL for me. I actually started the gig in a positive frame of mind about the band, because I thought their introductory joke about the members who weren’t present – including “Mas Selamat Kastari, who didn’t turn up for rehearsal” – was quite funny. Unfortunately, they then frittered away my goodwill over the course of the evening with a number of patronising comments (Matt, who attended the gig with an open mind since he’d never heard of them, and whose said mind I am incapable of poisoning with my music snobbery anyway, dealt with these pretty well in his account) and too many self-led cheerleading “OK EVERYONE CHEER FOR 60 SECONDS!!” sessions. For what blessedly turned out to be the very last one, after sitting in pained silence for the entire gig I finally reached the end of my tether and participated enthusiastically in the noisemaking by bawling “YOU SUCK! SHUT UP! FUCK OFF!”

Bullshit Social Scene

I am going to the Broken Social Scene gig tomorrow and have no idea why any more.

I initially chose it out of desperation because I wanted to go to one Mosaic gig other than Kode9 & Spaceape, have already seen The Roots and Mum, and wasn’t drawn to any of the other acts. I hadn’t listened to any BSS stuff in a long time and foolishly thought that I had perhaps been too unkind to them in the past. Listening again, further removed from the hype of that Pitchfork review of You Forgot It In People which catapulted them to it-band status, I figured I might begin to see what all the indie kids make such a fuss about. Also, I thought that their typically large ensemble might make for a good live performance.

So earlier this week I listened again to You Forgot It In People and the self-titled album, and the optimism rapidly dissolved into utter boredom. Oh, shit.

I think I just wasted my money on fine clothes for a naked emperor.

Mosaic Festival Vs Grey’s Anatomy Soundtrack…FIGHT!

I guess it was too much to hope that 2008’s Mosaic festival would be as unbelievably awesome for me as 2007’s. The indie acts coming mostly make pretty indie music for pretty indie kids, which is not a bad thing in itself, but everything I’ve heard by them is also pretty uninspired. I loved and still like Múm’s Yesterday Was Dramatic – Today Is OK but the tweeness of Finally We Are No One and Summer Make Good means that those albums really haven’t stood the test of time for me. I also found them quite dull live, and in hindsight it’s quite amazing that when I saw them in 2004, Animal Collective (who far outshone them, and I wish it was them coming here instead) was merely their opening band.

I’ll probably end up going to a bunch of gigs anyway since I’m always so desperate for them here, but much will depend on ticket prices, which are usually quite high. At times like this I’m especially thankful for The Necessary Stage’s Singapore Fringe Festival, which has offered adventurous and unpatronising music events for the past few years at great prices. We just got our $15 tickets for the Colleen / Sylvain Chauveau / Hauschka triplebill at the Esplanade Recital Studio – I mean, seriously. Seriously!

Jaga Jazzist (Esplanade, Singapore, 13 March 2007)

Before Tuesday’s Jaga Jazzist gig I’d listened to their albums now and then over the years but often found myself zoning out and switching to catchier stuff. Experimental jazz just doesn’t push my buttons the way squalling guitars or hip-hop beats do. But when choosing which Mosaic gigs to go for I had a hunch that they’d sound better live than they do in my bedroom, so I took the risk – and damn, if all risks we take in life could yield such amazing payoffs I’d be a self-made stock market trillionaire and spend my free time snowboarding nude down Everest.

You might think a band in love with the sound of their own music would be off-putting but Jaga Jazzist’s unadulterated joy in their performance is absolutely infectious. So many bands’ live shows end up somewhere near either end of the spectrum between pure technical finesse and pure showmanship – Jaga Jazzist simply show up at the sweet spot representing the perfect combination of both and live there the whole gig. They play tighter together than any philharmonic orchestra I’ve ever seen, but unlike any philharmonic orchestra I’ve ever seen they love having the audience clap along.

You know how on reality TV when people are imploring the viewers to vote them into the next round, they always promise they’ll give “200%” in order to improve and blah blah blah? Most people just say stuff like that without really thinking about it, but the Jaga Jazzist gig was like a live demonstration of what it should mean. After each song you can’t believe they still have the strength to continue. I’d assumed their rambunctious drummer/conductor/spokesperson was just trying to put on a good show for the start of the gig but would have to wind down his efforts soon enough to conserve energy. Instead, I think he only got more ebullient as the night wore on. As someone who’s played in an orchestra I can definitely tell you that long instrumental pieces are way more tiring than they might seem from the audience, and I only played the damn violin!

The highlight of the gig for me was the song Oslo Skyline, which they “renamed” Singapore Skyline for the night. It was a showcase of everything that had blown the audience away during the gig – their individual virtuosity, their breathtaking co-ordination as an ensemble, and the amazing light design (it had been really beautiful throughout the gig but reached its nadir here). It was one of the most memorable moments of live music I have ever had the privilege of experiencing, and earned an instantaneous and universal standing ovation.

If you think I’m veering into hyperbole, the truth is that any purely verbal description anyone could give of this gig would actually be an understatement. If you were there, I’m sure you understand what I mean. If you weren’t, beg, borrow or steal to make sure you watch them the next opportunity you get. You don’t need to like their music beforehand – I certainly didn’t, and I can’t even begin to imagine what this gig must have been like for someone who was already a big fan of their sound – as long as you love any music at all, just turn up and I truly believe they’ll do the rest.

Yo La Tengo (Esplanade, Singapore, 12 March 2007)

Let me make this clear upfront, I’m not capable of being very objective about a Yo La Tengo gig so this isn’t a review, it’s just the attempt of a rather verklempt fangirl to capture how tonight made her feel.

About ten years ago, I bought my first Yo La Tengo album. Coming across it by chance while browsing in Borders, I recognised the name from lonely Internet indie wanderings and BigO magazine reviews, so although Electr-O-Pura didn’t sound like the most promising of album names I decided it was worth risking the $16 (yes, Borders sold a fair number of good indie albums for cheap back then) and snapped it up. Ten years later I’m home from my third Yo La Tengo gig, and the fact that they’re still able to make me feel the wonder and excitement I felt when I first heard Electr-O-Pura is meaningful in all sorts of ways that are hard to talk about without sounding cheesy. So consider yourselves warned.


  • From A Motel 6
  • Our Way To Fall
  • Pass The Hatchet, I Think I’m Goodkind
  • Little Eyes
  • The Weakest Part
  • Beanbag Chair
  • Mr Tough
  • I Feel Like Going Home
  • Big Day Coming
  • Tom Courtenay
  • Watch Out For Me Ronnie
  • The Story Of Yo La Tango


  • We’re An American Band
  • You Can Have It All

It was quite a short gig (about 90 minutes) – their time was limited because Rickie Lee Jones was playing later on. But given that I emerged from the first time I saw them (where they played much longer) unable to speak, perhaps it was for the best.

As you can see from the setlist, they played a number of songs from the new album, most of which were as fun as they are on the recording but not particularly different either. Unfortunately, they didn’t play Black Flowers. But fortunately, they played the fuck out of The Story Of Yo La Tango. I have not the words. All I can say is that there was a lot of beautiful noise for a very long time, and at the end half the audience sprang to their feet screaming.

Apart from the new album, they played 2 songs from Painful, which is my favourite YLT album, so yay! They started the gig with From A Motel 6 and later played the rawk version of Big Day Coming, with Ira on keyboards literally tottering under his assault. They launched from that straight into Tom Courtenay, which is one of my favourite songs from Electr-O-Pura and OF MY ENTIRE LIFE, so um, yeah, little tears.

From And Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside Out they did a lovely Our Way To Fall and a slightly disappointing stripped-down (yes, even more stripped down) version of You Can Have It All which didn’t really work for me. Only one nod to Summer Sun, which is fair, and Little Eyes features the coolness of Georgia drumming and singing lead vocals at the same time, so I was happy there too.

When they walked off the stage after The Story Of Yo La Tango, I was surprised they hadn’t played anything from I Can Hear The Heart Beating As One yet, but placed my hope in the encore. When they came back on Ira asked some members of the audience for requests. The first guy apparently said “Anything” and the second guy was drowned out by everyone else in the audience shouting our own requests. After the third guy Ira climbed back on stage saying they’d try his request but didn’t know if they had enough time, then launched into We’re An American Band. I’d have slightly preferred Deeper Into Movies but it was great to hear this too, so thanks, third guy!

After the gig there was an autograph session for the first 60 people who bought an album at the merchandise stand, so I bought the new one and got in line. At this point the shaking and slight teariness that started during Tom Courtenay came back, so I spent most of my time in the queue quietly freaking out. I had no idea what to say to them, but because music (not lyrics, just music) makes me more emotional than books or movies ever have, it was looking highly possible that I might burst into tears.

My turn came. This is how I remember it going:
Me (lots of stammering edited out): Um, I can’t really talk about 10 years of listening to you in 10 seconds, so I’ll just say thank you. Thank you so much.
YLT members: [general smiles and thank yous]
Me, babbling on: I’ve seen you 3 times now, and each time you’ve been wonderful. [They’d finished signing my CD by now so I staggered off figuring I might as well make my escape before I said something truly mortifying.]
YLT members (I don’t remember who said what), calling after me: Where were the other 2 times?
Me: London. [Staggering off again.]
YLT members, calling after me again: Where in London?
Me (stammering): Shepherd’s Bush and Somerset House. [At this point my descent begins.] It was a crime that you opened for Calexico, they should have opened for you.
YLT members: [Laughing.]
Me: [Finally staggering off for good.]

Look, it could have been worse. My idea of what constituted “a crime” was clearly lame (also a little unfair given that I actually love Calexico, just not as much as I love YLT), but at least I didn’t cry. And sitting in my room a few hours later, it’s already easy enough to forget my lameness. My abiding memory of this night will remain those ten seconds where with all my bumbling sincerity I finally got the chance to tell some of the musicians who have given me the most happiness in my life of loving music: thank you. I don’t expect this to mean much to anyone else or even to the band themselves, but it meant a whole lot to me.

Mo’ Money Mo’ Mosaic

Lord have mercy, the Esplanade has more than compensated for the borefest that was last year’s Mosaic festival (Jason Mrazzzzz and Kingzzzzz of Convenienzzzzz) with this year’s lineup. My bank account’s going all “Bitch, please,” but I’m justifying it as a week of birthday celebrations.

So far, this is what I intend to attend:

12 March: Yo La Tengo (third time!)
13 March: Jaga Jazzist
14 March: DJ Vadim
15 March: Chick Corea and Gary Burton
18 March: Femi Kuti

This is just the trimmed-down list I arrived at after a painful priority-setting exercise resulted in the Duke Ellington Orchestra, Terry Callier, Jose Gonzalez, Rickie Lee Jones, Nerina Pallot and Ursula Rucker being relegated to my second “if I can spare the cash” tier. I’m still a little wracked with guilt over the choices given that I’ve seen 2 of the first-tier acts before already (YLT and DJ Vadim), so if you think it’s a travesty that I’m passing up the chance for one of the bands in my second tier (or any others in the lineup) please let me know and I might waver.

Erlend Oye (Esplanade, 15 March 2006)

Erlend Oye was playing interesting stuff when we arrived at the Mosaic Club, but many people weren’t dancing. I have a feeling the vast majority of his audience were Erlend Oye fans rather than house music fans so perhaps that’s why they weren’t really in the groove but honestly, at some points I felt like yelling “DUDES, ERLEND WANTS YOU TO DANCE, NOT STAND THERE STOCK STILL GAWKING AT HIM!” After all, as he demonstrated several times himself, no one needed to actually dance dance, just jumping around happily would have been fine too.

On the whole he played about one and a quarter hours’ worth of music I found interesting (including remixes of Kings of Convenience songs which I generally much prefer to the originals), and forty-five minutes of boring indie/pop standards eg. The Cure’s Close To Me, Springsteen’s Dancing In The Dark. I found these fairly dull.

What I did find enjoyable and endearing was his personality. He interacted pleasantly with the crowd, and dealt extremely well with technical problems that twice brought his set to a complete halt – the second time, as a Kings of Convenience remix suddenly just stopped playing, he continued singing the vocal a capella while looking for a new song, finally substituting “I think I found a good song” for the lyrics he was singing. Quite charming.

Ultimately though, this gig wouldn’t have been worth $30 and missing the America’s Next Top Model finale for me if not for one moment right at the end.

He announced the last song, put it on, and came down to the dancefloor, a ring of ecstatic fans forming around him almost instantly. Although originally in this ring by sheer coincidence of location, I stepped out of it, figuring that it would be nicer to make room for people who were bigger fans than I – essentially, almost everyone else in the room.

At this point I spotted Dominique trying to physically drag a struggling, protesting Han (huge Erlend fan) in his direction. Being no stranger to the paralysis of extreme starry-eyed admiration I bounded up to assist, knowing that friends who refuse to let you wuss out are necessary in such situations. (Lifelong mortification is still better than lifelong regret.) Unfortunately, Han was putting up quite a fight and after a while I decided it probably wasn’t best for her first meeting with Erlend to involve being hurled at him like a human cannonball.

So I took another tack. Given that I only get star-struck by people I actually admire, I had absolutely no qualms about approaching him myself. I danced into his little bit of Erlend ring-space, yelled that I had a friend who loved him but was too shy to say hello, and pointed at Han. Upon which he plucked her from Dom’s arms, wrapped her in his, and started dancing with her.

That was when it finally felt worthwhile. And if you don’t understand why, you’ve never been a teenage girl.

Tortoise (17 March, Esplanade Concert Hall, Singapore)

I’m not even a Tortoise fan, but the gig was pretty damn awesome.

I’d gone in with some trepidation – I bought Millions Now Living Will Never Die some years back, didn’t like it and returned it, later bought TNT too, didn’t like it and returned it. I found the albums overly clinical and very unengaging. Every time I put an album on, hoping that better familiarity with the music would help me “get it”, it faded into the background for me within minutes. So I had plenty of doubts about how well that sound would fare in the Esplanade’s huge concert hall but decided to go anyway, based on the band’s immense stature in indiedom and the added appeal of the Observatory as opening band.

Right decision. The sound was full-bodied and assertive in a way it never sounded to me on record, and with the Esplanade’s amazing sound system, detail was never lost even at the music’s most cacophonous moments. I was incredibly impressed by their individual flair as musicians, as well as their tightness as a band, as was everyone else. Standing ovations and screaming brought them back for two substantial encores, and prompted a “Singapore is CRAYYYYZEE!” from one of them.

By the end of the gig I found myself filled with happiness at the sight of other audience members, clearly huge Tortoise fans, over the moon with how great it had been. Watching them I remembered myself at 16, standing in the World Trade Centre Harbour Pavilion delirious with joy that Sonic Youth had come to Singapore and I was there to see it. To this day I can hardly believe that even happened. Similarly, I would never have expected such a difficult-listening, left-of-centre band as Tortoise to be brought to Singapore to begin with; the fact is that the Esplanade not only brought them in but had the balls to put them in the country’s biggest, most state-of-the-art musical venue. It’s the stuff of dreams, and a real testament to the sort of artistic vision that drives the Esplanade. I should never have doubted them for a second.