With 160 shows spread over 4 days, the entire Clarke Quay area was transformed into a festival ground for Music Matters Live 2014. Over 60 bands and acts, both fledging and established played show after show at various locations scattered around Singapore’s booziest district.

Drawing a mixed bag of music fans, drunks and curious onlookers (not mutually exclusive), attendance was more than adequate. Despite not hosting any big mainstream names, the crowds displayed an enthusiasm bordering on frenzy; which fills my cold, withered heart with warmth knowing that people did not just like music that they’ve heard on the radio.

I wish I could tell you that my experience at music matters was cerebral, that the multiple bands I chose to see were carefully curated to maximize the value of my experience, that they had a logical flow to them. But a festival begets festival mindsets; while not exactly Mardi Gras, still expects the divided lack of attention that graces my brain when put in a place with more than one stage situated within walking distances of each other.

That basically meant that bar the two or three bands that I knew and wanted to see, the others were mostly the result of aimless wandering. In the land of fog machines, epileptic strobe lights and asphyxiating crowds – I found myself drawn to the most interesting (sounding) band names, only to be tugged away 20 minutes later by the promises of a better show somewhere else.

Juveniles

Evokes 80’s electronic like New Order and Depeche Mode, right down to the not-yet disco synths and the moody baritone. Thankfully they decided to ditch the self-absorbed vibes and go for a more approachable, dance-ish stage presence; even letting in bits of funk now and then. It’s a party people! No matter how important Bizarre Love Triangle is to you there is no way I am  grooving to that sappy piece.

The french synthpop duo was joined on stage by a bassist and a drummer to round out their live-act, which was surprisingly energetic despite the fact that the ridiculous humidity on the outdoor stage was obviously getting to them. Girls (and some dudes) were screaming and people were dancing while four french musicians sweat and strutted on stage – all signs of a great gig.

CREAM

A momentary lapse of reason led me to believe that this was that OTHER cream. The one with Eric Clapton. Then I realized that that was so ridiculous it wasn’t even funny. This is a Japanese male/female duo who bust sick rhymes over sick beats. I.e they rap over a EDM soundtrack. I have no comments to make on their lyrical prowess because I don’t understand Japanese. I assumed it was good because people were cheering.

DUNE RATS

I like these guys. They sound and act like they’re permanently high… on life. (what else?) They make bawdy jokes and play with the energy of children on sugar highs despite looking like full-time stoners. When your hair is flicking sweat at an audience in an air-conditioned club you know there’s some serious work ethic right there.

Songs all come in under 3 minutes like ADHD surf-rock that makes you want to jump into swimming pools and drink unhealthy amounts of cheap beer with your besties. They are the kind of friends (if they were your friends) your mom hates and wishes would “get their hair cut”.

sub: shaman

Despite being relatively new sub: shaman is everywhere. With dark, sweeping sounds and complex instrumental work the avant-garde band has been making waves in the local music scene since their inception in 2012. Not exactly easy-listening, but once you get into the flow of things the effect is immediately entrancing and hypnotic.

Their performance at Aquanova managed to capture a sizable audience despite the less-than-fitting location, with its cocktail-dressed door bitch and faux-futuristic blue lights, where you’d expect thumping mainstream dance instead of anything close to avant-garde.

Sezairi

It’s a pity people know him as the “winner of Singapore Idol”, which might do more harm than good unless you want to do 7-11 commercials for the rest of your life. Only so many slurpees you can drink in one lifetime.

Sezairi’s performance was slick; catchy tunes, a very talented backing band and disarmingly good vibes; which packed the venue to barely-maneuverable levels. The man is extremely charming and smoother than a newly waxed baby’s bottom, you can almost imagine him going “Ladies”.

EMPRA

Let me get this out of the way before I say anything else. These guys sound uncannily like a 90’s alt-rock band. (See: Puddle of Mudd, 3 Doors Down) I’m not complaining really, since there are far too many indie bands and ableton-toting hipsters these days. It’s nice to be able  go to a show where people can actually play the guitar and carry a tune out of the studio, which these guys from down under do pretty well.

The Boxer rebellion

Poor choice of band name aside (if you were British and named your band after a war caused by impending English colonialism in China…), their brand of radio-friendly melodic alt-rock was fitting stuff for the main stage. They are capable of being at times haunting, other times uplifting, with frontman Nicholson possessing that dreamy falsetto that led precursors and contemporaries like Coldplay and Snow Patrol to mainstream success.

But be it fatigue or the weather, their set turned out to be less than watertight — which left some chemistry and virtuosity to be desired live. The audience however showed no less love, clearly hopped up on jägerbombs and festival spirit. The latter of which happens to be highly infectious and I soon found that I was enjoying myself despite being grumpy and critical.

Photo credits: Music Matters Live,  photos by: Alvin Ho, Dawn Chua, Lionel Boon