10 Things We Learned at The Region’s Newest Indie Music Festival
December 7 was a gloomy day in Singapore; the kind that had you wondering when the rain was going to start coming down. It didn’t. But while you squinted your way around Pasir Panjang, the glare beaming off of the clouds, a thunderous beat, or the sound of the microphone-tapping of a hustling production team set the stage for the first-ever Alex Blake Charlie Sessions.
Only a month prior to my attending this festival, I was informed of its existence, and, in that same action, got acquainted with a medley of artists whose music I hadn’t been introduced. But over the course of a month spent earphones glued securely to eardrum, I grew into a bit of a fan-boy (the stupid smirk I wore in each selfie elucidated that all too pithily). In any case, in my journey from ignorant individual to that selfie guy, here are the momentous facts I picked up at at the Alex Blake Charlie Sessions.
1| This wholly female-fronted production had a lean team
All 14 of the performances dotting The Nest,“A” Stage, and Club B within the venue were led by female artists. The entire stretch of the festival was spent with the female voice ebbing around the hall, the occasional male vocal in the background rounding out the note. But, chances are, you knew that already.
Chatting with a member of the 24Owls team, who organized the festival, just before the event started, I was surprised to find myself in a relaxed, unhurried conversation, completely devoid of shouting to move this there or wondering what the hell we are supposed to do. I was stunned by how prepared the whole thing was and even more surprised to find my almost hubristic “your organizing team must be pretty massive,” being met with “Nah, we’re so lean. We have one guy on music production.”
Silence from me followed.
2| Pasir Panjang Power Station was a tricky venue to get
When SOAK, the 23-year old Northern Irish Singer songwriter, walked up on stage for her set—the first of the festival—she took note of the venue.
“Weird,” but said with good humor.
Stella Donnelly, who we’ve come to know as the asshole killer, and who told us of a set she played on the back of a moving truck, weighed in on the venue, too: “This is so cool,” she said. “This is amazing.”
24Owls had reportedly been in contact with the venue administration for two-and-a half years, scrambling ceaselessly to get the necessary documents signed and in the hands of the people that needed them. This comes after the main building formerly housing turbines, a boiler hall and an old intercom system had to be repurposed after it was decommissioned in 1997.
With the breathtakingly high ceilings, criss-crossing of rigid steel connecting red bricks and barred windows, the venue provided a desolate, industrial look to the event. It almost felt as though we were supposed to feel physically cold—only to be warmed by the music bouncing around the hard walls of the premises.
3| Stella Donnelly bought her dress for $10 at a second-hand store in Melbourne
The white, black polka-dotted knee length dress was accented by a pink, cycling short pop of color and a brogue pair of Doc Martens. But Donnelly wasn’t kidding. “I’ve worn it so many times this year,” she said
Before performing “Boys Will be Boys,” the Western Australia-native took a jab at those who blame the victims in cases of rape: “[I knew people that were asked], ‘What were you wearing that night?’ We need to stop questioning women on how they dress and how they act.”
She went on to perform her bag of fan favorites, including “Mosquito,” “Lunch,” and “Beware of the Dogs,” which was met with incredible cheer and one very zealous, “I saw you at Fuji Rock!”
4| Vandetta is on a journey of consciousness
I got to sit down with Vandetta backstage after her performance. She looked absolutely composed considering she’d just smashed “Not Your B” and her latest release, “Give Me Love.”
She gives me her two cents on our collective state of mental health after I ask her what she means when she talks about consciousness. “I feel like there’s a disconnect from your true essence as a person—to be loving, to be free, to be creative—and I feel like that disconnect is because we’re unconscious.”
An advocate of getting off-grid, the artist continued, “When you disconnect from the rat race, I think that’s how you also get in touch with yourself.”
5| Goat Girl was the grunge I didn’t know I was looking for
When vocalist/guitarist Clottie Cream walked on stage in loose red pants, a sheer white linen shirt, and a guitar strapped onto her thin frame, my ignorant self expected a gentle set. But as South London’s Goat Girl got into its harrowing mix of punk, goth, and grunge, my sweet smile twisted into gritted teeth and a fringe-whipping head-bang.
“Cracker Drool,” “The Man,” “The Man with No Heart or Brain” were performed between massive gulps of beer among the members of the group. It was after the band’s set I first found myself massaging what had become a bit of a stiff neck.
6| Cate Le Bon was a visual spectacle and all the other artists were out for it
The Welsh artist came out in all black, her aloof gaze on the crowd and brilliantly awkward hand contortions on full display as she chanted, “Miami! Miami! Miami!” over her haunting, saxophone-accented eponymous hit. Her band-members were garbed in white turtle-necks and wore the same nonchalant “I might as well be chopping vegetables” looks on their faces.
It seemed as though they hardly cared Stella Donnelly, Dream Wife, SOAK, and Goat Girl were interspersed around the festival attendees completely wrapped in the theatrical performance. Jumping to the massively popular and more upbeat “Home To You,” Le Bon knocked her face from left to right as the crowd got into their first real dance of the evening–between selfies with the rest of the acts that is.
7| Anna of the North is a perfectionist and doesn’t mind being interrupted
If you asked the members of the audience who they were looking forward to seeing, you’d definitely get a whole lot of “Anna of the North.” The Norwegian singer-songwriter with her electro-pop hits “Lover,” “My Love,” and “Thank Me Later” suddenly stopped mid-song, suprising the crowd who all awkwardly stood still as Anna apologized, explaining her earpiece wasn’t working and that she wanted her favorite song to be performed perfectly.
Later in the evening, and with a couple beers down the hatch for good measure, I approached Anna mid-French fry to tell her how much I loved her set. She’d love to perform in the Philippines soon, but is yet to be asked.
Any takers? (Please?)
8| Everyone knew Kero Kero Bonito’s Lyrics
Seeking to challenge conformity in pop, this band blends a series of previously unheard (to me at least) sounds. Heavy beats fused in a heavy sea as Nagoya-born Sarah Midori Perry fluttered between English and Japanese in her gentle, airy voice, asking, “How many shrimps do you have to eat before you make your skin turn pink?”
I was absolutely gob-smacked to realize that the majority of the crowd was more than just bopping along, but was singing/shouting/talking along with the artist, completely cognizant of what beats were coming next (at least in as much as one can do that in a mosh pit).
Toward the end of the set, somewhere around the popular “Trampoline,” Perry knelt down and prayed “to the god of rock to let us kick ass.” Indeed they did.
9| Ginette Chittick is a mother, DJ, lecturer, visual artist, and creative consultant (list not exhaustive)
The 43-year old mother opened up about getting an MRI the previous Monday. Her doctor was growing worried about the migraines she’d been experiencing, linking them to the head-banging she does as a DJ. This she does while working full-time as a lecturer at LASALLE’s Faculty of Design, consulting with clients like Coca-Cola, HSBC, Citibank, PricewaterhouseCoopers Management Consultants, The Substation, Discovery Channel, and IDA Singapore.
By her massive set late in the evening, most folks had let the booze seep in and were absolutely swept away in her tide of heavy beats and popular samples.
When asked how she manages to juggle it all, she described how she winds down: “Doing art on my own is very meditative. Perhaps, because I don’t meditate.”
But with her incredibly athletic Dj-ing manner (at one point she was fanning herself with a polka-dotted fan), it’s not difficult to imagine the migraine she had the following day.
10| The drinks were stunning
EcoSpirits advocates #nosingleuseofglass, and true to its name, it re-uses the glass bottles of Plantation-brand rum and various spirits, working with suppliers to ensure they use as little unnecessary material as possible. The Tropical Storm—pandan-infused rum with fresh ginger and thai lime—was fantastically punchy and spicy, too.
Coffee Break, meanwhile, is a third-generation family-run kopi hawker business currently helmed by eldest brother Jack, alongside two sisters Anna and Faye Sai. They did a delicious iced black coffee, rich in mouth-feel, and rounded in taste—a touch smoky, too. This is owed perhaps to their preservation of the old method aka the sock-brew.” A scene atop a train from the Christmas classic, The Polar Express, comes to mind, but the coffee there exists on the opposite end of the quality spectrum.
10.5| Doc Martens were everywhere
I decided at some point to take pictures of every pair of Doc Martens I saw clopping along the grey concrete. Returning to my phone the following morning, a little weary after all the delicious Western Australian Little Creatures beer I’d downed, I found nearly 20 pictures.
Aside from being a funny little fact, it gives you an idea of the kind of folks who attended the festival. Needless to say, it was a niche crowd. The sort that gathered around temples celebrating the Me Too movement where Harvey Weinstein dolls are torn apart in sacrifice. They were the cool kids in school that listened to the musicians that, as Spotify ads ring, “haven’t even discovered themselves.”
However loud and fantastic the music, the chord of social justice, equality, and acceptance strung neatly and loudly around the Alex Blake Charlie Sessions that evening.
And yes, I’m getting a pair of Docs for Christmas.