Urbanscapes 2013 Day 1

Dates: 23rd November 2013
Venue: Malaysia Agro Exposition Park Serdang (MAEPS), Serdang, Malaysia
Review by: Fadhil R.
Promoter: Freeform Sdn Bhd
Special Thanks: Freeform, and Kulturpop
Photos by SJ: Urbanscapes 2013 | SonaOne + Arabyrd | Efterklang | Tegan and Sara | Franz Ferdinand

As 2013 drew nearer to a close, I travelled to Serdang, Selangor of Malaysia to find out just where Urbanscapes is for this year’s anticipated event; just to discover it was all down to a long route leading to MAEPS, in another tongue; Malaysia Agro Exposition Park Serdang. Celebrating the return of Urbanscapes and a number of epic bands including Explosions In The Sky and Mew as the opening numbers in commemorating the main event earlier in October, this time round it has evolved into a two-day event.

For kids growing up in Malaysia, of course, the indie scene was a far more accessible and appealing phenomenon. The digital age has made it more than apparent that great music can be found in all manners of unexpected places, but there was once a time when the phrase “haters gonna hate” was either regarded as an oxymoron or a rather bold attempt to piss someone’s taste of music. In truth, Malaysia has long had a healthy and fertile underground scene in any genre you may propose, but until the arrival and eventual commercial breakthrough of artistes like Yuna, Bunkface, One Buck Short, Hujan and other great bands, most gig goers would have struggled to name more than a couple worthwhile arising Malaysian bands. That situation has clearly changed in recent years and there has been a steady deluge of often extraordinary bands emerging from Malaysia and threatening to follow in the footsteps of their idols. Nonetheless most people know the story by now, Urbanscapes it’s a festival in the real sense of the word; no greasy jeans, scruffy t-shirts and act as if you know all the bands like a legit hipster does.

Getting the best of both worlds, I just couldn’t make it for bands performing at two different stages, apart from the art displays that can be seen at The Next Stage. Ain’t nobody got time for that as I was only interested in band performances. I proceeded to catch L’Alphalpha halfway through their set and it’s not often you equate the feel good factor. The band hailing all the way from Indonesia gave plenty of reason to feel a warm, fuzzy glow at ‘The Upfront Stage’. The band pulled a decent crowd and ramped up the excitement levels, perhaps because there were bags of soft foams lying around to chill out. While being politely patient, the post-rockers left the stage with heads up.

Few bands are able to unite the ever growing within the rock world, forever restless in their quest to find a new subgenre, or perhaps a new haircut. The Experience Brothers seems to be something that permeates and resonated through every crack of our rock culture. The Indonesian duo are just about as musically universal as an artist of the modern age can get and it really doesn’t matter where you come from; we all speak their language! After two very solid songs as their opening tracks, this band is undeniably supercharged with ferocity. Possessing ‘The Black Keys’ aura, something’s clearly flipped their switch, and if you’re particularly fond of their no-nonsense, hook-laden riffs, their songs will very quickly become one of your favorites. ‘Stompbox’ lives up to its name, being the perfect soundtrack to break into a dancing mood with you breaking your neck instead of your hips. Frontman Ibrahim on the vocals with guitar tightly strapped to him is up to his usual tricks, jumping anywhere he could find a sweet spot to pose to. ‘Rock n Roll Style’ reminds us exactly how catchy The Experience Brothers’ choruses can be.

At the very heart of the band, foundations laid by drummer Daud eclipsed any notion that drummers are there to simply keep time. The lovely grooves in their songs like ‘Young Men’ and ‘She’s Alright’ on that night add as much color as the riffs themselves, proving exactly why the band is one to look out for. There’s something so undiluted and so goddamn human about the music that comes out from them. Capturing the magical spirit of rock in its natural form is what they do best.

When the news broke that Two Door Cinema Club had cancelled their show with an abandoned slot to be filled, the response from their loyal fanbase was short of ecstatic. Not that we should ignore the huge contribution made by the band to the music industry, but there was an undeniable sense that day two of Urbanscapes will be not as irresistible as it was supposed to have been.

Fortunately, Last Dinosaurs doesn’t suck. Quite the opposite, in fact. Within seconds of the arrival of the band on stage, technical problems and sound issues were ongoing during soundcheck. While they might not have the most savoury name in the world, Last Dinosaurs gave feel-good memories than the asteroid that fell from the sky to extinction of dinosaurs, which has no link whatsoever. A smoother, sharper, and sexier take on this act compared to the one they had at Camp Symmetry in Singapore few weeks back. Arms crossed, head nodding for me, I was taken on a journey of mesmerizing depth and flying unicorns. Once upon a time, the band is quite annoyingly good. I don’t blame the band for being annoying, but more towards the screaming banshees at the front row. Luckily as it happens, ‘Sunday Night’ is a startling piece on its own merit. ‘Time And Place’ sets the tone flawlessly and techno-friendly keyboard flourishes that wouldn’t be out of place. Basically the band played nearly the whole album by then, with the band immediately setting out to their stall. When it comes to conjuring up the perfect blend for a cover song, the band has the skills to do it. The quirky mash up of ‘Lady’ and ‘Groovejet’ has an even more retro feel than the original. Smooth licks and catchy harmonies, it has such a warm sound and practically got its own pulse.

Though undoubtedly rocking on a small stage, Urbanscapes sees the Australian band Last Dinosaurs stretching out and bringing their more beautiful prospect in songs like ‘Weekend’ and ‘I Can’t Help You’. Party anthem in the making ‘Andy’ and the spiraling grooves of ‘Zoom’ both throw more emphasis on the choruses, leaving the crowd mopping the ground to its knowing lyrics. Go see Last Dinosaurs if you have the chance, listen to Zoom, then go see Last Dinosaurs again. And bring glow sticks.

Other than having great musical talent, these bright-eyed and beautiful girls have something that makes them just that much hotter; they’re sisters. Even better than that? They’re dope. I mean, really, really dope. There is nothing new under the night sky however except for Tegan and Sara appearing with a burst of their own, cute pyro.

I can’t lie that it wasn’t easy at the best of times, but in the heat of the night, I was a bit nervous after I saw that Tegan and Sara were the only band in the night’s lineup that didn’t consist of an overload of testosterone and asymmetrical haircuts, well so I thought. Don’t get me wrong—their hair was way better back then, but wondering if they had what it took to stand out from all the dudes who were dominating the stage before this caused the feminist part of the crowd to get extremely codependent. Not only this kind of scene is harder for women musicians to break into than men, but it is also a scene notorious for consisting of fans under the impression that women don’t know how to rock out. Much to my surprise, and relief, the crowd was not only responsive to Tegan and Sara’s performance, but actually seemed to enjoy it more than the bands who previously played on the main stage.

Tegan and Sara

From the moment the first note from ‘Walking With A Ghost’ echoed its way through the venue, the girls’ personalities rang clear. Even though they’re identical twins, their different stage presence showed them independent of each other. Tegan had absolutely no problem taking the front-woman role and claiming the stage as her own. Sara schooled the audience with her guitar skills and exhibited nothing but happiness when she watched her sister take center stage for ‘Call It Off’, showing that sibling rivalry most likely does not play a part in the girls’ musical endeavors. Songs like ‘Now I’m All Messed Up’, ‘Living Room’ and ‘I Was A Fool’ saved my life from all the mudspots that I got into. Nothing throws the momentum off balance and this is good news for people who want to be Tegan and Sara fans but don’t have time to follow the drama between another Liam and Noel Gallagher. Whatever happened to them?

A lot of times, seeing a band live does not live up to what you hear on their album. In other words, where someone might sing well within the confines of a studio, and thousands of dollars’ worth of sound equipment to perfect every pitch, when you put them live in front of a microphone their voice, well, sucks. This set, however, was as close to flawless as it could have been. I was actually somewhat amazed at the big sounds that Tegan’s precious body was able to produce. But, more than that, I was shocked at how perfect it sounded — and it was perfect the entire time! Before disappearing backstage, ‘Closer’ kicked in and the masses, not anxious to leave, stir things up by dancing along like mad men. Every single note that came out of their mouths was on key. It was like someone had hooked up their CD to a giant loud speaker, minus the lip-synching. I swear, I checked. Then, I double checked.

Tegan and Sara

Everything is happening really fast for Tegan and Sara probably because of time constraints. If you’re not into their music, at least be into how humble they are when both of them talk the crowd out by getting on their feet, leaving a trail of beaten and jelly legs for whom the long wait was worth it. Never ones to stay away from an encore, the duo didn’t return for any. I guess the crowd can handle that sidetrack for a moment here.

Tegan and Sara

During my walkabout around Urbanscapes ground earlier, there was absolutely no rockstar snootiness to be found. This was refreshing, but it also meant there would be no shit-talking on my part in this. Furthermore, Tegan and Sara displayed nothing but gratitude for the opportunity to have their music reach millions, and with attitudes like that, as well as being young and really good looking (because that always counts for something but okay, it counts for most things), it’s no wonder that known labels wanted to sign them. What a way to end and capture the nature of Urbanscapes. I hope I have the energy for the rest of this.