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
Finding common ground between different generations of rock fans hasn’t been easy in recent years, and tribalism kicks in wherein equally indie rock bands get entirely different audiences depending on what they look like. Older fans think younger bands aren’t committed to the cause, don’t understand the roots of the genre or both.
Day 2 of Urbanscapes however features ‘Time Out Kuala Lumpur’ with anyone who’s interested for a freaking good laugh. Jason Leong, Kuah Jenhan and other great comedians should be worth looking out for. You can either sleep easy on their jokes or play along. So far not so childish to have a little humor on a cozy day, but a lot has changed compared to Urbanscapes the previous year. Not only they have revamped the venue, but the festival has more homegrown bands to promote.
Alternative rock is still very much the order of the day but perhaps a little less frantic. I managed to catch Plainsunset and they still look like they could have been in the wrong venue somehow rather. You can bet they party just as hard. The band hailing from Singapore have some damn fine riffs, it’s just not quite clear the crowd wasn’t what you expected to be. One row of audience and scattered around is no joke in front a big stage they were rocking on.
Plainsunset, like many Singaporean bands, have paid particular attention to the details of modern rock. They do have the edge when it comes to songs no doubt but I have a little fear for them if the crowd’s going to make a point of watching them. Encouraging the audience with songs like ‘The River Song’, ‘Find A Way’ and ‘Immature’, they were cheesy enough to coat a thousand pizzas, but this band forged a remarkable connection with supporters from Malaysia. Though often derided as hard rock, onstage they packed a heavy punch, and the reaction from the audience is nothing better than a ‘woo’ and an applause. Still, the sky’s the limit for this remarkable band.
A four-piece homegrown experimental band that goes by They Will Kill Us All followed by starting with real intent, but the buildup takes too long, never really sparks into life and is shown up by the energy of the band. The crowd however seems in tune with their friendly rhythmic throwdown formula. On another note, the band would have blown the doors out if it was indoors. Their performance is played with total commitment nevertheless. By the time the crowd packed in, there’s no doubt the band are going down like a house on fire in the end with songs like ‘Sirens’, ‘Future Nights’ and ‘Under The Red Sky’. This was just really a warm up for me as I rise from the grass patch and moved on to the Upfront Stage.
One thing that excites me about Efterklang is that they’re able to play different type of rhythm and pull it off. They can be the odd band out, but they seemed to get some kind of response. For instance, a female vocalist with a high octave kind of opera voice went over well with the music they’ve produced. And the crowd is pretty mixed, so that’s cool. While the band produced a united front of different styles from each member, they looked like a congregation of kick ass bartenders. At the same time, I don’t think they necessarily have to reinvent the wheel to come up with something that moves people. In others words, Efterklang is the wheel. Their kind of genre is not a new concept, but it’s sometimes treated like a new idea and seriously I don’t really know what to make of it. The vibes are truly strong with this band. A small stage given for Efterklang to perform may be slightly silly, but that doesn’t stop them from being seriously entertaining when it comes to the crunch songs like ‘The Ghost’ and ‘I Was Playing Drums’. The buildup and the aggression of their music at some point see them fulfill their potential and hone their sound. From then on, I felt the band are about to unleash a new album or material anytime soon on stage.
Frontman Casper Clauson perhaps felt more keenly by an orange he brought all the way from Japan, as he explains when asked what’s with the orange being in his hand all the time. It’s like a totem to him that keeps reminding them of their past live performances; as such he gave it to someone from the audience for safe-keeping. The band never fails to force everyone’s brains to explode with epic atmospheric pressure on myself. Attempt to recreate the magic that brought me to the band, Efterklang’s performance is still one of the most worthy gigs in recent memory.
Of all the bands currently writing four-minute rock songs, Kyoto Protocol are amongst the very best. Replacing Two Door Cinema Club who pulled out due to health circumstances and performing for the second time at the festival (having already performed the day before), they were truly outstanding. This is the rock revival we’re talking about and it knows no shame as I headed down to the main stage. Total domination is very much within their gap. ‘You May Never Know’ is a bold song and responded in full voice from the crowd. For a band that only truly broke out at Future Music Festival months back to have amassed the kind of crowd in such a short amount of time is astounding. ‘Gimme Nothing’ and ‘Pussycat’ are greeted like they’ve been standards for five years ever since their formation of the band. Not only is every single chorus greeted that night with total euphoria, the improvement of the band’s overall sound compared to the first day of Urbanscapes in which they had performed, was a real highlight. Twice as beefy live as they are on the record, every single moment is played as loud as lion roaring into a megaphone with confidence. There’s been something a little restrained in the vocals whether that’s been down to previous limitations in his abilities but lead vocalist Fuad was able to convey the conviction this time round. Quite simply, Kyoto Protocol is turning into a genuine national treasure. To add on, the band laid claim to being one of the most promising rock bands in Malaysia right now. On this kind of form, they’re going to be unstoppable in the future. The band bowed out with a salute from the crowd as we prepared for the final act of the night.
The lack of water coolers and the glamour of flashing lights and dresses stop me from thinking too much, which is of course one of the things that makes Urbanscapes so alluring. Fans of Franz Ferdinand were screaming at an empty stage and foreigners in particular, were taking advantage of the booze lying around and began to lurk around at lonely individuals. With demonic grins on each faces, the smattering of languages and accents we can hear establish the band’s considerable cultural imprint.
The lights go down for the opener. Alex Kapranos along with Nick, Robert, and Paul took centre stage and lock into different patterns to ‘Bullet’. This crowd is laser-focused on one thing only: Alex Kapranos for sure. With only the monitors and a few lights on it, Alex with a raised fist was met by a monsoon of cheers. As the rhythms pummel across the ground, the end of the song brought all sorts of action in the crowd. They can stop and breathe now; Franz Ferdinand are here, they sound great, and each member of the audience knows that by the time their head hits the pillow, they’ll have to hear ‘No You Girls’, ‘Tell Her Tonight’ and ‘Evil Eye’ in quick succession. Alex clutches the mic stand in one hand and slaps his thigh with the other as ‘Do You Want To’ follows. As he sings ‘Well do ya, do you do you wanna’, light explodes over the crowd, who are now dancing, swaying and shaking their fists in the air.
One thing is readily apparent, the band’s ongoing commitment with the crowd’s motion kept Alex’s voice in top form. The rest of the band is equally polished, locked into a tight groove that shows no sign of rusting. In fact, they sound more like a band on that night with ‘Walk Away’. However Franz Ferdinand draw as little attention to themselves as possible, letting their music dominate the experience. There’s little interplay between the musicians, with each of them barely shifting from their spot. Another top-notch song titled ‘The Fallen’ provided an interesting point to the contrast of the surrounding. A nearby woman watches with tears streaming down her cheeks while jumping up and down. For diehards, this is already a keeper of a show, with a setlist designed to delight and reward a loyal fanbase.
Paul Thomson was having the time of his life, gleefully pounding away and illustrating to drummers young and old that you can play until your back breaks, but it was his swing in tempo that keeps the crowd moving too. He is a joy to behold as ‘Can’t Stop Feeling’ ensued.
Franz Ferdinand were on the form of their lives and received like beach models. The atmosphere was electric, but the real proof of something magical happening was written all over the band’s faces. The men looked like they’ve rediscovered the inspirational essence of their pragmatic sound and immersing themselves in every riff-driven second. And of course Alex Kapranos looked the most overjoyed of all. All of this would count for ‘screw you guys’ if the recent new album was a stinker. Although the band has managed to sustain their status as one of the premier indie rock bands of the modern era, few people would dispute that their self-titled album Franz Ferdinand was a masterpiece.
‘Brief Encounters’ and ‘Stand On The Horizon’ from their recent new album made the crowd scream out the verses as the band steered clear of impromptu interludes. Despite all that. UK’s finest have always been exacting about playing older materials and Franz Ferdinand treat the ecstatic fans with ‘Take Me Out’, ‘Jacqueline’ and ‘Michael’. Somehow these three songs resemble a date night not to be forgotten. Each delivered with enough energy to shame many bands half of their age. As you’d expect, the sound is a punchy affair in a way, very little of action goes unnoticed. Their songs are sung along by the majority of the crowd, and clearly have accessible mass appeal musically. ‘Ulysses’ was a different story. Through and through, it was full of bombast and it’s enough to get the pulse pumping hard the moment Alex Kapranos leads the troupe in an exchange guitar language. I just have to admit over and over again that Alex’s voice is in masterful condition, and the rest backing him up while belting superb song after superb song. Well, it was superb so to speak. The end is coming sadly.
It’s a novel experience seeing everyone enjoying themselves far too much, even attempting to break past the security guys to join the band onstage. The band themselves seem to be having just as much of a blast. It’s possible you’ll see a front three visibly loving being in their band more, but only if there’s a guest appearance from any band being invited, and this makes them even more engaging to watch. The band was also on for a healthy length of time – close to two hours, which allows them to do their unique selection of killers songs for encore.
They seemed comfortable mixing new songs ‘Right Action’ and ‘Lovers And Friends’, together with a classic, most notably a rendition of ‘Outsiders’ that closes the whole concert. It’s long and everyone’s silly drunk and there’s still a shitload of songs they could have stayed on and played, and everyone would be delighted by that. The cold, critical part of my brain admires Franz Ferdinand’s songwriting and performance skill. The part that’s in control is making me grin, sing and raise my fist in the air. This rules totally. That Urbanscapes crowd would also stand out far more if Two Door Cinema Club didn’t ditch the festival. The air temperature was a few degrees lesser with a wind chill factor by the time I sat down for the transport back to my hotel. At that point, it would be easy to assume this all sounds like a terrible idea when rashes starting to occur. Caterpillars are wicked.
One thing I have to say, every band that came to Urbanscapes to stun the crowd really hit the ground running and simply never let up. Even when they’re feeling nervous, it certainly doesn’t show. A stunning vindication, creating a sublime mix of modern music.