Live things: the highs and lows of the GoodVybes Festival

Hello. Niko here. Our review of the GoodVybes Festival, which took place last Saturday, would be a little different than we envisaged. We planned an essay of observations for the first major (arguably) music festival of 2016. We had a man on the ground: one of our contributing writers, Dexter Tan, bought tickets, making good on his vow to see Chvrches once and for all. And he was there.

But for the best part of the past week we weren’t sure if he could even make it: his grandmother was rushed to the ICU, and we were pretty close to dropping the whole thing altogether. As I write this, on Sunday night, she has sadly passed, and thus Dexter decided to just send over what he’s written. However, we’ve been corresponding throughout his time at the Aseana City Open Grounds – I was tweeting his reports – and I’ve been following the timelines myself. I think we have a story, and it’s not exactly a happy, good vibes-y one.

So here’s what we’ll do. I’ll pop in from time to time, filling in the holes with our text messages and all the other things I’ve heard, but most of the words you’ll see here are Dexter’s. And that begins with the next paragraph.

The entrance gates at around six in the evening - and some trash lying around.
The entrance gates at around six in the evening – and some trash lying around.

I might be getting too old for festivals. Either that, or Stars may be winding down, or their music simply isn’t made for outdoor stages.

After they opened with a somewhat pitchy “Hold On When You Get Love” last night, my mind raced back to the first time Stars performed here in Manila. “This is our peak,” Torquil Campbell said between sips of beer in between songs. “I am glad we were able to come here now because I’m afraid you will never hear us sound this good again.”

It’s painful to admit for a long-time mark like me that he might be right: their performance last night was pretty unremarkable. A couple of the songs that followed sounded arguably even rougher than their opener; Amy Millan struggled to hit some notes and even messed up a couple of lyrics (most notably to “Dead Hearts”.) Last night was devoid of “we are Stars from Montreal, and you are stars from Manila” lines to save the moment, or of crowds singing “I’m not sorry there’s nothing to save” in unison – though I guess I could just blame that on me being an old hipster in a vast swath of young hipsters.

Then again, it’s really hard to translate a sound that relies a lot on intimacy, like stripped down versions of “Midnight Coward” or “Your Ex-Lover is Dead” to a setting that’s out in the open. We’ll have to see the next time they perform here.

Chvrches vocalist Lauren Mayberry, on the other hand, feels like a seasoned veteran. Seeing this again after seeing Lauren live last night made me realize, cliché as it sounds, how far she’s come as performer. Her stage presence has improved; she was doing a lot of pirouettes during “Never Ending Circles”, resulting in unusually untidy hair.

“I don’t know where it starts and ends,” she told the crowd. “It’s, like, all the humidity got to my hair.”

“Eeeeeeek!” the crowd cheered wildly.

“Eeeeeeek!” Lauren imitated. “Eeeeeeek! Why don’t I just do that for the rest of the night? You know, why don’t we all just do that? On the count of three, let’s all go eeeeeek! One, two…”

And just like that, Lauren had her, as she called it, “Bon Jovi moment”.

The crowd, however, loved Oh Wonder a lot. I was pretty won over by the end of the night. I had another listen to their album after the festival; it still sounds sleepy for me. But they were really great live. Josephine Gucht has quite a clear voice. Or perhaps it’s the extra bass the live setting provides; it actually built on their songs rather than diminished it, as was the case with the other foreign acts I saw. Of course, the crowds were singing along to every song, much to the band’s surprise.

This is all unfortunate for Passion Pit, whose set began just before midnight. People were leaving the festival grounds the moment they went on; it didn’t help that their songs seem to not fit the festival setting. (“Sleepyhead” when you’re tired?) It could have been a triumphant return for Michael Angelakos, who was supposed to perform here last year but pulled out due to medical issues. It did feel like it’s an “Oh Wonder and everyone else” festival, judging from the reaction. Maybe they were better off holding their own gig here?

My date and I hit the concert grounds a little before six in the evening, expecting to catch Stars just in time. I knew from experience that concerts typically start at least an hour late, but I didn’t really know if the same was true for festivals. At least I thought they were supposed to start on schedule because there were too many bands and giving everybody a fair amount of time to perform made the most sense.

Instead, we found Brisom performing. As they wrapped up their set, a guy came up to the mic to tell the crowd Kjwan was being moved to the Beat Tent, quite ironically enough, at the same instant the supposed schedule of the acts popped on the LED screen. “Live Stage,” it said: “Brisom, 15.15; Kjwan, 16.45; Stars, 18.00.”

“That must suck for people who were expecting to see Kjwan on the main stage,” I remember saying to myself, though I admittedly didn’t give it much more thought as we tiptoed our way to stage left and set our blanket on the ground, fully relieved and fixated to find I will be able to watch Stars live in full for the second time.

It wasn’t until after Stars finished their set that I heard Marc Abaya’s gravelly voice on a couple of speakers to my right, midway through a song and, as it turns out, a few songs short of wrapping up their set as well. Only then did I realize that the spot we took – which, to me, felt pretty quiet and uneventful when we first settled there – was literally only a couple of meters from the Beat Tent. Only then did it become evident to me that that stage performed pretty much in parallel with the live stage, give or take ten minutes.

And that is where I feel a wee bit of disappointment with how the festival was set up, or maybe, of multi-stage festivals in general. That the schedule for both stages was so close together and the Beat Tent made to exclusively feature local acts unfortunately meant our own artists had a handicap as they competed against foreign acts for attention.

I mean, sure, the proximity between the two stages meant it was easier to go back and forth between the two stages, and I did observe some of the folks on our side venturing out a bit to the other stage, but not before literally coming back in droves to get their spots back for the foreign acts on the main stage. I can’t imagine anything more disheartening than losing a good chunk of your audience. Needless to say that proximity also meant that it was entirely possible, I imagine, for the main stage’s much louder sounds to drown out theirs.

As the sun sets, the audience seem to have also been stuck in traffic.
As the sun sets, the audience seem to have also been stuck in traffic.

Hello again from me, Niko, filling in the holes as promised. I don’t know why the entire festival got delayed by at least a couple of hours. Could it be the traffic? I knew more people who went to the festival and they were stuck in traffic for a good chunk of the afternoon. But festivals usually happen whether there’s anybody watching. When I went to the Jack TV MAD Fest a couple of years back, the first performances were to around a hundred people, us included.

But from my vantage point – Twitter, essentially – there seem to be a lot of last-minute changes to the festival. On Saturday morning they announced the splitting of the Beat Tent into two tents, which mostly served to render both surprisingly empty. And then, the changes in schedules, which meant Kjwan was moved to the Beat Tent – which, I’m told, is a much, much smaller stage – and all the other local acts performing there got moved around.

B.P. Valenzuela, for instance, was scheduled to perform at 19.00, according to the revised plans. She ended up performing a couple of hours later, and her set unfortunately overlapped with that of Chvrches, which began twenty minutes behind schedule. As that band opened their set – the Live Stage’s sound system being quite loud, as Dexter reported – her audience disappeared, and she was left with around thirty people watching her. (The folks from Bandwagon Philippines tweeted out this video the morning after.)

Maybe we’re just a sucky audience, treating local acts as filler before the main event. But there was a schedule, and for the most part it wasn’t adhered to. I wasn’t there, so I had no idea why; Dexter doesn’t have any ideas either, as he arrived late. But the final schedule was still built to prevent these overlaps from happening – especially since, as it turns out, the tents would be obliterated by whatever’s coming out of the Live Stage. (I must note that two stages simultaneously holding performances in one music festival is not unusual, but they’re usually far apart enough to prevent the sounds from bleeding through, or are scheduled in a way as to not make one stage’s experience sucky in favor of the other.)

Unfortunately Dexter never got to see a lot of local acts; the schedule was getting unreliable and, knowing how festival audiences work, you’d rather stay in your place and wait for your favorite band rather than explore and discover new sounds. But it’s not to say nothing of interest happened there. Nick Lazaro of Moonwlk proposed to his girlfriend on stage, for one, in the middle of a live band set, a departure from their usual electro set-up. Assembly Generals – who still managed to perform on the Live Stage – also put on a good show, apparently, and my friends couldn’t help but rave over the late-night (initially set earlier in the evening) set of hip-hoppers Shadow Moses and Ninno.

But the tweets I saw also hinted at a dissatisfaction, if not a frustration, that local acts seem to have been shunted in favor of the foreign acts, which turn out to be underwhelming for the most part. Again, they’re just tweets, mostly from interested people. Maybe those who went to the festival – and there weren’t a lot: Dexter estimates there were just a thousand – think otherwise. [DT/NB]

[Photographs taken by Jobelle Natividad.]

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