The Twin Towers @LIVE music festivals have been an integral part of the Formula One race weekend in Kuala Lumpur for the past few years. While the Sepang International Circuit at the edge of the city is undoubtedly where the bulk of the action tends to take place, the festivals have also played an important role as a much-welcomed conduit between the excitement generated by playing host to one of modern motorsports’ premier events and the city’s general populace. Last year’s edition of Twin Towers @LIVE saw former Pussycat Doll Nicole Scherzinger, along with Kelis (of “Milkshake” fame), and K-Pop outfit SNSD paint the town purple, while the debut iteration of the festival back in 2011 featured American rock band Hoobastank as headliners, with support provided by local acts Yuna, The Azenders, and rapper Joe Flizzow.
The most unusual feature of Twin Towers @LIVE is immediately evident in its name: the music festival is held at the base of the Petronas Twin Towers, the interconnected double megaliths of concrete and steel which are arguably Malaysia’s most recognizable architectural feature:
The Petronas Twin Towers
Admission to Twin Towers @LIVE is free, but a small amount of “Fanzone” passes are distributed to the general public – typically in association with the purchase of Petronas Motorsports merchandise and promotional events. Admission to the Fanzone provides festival-goers a direct and more intimate view of the weekend’s proceedings.
Position of the Fanzone relative to the stage and General Admissions
This year’s edition of Twin Towers @LIVE hit an early snag when concert organizers announced that K-Pop sensations Rainbow and Girls Day would be unable to appear as initially promised. However, as luck would have it, American pop outfit Backstreet Boys – who remain massively popular in Malaysia to this day despite being much closer to being Backstreet Men – were gearing up for their 20th Anniversary Tour, and the concert’s organizers were soon able to confirm their participation as headliners for the second day of Twin Towers @LIVE 2013. It was for this day that I managed to pick up a couple of Fanzone passes – courtesy of my purchase of some snazzy Formula One merchandise at the Petronas Motorsports store.
After a quick bite to eat, my lady friend and I descended into the gradually-swelling throng of concert goers at 7.30 pm. The gates had been open since 5 pm, but mercifully, much of the Fanzone still remained unoccupied; the general admission area was another matter entirely though, with rows upon rows of people making steady progress to the intersection of Jalan Ampang and Jalan P. Ramlee. Looking around, something about the numerous placards written in Korean made it pretty obvious that the bulk of those in the Fanzone were there to catch K-Pop outfit 2NE1 (pronounced “Twenty One”/”To Anyone”). Most importantly however, it looked like the first act had yet to hit the stage – an apparent logistical decision by the organizers (and a wise one at that, on account of the fact that the Muslim-majority country would cross into Maghrib prayer times at around 7.45 pm).
But come 8.15 pm and it was all systems go, with the first act to hit the stage being local rapper Caprice.
Caprice and Dem Lepak Boyz
The self-styled Damansara (a Kuala Lumpur suburb) homeboy was in many respects the perfect opener for the evening, with his easy-going yet energetic style meshing well with the wild and animated antics of local b-boy group Dem Lepak Boyz. I, for one, found Caprice’s gig an interesting microcosm for the way in which North American street culture has started to permeate the urban parts of Malaysia – particularly in how it has started to take on certain traits that are singularly unique to this part of the world (I never conceived Damansara as a “‘hood”, for one, while the brand of Malay “street slang” being used actually seemed more like the budding process of language reclamation as opposed to outright contamination – but that’s for another day.)
In any case, the Caprice number that received the most raucous reception was perhaps his parody of the Youtube viral hit “Oppa Gangnam Style”, entitled “Jangan Terasa Bro” (loose translation: “No Offense Brah”). That being said, I do think he could have come up with a better gimmick than storming off onstage halfway through the song in an apparent huff, all the while proclaiming “I can’t do this bro! I’m not Korean! I can’t do this!”
Up next were the Kuala Lumpur Earth Hour celebrations – after a brief video introducing the concept of Earth Hour from WWF Malaysia, the gathered throng watched in interest as the lights for the city were symbolically turned off via a massive on-stage circuit breaker by the Datuk Bandar (Mayor) of Kuala Lumpur. Perfectly on cue, the lights emanating from the Petronas Twin Towers behind the stage extinguished themselves and concert-goers were plunged into relative darkness (prior to the show, I had briefly worried that my employers might just mess this one up). Throughout the hour of darkness, instrumental bands and an appearance by the impressively talented local beatboxer Sean Lee kept energy levels high.
The lights came back on at 10 pm sharp, by which point the next act – One Nation Emcees – were ready to hit the stage:
One Nation Emcees
The One Nation Emcees’ set was a little on the short side, with only a trio of original songs – including their hit single “Anak Kampung” – being played. Interestingly enough, I remarked to my girlfriend towards the end of the Emcees’ set that their lead singer’s make-up and hairstyle on the night reminded me of Rihanna; barely moments later she was performing none other than a full cover of “Diamonds In The Sky”. Move over Paul the Octopus.
But among all the local acts on show that night it was perhaps singer-songwriter Mizz Nina who had the biggest stage presence. Born Shazrina Azman, the budding singer-songwriter first cemented her reputation as one of Malaysia’s brightest R&B/hip hop talents as part of rap crew First Born Troopz (1997) and the AIM-nominated Teh Tarik Crew (1999). But it was not until the release of her 2010 debut album What You Waiting For that her career really got off the ground. That same year, she also opened for Usher, Bruno Mars, and Justin Bieber (among others), prior to embarking on several international performances. Her set that night was the second time she had performed onstage at the Twin Towers @LIVE festival, with her debut appearance having occurred two years earlier.
In a manner befitting the formbook, I was most impressed by Mizz Nina out of all the night’s local performers, with her renditions of “Around The World” and “Take Over” being particularly well-received by the crowd. But I won’t lie though – it was definitely the foreign acts that we were most interested in, as demonstrated by the ear-splitting roars that appeared when Korean outfit 2NE1 finally took to the stage at around 11 pm.
The best description for 2NE1’s performance would be “populist”, as they were sure to perform all the most recognizable songs from start to finish: tracks like “Lonely” and “I Am The Best” had the crowd (at this point probably over 10,000-strong) chanting along in unison, whereas others like their debut single “Fire”, “Can’t Nobody” and “Ugly” brought out some of the most amusing dance moves I had seen in a concert-going throng. The four girls, who are set to release their sophomore studio record this year, were incredibly charming to say the least, addressing their local fans in both Korean and the Malay Language (with passable results!).
But if I thought the adulation streaming from the very-easily-pleased-and-amused local crowd had reached its peak with our acceptances of a garbled “Sa-yak chin-tak Malesia!” (“I love Malaysia!”) from 2NE1, I was quickly shown how wrong I was. There’s a reason why boyband records still sell exceedingly well in Malaysia – lots of us still live with our heads stuck in the 90s (myself included). In any case, the sudden surge forward that accompanied the Backstreet Boys’ appearance onstage pushed Amanda and myself no less than ten feet closer to the action.
I could now comfortably throw my undergarments on stage if I wanted to.
AJ of the Backstreet Boys.
For their first performance in Malaysia since 2008’s Unbreakable Tour, the Backstreet Boys had brought along a live band (a full four-piece complete with a bassist, a keyboardist, lead guitar, and drums) and – most importantly – Kevin Richardson, who was conspicuously absent last time around. And so it was that for 90 glorious minutes, Kuala Lumpur partied like it was 1999 all over again.
The Boys’ set began with “Incomplete” – which, interestingly enough, would be the newest song they played all night (considering that the single came out in 2005, I thought it spoke volumes about the Boys’ own opinion on the quality of their latter-day content). Several older numbers turned up particularly early in the setlist, including the incredibly well-done (and even better-received) “Larger Than Life/Oppa Gangnam Style” mashup.
Nostalgia Level 9999
Elsewhere, the tropes of those mid-1990 glory days were not forgotten: halfway through their set, the Boys busted out that cornerstone of every boyband performance ever – them metal stools – and proceeded to perform “Show Me The Meaning of Being Lonely” and “As Long As You Love Me” whilst parked comfortably atop their spindly thrones. Then came the part where they invited a few girls onstage, and despite my exceedingly high levels of internal hubris I had to grudgingly admit that I would never, ever in my life make a lady as happy and contented as these five lads did when they pranced around their guests whilst making doe eyes at them, sliding their fingers around their shoulders and singing “I’ll Never Break Your Heart.”
Best singalong moment of the night, though? “I Want It That Way” – hands down. Something about its simplistic lyrics, memorable chorus, and easy rhyming schemes caused us Malaysians to make Kuala Lumpur the Glow Stick Capital of the World that night.
In keeping with tradition, the Backstreet Boys would close their main set that night with “The Call”, and here, you could tell who was in their early to mid 20s – they were the only ones who had bothered to memorize the lyrics to the Black & Blue single. “Everybody (Backstreet’s Back)” off the band’s sophomore album was then performed as the one-song encore, by which point it was starting to seem that the Boys would probably not be allowed to continue any further for fear that they break the quota of fun that can legally be had per day in Malaysia.
Truth be told, this wasn’t what I had in mind for a first write-up when I decided to cover all the concerts/gigs I went to in Malaysia on behalf of this wonderful site. In the past year alone I’d missed shows by 65daysofstatic, Paramore, and – most painfully – Grimes due to work and family commitments. But looking back, it seems fitting that a site which taught me all about acquiring “‘cooler” musical tastes would somehow inadvertently bring me back to what enjoying music is really all about: finding them earworms – regardless of genre – that you can associate with a particular period of your life, and then holding on to those memories forever.
Just like this guy over here:
(and no that is not me)