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Haim. Picture: Glenn Yong

From a back alley in Melbourne to Singapore, you don't need the massive Marina Bay Sands hotel and casino towering over the Meadows to remind you how much St Jerome's Laneway Festival has grown since 2004 - but it sure helps.

The 10,000-plus punters that filtered into the stunning, picturesque Gardens by the Bay to kick-off Laneway 2014 on Saturday also confirmed that, while bigger and older festivals struggle, this one thrives in unexpected ways.

The indie rock party started by Danny Rogers and Jerome Borazio, the event's spiritual guru, now also visits every State capital in Australia, Auckland in New Zealand and even Detroit in the US, where it launched last year. While Laneway has helped rocket Mumford & Sons and Florence and the Machine to the big time, the burgeoning boutique festival still focuses on emerging artists over established drawcards. And while other shows are sausage-fests dominated by ageing grunge blokes or barely post-pubescent disc jockeys, Laneway 2014 stars many excellent female artists, including the four Savages, three Haim sisters, Elena Tonra of Daughter and Chvrches' Lauren Mayberry.

While Lorde didn't play Singapore - she had a couple of Grammys to collect in Los Angeles - the Kiwi teen phenomenon joins the event in Australia, including her first-ever WA performance.

Backstage Hayley Mary, charismatic singer for Sydneysiders the Jezabels, jokingly dubbed the festival Lilith Fair. But where that event favoured folk-leaning femmes, the ladies of Laneway are not to be messed with - especially the fearsome French singer for Savages, Jehnny Beth.

Her London-based band was one of the surprise packets of the Singapore Laneway.

Their tightly coiled post-punk invoked Ian Curtis and early Nick Cave, with a dose of Sinead O'Connor, as Beth and co. ripped through their Mercury Prize-nominated debut of last year, Silence Yourself. Unfortunately, all but five minutes of their set at the Fremantle concert clashes with Lorde.

While Savages were all dark angles, Californian sister trio Haim brought irresistible melodies to the laidback Singers crowd. In particular Don't Save Me and If I Could Change Your Mind were glorious.

Other highlights included the Jezabels' pulsating pop-rock, Triple J Hottest 100 winner Vance Joy's early and well-received set (he plays mid-afternoon in Freo) and Kurt Vile and the Violators' mix of slacker grunge, classic American rock and other variations on Dinosaur Jr.

Beardy Scottish indie rockers Frightened Rabbit are also well worth checking out in Fremantle; they sound a bit like the Proclaimers meets the Hold Steady. Singer Scott Hutchinson chided those lolling about on the hill - "Thanks for nothing," he quipped - but few stayed prone for fellow Scots Chvrches, who exploded towards the end of the evening. Mayberry's deceptively sweet coo meshed with jagged synths to finally provoke a mass dance.

Beloved downbeat electro-producer James Blake (who doesn't play Australia) was a mellow finale, but also a blissful end to a cracking event that was undoubtedly a fine ladies' (day and) night.