People always seem interested in Laneway reviews, so despite this being from Feb 6, why not. It was originally published on artsHub.
It remains unknown whether the two girls handing out election enrollment information at the Melbourne leg of the Laneway Festival had any takers. For the people streaming through the gates of the Footscray Community Arts Centre, politicians, electoral fines and polling booths couldn’t have been further from their minds.
With a day of music before them as promising as the Federal election will be long, most music-lovers politely ignored the two ambitious AEC workers, checked their wristbands and tickets, and gleefully crowded through the gates.
Under a surprisingly bright Sunday sun, the cut-off denim-clad crowd – vests for boys, shorts for girls – dispersed for cider and their chosen stages. Those organised enough to get to the venue especially early would’ve had the pleasure of catching Triple J unearthed winner Ali Barter. I wasn’t one of those people. Though having seen her before, I can say she’s well worth checking out if the chance arises.
The first order of the day for this reviewer was LA outfit The Neighbourhood. Inaugurating the new version of the Ear Your Own Ears Stage, positioned considerably further than its usual bottom carpark, the American five-piece struggled to rouse the early crowd. In the coming years, after a couple of hundred thousand more YouTube hits, they’ll inevitably work their way up festival bills.
With his tattoo-carved body draped in a Chicago Bulls jersey (Jordan’s comeback 45), lead singer Jesse James Rutherford perfectly epitomised the band’s mounting of the indie pop/R&B divide. There’s a lyrical smoothness to Rutherford’s hushed vocal styling, a suitable accompaniment for the mellow backing of the four-piece band. Playing through better known tracks like ‘Wires’, ‘Sweater Weather’ and ‘A Little Death’, it became apparent that most people drawn to the stage were suede-booted young women in floppy sunhats, dangling over the railing like limp roses left years before for Linkin Park, a band who, despite being thankfully rap-rock free, The Neighbourhood are reminiscent of.
High Highs managed to entice a more interested crowd at the River Stage, presumably because it’s at the bottom of a pleasant green hill. Not to say that the Brooklyn-based-via-Sydney duo don’t have their fans. They do. But there was something missing in their live performance. It certainly wasn’t talent, but there is just so much minimalist, keys-driven music labelled as soulful that one can take. Watching High Highs was about as interesting as seeing a Bon Iver cover band. This is no doubt a matter of taste, and their performance was enthusiastically enjoyed by the one dude standing up, who may have also been the only person at Laneway to have double-dropped by 1pm.
The Dean Turner Stage then hosted Melbourne Indie-poppers Twerps. Thoroughly enjoying themselves on their home turf, they strummed their way through the set, swaying a little, shuffling a little, recalling the softer-side of 90s alternative acts with breezy tracks like ‘Coast to Coast’, which after a while were only differentiated by swapping male for female vocals.
Snakadaktal injected some much-needed spark into the proceedings with a set as tight as the concrete was packed. Snakadaktal’s particular brand of indie-pop thankfully rises and recedes, anchored on alternating vocals from Sean Kelly and Phoebe Cockburn, and not the least the band’s energetic cohesion. They’ve obviously picked up a bunch of fans since touring with the Jezabels last year, luring an enthusiastic crowd with ‘Air’, ‘Carnival’ and ‘Chimera’, the latter of which made you wonder if five people could comfortably rock a small stage without at least one of them falling off. It’s unlikely you’ll catch them at a venue like the John Curtain again anytime soon.
On to the River Stage came Perfume Genius – reread the above section on High Highs and substitute soulful for heartfelt. Next were Real Estate on the Dean Turner Stage – reread section on Twerps and substitute breezy for congenial or amiable. Though to be fair(er), Real Estate actually sounded better live than expected, working their way through their catalogue of inoffensive pop songs, including ‘Easy’ and ‘It’s Real’, swaying and grinning at the crowd in the dreamy way musicians fond of playing three chords do.
It was at this point, despite being aware of the bill, I consider I may have been expecting something akin to Soundwave; but then previous years at Laneway haven’t been so decidedly indie-pop – especially when the event was staged in Melbourne’s gutters.
It wasn’t until the official welcome on the Dean Turner Stage by Mr. Jerome himself that the spirit soared. After a few words from the Mayor of Footscray, The Rubens delivered the vitality the festival had been missing. Sam Margin, fresh to death in a crisp white shirt, demonstrated why the band of three brothers and a ring-in on drums are burrowing their way into the musical consciousness of the land. Strutting the stage with a familiarity that comes with rocking with your brothers, The Rubens had the crowd clapping along with ‘Never Be the Same’, ‘Elvis’, and ‘Lay It Down’. Margin proved more than a pretty face, demonstrating his vocal elasticity as he alternated between a bluesy, pop drawl (Triple J Hottest 100 #10 ‘My Gun’) and a tender, lamenting croon (‘The Best We Got’). Though girls were hoisted high on shoulders, surprisingly no panties hit the stage.
Then something terrible happened, which can either be blamed on me, or how far away the Eat Your Own Ear Stage was. (Seriously, it’s about another 500 metres further than it used to be, no doubt to handle the swelling crowd, but walking between it and the Dean Turner Stage eventually wears on you. Eventually you have to sit down at the market (I mean bar) halfway and reinvigorate yourself.) This lethargy unfortunately meant Pond was missed, the little pop-up on my phone from the excellent Laneway app serving as a sore reminder that the psychedelic rock I’d been hanging out for was passing me by. According to all those that didn’t stop for magic beans on the way to buy the cow, the boys from Perth killed it.
You wouldn’t think Of Monsters and Men are from Iceland. The tumbling folk pouring out of the five-piece seems far more suited to a Deadwood saloon than the northern island-nation. But then if Mighty Ducks has taught us anything, it’s that Iceland is quite lush and green, while Greenland is quite icy, so maybe Of Monsters and Men forged their sound in some fresh hinterland akin to the Old West. Melbourne audiences gravitated towards the Icelanders, who deftly surged through hits like ‘Dirty Paws’ and ‘King and Lionheart’, as well as most other tracks off their debut My Head is an Animal. I find most folk all sounds the same after a certain point, but Of Monsters and Men are engaging enough to keep interest. Even after playing Triple J Hottest 100 #2, ‘Little Talks’, the crowd hung around, sparing the band the max exodus similar folksters Mumford and Sons suffered years before after playing ‘Little Lion Man’.
Japandroids and Alt-J were both sacrificed for Chet Faker, who despite a few sound issues only he and his band noticed, played to an eager crowd only slightly smaller than the SuperBowl audience that caught his cover of ‘No Diggity’ on a new Becks ad over the weekend. Behind his keyboard and laptop, Faker played through his Terms and Conditions EP, his crooning neo-soul saturating the crowd with his trademark sensuality, which is still surprising coming from a man with a huge hobo beard. Heard amongst heterosexual men in the crowd during this performance – ‘I’d totally fuck him, like right here; this is sex music for my ears.’
Divine Fits added some welcomed dirtiness to the polished acts preceding them. Cobbled together from members of Spoon and Wolf Parade, the collaborative effort from Britt Daniel and Dan Boeckner seduced a sizeable portion of punters with fan-favourite ‘Flaggin a Ride’, along with other highlights from their album A Thing Called Divine Hits, including ‘Civilian Stripes’, ‘My Love is Real’, and ‘What Gets You Alone’. They then slowed down their post-punk styling for a stirring, achy take on Roland S. Howard’s ‘Shivers’ before finishing on the poppier ‘Like Ice Cream’.
After this point things started to get loose. Dusk settled over Footscray, and with the sun waning people’s hair was collectively let down. Bars were packed and the grass lounged upon as punters divided their attention between Yeasayer and Alpine, while just about everyone else headed back to Eat Your Own Ears for electro wunderkind Flume.
I’d have liked to have taken notes during the 21-year-old’s performance, but it was so packed I couldn’t snake my pen out of my jeans. Resistance was futile, and surrendering to the will of the crowd absolutely unavoidable. This was not a bad thing. After recently lamenting Flume’s ability to snatch spectators from The Flaming Lips at Falls Festival, it was a pleasant surprise to see the kid kill it, as his lighting rig washed the crowd in neon green lights that could have represented his enviable ability. At the beginning of the set, Flume sampled a little of his collaboration with Chet Faker, ‘Left Alone’, though it would’ve been cooler to see the two perform it live since they were both on site. Still, that beat was satisfying enough to bend the crowd’s collective knee, and soon Flume whipped them into frenzy with hits ‘Sleepless’ and ‘Holdin’ On’. It’s no wonder he’s steadily been climbing festival bills for the past six months, with his Splendour-opening performance now seeming a lifetime ago.
Nicolas Jaar still had a decent amount of his set to go once Flume had finished, and most wandering past the Future Classic Stage found themselves on the edge of the rabid crowd.
Despite the slow start to the day, the huge distance between stages (for an event that was once so intimate), and the occasional shirtless bogan, increasingly common to all music festivals, Laneway proved that it was still one of the most fun and progressive festivals out there, with an assembly of hit-makers lined-up months before the rest of the country knew their name. Laneway need not envy its multi-day counterparts, its line-up like a collection of headliners from each day of a longer festival. Not to mention that the crowd is cool, friendly and mostly unpretentious.
The downside? It was Sunday.