16 Feb Delivering A Sonic Landscape – St. Jerome’s Laneway Festival 2018
Over a decade in the running, Laneway Festival has well and truly solidified its stronghold in the Australian music scene as a leading day festival. Always boasting a stellar lineup of international and local acts, this year was no different with the likes of The Internet, Bonobo, Slowdive, Mac Demarco, War on Drugs, Badbadnotgood, Miss Blanks and many, many more.
The downside of such a star-studded cast is the familiar and constant rigmarole of Laneway — the perilous clashes that leave one running from stage to stage in an attempt to catch as many acts as possible. This being one of the few years the festival hadn’t sold out, however, meant a fewer people in rotation and a bit more room to breathe when you did finally get to plonk yourself down in front of your stage of choice.
Before we get into the nitty-gritty, though, it would be amiss not to mention the exponential growth and change this festival has seen in its years of running. With Big Day Out’s demise and the emergence of the vibrant day festival Sugar Mountain, Laneway now slots in towards the mainstream end and certainly draws a mixed-bag crowd (some who I am not so sure would survive Meredith’s no dickhead policy, for example).
That being said, Laneway seems to have its proverbial fingers in enough pies to keep its life forces at an all-time high, continuing to cater to a diverse crowd of nostalgic rockers, internet kids, indie-pop lovers, techno daddies and everyone in between. Despite feeling slightly as though one is walking through a surrealist shopping mall (I’m referring to the constant advertisements, streams of stalls and gimmicky bars), and suffering utter fatigue at the sheer amount of legwork involved in getting from one stage to another under the beating sun, I still (optimistically, perhaps) think Laneway is pretty alright.
It’s not everyone’s cup of tea and unfortunately, it has well and truly shifted from the intimate music lover’s experience it once was. But, I mean, you still do get to see some really, really good bands.
Walking through the festival gates (adorned with a big ol’ rainbow – a nod to the queers, Cheers Laneway!), I heard Spike Fuck’s dulcet tones floating over from the Dean Turner stage. Performing with a full band (named The FML Band, at that!), Spike’s songs took on a whole new energy, bolstered by the band’s absolute teen-dream-70s-icon demeanours and outfits. Adorned with aviators and radiating ethereal and anachronistic coolness, the nostalgia of Spike’s songs hit hard and had the growing crowd on their feet and swaying. It was a pretty special moment for those who got down early.
Cable Ties took to the stage with the fierce energy they are fast becoming known for. This band have been deservedly shooting for the stars, opening the stage at Meredith in ’16, slipping over to Europe for a brief tour last year and releasing an incredible album along the way. The three band members belting out the chorus of ‘Same For Me’ (Nick Brown mic-less and singing just for the hell of it, what pureness) gave a powerful energy that the crowd happily bore the sun for.
Hopping over to Dream Wife at the river-side Spinning Top Stage. I was particularly excited for this performance, as was the increasing mob gathered to welcome the Icelandic-Brightoneon femme rock group. With dizzying stage presence evocative of Debbie Harry, lead singer Rakel Mjöll seemed at home on the stage and delivered the band’s hits ‘Somebody’, ‘Lolita’ and ‘Kids’ with memorable charisma. As a group, the three bandmates and drummer wove together tightly and projected an inspiringly energetic dynamic; it was hard to tear myself away!
But while the Wives rocked on down by the river, I jogged on over to the Future Music Stage to check the last of Melbourne act Kllo. Channelling varying degrees of electro-pop, alternative soundscape, hypnotic hip-hop vocals and bubbling housey beats, Kllo’s sound is liquid and delicious. Riding the highs of their continuing success, the duo worked the crowd into a fluid dance and the audience seemed hell-pleased to hear some treats off the debut full-length album Backwater, which came out October last year.
At the much more green and breezy Future Music Stage, next on was Brisbane’s Miss Blanks. Fed up with the commodification and tokenisation in the white-consumption-oriented Australian hip-hop scene, Miss Blanks is hitting new highs in a variety of artistic musical spaces, originally catching eyes at Dark Mofo in Hobart last year and later, BIGSOUND. Now, rocking out to a huge and pumped crowd at Laneway, I don’t think any audience member could have been left uncertain of Miss Blank’s title as iconic. Complete with her backup dancers and Kish Lal on the decks, the Australian trans woman of colour delivered a set of absolute bangers that hit all the right spots and pushed themes of black power, body positivity and femme energy to the forefront.
Continuing the theme of femme badassness in typically ‘boys club’ genres, Lucy Cliché once again proved herself to be a force of nature with a flawless live techno set at the I Oh You Bloc Party Stage. Despite it being a kind of weird vibe (the designated dance-floor area also being a walkway to and from a big ol’ portaloo arena), Lucy made the best of things and masterfully built her industrial electro sound from her all hardware set-up. I kind of wanted to grab people walking by and be like ‘hello, you’re missing some really good shit please stay and dance,’ but look, these things happen.
Back down at the Dean Turner Stage, the sun was beginning to set and the night air was a sweet relief, giving the atmosphere a transformative lift. Bonobo drew an excited crowd and sent the vibes flying high, opening with the dreamy-smooth and building ‘Migration’, before inviting Szierdene on stage to sing ‘Surface’ and playing through a set-list of diverse and powerful tracks. Simon Green’s ability to cascade through genres and sounds and have the crowd blissing out to every Bonobo iteration is testament to his skill as an artist.
With a breeze picking up along the riverfront, reformed 90s shoegazers Slowdive carried the crowd gently into the balmy summer night with their shimmering guitars and meditative vocal lines. Seeing old rock dogs in the crowd holding hands and swaying with tears in their eyes filled me with such tenderness, it was one of those ‘could literally sob’ kind of performances. Their finishing song, a reworked cover of Syd Barret’s ‘Golden Hair’ was the crescendo of their finely crafted dreamscape that left the enraptured crowd in a state of awe.
Wandering back to the Future Music Stage, now swathed in darkness and holding a growing throng of punters still riding on a high from the days’ events, Badbadnotgood gave us all a sonic hug, closing out the festival with their jazz-fusion set. It was probably what we all needed, without even really knowing it.