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.
One of the most exciting Australian electronic artists on a continual rise at the moment is Roland Tings. Since his debut LP release back in 2015, he has played festival stages across Australia, headed overseas to play internationally and dropped a new EP Each Moment A Diamond which has received nothing but praise alongside his first release. His music brings to our Australian scene a vibrant array of colour, interesting textures and basically an overall package that is totally unique to us at the moment.
Whilst touring around Australia and New Zealand on his ‘Each Moment A Diamond’ EP – AUS & N.Z Tour’, we caught up with Roland Tings in his old suburb of Fitzroy to chat travel and tours – in particular his inclusion on the St. Jerome’s Laneway Festival 2017 line-up -, his friend and also rising artist Harvey Sutherland, his inspirations and future, and what we can look forward to from him in terms of his production and vision.
Marcus Rimondini: So in the past year you have spent a lot of time travelling around the US. What were some of the ups and downs of being there?
Roland Tings: Touring there is in its own world – it’s very different to touring in Australia where you fly to most of the gigs. In America it was a 30-day tour with Chrome Sparks, in a van, just driving all day and playing all night. We’d only be sleeping in shitty roadside motels for three or four hours at a time.
Did you find it difficult to perform by the time the 25th gig came around?
It’s easy in some ways, harder in others. You can get into the venue, set up your stuff and do what you have to do – but by like the 27th show in Washington D.C., after we had driven around the entire country, I was just at the end of my tether. Doing 27 supports in a row with a variety of good and bad shows, it was taxing emotionally.
But so many great things did happen on that tour! I even went out with RÜFÜS / RÜFÜS DU SOL as well and did six dates with those guys, really cool time. Touring around I enjoyed the vibes in Seattle, Portland and LA, whilst New York was quite an experience. I stayed there for about a month and a half in between tours with my friends in Greenpoint.
Why did you choose to release just an EP this time around?
It just made sense. From my perspective, my manager’s perspective and the label’s perspective it seemed right to not jump straight into an album. I’ve got so much material, the EP could’ve easily been an album; my last one was eight and ten on the vinyl, so it just felt like the right thing to do. I think for a lot of the time while I was making the EP, I was trying to work out what kind of music I wanted to make.
When I made the first record, I didn’t really know what I was trying to do. I just made a bunch of stuff quite quickly and I didn’t have a whole lot of faith in it. But everyone did seem to like it, which was really cool for me. So with this EP, it was a case of going back to the drawing board and having to think deeply about what I was trying to achieve, what kind of sounds I wanted to use and how to push the sound forward from what it was through to what it is now (which is a bit more refined with better production).
On your new EP ‘Each Moment A Diamond‘, is there a reason why you included ‘Hedonist’ and not ‘Eyes Closed’?
The EP was done quite a long time ago. I got really frustrated with various delays and thought ‘I just need to release something to feel like I still exist’. It’s hard to be a musician and go a whole year without releasing a single piece of music. I had ‘Eyes Closed’ sitting around, made it in winter last year, so we put that one out to stop myself from losing the plot while we waited for the EP to come together [laughs].
I did think it might be a bit confusing to not have ‘Eyes Closed’ on there, especially because the artwork is similar, but the tracks didn’t tie in… You got me [laughs]. I honestly thought about this, and I thought, you’d really have to be paying attention to notice.
How much do you think about the track order of the EP? Or now that we’re in the streaming age is that less of a big deal now?
For me, it’s really important and it’s still something that I care so much about. I want to create a body of work that flows and is a good listen from start to finish – I want people to sit down and ‘LISTEN’ to the record. I mean, I used to listen to DJ mixes almost exclusively and that was the only thing I would listen too. But since I’ve started getting into Spotify, which I had to get for Roland Tings, I really got into it and now I only listen to albums start to finish. It’s funny because the consensus is that in the streaming age fewer people do this, whereas I’ve gone the other way.
When you’re constructing a song is there anything specifically that you start with or does it vary?
It’s never the drums. It’s always something melodic and it’s also usually never a chord progression. Some kind of sequence, some interesting melodic idea, or an interesting combination of things that I’ve chopped up and rearranged. Then from that point, it’s anybody’s guess. [Momentary distraction by every one of cute dog in Edinburgh Park]
When you added a vocalist, did you look specifically for a female voice? How did that come about with Nylo?
I definitely wanted to work with a vocalist but didn’t really have any solid ideas about who that had to be –
I had a think through a bunch of different options. We hit up a whole bunch of different people, and very interesting, talented people had a go, but Nylo was the one who really stuck with me. She did a great job, we got straight into the studio and nailed it in just a few sessions and that was it. It was a fast process.
Who does your artwork? It’s one of the few pieces of music artwork I’ve seen recently that seems to match exactly how the music sounds [to me] – how did you come across them?
The guys who do the artwork, Tim and Ed, they’ve been my friends for ages. Previously when I was a graphic designer they were like my idols. I loved their work so much and they kill it with everything they do. I think we come from a very similar place – we’ve spent years going to the same parties, listening to the same music, going to the same exhibitions. We have the same friends, go on holidays together. Tim, Ed and Roland Tings come from the same world. When it comes time to do a record and the artwork to go with it, we have a meeting and I tell them what the record is about, what I was thinking about when I made it, and they just go and make it happen.
When they come back it’s always spot on, it’s always amazing, and they always nail it. The stuff they send back is always kind of weird, but then you look back in two years and everyone’s started doing that same thing. Their aesthetic is part of the sound. They listen to my music while they work on other stuff. Sometimes I look at their work and I think about what kind of artwork they would make for the song that I’m working on. I feel like they’re almost members of the band.
You mentioned you used to listen to post-rock? That escapism can still be felt in the new EP. Do you still listen to post-rock or have you moved on to a more modern version?
[Laughs]. Yeah, that post-rock stuff is a little dated now… Maybe. I very rarely find myself listening to electronic music these days. I mostly listen to ambient music or rock bands, you know, good old Smith Street Band or like Eddy Current.
Are you keen to explore more usage of guitars on further releases?
There’s guitar on the last record, and I’m definitely keen to explore a bit more of that when I make an album. It’s going to have a lot of guitar. [CORRECT] I really like as a great blueprint for the way that these palettes are done in post-rock, combine well with electronic music like Mount Kimbie. [CORRECT] I think they do an amazing job with those sorts of tones so that’s a huge reference for me.
Where’s the best place to listen to the new EP – the countryside?
I would say just driving through the countryside. I like listening to stuff on planes, looking out the window, and not everybody gets the chance to do that very often. I think moving vehicles, especially in the car are one of the best places to enjoy music. You can have it up as loud as you want, the physicality of the sound coming out, the changing scenery and crazy coincidences with the weather. You can’t be on your phone, so you’re more locked in.
So yeah, I think the car, unless you have a really good setup for listening at home where you don’t have your housemates coming in [laughs]. Or let’s just say ‘kick-ons’, but the more relaxed version where it’s just a few people, all the lights are off and you’re all lying on the floor of your living room with the music up really loud and the sun’s coming up.
How important is it when it comes to translating the songs live?
The live thing has always been a large part of it. I noticed not a lot of people doing that in Australia (playing electronic music live) when I started. I knew there were loads of people in America doing it, and always been reasonably big in Europe, but not many people were doing it here.
One of my favourite Australian groups for the longest time were Seekae. They were so cool and I went to all their shows. So it was those guys and Speed Painters that I know for me and my friend Harvey Sutherland were basically our inspiration.
Who is your live partner in crime?
Bill was the drummer for the Chrome Sparks tour – he’s played for Shlohmo, he’s based and produces in LA, he does loads of different stuff, session and live touring stuff. On the Chrome Sparks tour, I was doing lots of improvisation and Bill has existed not so much in the world of house and techno, but he was like “I love what you’re doing with your modular, we should do something”. So we went out to Joshua Tree after the tour and just jammed it out, it was sick. I was like “Dude, come to Australia and we’ll do this on the St. Jerome’s Laneway tour and make it happen”, so he did. It was a lot of hard work but we put it together and it worked!
Now I work with Julian Sudek who plays in World Champion. He’s used to playing on a live kit and an SPD, as opposed to Bill who was all MIDI-Control, so that again brings a different vibe. However I think this is the one that’s going to stick for awhile – it just really works.
How was the St. Jerome’s Laneway tour?
It was really cool. For a very long time I didn’t really feel like a part of the music industry or anything. I hadn’t felt like I was a part of a Melbourne scene at all, and I’ve never felt part of the higher level Australian music scene of people who do these big festivals and stuff like that. Splendour In The Grass last year, for my first time, I was in the artist area and there were people that I knew there, it was like “Oh hey, I met you at this festival and we had a beer” [laughs].
I feel like the Laneway tour was again was like that – I knew some people on there, I had some mates on the tour. Bill and I were doing a show that we really believed in, and people responded really well. It was wild some of the scenes in Melbourne and Sydney in particular – just hundreds of people going mental and we were basically on the stage doing completely improvised modular techno [laughs]. It felt like something very special to me.
The Laneway crew was sick as well and I had so many cool random encounters. I was talking to somebody about why do people always cry on planes, and he had an amazing and elaborate theory, and we just kept talking. Then he was like “Oh I’m in Glass Animals” and I was like “Oh cool!” because they’re like a really big band and it was cool that the tour had big bands. They were full of the people that I would just hang out with.
What’s some of the gear you use live on stage?
It changes drastically all the time. For example, the current tour has the full drum kit on stage with a snare drum, a tom mic’d up and running into a mixer on the stage where I’m doing delay and reverb effects on the live drums with an SPD also running into my mixer. So essentially I’m manipulating the live kit and sending back out to the front of house. Then I’m doing my usual thing of a synthesiser and effect pedals.
It’s fun to play, as opposed to the Laneway tour, where it was all modular and mostly improvised which made it very hard. It’s way more nerve racking because if you get up and don’t have anything prepared, and there are a thousand people watching you, it can create a lot of stress [laughs]. People are going to hate this if it doesn’t go well, it’s really bad when it goes bad [laughs].
I’ve used a few Roland Tings tracks in DJ sets – do you ever think about the intro and outro and how it translates to mixing like some house artists do?
Absolutely, I think it’s one of the prime things – even though I’m not really making music for DJ’s so much anymore like I used to when I started. Now I know my audience is more like people who are listening on Spotify rather than DJ’ing. It’s always got a DJ friendly intro and outro, there’s always 16 bars of something to get you in and out if you choose to DJ the songs. I don’t know why I keep doing it, it’s just how I like to make music, and when I’m making my songs I like to try and mix into another track and see what works, and what doesn’t work.
The art of the intro is actually really, really hard to get right. I don’t know why it’s so hard but it is. If you listen to some commercial dance stuff it’s literally just 16 bars of the drum bit and then it drops into the song. But getting something that builds up organically from the intro and is interesting I can find very difficult yet fun [laughs].
What’s the plan for the rest of the year?
I’ll be going back to the US in May to go on tour with Com Truise and Clark which will be sick. It’s a big tour going everywhere so that’ll be cool to eat McDonald’s with those guys every day [laughs]. Then I’ll come back and start working on an album, or whatever that looks like, I don’t really know.
Are you excited or nervous?
I’m excited and honestly can’t wait to grow this project because I already feel like I’ve advanced musically so far beyond where I started. I just can’t wait to keep it going. So many sounds I want to explore, and so many people that I want to work with – I’m looking forward to it.
|Saturday 15th April – Sydney, Oxford Art Factory|
|Sunday 16th April – Adelaide, Fat Controller||Saturday 22nd April – Brisbane, The Foundry|
|Friday 28th April – Auckland, REC||Saturday 29th April – Wellington, Meow|