Melbourne – February 7th
I’ve just passed through the gates of a music festival in shorts and a t-shirt and been haphazardly smothered in free sun cream (“Oh, you’re English?! You’ll definitely need this”) by a scrum of generous volunteers. Granted, I’m in Melbourne, not the UK, but it feels odd, almost alien, to not be draped in a traditional pac-a-mac. Does part of me yearn for the slurry of mud squelching underfoot that we’re precariously forced to negotiate in ill-fitting wellies year on year? Well, no. Thirty five degree heat is overcooking it (and me) a little, though.
With Big Day Out cautiously counting pennies and Soundwave, as always, catering to those with heavier tastes, Laneway’s slot on the festival calendar feels somewhat significant this year, touring a well-trodden path that takes in all of Australia’s major cities, and there’s a distinct sense of the organisers upping their game. Based in the heart of the docklands, stages are positioned between shipping containers and walkways weave under arching cranes, resulting in an sprawling space that has plenty to investigate, even if the majority of stages overlook awkward concrete dance floors.
It’s difficult to not be impressed, and slightly intimidated, by the tantalising variety that the lineup boasts, too. From the unwavering punk venom of Perfect Pussy, to the stratospheric psych rock of Pond, the bruising beats of Rustie (and dolphin noises, in between tracks, which is fine by me) and the pounding energy of Future Islands, as well as the offbeat pop of FKA Twigs, whose every step is already worshipped by the Melbourne faithful, much like at home.
Laneway begins, however, with the sultry, sun-baked noodling of Connan Mockasin, timed to perfection, and arguably how every festival should hit its stride for the foreseeable future. Although Mac DeMarco and his band provide muted backing vocals on a track or two, they are in full, snotty voice by the time their own set rumbles around, devilishly toeing the line between wistful crooner and mischievous school prankster, his most delicate tracks oozing from stacked amps in seductive fashion, while ‘Still Together’ clatters to a halt with riff-wailing ferocity. Ratking and Vic Mensa provide energetic hip hop bluster, although Jon Hopkins‘ powerful strain of ambient exploration has no right to be so hard-hitting and eclipses much that came before.
At points, Laneway resembles less of a festival and more of a trade boosting mission, the UK sporting its most promising wares, with Jungle appearing particularly adept at enhancing overseas relations. While ‘Busy Earnin’, of course, summons up the sweatiest interaction between the masses, ‘The Heat’ sounds like it was written especially for me, gloriously stuffy and claustrophobic, as I continue to melt like never before. Elsewhere, SOHN admirably ensures a sleepy crowd are at least moving, which is no mean feat at two o’clock in the afternoon, although who cares how brilliant ‘The Wheel’ sounds when the guy’s wearing a fucking snood in the height of Australian summer. Nobody lumbers through a fistful of lifeless riffs like trusty Royal Blood and today is no exception, leaving me with the disturbing feeling that I’m unable to escape their fresh hell even on the other side of the world, but at least nobody believes they’re saving rock’n’roll over here. Oh, wait…
Caribou‘s set ushers in a welcome soaking, and leaves me pondering whether the man can in fact do everything, even when it comes to controlling the seasons, as each crescendo seems to shatter the heaviest downpour in euphoric unison. It’s a carefully selected set list, crafted to run alongside the impending sunset; ‘Can’t Do Without You’ is greeted like the colossal anthem it is rapidly becoming, ‘Odessa’ struts with more purpose than ever before and the part pop gem, part club stonker splicing of ‘Our Love’ prompts a sea of swaying hips on an overwhelming scale, glistening rain droplets framed by detonating strobes. As Dan Snaith gives us a final, understated wave in the wreckage of an extended ‘Sun’, his mouth twisting into a beaming grin, we’ve just seen the best act of the day. All hail, King Caribou.
If we’ve just witnessed something particularly special across the site, Flying Lotus seems keen to retake the plaudits with a truly unnerving headline set. Sandwiched between two screens that pulsate with vivid, mind bending imagery and pattern, I would feel hard pushed to pinpoint an artist that is currently pushing the boundaries of such an intoxicating and immersive live experience. “Happy birthday J Dilla”, Stephen Ellison announces, and although his set lacks the dance groove of his idol, most onlookers are fixated on the screens, gazing in awe at the madness unfolding before them. Most impressive is when FlyLo’s alter ego, Captain Murphy, comes out to play, springing from behind a tangle of cackling, contorted faces and showering us with the venomous couplets of ‘Dead Man’s Tetris’, prompting relief from those that sacrificed fellow headliners St Vincent and Banks. Whisper it, but we’ve just been privy to something incredible, albeit on one of the smallest stages.
And that is perhaps part of Laneway Festival’s unbridled charm. There are no jaw-dropping headline artists or overspilling egos, barely even a vague cohesiveness to each stage’s running order, yet acts of the highest calibre can be unearthed in even its tiniest crevices. Melbourne’s a long way to come to watch some bands, sure, but Laneway certainly made it worth my while.