Gig Review: Laneway Festival

One word summarisation of article: Go!

Sunday 2nd of February @ Rozelle College of Arts

Laneway Festival is, without a doubt, the musical event to most look forward to on the Sydney music calendar. Its planned the way a serial killer plans their first murder, with extraneous care and meticulous planning. Every year, the booking of the festival reads like a who’s who of the biggest artists of the moment, and 2014 was no exception. In short, if you didn’t go to Laneway this year, you fucked yourself over.

Besides the music, Laneway surpasses the other big festivals of the calendar because they put in considerable effort to create one of the nicest, most relaxing and beautiful places to enjoy yourself. Set at the Rozelle College of Arts and the park surroundings, you could actually lay down in front of the two main stages and never move, and you’d still have yourself one of the best days of your year. And if you came to the festival but hate music, then you can simply plug in some earplugs, and check out a bunch of other attractions. Thankfully, in this case it doesn’t mean a rollercoaster that’ll put you back $50, but rather some art installations, a vinyl tent, or the food trucks. Yep, the fucking food trucks went off. Best festival food I’ve had in my entire life.

But why the fuck would you scrape a ticket if you hated tunes? What kind of sick, sadistic bastard steals a Laneway ticket from someone else and doesn’t even watch a single act on display? You’d have to be Barry O’Farrell-esque to execute a move that dick-ish. Which is why I got to the festival as early as possible, and clambered to the stage where The Growl were playing. The Growl are another Tame Impala-affiliated project, this time from Cam Avery. However, the music couldn’t be further from psychedelic. They’re a rumbling band, with Avery channeling his inner Tex Perkins to great effect. One word description-swagger. Not swag, swagger.

Although the songs on display were pretty cool (understatement, you can download some of The Growl’s songs here) and a couple of their new tracks really got excitement levels sky high, the band seemed a bit tired on stage. Regardless of the act and amount of hip-thrusts one can shove into a song, opening a festival is fucking hard.

However, on the Red Bull/Future Classic Stage, things were heating up for the few in attendance for Scenic, another Perth act. However, these guys were more akin to Jagwar Ma than Tame Impala. They were effortlessly cool up on stage, pushing out the synth-psych vibes like they were Daddy Warbucks handing out opportunities to orphaned red heads. All their songs contained a sense of danger and cutting edge, and the constant jogging and energy onstage was pretty hard to look away from, or even ironically imitate. Nope, it was way too fucking hot and energetic to try and impersonate. To the guys from Scenic, give up your day jobs and become athletes, you’ve got crazy stamina. Or just keep pumping out tunes like ‘Ride The Thrill’, either is good for me.

After taking on some of the majesty of Scenic, it was off to Drenge, the two-piece garage punks from the UK that would hopefully take my brain to town. However, unfortunately, the two-piece couldn’t catch a break on stage. Undoubtedly, their music is much more suited to an intimate 200-person max show in a dingy basement. On stage, Drenge put out some great vibes, but their equipment was, simply put, fucked. Wind ruined the sound, making their screeches barely audible. And on the topic of screeches, unwanted feedback and a mildly consistent them of pedals cutting out mid song made it hard to appreciate Drenge the way they probably should be appreciated. I mean, ‘Bloodsports’ is such a killer track, and a few other songs alighted comparisons to DZ Deathrays (whom are an obvious choice of band to spend the rest of your life following around). Unfortunately, with the lack of power and conviction, Drenge remained a mild band to watch under the blistering heat.

So, some knob decided that after Drenge, we should go see Autre Ne Veut instead of the brilliant Kirin J Callinan. Obligingly, I followed, only to be met with roughly three minutes of the lamest horse shit this side of a McDonald’s McRib. When you hear the words, up and coming New York producer, there’s an inherent hope that you’re going to witness the next James Murphy. Instead, we were handed a guy that wanted to be Drake so badly, despite not showcasing any of the capabilities that gives the mirage of Drake being good. Instead, there was over-the-top theatrics with absolutely no pay off. Its like the Titanic soundtrack being performed by a white Lil’ Wayne. Autre Ne Veut wants to put so many random brands all into the one performance, whilst holding it under the banner of ‘synergy’. If he were an Office Space character, he’d be the boss. It was time to leave after Autre Ne Veut graduated from kneeling on the floor to standing in a Jesus Christ pose on the PA.

Back to Kirin J Callinan on the main stage, and he’s putting on a performance worthy of such a title. He stands defiantly, wearing an Eddy Merckx cyclist jersey, he swarms through his material from his EP’s and debut record ‘Embracism’. Whilst most might know him for his challenging music that puts all genres in a melting pot to come up with something infinetely more progressive than whatever Autre Ne Veut is pushing, the stand outs from the set where his more 80’s tunes. Think of The Boys Next Door, The Triffids, Killing Joke and Echo & The Bunnymen, then fast-forward a few decades, where Tony Abbott rules with an iron, hypocritical fist. Replace Nick Cave with a taught, beady and charisma-reeking frontman, and you’ve got the Kirin J Callinan project. Diverse and entertaining as anything, ‘Landslide’ and ‘W II W’ were particularly testicle-wringingly good. And the fact he’s got the perfect 2GB radio host voice, and an affinity for shirtless-ness makes his performances all that more enthralling.

Here’s something that I’m sure a lot of people would like to know-King Krule has got fucking nothing on Run the Jewels. Whilst my ginger compadre sways with the mediocre, Killer Mike and El-P put on one of the most memorable festival sets I’ve ever seen. There’s nothing bad to say about Run the Jewels, and really, the only thing that can be sad is that you need to go see this group and download their album right now (it can be done for free and legally right here). Watching the group, it was impossible to not get swept up in the hype and joy that they machine-gunned from the stage. They wrought the crowd happily weak with their tracks from their only record and solo albums, with songs like ‘Sea Legs’, 36″ Chain’ and the closer of ‘A Christmas Fucking Miracle’ causing the audience to lose their shit with the most fabulously stupid grins sported on their faces.

As if their hyper-speed music wasn’t enough on record, the flawless verses of Killer Mike, a combination of the old-school Big Boi and new school of Rick Ross, were executed to perfection. El-P more than held his weight, running his own verses around the crowd like he was lassoing them into a hip-hop cult. And the stage banter! Never have I laughed like I laughed at this show. If Killer Mike and El-P ever feel like giving up on hip-hop, then stand up is there fallback. Never has the repeated phrase of ‘SWAG’ sounded so glorious.

Finally, Run the Jewels were so special because there is an intensely strong bond between these two rappers. Although so different fro the outside, they share the characteristics of completely genuine people, both on stage and with each other. The professional and personal courtesy they share is what makes great musical acts, not just in hip-hop, but across all musical genres. If you want to see entertainment at it’s highest order, go to a Run the Jewels show.

After being fantastically bombasted in the first set of the day that forced me to dance and throw up my hands in the fist ‘n’ pistol sign, Dick Diver was scheduled to bring things down to a normal pace. Unfortunately, this was easier said than done. Although Dick Diver have released two stellar records, and are now considered one of the forerunners of Australia’s musical scenery, technical issues prevented them from showcasing their talent. Whilst Al Montfort’s bass was considerably fucking up, Steph Hughes tried to keep the dwindling crowd with a bit of banter, and an impromtu ‘Guess That Riff!’, although eventually she resigned that ‘…maybe we should just play something?”. With the blistering heat and the lack of music, Dick Diver unfortunately lost a hefty portion of the crowd.

But those who stayed were infinitely rewarded as the band went through their slacker pop classics like ‘Calender Days’ and ‘Through the D’. Pretty much a perfect cure to being molested by energy from the Run the Jewels set. Dick Diver are definitely a band to cherish, and its a solid bummer that there weren’t more people that had faith enough in the band that they could come back from the technical fuck ups.

Perhaps I got too accustomed to the lack of being crowded at Dick Diver, because xxyyxx became too much. The music itself is almost perfect electronic music. One cannot underestimate how good xxyyxx really is, and live, the man is a soul-train of glitchy, R&B infused ambience. However, the crowd at the performance was too harrowing. There was no room to move or dance, and the stifling nature meant that you either saw xxyyxx or you placed yourself in a position of minor comfort. Eventually, it was a better option to sacrifice the visual element for the audible element, but it would’ve been nice to see how these magnificent tunes unfolded.

On the other hand, Daughter were a band that were able to be enjoyed in a comfortable environment that will be referred to from now on as Laneway-esque. This Laneway-esque environment is one of complete leisure. You know those scenes in movies where people are lying in hammocks in a tropical paradise? Fuck that. Give me a sprawled lawn, and Daughter playing their hazier-than-thou tunes that smother (PUN!) you in smiles, any day over that. Stunning.

Following a set of dripping gorgeousness, it was time for the exact opposite: Parquet Courts. Along with this band came the only clash of the day-see some stoner punks from Brooklyn, the jaw-dropping Kurt Vile or the hyped and mind-blowing Jagwar Ma. Decisions, decisions! However, the correct choice of Parquet Courts was made. After a shaky intro, they launched into what was basically a greatest-hits set of Sonic Youth and Pavement-owing garage rock. ‘Borrowed Time’, ‘You’ve Got Me Wonderin’ Now’, and of course, ‘Stoned and Starving’, with some lesser-knowns like ‘Donuts Only’, ‘Careers in Combat’ and They blew through song after song, building each two/three minute track into a tiny pedestal of amazing. They attached themselves to their instruments, attacking them with a ferocity that’s hardly ever seen these days.

With their instruments in tow, the members bended and shook the fabrications of garage rock, throwing their tools around the stage, trying to get that perfect squeal of feedback. It’s this sort of mentality that made it seem like every member was completely enthralled in their own thing, yet the magic of Parquet Courts is how they manage to tie it all down. Although each instrument sounds like its cartwheeling off on a mushroom-laden adventure, the effect is a giant Phil Spector wall of sound that contains a million little melodies. It’s like this on record, but that’s more than one could hope for in the flesh, right? But Parquet Courts pulled it off, and they did it with every-man flair, like they just walked from the bong-ozone after doing an eight hour shift at the local deli. It also helps that their guitarist looks a lot like Thurston Moore. Parquet Courts are one of the best guitar bands of the present age, so go see them this Wednesday at The Standard.

So Parquet killed it, and that was almost expected, but the big surprise of the day apart from Run the Jewels, was HAIM. I love HAIM quite a bit, but there wasn’t the mindset that they’d turn out to be the foul-mouthed, crowd-adored bombasters that they were. God, after seeing HAIM, not only was I enthralled with everything about them, but I wanted to be the drummer in their band. I can’t play drums, but you know I’d fucking learn if it meant getting to hang with the three coolest sisters on the planet.

HAIM have basically done what no other artist has been able to do. They signed to a major right off the bat, got a bunch of meaningless press done by Rolling Stone, NME and Spin, and then put out an album that had no choice but to be heralded. However, these are all very behind-the-scenes occurrences, and a bit of my mind was certain that it was all this elaborate studio ruse, and HAIM actually fucking sucked.

I was so, so wrong. On stage, the sisters strike a resemblance to a sassy Led Zeppelin that’s been shrouded in California sunshine and immersed in Kanye West songs. They were flawless, and I’m sorry I ever derided them in passing. There is nothing but good things to be said about the band’s set. From the versatility and expertise executed musically, to the loud confidence that rubs off from the girls, HAIM are probably one of the most proficient bands around. But that’s not all. They’re music was made to be shouted back by thousands of adoring fans, and its not some sort of flavour of the month bullshit. ‘The Wire’, ‘Falling’, and ‘Don’t Save Me’ are just a few of the songs in HAIM’s set that proved that the band are more than worthy of headliner status. In fact, every song HAIM played seem to just cause the crowd, and myself to swoon even more. The plan was to just catch 20 minutes of the set, but they forced me to stay for the majority. Absolutely fabulous and unique band, live and on record.  Everyone should take this as evidence to go and get their album, immediately.

Oh, and for all those wondering about those rumours of Baby Haim having a weird bass face…totally true.

It was weird then, that after an unexpected high from HAIM, Danny Brown put on a strange performance. There was nothing inherently wrong with what Danny did on stage. He was unsurprisingly charismatic, but he seemed a bit tired, as though he was struggling with what he had to do. There were the trademarks of course-KISS tongue, childish giggles and a constantly swishing frizz of hair. And his actual proficiency on a microphone is uncontested. But, although the vibes emanating from the stage were forceful, there wasn’t the complete joyousness in the air that accompanied Run the Jewels.

Regardless of whatever cosmic uncertainty I was feeling,  Danny Brown’s set proved to be an exercise in rap fertility. The crowd were in a completely rambunctious state, crowd surfing becoming a norm, and dead-set moshing occuring. Perhaps it was the propensity for air-horns in Danny Brown’s music, the anthemic structure of his songs (‘Kush Coma’ and ‘Dope Song’ proved to be riotous), or the male dominated crowd. Who knows? But the violence hit an all time high when a fan rushed the stage and got the shit promptly kicked out of him by security, the DJ and Danny Brown’s Samuel L. Jackson look-alike bodyguard. Meanwhile, Danny didn’t miss a beat onstage. In summarisation, it was the abundance of attitude and ego that killed an otherwise glorious performer. After seeing someone get fucking thrashed so nonchalantly, it was hard to enjoy ‘Dip’ with the drugged out glamour it deserved, and not even the forest of blunts could rectify the unease.

After Danny’s personally divisive set, Savages took the stage. Unfortunately, there weren’t a whole lot of people there to experience the greatness that is Savages-on the main stage was the all-conquering Lorde, whilst Earl Sweatshirt apparently dominated the Future Classic stage. That didn’t leave a whole lot of audience open to check out some furious all-female post-punk from London. On the plus side, it meant that only the loyal showed up, and Savages put on a performance that none would soon forget.

Jehnny Beth is an intimidating character, and as she worked through tracks from Savages’ debut record, she struck a pose that was a cross between a glaring Siouxsie Sioux and Jello Biafra during Dead Kennedy’s most fuck-you period. Whilst hits like ‘No Face’, ‘Husbands’ and ‘I Am Here’ threw themselves at the audience with blistering conviction, swirling mist covered the band, and the witching hour time slot made Savages’ set appear to be some kind of soundtrack to a cult gathering in a Glasgow marsh. If Merlin was a post-punk fan, Savages would be his favourite group.  The intimacy and furiosity offered by the band was second to none, and you really couldn’t help but be completely mesmerised by their dark, strutting majesty.

The most impressive factor of the band however is their ability to warp the dynamics of their songs until it feels like your very existence depends on whether Gemma Thompson can explode that guitar riff over bass players Ayse Hassan’s grumbling, treacle-lined bass lines. Within a few bars, Savages can switch between soaring heights and crushing lows, bringing the crowd into a frenzy they didn’t even know possible, showcased most effectively with the massive and bitter ‘She Will’ and the audience captivating ten-minute closer of ‘Fuckers’. By the end, everyone was so immersed in the music, when Beth asked for the crowd to inhale, and think of one fucker they hated, you could hear the punters thinking of that fucking dipshit that belonged six feet under. Jesus Christ, Savages are both brutal and intelligent, a dichotomy of the highest order. Give yourself to this band, and let them take you on the savage ride that your mind needs.

So, nothing could top Savages right? Well, Cloud Control basically took the viciousness of the previous band, and turned it into the most joyous and enthralling sets of the festival. The musicians, who are younger than Shia La Beouf is in Transformers, put on the most youthfully intoxicating set imagineable. Every track was sung with a belief and authenticity that would make Prince quake in his boots. There was more jumping involved in Cloud Control’s domination of the main stage than a yoga festival invaded by bull-ants.

So Cloud Control were super hyper and amazingly warm on stage? Cool man, but what about the music??? Well, they’ve got an EP and two albums to their name, but their 45 minute set was more greatest hits than collection of singles mixed with other shit. Seriously, not a bad song in the bunch, and because of this, the crowd would have done anything to continue the concert. Even the songs that seem more refined on record exploded on stage, ‘Scream Rave’ becoming an elated gospel track, and ‘Island Living’ literally detonating with Alastair playing his guitar solo with a sparkler attached to his guitar. WHAT THE ACTUAL FUCK!?

So, with the polite tunes ramped up to considerable party levels, it only left the actual party songs to disappear into the heathens of amazing. ‘This Is What I Said’, ‘Meditation Song #2’ and closers ‘Scar’ and ‘There’s Nothing In The Water We Can’t Fight’ became staples of happiness amongst a crowd that simply couldn’t stop dancing and smiling, Cloud Control soundtracking the perfect hippie night of innocent debauchery. Oh yeah, did I mention that pulled off a fucking perfect cover of the Butthole Surfers ‘Pepper’ in the middle of ‘Gold Canary’? That thought alone gives me shivers. The fucking Surfers!? With ‘Gold Canary!? Jesus Christ, clean up on Aisle 12.

After one of the most spectacular performances, Unknown Mortal Orchestra finished off the night. Technically, I caught a bit of The Jezabels and Four Tet, but really, the most realistic conclusion point was with Unknown Mortal Orchestra’s flooring set. In terms of technical psychedelic guitar playing, UMO shit all over Tame Impala. Watching Ruban Nielson turn the guitar into whatever he wanted it to be, bending out sounds and then trampling on them within a quaver, was majestic.

On record, UMO come across as a plain-ish band, revelling in their simple fairy psych-pop for critical damage. However, when witnessing that sort of shredding on stage, and pairing it with the wholesome falsetto of Nielson, you’d be forgiven if you shat your pants in amazement. Massive hits like ‘Ffunny Friends’ and ‘So Good At Being In Trouble’ mingled amongst lesser known tracks that wrought awesome on all involved. Generally speaking, the audience was being immersed in the best psychedelic performance to hit Sydney in absolutely ages.

In short, Laneway is the most musically diverse, artistically progressive, and forward-thinking festivals on the music market right now, possibly on a global scale, considering Laneway’s success in Detroit last year. Going to festivals is usually fun, but Laneway take it to another level. They nurture and comfort the average punter in ways that the bigger festivals could never hope for. Not only is Laneway thoroughly enjoyable, but its fucking necessary, an event so enjoyable it leaves a post-festival void of emptiness in your heart.

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3 thoughts on “Gig Review: Laneway Festival

  1. Awesome round-up of Laneway! Sounds like you got your money’s worth and saw a bit of everything. I agree that the Laneway organisers are very forward thinking. I was stoked to see bands that released 3 of my favourite albums of last year play the one festival. When’s that ever going to happen again?

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