Words by: Anthony Worrall
The 2016 incarnation of St. Jerome’s Laneway Festival seemed to be an entertaining day for all, with a multitude of acts spanning varying genres catering for punters with all sorts of tastes. As such, seeing every act of the day would be almost impossible, and this piece instead focuses on the acts this writer managed to see.
After arriving at the Fremantle Esplanade at around 12:30 on a perfectly sunny day, the first act I saw was Methyl Ethel, a local psych-rock trio, starting at 12:40 on the Ferris Wheel Stage. While the festival didn’t seem particularly busy until a few hours later, the turnout for them was impressive, thankfully showing the level of support for local talent even when more internationally well-known acts are on the bill. Those that turned out for Methyl Ethel would not have been disappointed either, as they delivered a brilliant set filled with enthralling, dynamic psych jams. 2014 single ‘Rogues’ was a particular highlight.
Straight after the conclusion of that set, Canadian indie pop duo Majical Cloudz kicked off their own at 1:20 at the Ferris Bueller Stage, right next door. Their music, usually fairly sombre in nature on their records, took on a slightly different and more enchanting tone when performed, and created a hypnotic set where their minimalistic style was matched by their clean-cut attire, with both of them wearing a black t-shirt tucked into black pants.
Next up, on the Mistletone Stage at 1:50, were New York City rock band DIIV, who were touring the release of their second LP ‘Is The Is Are’, released nine days prior to their performance in Perth. Balancing material from the new release and their debut album, ‘Oshiin’, they played a pulsating yet relaxing set that mirrored their ‘wall of sound’ approach to production and instrumentation on their records, and had the impressive chemistry of a cohesive band required (despite their former drummer Colby Hewitt leaving the band in 2015 due to drug issues) to pull it off, with swirling shoe-gaze guitar riffs, driving bass lines and the melodic tones of frontman Zachary Cole Smith combining to produce a brilliant, encapsulating performance.
After that, I walked past the Ferris Wheel Stage to see DMA’s, an Australian Brit-pop trio, play the last 20 minutes of their set. While this writer had never heard of them before the day, their set sounded almost exclusively like Oasis cover songs, and while their songs were fairly entertaining and played in a confident fashion, that did not particularly flatter them, no matter how hard their lead vocalist Tommy O’Dell tried to look and sound like Liam Gallagher.
Finally, at 3 on the Mistletone Stage were Los Angeles noise/experimental-rock group Health, who I had been very much looking forward to. Opening with the beginning tracks from their self-titled debut album which contained their noisiest material, they wasted no time in demonstrating how unlike every other act on the bill they are. While the tracks from their first and second albums showcased the experimental and almost hardcore-electronica side of their discography, the material from their latest album, 2015’s ‘Death Magic’, was the most suited to a live context, due to intense and poppy tracks such as Stonefist and Life being more (well, comparatively) uplifting than their older material.
Once Health had finished, I quickly sprinted to the Future Classic Stage (the only stage literally in a laneway) to catch dance artist Shamir, whose set started at 3:30, and borrowed entirely from the material on his debut album ‘Ratchet’ released early in 2015, which really channelled really fun, party vibes, helped in no small part by the use of live instrumentation rather than a backing track. However this also worked in inverse, as for the majority of the set the sound levels wrecked havoc, with the bass and synth levels invasively loud, while Shamir’s voice, upon which the majority of his songs lean on melodically, was far too quiet and lost underneath the rest of the music, which made songs sound far messier and archaic than on record. Even the absolute banger of a song On The Regular sounded far limper as a result. Ultimately, these sound issues led to, in this writer’s opinion, the biggest disappointment of the day, albeit at no fault of the artist.
Afterwards, I saw a brief segment of The Internet, a neo-soul group fronted by Odd Future affiliate Syd tha Kid (Sydney Bennett) at the Ferris Bueller Stage, at 4:40. Sporting a similar setup to Shamir, their Odd Future connections meant that they oversaw a decent turnout, and played a smooth set which was bound to please any fans of their music.
Getting back to the Future Classic Stage by 5:55, I arrived for bass virtuoso/musical genius/seriously coolest person in the world Thundercat and his troupe, which consisted of two ridiculously talented musicians playing keyboard, and on the drums. Borrowing material chiefly from his latest EP that created a more jazzy set than the funk material from his previous work (with the exception of a fantastically jazzy cover of the Kendrick Lamar song Complexion), the three of them served up a serious dose of sumptuous jazz jams for the soul. Thundercat, playing what can only be and only should be described as lead bass, played with unbelievable technique and clever use of a whammy pedal that created a more virtuoso performance than most guitar players could manage in their entire career. Furthermore, the chemistry of the entire band was superb, with various and numerous time signature and key changes pulled off with consummate ease.
Leaving slightly early halfway through Thundercat’s cover of Complexion which genuinely broke my heart, I managed to get to the Mistletone Stage by 6:35 to catch New York City math/experimental-rock trio Battles, who played an engaging set in similar fashion to Thundercat, through three equally talented musicians, albeit in a slightly different musical style. In particular, drummer John Stanier was simply flawless throughout, playing with his trademark crash cymbal sitting about a metre above the rest of his kit. The other two members, Ian Williams and Dave Konopka, were just as metronomic, and remained so despite playing such a wide range of instruments, such as Williams playing two synths either side of him while tapping a rhythm on his guitar. The highlight of the set was their closing song ‘Atlas’, a classic cut from their 2007 LP ‘Mirrored’, which highlighted their collective control over dynamics and tempo.
Afterwards, at last it was time for Grimes. Playing the Ferris Wheel Stage at 7:20 in front of a huge crowd, the Canadian indie-pop/electronica/power-pop juggernaut produced a stage show that was as distinct and unique as her music, and just as unforgettable. Aided by two backup dancers (which were obviously dancing to a routine choreographed by Grimes herself), and an ‘assistant’ who played several differing backup parts such as guitar, bass, synth and vocals, this set should be described as nothing short of fucking NUTS. Playing material entirely from her most recent two LPs, 2015’s ‘Art Angels’ and 2012’s ‘Visions’, the sound was crisp and perfect, and wedged between classic songs such as Flesh Without Blood, Genesis and Venus Fly, her awkward, anxious banter indicated that despite all of the success she has deservedly achieved, she still remains as down-to-earth as ever, yet was unbelievably confident while performing. Not only was the already stellar material delivered in stunning fashion, but her distinct and technically nigh-perfect voice sounded somehow even better in the flesh, with shrill, impressive wails and screams often book-ending perfect pop melodies. Playing the song Scream from ‘Art Angels’, which usually features Taiwanese vocalist Aristophanes doing the vocals, Grimes awkwardly announced that she preferred to sing “the Russian version” of the lyrics, and proceeded to sing the Russian equivalent of Taiwanese lyrics, highlighting just how well-prepared her set was. The lighting was impeccably done too, with intense shades of purple and green enough to put the Joker to shame. Overall, it was an amazing set by an amazing artist at the very peak of her talent. The one low point of the absolute euphoria I felt watching Grimes, however, was being able to hear the sound of Beach House’s set from the Mistletone Stage bleed over in between Grimes’ songs.
Straight from that, I literally ran from the end of Grimes’ set to the Future Classic Stage, to see the last half-hour of West Coast rapper Vince Staples, who had started at 7:55. Set up as an MC ahead of a single DJ spinning behind him, the stage was perfect for his intricate, club-friendly hip hop bangers, with the high bass levels complementing his bass-heavy source material. He had the swagger and crowd control of a legendary hip hop artist, despite his relatively recent emergence as an artist, and his material simply reinforced that notion. In particular, paying homage to his West Coast roots, he started a ‘fuck the police’ chant with the crowd about two-thirds through the set, and rarely allowed for a dull moment, book-ending his songs with cocky, cheeky banter, even at times with specific people in the crowd.
Afterwards, the headliners started at 9:10, with Australian house hero Flume playing the Ferris Wheel Stage, Canadian electronic music duo Purity Ring playing the Mistletone Stage, and Glaswegian house music producer Hudson Mohawke lighting up the Future Classic Stage. First, I saw the beginning first half of Flume, who drew what had to have been about 85% of the total population at the festival. The powerful light show for which he has quickly become known for was present, with his production desk covered in lighting, and a screen behind him projecting pretty sweet visuals that matched the music. However my biggest gripe with this is that the lots of lights and pretty visuals ultimately seemed to only exist to cover up the fact that it really just sounded like his songs being played really loudly on iTunes and being crossfaded, despite his intense knob-turning and mouse-clicking. However, his material is always nice to hear played really loudly. He also dropped some new material from his upcoming LP ‘Skin’, which sounded like a stark departure from his more club-friendly bangers self-titled 2012 album, with experimental sounds and more mellow material seemingly calming down the EDM-hungry crowd periodically. However, current Australian #1 single Never Be Like You, with Kai popping by to perform vocals live, was well received, and local electronica vocalist Kučka and the aforementioned Vince Staples also came out for recently release song, Smoke and Retribution. Afterwards I went over to see the last bit of Hudson Mohawke, who produced an absolute masterclass in live EDM music, with a live set-up of synths and a drum kit augmenting his production. The lighting was similarly impressive, with brilliant shades of red & blue complementing intense drops on lusciously produced tracks such as Chimes, and the presence of a live drummer gave a greater sense of dynamics to EDM songs which were incredibly reliant upon them. Afterwards, I went home exhausted yet incredibly satisfied.