Words By: Laurent Shervington, Photos: Laura Wells
When I bring up the topic of commercial Australian music festivals with friends, the response is usually one of wistful nostalgia towards the ‘good old days’ (2013 Big Day Out, the very short lived Disconnect 2015 and 2014/2015 Laneway Festival) with an added sneer at recent festival’s focus on Triple-J centred acts, as opposed to the breakout independent acts from the fringes of the internet.
While these opinions are definitely justified to some degree, it’s easy to forget the exuberant and joyous atmosphere that can only be found at Australian music festival – regardless if your belles of the year past were snubbed a spot. That is to say, there’s usually always some gold to be found in side-stages and (dare I say) laneways of the remaining festivals. This year’s Laneway I feel embodied this.
The day started early, with Fascinator kicking off the Spinning Top stage at about half past 11. Located somewhere between the sheen of Ariel Pink and the flanging tones of Pond, Fascinator’s approach to modern psych was jam-driven and sparse, featuring a theremin, tribal percussion and an intriguing Casio Digital Guitar. The arrangements had a lot of room to move and flow, with the lure of rising synth arpeggios drawing a reasonable crowd for so early in the day.
Following on at the same stage, hometown hero Nick Allbrook brought his forays into Bowie-esque glam to the crowd, well, quite literally, as he jumped the barrier to sing karaoke with some stunned punters and long-time friends. Allbrook was joined by James Ireland on synth and drum programming, the two weaving in and out of the Pond frontman’s solo material, with “Advance” being a standout from the 40-minute set.
The folks from White Lung aimed to bring punk energy to early afternoon crowds but ultimately fell short of raising any more than a few committed fists in their barrage-of-heavy bass and guitar, vocalist Mish Way-Barber doing her best to rise the sun-afflicted crowd into a better mood.
Over at the Future Classic Stage, Chicago rapper Mick Jenkins entertained many with his eccentric trap stylings, drawing a committed crowd that sung his hooks and rapped along to many of the tracks off his acclaimed mixtape The Water(s).
Luckily the crowd at Spinning Top had picked up significantly for the lo-fi come rawk stylings of Car Seat Headrest, whose level of energy was about as expected as the band’s choice of covers (“Motorway to Roswell” by the Pixies? Boys Next Door’s “Shivers”?). Opening with “Vincent” and a pounding version of “Fill The Blank” the band unfortunately dodged going back any earlier than 2015 – this was made up by the heartwarming singalong to “Drunk Drivers/Killer Whales”, the obvious highlight in their tight set.
Crowd favourites A.B. Original took to the stage as the afternoon slowly faded, providing old-school boom-bap beats that ensured there wasn’t a still figure in sight. The collaboration between Briggs and Trials is, of course, an extremely important one politically, challenging present-day racist ideologies and providing a much needed voice for Indigenous youth. Hence why it was so encouraging to see people of all ages experience their music and engage with the artists, altogether one of the day’s highlights.
Over at the main stage, festival stalwarts and overall hard-workers King Gizzard and The Lizard Wizard brought a much needed adrenaline shot to an expansive crowd, along with two drummers and three guitarists. As per usual, the band mapped their setlist to the motorik beats of both drummers, playing a selection off Nonagon Infinity and I’m In Your Mind Fuzz but throwing in newer microtonal flirtations “Sleep Drifter” and “Rattlesnake”.
Getting to the sharper point of the night, Floating Points took to the Spinning Top stage to unleash their electronic approach to instrumental rock music, providing an almost flawless 50-minutes of complex compositions, drifting from moments of beauty to chaos with little warning. At the heart of the performance was a huge visualiser in the centre of the stage, displaying green laser line patterns and geometric shapes to the music played. It’s subtle shape forming and shifting was a pure joy to watch, it’s creation no doubt informed by band spearhead Sam Shepard’s neuroscience background. In my mind, simply one of the absolute best sets played at any Laneway festival I’ve attended.
Separated from the bearded baritone on the main stage, Jagwar Ma’s set at the Future Classic stage was to paraphrase a dear friend “the closest you’d likely come to clubbing without actually clubbing”. Thankfully this was realised in the best possible way, with thudding arpeggios and sparse vocals spurring a strong crowd to embrace the night and get down to the dance numbers.
At the stroke of 10 pm, Tame Impala took to the main stage to close proceedings, providing a homecoming performance of hits that would please even the harshest critics (admittedly, I exist here in a vacuum, hoping a song off Tame Impala EP will be played, go about your daily routine unfazed). Early highlights included “Let It Happen” and “Elephant” as warehouse loads of confetti was pumped into the crowd at a fairly consistent rate. Kevin brought out the cheese towards the end of their set, boldly declaring “I truly believe this is Australia’s best festival”, a somewhat sad reality for West Australian’s living in the great festival drought of ’16 (now ’17) but nonetheless probably a sincere slice of optimism from the frontman. Closing with all-time singalong “Feels Like We Only Go Backwards” and “New Person, Old Mistakes” in the eyes of many, the hometown boys could do no wrong.