And so we arrived again at Laneway fest, the once-little fest that is now a big one and a permanent fixture on the calendar. With a forecast max of 35 degrees we thought we’d have the run of the place arriving early, but the queues on entry it was immediately apparent that the depth of the lineup was lost on no-one.
As per last year, the site is significantly bigger than at first and is all the better for it while still retaining a touch of ‘concrete jungle’ due to the proximity. The additional room has been lined-to-the-gills with additional bars and food vans (seemingly every one in Melbourne was there on Saturday) meaning that the steady improvement in punter experience is continuing. The long walk to the ‘main’ Dean Turner stage is a bit of a pain if you’re moving in and out but thankfully the scheduling means that (for me at least) there is little reason to head down there with the more interesting acts on the other 3 stages.
So let’s talk about the music…
First up was Peter Bibby, hollering out some Australiana and being supported on drums by Nick Allbrook of Pond (because he’s clearly not in enough bands already!). It was unfiltered and ocker storytelling but a bit rough and raw for my liking. A walk back to the Moreland Street stage to see Raury was against the tsunami of people flooding down for Highasakite, but a worthwhile move as the 18 year old in a hat played with the swagger of a stadium-filler. He moves on stage like a headliner, and oozes charisma: one to watch, he’ll definitely be in front of bigger crowds in years to come as he hones his sound. Dragging myself away after about 20 minutes I headed to watch Eagulls, who played a somewhat underwhelming set; a pity given the quality that they have to work with from their debut album. I was expecting more nervous energy. A quick hop down to the Future Classic stage and we caught a couple of songs from SOHN, who sounded absolutely fantastic and whom we should have seen more of.
A quick lunch and we caught a few songs of Ratking, whose low-fi hip hop fit the time of day pretty well, but it was Benjamin Booker who drew us back down to the main stage. Well, half way down, as the lure of the riverside cider bar and big screen proved too much for legs that were already feeling the heat. It was a good set, drawing on some pretty good source material from his 2014 album, but never came close to drawing us closer to the front. Inspired by the constant NPR-hype directed towards them, we moved back to the mistletone stage to catch Perfect Pussy who were…. kind of awful. They have a pretty good stage presence, and by their complaining it seemed that there were some problems with the sound (which was admittedly pretty shite for everyone I saw on that stage all day), but it really wasn’t all that far removed from what their album sounds like. I just can’t get into them, their good press feels like a big case of music-reviewer groupthink and all the pretentious reviews that focus on their lyrics do nothing to disprove that, given that you can’t actually discern a single word over their entire album.
Anyways, I don’t write these things to rubbish bands, and things were about to take a big uptick as we went to see Vic Mensa, who had a huge crowd absolutely frothing before he even set foot on stage, thanks to a pretty sharp ‘warm-up’ from his DJ. It didn’t slow down much from there when he hit the stage and he put on a hyper energetic set that was up until then definitely the set of the day. Moving across a mix of styles, it pumped some much needed party-vibes into the day and really heralded the point where things stepped up to the next level.
Jungle turned out my gig-of-the-year when they hit the corner last July, so it’s fair to say my expectations of their set were pretty high. Somehow, they’ve gotten even better since then and they turned out the unequivocal highlight of the day with a barnstorming performance that left the entire crowd a sweaty, rabid mess. They have the ability to turn album tracks into pure crowd energy and it means that by the time they drop their ‘big’ tunes it sends the place into rapture. Drawing a huge crowd, by the time they got to the business end of the set and finished with ‘Busy Earnin’ and ‘Time’ the audience where we were was hooting, screaming, and generally going absolutely bug fuck. One of the best shows I’ve seen any place, anytime.
After regaining our composure we headed down to see Rustie rinsing out a great trap-style set on the Future Classic stage and then took a few minutes to relax while contemplating the horror clash of Jon Hopkins vs Caribou. Jon Hopkins made space and time converge at Meredith 2013 and I had a feeling that if I saw the start of the set, I’d never leave and would miss Caribou, themselves a fantastic live outfit and touring a new album that I hadn’t seen live. In the end, I managed the best of both worlds and saw most of both.
To see Jon Hopkins perform is to both question and re-evaluate what one defines as music and the sensory impact of sound. After the ‘being-one-with-the-experience’ situation at Meredith there was always a bit of lingering doubt as to whether our enjoyment was somewhat aided by the cover of darkness and all that Friday night at Meredith brings. Thankfully, his performance at Laneway was every bit as arresting as the last time. He went pretty hard from early on, and drew the crowd in immediately. The ~30 minutes I saw felt like about 5 as the sounds bent and shifted, washing through the crowd and drawing a pure visceral response for the awe-struck audience. I heard that by the end of his set he’d been given the Golden Plains ‘shoe’, which is a little odd but I can understand how after the full hour you’d be looking for something, anything, to express what you just went though.
With weary legs I bolted up to Caribou to catch the last few minutes of daylight and caught the second half of the epic ‘Our Love’ tune. A brilliant live outfit and armed with arguably their best record yet, they put on a compelling stage show: dressed in white and forming almost a circle. Most importantly, they take some great left-of-centre tunes and rework them into an incredibly cohesive (and often bangin’) live arrangement. The new stuff sounded exceptional (Mars was soooo good), but the biggest reception came for Odessa and the obligatory 8 minute closing version of Sun that shot things into the stratosphere. A set so good that it would have been the highlight of the day if not for the unbelievable quality beforehand.
I was a bit worn out after that, and while St Vincent was pretty awesome in a future-pop way she never quite grabbed me as much as I would have liked; I suspect it was more me than her though. Still, there’s no one out there doing anything that’s similar to her and that’s pretty damn cool. Rattlesnake was wicked. I ducked down to see Banks to finish off the night and while she had a massive crowd, she seemed to lack the arresting stage presence that would have really nailed it. The sound was pretty rubbish where I was too, which didn’t help. Still, finishing her set with Beggin’ for Thread I realised what an amazing pop song it is. You could see it topping the charts for weeks if performed by Rhianna, or similar…
15 bands, 10 hours, tired legs. Chalk that down as another massive win for the St Jerome’s crew.