With one of the country’s longest-running and most well-organised music gatherings plagued this year by a crowd crush in Lorne and sexual assaults at Tassie’s Marion Bay, we were all waiting for something to go wrong in Byron.
Sure, this third leg served up its own challenge for bands, stage crew and punters alike, the huge storm on the final day threatening to ‘bottle up’ one of the most hotly-anticipated bands from even setting foot onstage. Yet it produced the magical moment of the entire fest, one certainly worth reliving.
There are so many memories worth celebrating after this past week, so step inside North Byron Parklands as we take you through the highlights.
Photos by Nikolai Pajarillo
NEW YEAR’S EVE
Northeast Party House hosting the ultimate summer party
The Melbourne boys have been slowly but steadily bringing their heavy dance beats since 2010, and they kicked things off on the Valley stage to an impressive crowd, driven by Zach Hamilton-Reeves’ deep, punchy vocals. A set sprinkled with old bangers at just the right mosh tempo like ‘The Haunted’, and cuts from latest album Dare, had us jumping until the very end – especially during the fest’s first cover in Blur classic ‘Song 2’.
With security also being extra liberal with the hose and offering sunscreen, there couldn’t have been a better start. The party vibes continued with young Brissie singer-rapper Mallrat, although it took her some time to get into the zone. “Let’s all just have a weird time” she called, and it was one complete with a smooth Drake cover and fresh track co-written with The Belligerents and The Jungle Giants.
Client Liaison decking out the world’s coolest office
Leafy pot plants. Water coolers. An old-school telephone.
By 5:30, the crowd was buzzing as we stood ready to be transported to the synth pop vibes of the ‘90s. Lead singer Monte Morgan was a sight to behold in his spotted print outfit, capturing the spirit of Michael Jackson as he deftly spun around, caught the mic, and delivered more than a few epic slides. He never broke rank with producer Harvey Miller either, pumping move after move in sync.
The show soared as the band opened up two boxes of Foster’s and tossed them into the crowd. Two overly-zealous fans actually made it all the way up into the office, somehow not hurting themselves in the process. Fan-favourite ‘Off White Limousine’ took on a life of its own as two fans danced actually wearing makeshift limos, before final banger ‘World Of Our Love’ off debut record Diplomatic Immunity drove it all home.
Grandmaster Flash showing us that we’ve ‘gotta have faith’
With Kiwi duo Broods having just killed it out there, the sun dipped out of sight as we approached one of the biggest acts of the night.
It was a surreal experience as the opening montage appeared with a voiceover, detailing the legendary DJ’s pioneering efforts with record breaks. While the set strongly harked back to old-school hip-hop beats, it also gave a nod to legends outside the genre with a remix of David Bowie’s ‘Let’s Dance’. The Grandmaster’s tribute to George Michael, looping the absolute classic ‘Faith’, was a particularly emotional moment as punters cheered on and really let loose.
Hot Dub Time Machine proving that rock never dies
The nostalgia path didn’t stop there. Wearing tie-dye and awash in golden light, as well as a psychedelic backdrop of The Beatles, the Sydney DJ paid homage to the rock ‘n’ roll legends with ‘Twist and Shout’. Remixes of Led Zeppelin and Queen classics also went off, before Hot Dub delivered strong dance vibes on more modern gems, particularly during House of Pain’s ‘Jump Around’ and ‘Crazy in Love’ from Beyoncé and Jay Z.
After a party-and-a-half, things went further into overdrive as Client Liaison and the energetic Grandmaster joined Hot Dub up onstage. With the legendary US rapper’s show nearly upon us, it was time for the countdown.
NEW YEAR’S DAY
Childish Gambino ringing in 2017 with a bang
While we were undoubtedly about to be treated to a killer set, we weren’t completely sure how it was going to over in wake of the mixed reception to his new album Awaken, My Love!. Yet all was forgotten when the lights came on and the rapper appeared looking striking in white linen, moving fluidly cross the stage while backed up by his full band’s raw power. Cuts from second record Because the Internet were magical, particularly ‘II. Worldstar’ – which got whole moshpit chanting early – and the fast-paced brilliance of ‘V. 3005’.
However, the set didn’t go down flawlessly either, with the rapper unexpectedly cutting a few songs short. There was also tangible disappointment in the crowd for another reason, with one punter muttering “I just wanted to hear ‘Bonfire’”. Yet, despite those setbacks, Gambino’s remains an act to watch out for as we head into the new year.
City Calm Down becoming ‘Cadow’ and everyone being cool with it
After a sleepy crowd was serenaded by Sydney singer-songwriter Hein Cooper’s resonant tones earlier in the day, the Melbourne four-piece took to the Valley stage. Known for their killer live presence, the quartet took it in their stride when their banner unfortunately furled up early in the gig, embracing their new five-letter band name. The intensity and richness of Jack Bourke’s vocals shone through on ‘If There’s A Light On’, while the group’s brass elements elevated a brand new tune. It was during crowd favourite and highlight ‘Rabbit Run’ when the banner finally fixed itself, a fitting end to a stellar set.
The Jezabels’ Hayley Mary nearly telling a joke about paedophilia
It was nearly 4:00, and the Sydney indie four-piece hit the main stage with plenty of vibe, led by the compelling yet relaxed presence of frontwoman Hayley Mary who was really feeling the music. One of the fest’s biggest highlights came when the vocalist was forced to fill the gap after the sheer heat burnt the laptop out early in their run. While a terrible joke threatened to burst from Mary’s lips, with the whole band urging her not to tell it, a random punter climbed over the barrier to give her one that was much cleaner: “Why does Cinderella always lose a football match? – Because she keeps running from the ball”.
As Mary later admitted to me backstage, “He saved my life.”
Violent Soho throwing toilet paper and it never feeling so good
Earlier in the night Matt Corby delivered a soul-stirring set full of groove, aggressive yet soft vocal lines and an unexpected flute solo, while Perth rockers Pond impressed with their heavy tunes and frontman Nick Allbrook’s psychedelic presence.
Then the Mansfield boys brought the house down. They kicked off the show by throwing a bunch of tinnies into the now-filled Valley moshpit before launching into slow banger ‘How to Taste’, a refreshing change-up from their usual opener in single ‘Like Soda’. Naturally, the set was filled with constant calls for the band to “chuck a shoey”, and in true Aussie style a random punter pulled a thongy onstage, leading man Luke Boerdam remarking enthusiastically that he was “taking one for the team”.
The true highlight was when the band, stage crew and even The Jezabels’ Hayley Mary shot endless rolls of toilet paper straight towards us during ‘Viceroy’, with some wrapping itself comically around guitarist James Tidswell’s neck and guitar.
It was definitely a sweaty affair, and in the best possible way.
The Avalanches playing a better set than at Splendour
11:00 was fast approaching after Soho’s rip-roaring set. More than a few festival-goers were still torn over whether to stay at the main stage for the electronic music veterans, or migrate to the Forest Stage for the alt-rock vibes of The Rubens.
While The Avalanches got the crowd jumping early with the classic ‘Frankie Sinatra’ and ‘Subways’, the top notes and hip-swinging energy handled seamlessly by the bat-wielding Eliza Wolfgramm, they just couldn’t sustain the energy. It was the complete opposite of their Splendour set, with the duo peaking too late in the set.
However, this time round the late night slot definitely improved things, leaving us to look forward to the final day ahead.
THE FINAL RUN
Streams of gig-goers meandered down to the shaded Forest stage on a gorgeous last day to enjoy the awkward hilarity of Gen Fricker and comedic standouts Aunty Donna before the music began. Their lip syncing battles and hilarious version of the Masterchef intro had the entire floor in stitches, and the crowd was completely chilled out as we waited for the first act to appear behind the sampler.
Shura losing it in the best possible way and taking it out on the sampler
“This is probably the first gig I’ve ever played without a denim jacket.”
There’s something compelling about the complex yet simple nature of the UK artist’s music, and this was delivered to its fullest with the atmospheric vibes of ‘Nothing’s Real’ off her debut record. The short set transitioned effortlessly from ‘70s-infused, fast beats to the slow, lilting ‘2shy’, really bringing out the soft purity in Shura’s vocals. Everything came together as we jammed furiously to ‘White Light’, with the artist frantically bashing the sampler until collapsing flat on her back in a wash of emotion.
Tired Lion’s awkward yet hilarious banter hitting an all-time high
Back at the main stage, a sizeable crowd was more than ready for the Perth quartet’s grungy goodness. In between absolute bangers like ‘Desperate’, the slower but just as intense ‘Pretend’, and hot favourite ‘I Don’t Think You Like Me’, the band delivered the wordplay of the fest. Frontwoman Sophie Hopes remarked “We’ve got a bit of a Baywatch vibe going on here” as drummer Ethan Darnell stood up to reveal his bare chest and board shorts to a round of cheers, before later claiming that the Dune Rats were playing a ‘secret show’ somewhere onsite (thanks for the complete stitch-up, Darnell).
Catfish and the Bottlemen actually being able to play in torrential rain
It was only a few hours ago that Ball Park Music delivered a more relaxed set in perfect summer weather, while trombone player Joe “Hopepa” Lindsay from Wellington seven-piece Fat Freddy’s Drop stole the show with his moves and gut-busting solos.
But the storm was yet to come, heavy clouds hanging bleakly over us before the rain finally bucketed down – right before Catfish were supposed to hit the stage.
While some punters fretted over the state of their tent or decided to escape for some much-needed shelter, the now-frozen crowd huddled even closer together in determination. One punter had flown all the way from the UK just to see the band, her eyes locked on the stage while we all shivered and watched the stage crew swarm around with towels.
We had no idea whether it was going to go ahead.
After what felt like a few hours had passed, we were about to lose all hope when they finally appeared, kicking into high gear with new track ‘Twice’. The rain filtering through the lights and onto the crowd, combined with the addictive atmosphere of punters moshing twice as hard, made for the fest’s magical moment.
Despite Van McCann’s mic dropping out, with the vocalist even struggling to say a final thank you as their set was cut short, the band still delivered one hell of a set. They threw everything they had (and at perfect mosh tempo) with songs like ‘Soundcheck’ and older tune ‘Fallout’. What a night.
London Grammar taking us on an emotional rollercoaster
That desperation carried well into fest’s final hours, with huge turn-outs for the last two acts. The British trio struck a particularly moving chord that was at times slow and sombre, others uplifting and powerful. Hannah Reid’s pipes were on point, transitioning between loud and quiet, high and low with a voice control that truly drove the set – and the festival – home.
All told, a brilliant few days of music and, despite a downpour that threatened to end things on a down note, another successful Falls Festival. Despite all the unfortunate circumstances this festival and its punters have had to endure this year, the Byron leg was a strong reminder that it’s still one of our very best.