Festivals are a dying business right? Too few decent headliners and a crowd fatigued with corporate greed and substandard production.
Not quite, because in amongst the ubiquitous aging international love-fests there are still people who want to listen to new exciting music – outside, in the company of their peers.
This is where Laneway comes in, and despite the mid-winter conditions, the sell-out crowd assembled at Sydney’s Rozelle Art College are in for something special.
After protest about 2012’s overcrowding, the two main stages appear to have been shifted to accommodate an every increasing number of festival-goers. This brings some well-appreciated space to the proceedings, but sheer numbers make catching everything in one day a little trickier than in recent years.
Kicking things off early are Scandinavian poster boys Kings of Convenience on the Park Stage. Their lo- fi Balearic pop is chilled but never lightweight, adding a sense of warmth between the showers, with acute renditions of ‘I Don’t Know What I Can Save You From’ and ’24-25’.
Twerps bring their own take on laidback guitar music next, adding a small dash of rock to the milling crowds patiently waiting out the rain in a beer queue of biblical proportions that surely must have been a major downside for many.
Polica have been described by Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon as the best band on the planet, and their subtle lo-fi vibes share a lot in common with the folk rock heroes. It’s nice but never going to grab you by the throat, despite a great attendance and genuinely enthusiastic head nodding.
One of this year’s big draws was always going to be Alt-J, winner of Britain’s Mercury Music prize and darlings of the rock press. Technically brilliant, they easily have the biggest crowd of the day so far, and for a band with so little experience the world seems to be eating out of their hands almost immediately.
Like so many over publicised new acts however, it’s difficult to determine where the hype ends and the star quality begins. It’s not that the musicianship doesn’t excite or the songs aren’t catchy, but Alt-J never really seem to ‘let go’, as if over-believing their own popularity as they whisk through ‘Tesselate’, ‘Breezeblocks’, and the brooding grind of ‘Fitzpleasure’.
One of the highlights of the day has to be West Country songsmith Jessie Ware. All clichés aside, it’s not often you get the opportunity to see a star at the very beginning of their trajectory, but this feels like one of those moments.
Despite little coverage on these shores and only one album to her name, there is a definite sense of occasion to her set. It’s all right time-right place for tonight’s performance as an immaculately coiffured Ware showcases her incredible vocal range to a more than receptive crowd.
Despite some dodgy dancing by indie kids trying to be ‘street’, this is an incredible set. When she breaks into ballad ‘Wildest Moments’ there is barely a dry eye in the house and by the time she reaches her hit ‘Running’, it seems every male in the place is bellowing the lyrics back at her.
There is definitely a buzz around Japandroids and their appearance on the Courtyard Stage is certainly well attended. If primal rock is your thing then this is the place to be, with the Canadian duo smashing it with only guitar and drums.
Its loud, its sweaty, and it seems to be what the spectators need after an afternoon of chilled vibes. Shirts off a-plenty and stage diving are the order of the day as the other big draw of the day, Flume, makes himself known over on the Future Classic stage.
Dance music is apparently on the comeback, but nobody told this crowd it ever went away. The 22-year-old producer/peformer is the boy wonder everyone is talking about and his ability to reference his genre’s rich past without defaulting to cheesy EDM nonsense is refreshing.
Rock n roll and energy normally go hand in hand, but Flume’s set of live electronica makes the guitar heroes look like dinosaurs no matter how much sweat and tattoo ink they can throw at the festival’s population. Not just for the kids, here’s the future of music and it’s from a local lad too, making the whole thing that much more memorable.
Then it’s time for headliner Natasha Khan of Bat for Lashes. Sure, Laneway is about new bands, complete with mistakes and ramshackle energy, but when a seasoned pro like Khan takes to the stage – the effect is immediate.
Flanked by huge screens magnifying her immaculately groomed stage persona, Khan delivers in spades. Classics like ‘What’s A Girl To Do?’ and ‘Daniel’ mingle with new material from the latest Bat For Lashes opus The Haunted Man – clearly what a headliner should deliver: widescreen power pop with a quirky edge, backed up by a proper revue ensemble.
It’s clear that all in attendance are witnessing an artist at the height of her powers. Dazzling with melodrama on striking opener ‘Lilies’, then stripping back for a massive sing-along of ‘Laura’.
Once again Laneway does not fail to live up to its reputation, putting the mega-corporate festivals to shame with authenticity, surprises, and – most importantly – a vital energy that seems to be so missing from the world of aging rocker headlined events.
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