Some may still be nostalgic for Laneway’s origins, cramped into the nooks and crannies of Melbourne’s CBD, but there’s do denying that the move to the Footscray Community Centre has seen the St. Jeromes’ curated event blossom in recent years.
With no strict ‘main stage’ to speak of, Laneway instead provides a series of hubs and lineups tailored for every kind of genre fanatic, while providing enough open space to make moving from stage to stage a snap.
In fact, the whole event runs rather efficiently. Changeovers are snappy, security is present but never overbearing, toilet and food options are abundant with lines that aren’t too long.
As for the final rogue element of the festival equation, the behaviour of the crowd themselves; the presence of Taco Truck, an on-site ‘vintage’ market, and an ASOS booth should tell you all you need to know about the relatively tame clientele – though there are always exceptions (isn’t that right Mr. Piss-into-a-bottle-and-hurl-it-for-a-laugh!?)
The weather conditions are near-perfect as well, leading to one simple prediction. “This will be a great day for a festival,” chirps Erlend Øye of Kings Of Convenience, who have the (self-imposed) duty of kicking off the day’s proceedings (excluding Triple J Unearthed winner Ali Barter’s satisfying mid-morning set).
It’s been over a decade since the Norwegian duo’s debut Quiet Is The New Loud, unwittingly named the acoustic movement of the early oughties, and as many years for their first ever Australian tour dates; but the pleasant whimsy of Øye and his counterpart, Eirik Glambek Bøe, has dated none.
Though the crowd at the Dean Turner stage is thick with the hum of light chatter, as festival-goers rendezvous and plan their respective routes, the duo don’t seem perturbed to be providing more of a glazed backdrop than an enthralling spectacle.
After a few gentle numbers (and a short pause over their concern for a fainting woman), the twosome introduce a backing band to beef up their fey catalogue.
‘Boat Behind’ benefits most, with an extended disco shuffle that prompts Øye into some humorous dancing (proving his other musical moniker, The Whitest Boy Alive, pretty accurate). They prove a wonderful way to ease into the festival mood.
Seated at the foot of a hill flanked by rose bushes, the River Stage provides a picturesque setting, and Jack Milas – who with Oli Chang forms High Highs – courteously point out as much, “this is easily the most beautiful stage we’ve ever played on.”
Based in Brooklyn, but returning to Australia with a well-honed debut, Open Season in hand, their ambient-hazed delicacies are as shimmering as the water that stretches behind them on the Maribyrnong River, but unfortunately, not as deep.
The warm subtleties of their recorded sound translates to a bit of a lazy, dull hum in the live setting, but forgivably, well suited to the flocks of people loafing and dozing on the hillside.
No disrespect to the drummer that augments the duo, but the thick of four-four beats – a tactful heartbeat on record – translates to a leaden thud on stage, with a bass-heavy mix that fails to accommodate their feather-light atmosphere being partly to blame.
‘In A Dream’ and ‘Open Season’ demonstrate that High Highs posess a confident, crafted sound but their graceful, understated tunes and underwhelming live presence are aimed little at energising a crowd, and they give little back in kind.
It’s a criticism that could also be levelled at Snakadaktal, whose version of dream pop is still taking its damn time to take shape in the live setting, even if the presence of a strong turn-out shows that they’ve built an admirable following.
There’s not much point crucifying a band still so early in their career, with the words ‘talented’ and ‘teenager’ still hovering through every mention of the five-piece (whoops, guilty); but sandwiched between The Men and Cloud Nothings, two bands with far more distinctive sonic appeal, they appear sorely out of place.
By contrast, Perfume Genius – the stage name for Seattle’s Mike Hardeas – does far more with much less.
Opening alone with the quavering vocals and keys of ‘AWOL Marine’, the sawing synth and lightly brushed drums of his bandmates slowly enter the picture.
Though still mostly horizontal, the River Stage’s hillside mob responds receptively to his slow-mo balladry, his torch-lit songs even enticing a small pack to rise and get front and centre without prompt from the timid Hadreas.
The tender ‘Dark Parts’ and haunting ‘Learning’, where he’s squeezed together with bandmate boyfriend Alan Wyffels as a piano duet, are definite highlights amongst the bruised and poignant, yet engaging tunes.
Meanwhile, there’s passion of a less anguished and more angered kind at the other end of the Laneway site, where Cloud Nothings are tearing shreds off the sequestered Eat Your Own Ears Car Park stage.
Against an industrial vista of docking containers and silos, the urban setting is also completely at the mercy of the now beating sun, allowing the rowdiest of head-bangers to let the rays smoulder the alcohol churning in their system.
One circle pit takes turns necking a bottle of Smirnoff, and to their credit, manage to contain their violent shoving to themselves, while the barbed wire alt-rock of Cloud Nothings provide the perfect soundtrack.
Looking every bit the slacker idol with his scraggy locks tumbling out from his snap back cap, Dylan Baldi provides the focal point for their aggressively jagged aural assault, sharpening the fuzzier edges of Attack On Memory.
Even the pure melodies of ‘Fall In’ and ‘Cut You’ threaten to be swallowed whole by lashings of noisy feedback and the sheer turbulence of the quartet’s momentum.
Baldi’s usual punkish snarl is serrated into a shredding howl, particularly on the unrelenting ‘Wasted Days’, where after nine minutes of thrilling ear-battering, the shrieked coda of “I thought/I would/be more than this” drives the more sensitive away in packs.
Those that survive the savage turn are treated to a particularly doom-laden rendition of ‘No Future No Past’, its slow-burn crescendo of brooding guitars and unrelenting rhythm inevitably exploding into a full-blooded rock catharsis.
It’s one of many punctuated moments in a set that proves to be a fiery festival highlight.
For the more commercially sensible, there’s the soulful, stoic rock of The Rubens who bring sing-along selections from their self-titled debut.
Their set (much like their career) is contoured to crowd-pleasing, working through ‘Elvis’, ‘My Gun’ and a fuller if less blues-dappled take of ‘Lay It Down’ with workmanlike vigour.
A spontaneous cover of ‘The Seed 2.0’ by The Roots, complete with a surprise appearance from Melbourne rapper Seth Sentry, is a welcome shock in a robust set.
Though yet to experience the full blown crossover of some of their indie contemporaries, off the basis of Poliça’s live show, it’s not long before they do.
They put a unique twist on studio-honed electropop with two key weapons – the dexturous synergy of twin drummers Ben Ivascu and Drew Christopherson, and the magnetic presence of vocalist Channy Leaneagh.
Her honeyed, partly-digitised singing is gloriously rich, but rather than stand demure in her delivery, she throws herself into her performance, twisting and writhing with each phrase of the group’s effortless grooves.
The polish of ‘Amongster’ and ‘Leading To Death’, along with the inherent charm of their enthralling frontwoman, sees them worming their way infectiously into the crowd’s hearts and feet.
The River Stage’s first sizeable crowd, all stamping in unison, make Poliça look and sound the part of a long-honed festival act, despite being only two years into their career.