As the Australian leg of the St Jerome’s Laneway Festival starts this weekend - hello Adelaide on Friday and Sydney on Sunday – here’s a double hit of Laneway reviews, a decade apart.
The area got bigger, the sound got louder, the t-shirts a bit tighter (for some of us anyway) and a few competitors fell by the wayside. But some things remained pretty much as they always were. Read on, and maybe see some of you on Sunday.
Circular Quay, March 4
Every festival is good and bad in its own way.
The Big Day Out has scale and variety but can punish with dusty heat and over simulation. Good Vibrations is cruisier and groovier but can have long dull patches if you're not in the "hands in the air" mood.
Homebake is homelier but also has a surfeit of teenagers drunk/high for the first time.
The Laneway Festival, having its second Sydney run, shows its Melbourne origins in its name as Sydney doesn't really do "lanes" as such, not as lively living spaces the way Victorians do.
However, by taking over a CBD space near Circular Quay with a small park, two narrow sections of road and the Basement venue, the organisers have done the next best thing.
As such, the chief calling card of Laneway is its more intimate feel. The three stages and DJ area are only a few hundred metres walk away from each other and attractively set, with the main Park stage framed by giant leafy trees and the Reiby Place stage dramatically squeezed between two tall office towers.
The crowd is small and less frenetic (I'd guess the average age would be 10 years older than the BDO's 17-18) and the indie rock-dominated lineup wander about the site just like any other punter after their sets.
The trade-off for such a site is that volume at the two outdoor stages is quite muted. While this arrangement presumably avoided EPA issues, it meant for example you could only hear the Sleepy Jackson properly if you were within the first 10 rows in Reiby Place, while the excellent power pop of Swedes Peter, Bjorn & John never really grabbed hold mid evening under the trees.
The most successful of the outdoor sets were by artists who trade more on intimacy anyway, such as Glasgow's fans of '50s and '60s pop, Camera Obscura, Irish folkie Fionn Regan and early sets by locals Holly Throsby and Dan Kelly.
Inside the Basement where sound rang loud as it threatened to turn into a sweatbox all hot, sticky day, it was the psych rock of Ground Components and the intense wall of sound of Archie Bronson Outfit which impressed and left the much talked about Walkmen and Love Is All, who played outdoors, looking very limited indeed.
Despite the flaws, for its intimacy and ease, - and love of indie pop - I hope the Laneway Festival sticks around. Just one thing though: maybe next year they could expand on the food options a tad.
College of the Arts, Rozelle. February 4
Some things do not make sense from a distance, or even the morning after.
How is it that at times during his highly entertaining, penultimate main stage set, Nick Murphy - the producer/singer/electronic soul artist formerly known as Chet Faker - sounded more rock ‘n’ roll than Tame Impala - ostensibly a psychedelic rock band but often enough a trippy, quasi-electronic dance band - which followed him?
Was anyone not there going to believe that agit-prop hip hop duo, A.B. Original, whose cracking 2016 album Reclaim Australia was anger personified, had the most entertaining, sometimes even light-hearted, set of the day?
What would sensible folk say if told that the none-more-Aussie Aussieness of Dune Rats (“thanks for sticking around to watch us you cunts” were the exuberant first words to the milling/moshing/munted crowd) made deliberately dumb – but deceptively smarter - cartoon punk rock plenty more enjoyable to people no longer popping pimples than the oh-so-cool pop groove of English press darlings Glass Animals?
And really, is there any way to explain how D D Dumbo, who mixes ‘80s high bass funk jazz, ’70s art pop and a voice like a much-mocked, seriously uncool former singer of The Police could pull an even larger crowd than the indie rock all-ticked-menu of Car Seat Headrest? And deserve it.
It all may be as hard to explain as how a long, long day and night of high heat, thick humidity, understrength Mojito in the Cuban bar/overpowering ganga at the Future Classic stage, and more glitter on faces and bodies than a five-year-old‘s disco princess party, was a seriously fun time.
More successfully varied and more consistently rewarding than last year, Laneway didn’t just balance the shouty charisma of White Lung and the heartland rock of Gang Of Youths with the developing hip hop soul of Sampa The Great and the neuroscientist electronica of Floating Points.
Or just give the polite pop and efficient musicianship of Whitney as much room as the esoteric rock and flamboyant musicianship of Tash Sultana.
In a sense that’s music festival 101, the least we can expect.
What Laneway does for extra credit though is make that balance as comfortable, as natural, as the balance in the crowd, which you might assume is the home of 20somethings but actually contains at least 25 per cent 40something (and up) adventurers.
A place where everyone can see this t-shirt slogan (worn by a full-figured gentleman enjoying his second youth): “make awkward sexual advances, not war”, and know this at least makes sense.