With a significant change of venue, a fantastic line up and a number of different themes, this year’s Laneway Festival promised much, and aside from Chvrches being unfortunately unable to play, lived up to expectations.
Early on, the pick of the bunch was easily richly ambient American electro-pop singer Autre Ne Veut. With fantastic soulful music and searching melodies, the act received a great reception early, while their moody stage presence was undeniable. Cass McCombs had a lot of swagger and some pretty slick grooves and his tight band really held it together. Possibly the most eccentric act in Australia at the moment, Kirin J Callinan simultaneously impressed and offended with his characteristic bombardment of pedal effects and his sheer mastery of guitar, complemented by some gravelly in-your-face vocals. Attacking your senses like a sonic boom, Callinan is definitely an acquired taste for some, but his intense stage presence and massive sound won over a number of fans and no doubt added to his growing legend within the darker end of the Australian indie diaspora.
As the day grew on, the bigger acts started to take the stages. Cult singer King Krule not only sounded great, but his highly talented band impressed with some warm jazz-fusion that led to an expanding crowd as his set sunk in. The ridiculous queues at the drinks tent were at the very least treated to some fantastic music courtesy of King Krule and his band’s lush wall of sound. Americans Youth Lagoon were another to win over fans in the early afternoon. The blissful slow build indie music with the strong male falsetto really cut through and punters thoroughly enjoyed the set.
The crowd lapped up US rapper Earl Sweatshirt’s performance with the hilarious on stage banter leading into some pumping rap music with many in the audience actually knowing most of the words. The stage vibes were great and the audience packed in for a huge party. Then young American electronic star XXYYXX blew away the crowd with some intense bursts of melodic beat music, injecting some real life into the hot afternoon with fast danceable grooves. Rising Sydney electronic identity Cashmere Cat then pushed out some crowd pleasing electronic beats, like an up-tempo Flume, although not at the intensity of XXYYXX.
One of the real surprise packets of the show was the serene and euphoric show by British indie band Daughter. The music cast a haze over the audience and the full ambient sound truly enthralled the crowd. Subtle but with rich layers and a calm stage presence, Daughter is truly a band to watch out for in the future.
The story of the day unfortunately was the tech problems besetting Chvrches and leading to the cancellation of their set. The band’s synthesizer apparently stopped working due to the extreme heat on the stage and the band were literally unable to perform. Singer Lauren Mayberry seemed almost on the verge of tears as the band sang an a-cappella version of ‘The Mother We Share’ in the middle of a number of apologies. It seemed a wide range of people came to the festival on the back of their inclusion, so this was a huge disappointment for many, although certainly, through no fault of the band’s.
Thankfully this was followed by perhaps the performance of the day, by Grammy award winning NZ teen prodigy Lorde, who not only had great sound but also was in full form with her hypnotic stage energy. The crowd was completely enthralled and with the fantastic sound mix, solid band, great lighting and first rate performance, this emerging superstar completely lived up to expectations and helped make up for the let down of the Chvrches tech malfunction.
Unknown Mortal Orchestra were actually a little lacklustre aside from one of the coolest tracks of last year, ‘So Good at Being In Trouble’ and a couple of other catchy tunes. Much of the material wasn’t at the same level and the show waned a little as a result. Similarly Kurt Vile, whilst winning over some fans, meandered a little through their slightly stoney set. Frightened Rabbit actually had a decent sound at times, but in the blaring afternoon heat, perhaps their mid-paced indie rock set didn’t necessarily translate as well.
One of Australia’s best live indie acts Cloud Control again failed to disappoint with a huge live set and sound and a great response from the crowd. Finishing on ‘There’s nothing in the water we can’t handle’ was inspired and the band’s on stage energy was at a great level.
Unfortunately Warpaint may have had some minor tech difficulties and whilst the band’s old singles shone out, particularly ‘Undertow’. This certainly wasn’t anywhere near as engaging as their prior Laneway performance or their headline show at Jive a few years back. As final act, their subdued performance wasn’t quite the grand finale to the festival some would have expected.
Finally, whilst not quite perfect with some queue issues and problems with the toilets, the new venue has all but eradicated the overcrowding issues of the City West stages and with consistently good line-ups, Laneway Festival has become a brand with certain longevity and growing reputation organizers can be proud of.
Reviewed by Gavin De Almeida