As UK festivals start promoting the hell out of their annual wild, summer weekends over social media with witty meme graphics and the constant bombardment of ‘Tickets almost sold out! Get yours now (or we’ll tell you to again in an hour anyway)’, the Australian festival season is sadly coming to a close. Alas, the reverse of seasons to this side of the world means Autumn has arrived outside my Melbourne city-view window with grey, rainy days, as the number of festivals plastering their brightly coloured posters around the city dwindles.
Since I arrived in this beautiful country back in November with wide-eyed ambitions of music work experience I have been lucky to attend a surprisingly impressive total of six music festivals (Stereosonic, Falls Festival, Laneway, St Kilda Festival, Soundwave, Groovin The Moo) for work and one for pleasure, Future Music Festival. Big Day Out narrowly misses out on that first list by an hour as I get screwed over by a food van company I was working for, ‘Running On Empty’ if you’re asking, but that’s another story. And by the way, this wasn’t any glamorous backstage work giving Placebo their ‘raspberries, flowers and incense sticks’ (genuine rider request list I found backstage), but cleaning, wrist banding and volunteering, that kind of stuff. And so to the point of this article, to provide an insight to the Australian festivals that IKE’s audience may one day wish to attend or have already been able to enjoy themselves.
Laneway Festival, Melbourne, Saturday 1st February
One of the first out of that list you’d be most interested in hearing about and actually my second favorite of the lot is Laneway Festival. So called because the festival originated from one of Melbourne’s well known Laneways in the city, it is now located in the grounds of Footscray Community Arts Center, a short train journey away, which still features two very cool Laneways either side of an old railway that runs right through it.
If you’re a die-hard Indie kid maybe teetering on a little hipster, this festival is the one for you. The bright, blue sky and hot, summer sun definitely helped for the occasion but what also felt special about this festival is that they book the cream of the crop when it comes to the next big things in Indie talent.
Starting my day at 10am as a volunteer, I was one of those guys at the gate that puts your flashy wristband on whilst dealing with a whole range of wrist sizes and hoping it’s not tight enough to restrict your blood flow.
During my break I buy a white festival vest and catch a glimpse of post-punk band Savages playing the last songs of their moody set with front woman Jehnny Beth stalking the stage all dressed in black and calling into the microphone with her haunting vocals.
More wristbands and a further application of sun cream later and 3.30pm marks the moment I get to finish volunteering and skip away like a giddy schoolboy to see all of the bands I want to see on the same stage, including my favorite new band, Haim!
I purchase a fresh pint of Koppaberg cider and make my way through the masses to the Dean Turner stage to find one of the most liveliest crowd’s of the day taking in Melbourne man of the moment, Vance Joy. Just last weekend on Australia Day it was announced that Vance Joy’s biggest hit to date, ‘Riptide’ had been voted number one in the radio station Triple J’s Hot 100, a countdown of the previous year’s most favorite songs voted for by millions of people all over the world. When Joy thanks his audience for the song’s success with a beaming smile he plays the opening chords of the song on his ukelele and the crowd screams with excitement. As the chorus hits, a mass singalong with thousands of people can be heard in the air, some dancing around with a beer in hand, and you can feel that this is a very special moment and one of the best of the festival.
Next up is Glaswegian trio Chvrches who are plagued with sound difficulties as soon as they step out on stage. As the drummer and keyboardist kick straight into ‘We Sink’, smoke bellowing out on stage, a frustrated Lauren Mayberry is singing into the mic but nothing is coming out across the speakers. The whole sound system cuts out with a snap, the crowd ironically cheers in response and the band leave the stage temporarily defeated. An awkward wait that takes longer than expected follows and thoughts of a newly sacked sound man crosses my mind until they take to the stage once more blasting out their catchy, 80s inspired electro tunes, ending their set with a rousing ‘The Mother We Share’. the petite Mayberry enunciates each lyric beautifully, adding snippets of crowd pleasing banter in between songs
As any well attended festival goer knows, the moment each band finishes it’s your time to take advantage of a moving crowd and get as close to the front of the stage as you can get. I end up four or five people from the front proving a job well done, a Haim hareem fully bunched up and waiting for the first sighting of three Californian girls approaching the stage.
Danielle, Alana and Este take position lined across the front of the stage, showing true talent as musicians and rocking out the hits ‘Falling’, ‘If I Could Change Your Mind’ and a somewhat sped up from my liking ‘Don’t Save Me’ but very enjoyable none the less. Este lives up to her name with equal amounts of bass face and classic stage banter throughout. Later into their performance with the golden sun now setting they let loose with an energetic band jam, making for a highly entertaining set with the crowd loving every moment.
The penultimate act on this same stage is easily the most publicized female singer-songwriter of the moment, 19 year old New Zealander, Lorde. With a couple of fresh Grammy awards and one of the biggest global hits of 2013 ‘Royals’ under her belt she is another must see act of the festival.
She walks out with her trademark flowing brown locks and dark lipstick on to a now black themed stage and heads straight into her set opener ‘Tennis Court’. Performing in the style of a mix between a Gothic songstress and something possessed from The Blair Witch Project she casts spells of haunting electro with erratic body movements and twitching hands reacting to every beat.
The build up to singalong anthem ‘Royals’ should have been a lot greater but somehow it gets slipped into her set as just another song, bringing my accomplished list of acts to see to a close, she confesses that ‘Buzzcut Season’ was written especially for festival moments such as this, cue crowd loudly cheering in approval.
I buy a Hawaiin pizza for dinner and catch bits of headline sets from popular Australian Indie band The Jezabels and finally the all female psychedelic band Warpaint, failing to understand what the fuss is about both and why they’ve been chosen to close the festival.
None the less, four of my favorite new bands all playing one after each other is no mean feat attached with one of the best feel-good vibes I’ve ever felt at a festival, Laneway Festival 2014 was one to always be remembered.
Soundwave Festival, Melbourne, Friday 28th February
Being a cleaner at Melbourne Showgrounds and Flemington Racecourse comes with one huge benefit, access to experience festivals for free whilst being paid to work in the grounds overlooking stages showcasing acts you want to see.
Unfortunately the latter can’t so much be said about the lineup of this year’s Soundwave for myself, but the chance to see the majority of sets from world-class bands such as Biffy Clyro, Placebo and Green Day is still something I appreciate.
Though working in the area directly opposite the two conjoined main stages (not seen this before) is ideal, what isn’t so awesome is having the job of maintaining the cleanliness of three toilet blocks. ‘Oh no, shit, piss, puke and all other sorts of nastiness’ I hear you cry, but surprisingly the worst part of the day was having to sit around in one place whilst checking the toilets at various intervals, extremely boring.
Luckily I didn’t have to encounter much shit, piss or puke at all and the most significant thing that happened was noticing a pair of shoes under a cubicle in a weird position, which didn’t change for what could have been 2 hours so I decided it was time to tell my manager who called medical services to check it out. Quite a funny thing to explain to your manager but I assume that passing out in toilets or even overdosing on drugs in toilets is a common thing at festivals. I think he was alright.
Another bright blue canvas with the sun high in the sky was above us which perfected the scene of 12 stages spread out on the open grounds of Flemington Racecourse, showcasing the best of rock/punk/metal and every genre that’s louder.
I must suggest you check out the promoter of the festival’s twitter AJ Maddah, who definitely isn’t afraid to throw verbal punches back to those flinging insults to him about the festival, quite entertaining.
Coming from the UK where Biffy Clyro are now considered one of our biggest bands and a fully established festival headline act, it was strange to see them take to the stage for a 11.45am set. It was the main stage however and 45 minutes gave them long enough to show the Aussies they mean business.
Opening their set with the thrashing guitars and crashing drums of ‘Stingin’ Belle’ caught everyone’s attention and they had a reasonably sized crowd in front of them.All bare chested at the helm of their instruments and addressing the crowd, it was another pale-skinned Scottish band inevitably joking about the warm weather for this topless trio with 6 rock albums under their belts.Simon Neil’s lively on stage antics of guitar playing intensely and bawling into the mic with messy hair flailing around kept the crowd enticed.
Later on with each main stage alternating, Alter Bridge and Richie Sambora, who I newly discover is a member of Bon Jovi, plays ‘Dead Or Alive‘ in his set, follows with The Living End playing after him.
Now on to a band I do know about, Placebo who’s career started way back in the early half of the 90s are now 20 years into their career, released their latest album ‘Loud Like Love’ last year. The fan base for their set is pretty strong as it’s now 3pm and surely all the punters have arrived.
I do enjoy their set being familiar with their sound, though I’m soon reminded that Brian Malco’s songwriting tends to revolve around choruses where certain words are repeated over and over again which does get a bit tedious. Unfortunately old classics ‘Nancy Boy’ and ‘Teenage Angst’ fail to make the set list cut in this performance.
A Day To Remember and Alice In Chains play either side on stage 2 and 1 respectively. Jimmy Eat World are one of the more catchier bands of the day with their pop/punk anthems causing a mass singalong across the fields with set closer ‘The Middle’ making the drunk revelers dance around with joy.
Due to several bands pulling out much to Maddah’s annoyance, Green Day have been given a 3 hour headline slot to play, yes, 3 whole hours. That’s a long time and for a Green Day fan it’s heaven, for those not a fan they still have 3/4 bands to enjoy on each other stage.
Before Green Day took to the stage I was quite dubious, having been a late-teen when the ‘American Idiot‘ album came out and became terribly bored of their changed sound and overplayed singles on the radio. Obviously this is an opinion that still splits a lot of Green Day fans. So their headline slot begins and early into their set Billy Joe Armstrong points out a young girl from the front of the crowd who he invites up on stage at the start of ‘Know Your Enemy’.
This turns out to be a very funny moment as the girl with flopping pink bunny ears on her head jumps up and down through the whole song with an incredibly excited grin on her face looking out upon the thousands of people in the crowd. She even gets to shout the lyrics down the mic and when she leaves the stage you can tell this must have made her life. With the set being so long we get to hear all of the classics, ‘Basket Case’, ‘American Idiot’ and ’21 Guns’ amongst many others, but a three hour set can’t be filled by classics alone.
Three quarters into the set Armstrong is lying flat faced on the floor, and an overrun period of letting each band member have their shining moment playing their instrument whilst wearing fancy dress accessories ensues. The lighting in place however, gets a thumbs up with Green Day’s name in big green letters filling the back of the stage. With the lights up bright, the set is finished with a predictable yet special acoustic performance of ‘Good Riddance (Time Of Your Life)’.
I wonder what festivals I can try and get involved in next summer as I make my way to Sydney in September. I might just write about it and let you know!
To hear more of Dean’s Australian adventures, follow him on Twitter at @NewMusicUpfront
Review written by Dean Godbold.