For another year, Splendour in the Grass has succeeded in pulling off one memorable live music event out in Byron Bay. Providing a line up of artists representing some of the best touring musicians Australia has at the minute, not to mention some incredible international visitors, Splendour was more than just a playground for triple j legionnaire hat-wearing fans; it was a weekend where house music could exist alongside alt-country and bluegrass through the same afternoon, where an Icelandic post-rock trio could headline on a Sunday night and send the audience into the night to finish partying with one of the world’s biggest homegrown producers.
While it was impossible to be at every stage for all artists, there were some undeniable highlights of our time out at Splendour 2016 – check them out below.
Opening proceedings in the Mix Up Tent on Saturday morning, NGAIIRE produced a set that had one of the best crowds early on any day of the festival. The demographic was diverse and spirits remained high despite the set time being early. Emerging from side stage in yet another wonderful head piece and metallic cape, NGAIIRE engaged from the onset as we had expected she would. What was unexpected, was the amount the crowd gave back – by the end, the tent was singing “Once” back at the stage and it was obvious the effect it was having on the vocalist and the band on stage with her.
It wasn’t all about NGAIIRE and those impressive vocal pipes though, as backing vocalists Christian Hemara and Billie McCarthy also had moments in the spotlight, earning rapturous applause from the crowd. As we walked out from the tent after “Diggin'” entertained, the one word we had thrown around when describing NGAIIRE’s show was euphoric. It set the tone for the rest of the day; we left feeling reinvigorated, refreshed and keen for the rest of Splendour’s program.
The Strokes had the task of following on from The Avalanches‘ much-hyped Friday night set and the New York indie legends more than stepped up to the plate, even if they were near on half an hour late. True to form though, Julian Casablancas got straight to the point early on; with no fucks to give, he noted that he would just shut up and stick to playing the music, which was fine by the crowd.
The sound was great for the band and the set list took us back to the days of Is This It with “The Modern Age” and “Soma” landing early, while newer cuts were also included, demonstrating the band’s move in newer directions as indicated on this year’s Future Present Past EP. The band sounded as in sync with each other on stage as ever and as we re-entered the festival ground on Saturday morning, The Strokes’ set was one people were the most excited to debrief on.
IN LOVING MEMORY OF SZYMON
The tribute performance for late musician Szymon in the GW McLennan Tent on Saturday afternoon was one of our must-see sets as soon as we laid eyes on the Splendour line up and it didn’t disappoint. A six piece band comprising of Szymon Borzestowski’s family and friends, not to mention a line up of special guest vocalists, brought his acclaimed posthumous album Tigersapp to life and it was a truly stunning set of live music.
In Kubush Borzestowski‘s (pictured) lead vocal, there was an eerie similarity to his younger brother’s and watching the way he handled the guitar throughout the set was also a highlight. An immensely talented player, it was made clearly evident, the elder Borzestowski cut a concentrated, but confident figure on stage – one could only imagine what was running through his (and the rest of the band’s) head looking out over the large crowd who had arrived to witness and share in this one-off performance.
Read more about the set, HERE.
Hitting the Mix Up Tent on Sunday afternoon, Jagwar Ma wasted no time in getting down to business, throwing down their first major Australian festival set in over two years. While from the back, the mix seemed tamer than some of the other dance/electronic sets we’d seen that weekend, the crowd and the band were positively convulsing with energy further into the pit and up on stage. It was a perfect opportunity for Jagwar Ma to show fans what they’ve been working on and how time away to work solidly and create an even more solid live experience has been worth it.
SAMPA THE GREAT
Friday afternoon brought Sampa The Great to the Mix Up Tent for one of the most confidently delivered and sharply executed sets of the day. The Sydney based vocalist and writer had the crowd involved and responding to each call out on cue, not to mention feeling some heavy grooves as she worked her way around those impressive rhymes we’ve been associating with Sampa over the past year. With a huge grin on her face and the sass to match, Sampa The Great’s position as one of the Australian hip hop scene’s most intriguing and exciting young artists moving forward has well and truly been solidified in 2016 – this festival set just went and proved it.
GANG OF YOUTHS
There’s not much you can really say about this band’s hold over a crowd after you’ve seen over 10,000 people singing the chorus of “Magnolia” back, as passionately as the band on stage is playing it. For Gang of Youths, the past year or so has seen their trajectory become one to shoot upward sharply and quickly and as we anticipate the release of new music from the Sydney group this week (new EP Let Me Be Clear out Friday), their Saturday afternoon set in the Amphitheatre felt like a culmination of all of these things; a celebration of the successes they’ve enjoyed both at home and abroad since The Positions was released, and also the setting of a benchmark of what’s to come.
If it’s going to be a little while before we see GOY on stage headlining (assuming focus is going to turn toward the completion of album #2), then this set was a good one to go out on. A proud moment for all the long-time fans in the audience, for sure.
NOTHING BUT THIEVES
Nothing But Thieves were on the Amphitheatre as the sun cranked hard on Friday afternoon and as we sat in the shade, we couldn’t feel any more sympathetic for the Brits, who must have been sweltering out there. Still, the band switched it on and came left of field as one of the stronger bands of the earlier part of that day’s line up. With their eponymous debut album being a solid offering of alt-rock, Nothing But Thieves doled out some fierce live presentations of the tracks it’s obvious more and more people have been falling in love with recently.
Killer tunes, killer group. We found new favourites with these guys.
The concept of seeing a three-hour set at any festival is one that is generally met with a bit of a head-scratch, an ‘is that necessary?’ type reaction. But when it was The Cure who revealed they would be doing just this and providing Splendour crowds with one of the longest, if not the longest, headline set in the festival’s history, it was something people approached excitedly and curiously. Would they be able to pull it off? Would Robert Smith sound as good as their iconic records for this amount of time?
Technically, the answer would be ‘no’ to the first question, as the band finished around half an hour shy of their scheduled midnight finish time on Saturday night. Still, with four encores and a 30-song long setlist, you’d be hard pressed to be disappointed with the show the band offered up. The Amphitheatre lost punters as the show went on to other bands, but we ended up staying through until the end and man, that final bracket of songs (“Hot Hot Hot!!!”, “Close To Me”, “Why Can’t I Be You?” and “Boys Don’t Cry”) was everything. With their headline tour kicking off in Sydney tonight, The Cure were definitely a bucket-list band we were happy to tick off over the weekend.
We’ve been fans of Stockport group Blossoms since we met them in the UK a few months back at The Great Escape and so to see them take to the Amphitheatre stage on Sunday afternoon was a special treat. “Charlemagne” and “Getaway” have been great examples of the type of festival-favourite band Blossoms have become this year, two strong singles that are insatiable tunes on stages like this. Their crowd may have been smaller on Sunday (full credit to everyone struggling against the heat/hangover from Saturday, too), but when the opening notes of “At Most A Kiss” rang out over the crowd, it was the perfect remedy.
This is still a live set experience we’re still recovering from. The only Australian show on the Icelandic group’s current tour, Sigur Rós pulled a huge crowd into the Mix Up Tent on Sunday night for a show that demonstrated their sheer talent as musicians, their ability to execute a show unlike many others and the weighty emotional punch their music lands with flawlessly – both on record and live. Jónsi‘s ethereal vocals, the famous bowed guitar use and the stage production the Splendour crowd received as the temperatures dropped around us were just phenomenal.
The sounds pierced the night air outside the tent and provided an excellent opportunity to bliss out and escape the previous two days and nights of sweaty chaos.
It felt like The Kills had to work a little bit harder to win the Amphitheatre crowd over on Friday afternoon but once Jamie Hince‘s guitar work and Alison Mosshart‘s no bullshit approach to exerting rock goddess superiority over us all kicked into high gear, that fun energy was impossible to not be enveloped by. Following on from DMA’s set the hour previous, the duo hit the stage with a new album in Ash & Ice ready for brandishing, not to mention cuts from Blood Pressures and the rest of their catalogue.
Effortlessly cool, Mosshart and Hince went toe to toe with each other and both had moments that struck out as highlights. Mosshart’s vocals were on point, while that guitar work of Hince’s mentioned above was up there with some of the most entertaining we’d seen all weekend.
MARLON WILLIAMS AND THE YARRA BENDERS
Marlon Williams’ return to the Australian stage with The Yarra Benders after spending much of 2016 on the road overseas was one plenty of people wanted to get around on Sunday, with the GW McLennan tent filling out impressively. Opening with “Hello Miss Lonesome” (which I swear is getting faster each time I see the band play it) and continuing through a set of country, bluegrass and blues-soaked tunes that had the crowd hollering enthusiastically in response, Williams worked his time at Splendour brilliantly.
New song “Arahura” sounds beautiful live and made us excited over the prospect of new music from Lyttelton’s favourite son. Guitarist Dave Khan also drew a great response, particularly during “Dark Child”, drawing out some awesome moments of performance we all vibed on. Whether the band was chewing the stage with moments of rapid bluegrass or whether it was Marlon himself earning applause and hyped-up cheers for his cover of Screamin’ Jay Hawkins‘ “Portrait of a Man”, their set was one we were stoked to have caught. Never a dull moment.
Images by Andrew Wade.
Visit our Splendour in the Grass hub HERE for photo galleries, interviews and more coverage from the 2016 event!