The sky is clear, the sun is shining, and a giant replica of Kanye West‘s head is beaming in front of an enormous rainbow. The first full day of Splendour in the Grass 2017 is upon us, packing North Byron Parklands with the kind of life and energy that only comes with one of this country’s most renowned music and arts festivals.
The scale is set, Splendour’s organisers have found the perfect beat in their now-permanent home and they’re sticking to it. Aside from the change in public art installations (which includes said Kanye head) the layout is more or less the same as in previous years; there were no bottle-necks (save a few re-routes to the main stage from the mega-popular Peking Duk onwards) or overly frustrating toilet queues; Splendour is now a well-oiled machine thanks to a few lessons learned over the years (especially 2015’s mud-fuelled chaos), so at the end of the day it all comes down to just how well put together this whole music line-up is.
If there’s one thing that’s clear so early into this year’s edition it’s that local acts are just as – if not more – popular than internationals now. Which is a beautiful thing to see. Even relative newcomers like Ampitheatre opener Wharves drew a respectable and very well-deserved crowd, for which they put on a hell of a performance, throwing in a crunchy indie-rock cover of “Cars” by Gary Numan for good measure.
Hovering around the sprawling main stage area during the afternoon seemed like the way to go. Kingswood‘s triumphant return to Splendour went down very well, the stalwart rockers attracting an enormous crowd of music lovers more than ready to burst out in loud singalongs to pretty much all of the band’s biggest songs. It kicked off with “Micro Wars”, a big and brash introduction to a set that ranged from roaring anthem “Ohio” to their recent cover of Destiny’s Child throwback “Say My Name” for Like a Version. The latter was a perfectly executed repurposing of R&B-pop masterpiece to dynamic rock ‘n’ roll jam, giving the main stage – and Splendour – one of its biggest covers of the day.
Over at the GW McLennan tent, gliding onto the stage in a white jump suit with colourful shapes and a detachable cape, 23 year old Maggie Rogers was effortlessly stealing hearts with her lullabies. “This is my first Australian show,” shouted the American singer, “I am so thankful to all of you.” She looked over the audience, the pure joy and disbelief evident on her face, genuinely appreciating being on that stage. The crowd responded accordingly by dancing and singing along to tracks like, “Something to lose,” “Dog years,” and, “Better.” She finished off the set with two of her biggest numbers, “On + Off,” and, “Alaska,” leaving everyone filling full and content. “Music builds community,” said Rogers as the set drew to an end, “it brings people together.”
Right up until the evening it was a non-stop flow of Australian acts dominating at all stages. Vera Blue showed the Mix-Up one of its best sets of the day, quickly followed up with non-stop bangers by Cosmo’s Midnight while Big Scary had a big moment at the Ampitheatre. Even ducking in and out of these, only getting a snapshot of each, you could tell that Aussies were amongst the biggest drawcards of the day. In fact, it was an international that would finally disrupt the quality at the youthful Mix-Up; Atlanta’s incredibly boring Lil’ Yachty.
The endurance test that was Lil’ Boat, who seemed as disinterested as I [Chris] was in his own “turn up anthems”, had me feeling like a hardcore metal loyalist at a 90s hip hop gig: “people actually listen to this shit?”. Cutting most after 20-30 seconds in a medley style taken to the next level, Boat and his two hypemen didn’t go much further beyond the “1-2-1-2-3-4-drop”. There wasn’t much to his set, serving its purpose at making you get “turnt/lit” for a few seconds and then waiting for the next track to come on. “iSpy” was an early hit, though a dud without Kyle there. I made it in about 30 minutes and couldn’t bring myself to watch any more.
From the incredibly talented Tash Sultana onwards, the Ampitheatre became an almost overwhelming sea of swaying bodies, taken even further by Peking Duk who have officially become the most reliable party-starters in the country, delivering a headline-worthy set that was preceded with a surprise appearance by The Castle actor Stephen Curry.
As the air took on an almost icy form (record low temperatures are plaguing campers this year), Banks heated the Mix Up tent. As the crowd piled in, red smoke filled the stage. the unstoppable, deeply poetic singer emerged from the shadows in a long black dress and veil, wrapped in the lights as she, along with her two backup dancers, moved as if they were possessed by these beats. The crowd was immediately captivated by her deep rhapsodic voice. “Waiting Game,” and “Fuck with Myself,” had everyone moving their bodies, attempting to be as sultry as the backup dancers. Her dark R&B sound, mixed with poetic lyrics, created an emotional atmosphere. Her intensity came through in, “Gemini Feed,” and, “Jealous,” both powerful performances that cemented her as one of Friday’s clear standouts.
Many Aussie music lovers have seen Cut Copy plenty of times before. I’ve [Chris] lost count of the amount of times I have, having witnessed their debut at Splendour 10 years ago and their ever-changing set every year since. It’s great to have them back making new music, shaped into what is perhaps their tightest live show to date, a non-stop barrage of their best cuts tweaked with fine details that lifted them far beyond the recorded versions. The energy never dropped as soon as they shot through with opener “Need You Now”, the pulsating disco-rave ebbing and flowing spilling from tracks like “Hearts on Fire” and “Out There on the Ice” to new song “Airborne” and closer “Lights & Music”. Hell, they even threw it all the way back to “Future” and tried their best at making it fit with the more modern material.
San Cisco brightened up the GW tent with their upbeat, happy tunes, making it hard not to smile like a lunatic. Everything about the performance was joyful, even the songs about broken relationships. “Slo-mo” and “Magic” each had everyone bouncing off each other, jumping around in excitement and the band were equally as excited; Jordie Davieson’s high vocals soaring to the top of the tent, Scarlett Stevens’ sweet and bubbly backups and Josh Biondillo’s spiralling guitar solo. “We spend too much time together,” wrapped up the set, leaving everyone in the perfect state for the headlining acts.
Back at the Amphitheatre, Haim attempted to get the party started, but seemed a little out of place. They filtered through each track like a band who has played a million times and are kind of bored it, but use an over the top, over produced stage presence to hide it. Overall, they seemed more interested in putting on a performance then pleasing the audience. “Let’s fucking party,” they kept yelling. “The Party train is here…. it’s time to fucking party!” yelled Este, before jumping of the stage and dancing with the crowd. Despite this, their tracks such as, “Forever”, “Something to Tell You”, and “The Wire”, were still catchy and fun to dance to.
Following on from Haim, The xx got everyone in the Amphitheatre on their feet. Their metallic, reflecting stage, donned with lasers and rotating pillars, complemented their dreamy pop electric sound. Opening with “Intro”, from the get-go, they were exceptional and captivating. Romy Croft’s deep, but angelic vocals, paired with Oliver Sims soothing bass, mixed with Jamie XX’s beats, proved to be an unstoppable combination. xx was especially valuable as he’d play musical director, lifting the team with tight, shapely house-inflected beats to truly transpose this live show into a stadium-worthy set. Sifting through tune after tune, their back catalogue provided an endless treasure trove; “Say Something. “I Dare You,” “Care Too Much,” “On Hold”. They closed the set with “Angels”, perfectly putting a cap on Splendour’s first full day.
Words by Chris Singh and Giselle Bueti.
Our Thursday recap of SITG can be found here.
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Lead Image by Mitch Lowe.