Festival Review: Falls Festival (Part I) – North Byron Parklands, Byron Bay (31.12.15 – 01.12.16)

The 2015 Falls Festival had a line up that brought together some of the best music of the moment, some legendary live acts, as well as the cream of the new crop. Summer is in full swing, and Byron Bay provided the perfect setting to bring in 2016 with its perfect weather and lush forests. The first day of Falls in particular, was set to deliver a line up of quintessential party music as punters rang in the new year and the campers were still rolling in as the first acts took to the stage.

Wavves kicked off the day on the Valley Stage followed by everyone’s favourite Mexican Elvis, El Vez. Flanked by his two glittering back singers he introduced himself as a new Presidential candidate. Dressed as a platform-wearing ‘Uncle Sam’, he demanded crowd participation, literally, by climbing off the stage and running through the still-lazing crowd, pulling punters to their feet.

As the day went on, the crowd slowly began to thicken and the New Year’s Eve party was off to an excellent start by the time Art vs Science burst onto the stage to face an eager and energetic crowd. The eminent Australian electronic act have a reputation for bringing the party, and they obliged. As the mid-afternoon sun belted down, the fellas looked to be having an amazing time on stage, bounding around, rocking out shirtless, and pulling out tunes such as the crowd favourite “Magic Fountain”, and a sudden, and unexpected instrumental rendition of “Enter Sandman”.

Art vs Science (Photo: Kerrie Geier)
Art vs Science. (Photo: Kerrie Geier)

It was a slight change of pace, as Weird Al Yankovic brought us his incomparable brand of fun. With numerous costume changes, the set list was a little short but it was quality over quantity as he played some of his most hilarious and classic spoofs such as “Fat” and “White and Nerdy”. A great comedian, Yankovic is also an amazing instrumentalist, and an energetic performer. His set was an unexpected highlight of the first day.

As the 2016 loomed on the horizon and the sun had lowered in the sky over the main stage, Peking Duk saw the hillside packed with elated, dancing fans. However, it was the Hilltop Hoods who really blew the lid off. Bouncing across the stage, Adelaide’s premium hip hop export were a definite crowd favourite, slaying with numbers such as “The Nosebleed Section” and “Cosby Sweater”. It almost felt that the this would have been the perfect setting in which to see out 2015, however that task was issued to British lads, The Wombats.

Hilltop Hoods. (Photo: Kerrie Geier)
Hilltop Hoods. (Photo: Kerrie Geier)

Having been to Australia more times that we can remember, they never fail to play a fun and energetic set. Their upbeat pop provided some perfect sing-along moments, and as they popped the champagne and counted us into 2016 they then launched into “Let’s Dance to Joy Division” and had the whole festival dancing. The first day and night of Falls Byron Bay ended with a bang, all that was missing were the fire works.

My second day of Falls kicked off with a faultless set from the enchanting Meg Mac on the smaller Forest Stage. The Melbourne singer performed an arresting set, including her soulful cover of “Grandma’s Hands”, and a spellbinding rendition of “Roll Up Your Sleeves”, which hit especially amazing heights, inducing the crowd to sing along. The finely tuned instrument that is her voice is what makes Meg Mac is such a brilliant live performer and a stand-out performance of the day.

Later in the day, on the Valley Stage, surrounded by lush, old forest, I was lucky enough to catch alt-folk act Kurt Vile and the Violators. I had never seen Kurt Vile live and though I adore his sound the performance was very subdued for a festival set. His dreamy pop had fans laying about on the hillside, rather an engaging down the front.

Following up on the same stage was everyone’s favourite Australian singer-songwriter of the moment, Courtney Barnett, who lifted the pace dramatically. While the crowd wasn’t as big as I expected, Barnett had the crowd dancing, particularly when she pulled out numbers like “Pickles From the Jar”, and her most recent single, “Nobody Really Cares If You Don’t Go To The Party”. Her whole set was received eagerly by the crowd, and she looked like she was having a great time, as she thrashed across the stage with her guitar.

Courtney Barnett. (Photo: Kerrie Geier)
Courtney Barnett. (Photo: Kerrie Geier)

As the day wore on the weather remained perfection. Birds of Tokyo took over the Valley Stage to provide us with a dose of epic rock ballads. The seasoned festival regulars definitely didn’t hold anything back. Charismatic front man Ian Kenny belted out a magnificent set, incorporating their plethora of radio-regular hits. The only downside to mention was that the sound didn’t quite seem loud enough.

The second day of the festival had so-far featured an exquisite array of folk, and some of the best Australian indie rock. It was therefore fitting that the godfather of Aussie indie-folk rock, Paul Kelly, and the Merri Soul Sessions followed up next on the main stage. We were treated to performances by some of the countries most eminent voices with Kelly’s friends on stage including Dan Sultan, Vika and Linda Bull, Kira Puru and Clairy Browne.

We were lured into the sweetest part of the evening, with stunning renditions of “Sweet Guy” and a beautiful rendition of “How to Make Gravy”. Unfortunately for the band, there was one hiccup that was out of their control during their set when the power suddenly went out! Clairy Browne was leading the band at the time and managed to maintain her upbeat composure, encouraging the crowd to join in keeping the energy going. Inexplicably, this turned into a chorus of ‘Whoomp there it is,’ and when the power returned, the song continued without the band missing a single beat. Kelly and co. were another highlight of a glorious day, and I feel deeply sorry for anyone who missed their set.

As masses of festival-goers who made the pilgrimage back to the main stage to see Rufus play what I am sure was an epic set, I headed to the Forest Stage to see indie pop band Alpine deliver their daze-inducing, melodic pop. They provided the perfect energy to rev things up for the remainder of the night. Phoebe and Lou stalked the stage, looking incredible in their costumes, and delivered an electrifying performance with their unique harmonised vocals.

The culmination of the day was, of course, the main stage headliner Bloc Party. The crowd was a mix with those down front of the dusty Valley stage ready to dance, while many tired punters pulled up a plot of hillside to sit back and watch. The British band have undergone some unexpected changes in their line up over the last year, and have also shown a very up-beat variation in their sound with their recent releases. Kele Okereke is a front man who will stand amongst some of the best front men of all time. He is eager for his fans to have a really great time, engaging with the audience, and he repays their enthusiasm with his electrifying intensity. They performed a set of some of their best tunes from each of their albums, incorporating “Helicopter”, “This Modern Love” and “Hunting for Witches”. Again, the sound was not ideal as the surrounding trees failed to really provide the best acoustics for the set. Yet, this didn’t hinder the crowd down front, who were swept into a frenzy with the band’s latest single “The Love Within”. as Bloc Party delivered, as Kele put it, the ‘bangers’.

More on the festival’s final day to come!