Festival Review: St. Jerome’s Laneway Festival – FCAC & The River’s Edge, Melbourne (28.01.17)

You know those choose-your-own-adventure novels, the ones you read as a kid? With the exception of dying in 90% of the story lines, the Laneway Festival is like that – bear with me here. There’s thirty-six acts, and where you start, stop and travel is entirely up to you.

I asked my maths-genius friend to help me out here, with a little bit of a calculation (don’t worry, this won’t be on the test). Suppose you went to go see eight acts throughout the day – let’s disregard the fact that you might leave a set early, get caught up in an impromptu dance floor, or need to have a snooze in the shade. There are 65, 356 possible ways you could spend your Laneway. Over 65, 000 possible Laneway Festivals to experience. That’s one hell of a choose your own adventure book – I wish they were more like that when I was a kid.

IV League opened the day up, winning the coveted triple j unearthed spot, their dreamy pop echoing across the leafy Dean Turner Stage. That was the first choose-your-own-adventure of the day; whether to kick off with IV League, Flyying Colours, or Baro. It only got more difficult to choose from there. I went for the Ecca Vandal route next, the Melbourne artist continually blowing me away with her ferocity and jaunty dance-punk. She took to The Very West Stage in a fantastic, customised jumpsuit, playing to a small but enthusiastic audience. I hope the enthusiastic audience member knows what I’m talking about, because he was a one-man dance sensation.

How was I supposed to choose between Julia Jacklin, Camp Cope, Jess Kent and NAO? All amazing female-led acts, all with overlap. I was happy to see the ever-increasing amount of female artists on this year’s line-up, but the distribution is still anything but equal. With such a skewed gender balance, how did the scheduling result in a four-way female clash? I of course didn’t spend the entirety of their sets ranting about female representation in the music industry, but sped between Julia Jacklin (her cover of The Strokes was an undeniable highlight), and Camp Cope. Georgia Maq’s humble excitement at playing to such a large crowd was so refreshing to see – despite the exponential success of Camp Cope, they’re still playing their honest, girl-anthem rock.

Julia Jacklin. Photo by Briana Davis.

I left The Very West Stage to acquire some well-earned beer (there was a lot of dancing achieved by this point), and on trying to return to catch local darling Tash Sultana, found a huge crowd had materialised – there was no chance of getting near her. An afternoon set for a local artist, so packed that you couldn’t even seen the screen set up a few hundred metres back from the stage. Number three in the hottest 100, and the number one act of the afternoon.

Realising the improbability of making it towards the front, an adventure to some other stages was in order. I was lucky enough to stumble upon Whitney, a Chicago-based indie rock band. The psychedelic, dreamy tunes were dripping in a kind of soul-sound, free flowing across genres and taking only the very best of each.

White Lung were a stark contrast to see next, the Vancouver-based punk outfit tearing up the Spinning Top stage. They’re a really mature kind of punk, post-punk influence heavy throughout their sound, led by the near haunting vocals of Mish Barber-Way. Although they were playing a stage with a grassy expanse to sit on, a rose garden (really), views of the river and the city, and plenty of shade, the turn-out was lacking. But hey, it’s ok. The lucky few of us who were there got to have a great dance.

Admittedly, I did sneak off a bit early, to go and see Car Seat Headrest, even though I’d seen them play the night before. This isn’t because of some super-fan allegiance I feel to them, it’s simply because Will Toledo and his fresh-faced band play one of the best shows I’ve ever seen. They were ‘real, immediate, and exciting’, and the crowd was brimming with energy (and a ‘Marry me, Will Toledo’ sign). It astounds me how such a unique and sonorous voice can come from such a young artist- and how he’s managed to release 11 amazing albums is a whole other mystery.

Aurora. Photo by Briana Davis.

Following such an amazing set, there were further amazing acts to choose from. A.B. Original, Tourist, Aurora? Even the Dune Rats had a few songs left, which I could have caught if I’d run very, very fast to the very, very Very West stage. I instead opted for some of A.B. Original, with Briggs and Trials delivering. Their raw energy translates into an incomparable on stage presence – these are men with a message, and they are sharing it.

Again, I dashed off early to venture to see one of my favourite festival acts, King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard. If you haven’t seen these guys live, then you’re missing out. They spoiled us with an effortlessly smooth set, gliding between an unreleased track (expected on their upcoming album, Microtonal Flying Banana), as well as delving into their discography. The pit was fun, with a spontaneous, separate ‘girl-pit’/safe space opening up at the front. It was a set of really good vibes, and lots of glitter.

Even though a nap would have been ideal after the voracity of my moshing, I opted for a beer, catching a few tracks from Sampa the Great’s set, and dashing back to catch festival professionals Tycho. One of my favourite Australian artists, Sampa brought her energy, fantastic voice and captivating stage presence – she is one to watch. Unless, of course, your favourite ambient band is about to start, in which case you might want to catch Sampa some other time. Tycho is the project of Scott Hansen, full of vintage synthesisers and dynamic soundscapes. The performance wasn’t just pressing play on a laptop, but rather Hansen performing with a full band. It was an exhilarating set, careering across his discography, but was unfortunately largely lost on the afternoon crowd, with a sparse attendance. Everyone who attended Tycho’s set were nonplussed by the small crowd; it in fact may have been a positive.

Sampa The Great. Photo by Briana Davis.

D.D Dumbo has grown to be a sort of national treasure – he burst onto the scene only last year, his album Utopia Defeated a euphoric collection of tracks. His live set carried his well-received hits well, however some of the mixing resulted in a lack-lustre sound. There was a bass clarinet on stage, which probably didn’t help the sound desk crew. Gang of Youths stole us away from D.D Dumbo, with David Le’aupepe’s heart-wrenching performance transforming the twilight set to something magical. There were tears and goosebumps, with tracks such as “Magnolia” and “Native Tongue” seeing half the crowd up on someone’s shoulders.

Gang of Youths. Photo by Briana Davis.

To save dance energy for headliners Tame Impala, we ventured for beer, wandering past acts such as Nick Murphy (the re-invention of Chet Faker), and crowd-pleasing Glass Animals.

Tame Impala were fantastic. That shouldn’t really come as a surprise, though, should it? It goes without saying the Kevin Parker is one of the most loved male musicians alive, with the phrase ‘Technicolor dream man’ used unsparingly. Their set took us across their discography, and there were more than a few sing alongs, dances, and shoulder rides along the way. It was a surreal dream to have Kevin’s voice echoing across the river, confetti swirling around heads, as we got to sing along to those psychedelic tracks we know and love.

Tame Impala. Photo by Briana Davis.

Following the surging crowd out saw the audience unite for a rendition of “Hey Baby”, as we staggered along over a sea of blown pluggers and crushed cans. There’s so much more that happened throughout the day; an abandoned bra over security fencing (that’s a story for another time), hip flasks passed around mosh pits, tennis whites, glitter in every orifice, new festival friends, and some serious sunburn.

The choose-your-own-adventure I ended up on was just one in 65,000 – and I survived. Just.

 Thanks to Josh, Jared, Maddy, Freddy and Vic for helping this gonzo journalist piece together one hell of a day.