by Chris Familton
The biggest thought on most punters minds as they awoke was how the weather was going to affect the Sydney leg of this years Laneway Festival. Showers and wind were forecast, a contrast to previous years of hot sunny days encased in the sandstone walls of Rozelle’s SCA. The anticipated weather did intermittently sweep through the grounds but as is usually the case it served to galvanise the crowd and create a roll-with-it mood amongst the sea of plastic-clad revellers imbibing cider and sliding down slippery grass slopes.
On arrival one of the first tasks was to orient oneself with the new layout. The site had been expanded outside the immediate college buildings and now included the large sloping field near the entrance housing the main stage and a smaller adjacent one. The Courtyard Stage had always had issues of sight-lines and acoustics for the bigger acts so these changes were an excellent development alongside further diversification of the food on offer.
Much had been said about the curious timetabling decision to have Norwegians Kings of Convenience open the day but they were given a generous hour long set and they proved to be the perfect way to ease into the festival vibe with their sublime acoustic-based folk and endearing sense of humour. They added a full band for the 2nd half of their set, showcasing a wider angle to their sound.
Henry Wagons, in contrast to the twee openers, was his usual ball of humour and country rock. Playing tracks from his Expecting Company album and a superb Wanda Jackson cover he encouraged audience participation in the form of hangman’s noose death gurgles as he danced and lurched through the first few rows.
Twerps and their jangly US pop cousins Real Estate played back to back and though their music is perfectly suited for outdoor listening Real Estate’s sound mix meant they didn’t quite gel compared to the blissed out guitar pop of Twerps whose Dreamin’ was the first song of the day to hit the audience sweet spot.
Diversity has always been a hallmark of the festival curators and this year the harder, faster and heavier end of the spectrum was filled by The Men, Cloud Nothings and Japandroids. The latter two enjoyed the larger crowds and some fervent crowd surfing and projectile throwing due to their spots later on the bill but The Men were the more revelatory of the three, locking in with a rush of punk and psych-rock intensity and dalliances with country music. Japandroids were suffered a muddy kick-drum heavy mix but the fans were oblivious, caught up in the anthemic punk maelstrom.
With the larger acts programmed on the new Park Stage it become the focal point for the crowds who draped themselves over the hillsides and it must have been a magical sight for the musicians gazing up the palm tree dotted slopes. In the wake of Hottest 100 success The Rubens, Of Monsters & Men and Alt-J drew predictably large and celebratory crowds. They sat on shoulders, swayed and screamed along but musically he first two offered little in terms of musical highlights. They sounded like generic music for a generic festival audience but that is the whole point of Laneway, it caters to many tastes from people there purely for the music to those there for the communal festival experience.
Hitting the smaller stages meant discovering artists with a smaller core fan-base. Julia Holter’s sublime voice cut a path through the drizzling rain offering respite from some of the grand gestures on the main stages while EL-P showed just why he is so respected as an underground hip hop artist with his intense rapid fire rhyming over a live band that created some futuristic and often dystopian beats. Jessie Ware was probably the oddest inclusion on the line-up in the sense that hers is a contemporary R&B sound but she proved another highlight with a voice that killed it live and a band that knew the importance of less is more and the power of bass. The crowning glory of the Future Classic curated stage came late in the night with Nicolas Jaar who drew a surprisingly large crowd seeing as he was up against local hero Flume. The sonic clarity of his futuristic electronica made for a wonderfully immersive set that impressed with its musical details rather than big beats or crescendo build-ups.
While Bat For Lashes entranced the majority of the audience with her elegant and creative pop music, Divine Fits were putting the exclamation mark on the festival playing their superb debut album and musically summing up the sounds of the day with their mix of pop melodies, inventive rhythms and an equal dose of rock. The twin vocals of Britt Daniels and Dan Boeckner rang clear into the night and their last song, a cover of Rowland S. Howard’s Shivers felt like the perfect conclusion to a day that saw the expansion and improvement of the Laneway Festival while still retaining a firm hand on the pulse of eclectic contemporary music.
this review was first published on FasterLouder