Report: Laneway Festival, Melbourne 2013
Footscray Community Arts Centre
Sunday 3rd February 2013
Ben Gook and Marcus T
MT: Ian Rogers said a great and pertinent thing yesterday in his monthly 50 Words or Less piece. This:
"Sometimes Pitchfork seems like it’s a place more than a website. In Pitchfork, there are local bands that people know and love and when the residents of Pitchfork go to these shows they have a great time."
He also added "then when their bands tour, everywhere else the crowd have their arms crossed," but Laneway is not that second place. Laneway is the first utopia; a municipality that, in recent times, has been merged with the slightly-more more gentrified suburb of triple j's Hottest 100. He we are today, visiting their open house on the green banks of the muddy Maribyrnong, catching up on those paragraphs, "best tracks", playlists, countdowns and "in session" videos IRL. Click click click click click. Not every door can be opened, but there's a sure sense that for 12 hours we are the sole bearers of the key to those stately houses. Come Monday, the hollow 12 months of surfing looms.
MT: Someone in the dying embers of today commented that it's almost as if promoter Danny Rogers is in cahoots with triple j. That's a backhanded compliment. Rogers (and his team) consistently manage to land bands prior to their peak, in advance of their widespread acceptance and still at the fizzy end of the dynamite stick. Florence, the xx, Avalanches, Mumford, Broken Social Scene, Girl Talk,
Tapes n Tapes, the list goes on. This year it's Alt-J, Of Monsters and Men, Chet Faker, Flume - saucer-eyed figures sizzling through the atmosphere between launch off and landing. It means that a lot of critical discussion gets flattened in their vapor trail, but that can come after, when we've all come down from again being provided with the opportunity to be there first. Again. Weather, ticket prices and location be damned — this intuitive knack alone is why Laneway has become essential.
BG: Time was when jangle pop went out of favour at festivals. But partly due to its flourishing amid a small, humid circle in Australia—Bitch Prefect, Boomgates, Twerps, Dick Diver—there’s renewed audience interest in scrappy guitar pop. Bands like these will never headline any sizeable festival, but they provide the backing track to every imagined sunny festival idyll. The idyll became reality as the clouds parted, the sun came out and Twerps set themselves up on stage at Laneway in Melbourne.
The band seemed to relish their mid-afternoon hometown slot. Some new material featured and showed promise, but it was their debut LP that provided the backbone of their set. The songs from Twerps have the air of instant classics—not least because they evoke and steal chops from time-honoured Australian guitar pop—and their self-effacing presentation on stage makes the set seem effortless. Shambolic and impulsive as they may seem, Twerps are all about the craft of pop songwriting, and their standards are high.
BG: If the Twerps were endearingly scrappy, Real Estate were overly slick. Where Twerps felt nimble and quick-witted, Real Estate was a bland wash of over-familiar indie moves. While the New Jersey outfit are a pleasant guitar band on record, their set failed to spark, retreading tropes with no animating spirit. I longed for the return of bands they recall, like the Shins or Okkervil River—who I don’t hold a candle for—because their songs may strike out in bold and unexpected directions at times. The sound may not have helped: Real Estate’s lead lines and hooks were lost in their often triple guitar line-up, leaving workman-like lyrics to hang in a wash of trebly strumming. Their pro-indie mid-tempo Sub Pop fare felt like a pale imitation of the real thing—or perhaps several real things, all of which I would have preferred to see.
BG: Hook-heavy guitar bands are a given crowdpleaser at festivals like Laneway, but gentle piano and synth acts have a tougher sell. Early in the afternoon, Julia Holter and Perfume Genius sat at their Nord keyboards on different stages. They struggled to hold audience attention with their subtle songs—especially Holter. The day was still and windless, meaning the various stages did not interfere with one another—but even in these ideal conditions Holter’s tunes felt tiny and frail, battered by the punk rock stage to her right and the intermittent toot-and-rumble of freight trains passing to her left. (Apparently an audience member fainted during the latter part of her set and derailed the proceedings—which seemed too apt to be true.) Add to this the distracted air of any festival’s first few hours—people still getting bearings, finding lunch, stocking up on booze—and it was a forbidding task for her New Age experimental pop to get a foothold.
MT: Laneway's big move this year in Melbourne has been to shift the "car park" stage away down the river a few hundred metres. It's revelatory. What once was a gritty cul de sac is now...a way bigger cul de sac, but one featuring much more space and the twinkling loading docks of Port Melbourne in the distance. If Laneway's shift from the CBD was borne out of a need to leave behind its troubled urban legacy, it landing in one of the few lazily undulating spots that can show off this flat city—rather than a tiny fraction of it—is reverse genius.
BG: Over on the River Stage, Perfume Genius was performing his comparatively brash piano pop. His wordplay, hushed voice and emotionally intense songwriting strained to fill the vast lawn in front of the stage. Half way back, the audience chatter drowned him out. It was a shame, as his short sharp songs (often barely lasting a couple of minutes) are worth hearing—perhaps a more intimate stage at another time may have worked in his favour.
BG: Back on the smaller Future Classic stage, Nite Jewel and Jessie Ware had better luck translating their recorded output to festival environs. Nite Jewel is often caked with lo-fi sounds on record, but at Laneway she was shorn of tape hiss and smudge. Her voice was especially clear, scaling sweet R&B notes with relish. There’s a possible chart-topper in there somewhere, if Jewel gave herself over to it. For the moment, her material from a set of EPs and LPs peddles a LA sound with elements of boogie, 80s funk and the 80s-90s R&B (the Whitney-Mariah axis) that has exercised many acts in recent years. The boogie sound may have tread water for years now, but Nite Jewel keeps it fresh with a knack for hooks and, in performance, a brash, dramatic and confident delivery.