Report: Parklife, Melbourne 2012
Sidney Myer Music Bowl, Melbourne
Saturday, 6th October, 2012.
For obvious reasons, rain is generally not considered a friend of the festival.
Muddy shoes. Smudged streaks of orange trickling down the slightly paler flesh it had been so delicately sprayed upon. Basketball singlets and scoop necked t-shirts left to hang in wardrobes, abandoned in lieu of jumpers, jackets, hats and scarves. Scampering sound techs, hurriedly rushing to keep the falling droplets from doing damage to their enormous arsenal of gadgetry. Damp, squished set planners that disintegrate ever more into an illegible pulp as the afternoon progresses. Wet hair. Wet clothes. Wet everything.
So it was at Sidney Myer Music Bowl on Saturday for the Victorian installment of Parklife 2012, with Melbourne turning on a predictably unpredictable afternoon’s worth of weather. Some – unwilling or unable to sacrifice those hard winter months spent toiling away at the gym sculpting their festival physique – were happy to brave the elements, while those with paler hides seemed content to wrap up in accordance with the big chill. In the end probably neither party was best prepared for the elements, or a day spent schizophrenically frittering from one extreme to the other; from rain to sunshine, from the gorgeous to the dire, and from the enjoyable to the not so much.
On the plus side, with the majority of the masses huddled together or drawn to the protective tented enclave of the main Sahara stage, there’s ample room for jumping and jiving at any of the surrounding Atoll, Redbull or (the appallingly titled) Madam Sing’s Junk stages. A sparse-though-enthusiastic group of punters, taken by the room to move, take full advantage of this for Art Department’s mid-afternoon set at Kakadu. With their spirits obviously not dampened by the falling rain, the Canadian duo joyously bounce behind the turntables whilst their acid-tinged brand of deep house chugs methodically away: all jittery shuffling hi-hats, chewed up caustic bass lines and thunderous kickdrums. A distorted pixelated image of Grace Jones lurches around on the enormous screens behind them like some kind of digitised zombie, perfectly accentuating the bleary-eyed breed of retro-futurist funk they’re pumping out.
As the last of Daft Punk’s ‘Rollin & Scratchin’ begins to slither from the speakers, the Kakadu stage receives a shot of adrenalin straight to the jugular as much-beloved grime fiend Benga gets involved with proceedings. The heavy-hitting bass bro comes out swinging from the start, and the ravenous hordes of sweaty dudes in loosely fitted beanies and flat brimmed caps parachute in with glee. His hype-man starts to move through all the prerequisite ‘I fuckin’ LOVE this place’, ‘What up Melbourrrrrne?’ and ‘Put yo hands in the ayyyuhhhhhh’s in between the booming dumps of bowel trembling bass, signifying a move to......Chairlift, who are floating through a set of breezy bubblegum pop over at the adjacent Atoll stage. They sound damn good in spite of some shockingly crackly speakers (side thought: would anyone be able to notice, or care, if these were being used back at Benga?) and bring a more leisurely change of pace, as the pale Melbourne sun begins to peer through the clouds and wash down upon the rain soaked pastures of the Bowl. Singer Caroline Polachek glides delicately around the stage like some kind of synth-pop pixie, before bizarrely stopping to conduct a brief Q&A session with the crowd while a thousand roadies furiously fumble with cables and various knobs behind her. Key questions from punters handed the microphone include ‘what the helllllllll?’, ‘Play a Beyonce cover!’ and something that Polachek sternly refuses with a ‘Sorry, I’m not going to repeat that’. Enlightening. With sound issues (supposedly) handled and normal service resumed, the band launch into a glistening rendition of ‘Wrong Opinion’ before the sultry tones of ‘Ghost Tonight’ ring out, sound-tracking the descent into Sahara’s bowl for Jacques Lu Cont.
The Brit gets to work as you’d expect from a producer of his pedigree, although the font size of his name on the promotional posters belie a body of work spanning over 10 years collaborating with some of the biggest electronic and pop musicians on planet earth. Backed by the shimmering neon of 80’s inspired Tron-esque visuals, he gets his seminal ‘Jacques Your Body’ out of the way early, before moving into Royksopp’s ‘What Else Is There’, a track he famously reworked under his Thin White Duke alias and one that would have been hammered to death by big name DJs on this very same stage just a few years previous. If this allusion to the TWD moniker wasn’t enough, he proceeds to tease the string section of his version of Felix Da Housecat’s ‘Silver Screen, Shower Scene’ delicately from behind the pounding big-room beats, themselves then melding into the ghostly vocal line of Starsailor’s ‘Four To The Floor’ and his re-work of The Killers’ ‘Mr Brightside’ — all enormous hits from the days of yore covered in the English producers fingerprints. Just like his production style, Lu Cont’s DJ set is tastefully and perfectly curated: deftly navigating the prerequisite tropes of main-stage kind of electronica (the beat ALWAYS booming at its absolute loudest), but artfully offset with the kind of acumen and awareness that staves off the horrors of big-beat cliché. Impressive.
Come sundown, the heavens part one final time to dump their heaviest falls of the day. But despite the cyclone raging all around the festival grounds, the biggest drops are to be found inside the tent of Sahara, with British dub-steppers Nero beginning to melt faces courtesy of a tweaked version of Justice’s ‘Stress’. Perched atop a giant cube of valve amps and a reconfigured analogue gaming console, the duo (sometimes trio, when vocalist Alana Watson joins proceedings) continue to blast their cacophonous wares, moving through their version of The Streets’ ‘Blinded By The Light’, ‘Reach Out’, ‘Promises’ and ‘Crush On You’. The thunderous dumps that inevitably ebb and flow through each tune befit the stormy conditions beyond the lip of the great roof, and the image of the silvery rain - shimmering bright in the neon glow of an enormous lighting rig - spewing down upon the voracious bowl of writhing bodies is nothing short of epic.
Speaking of epic, Justice. The Frenchmen trot out in their trademark laconic cool amidst a flurry of smoke and adulation, beginning with the suitably imposing intro to ‘Genesis’, before taking an unexpected turn and smashing straight into some hard edged techno. ‘Ecstasy… One for me… Just take it’ posits a modulated robotic voice and, judging by the rapturous crowd heaving before them, it’s a ritual many in attendance may be familiar with. Cigarettes dangling eternally in hand, Xavier de Rosnay and Gaspard Auge continue on with their techno coloured tour de force and it pays dividends, with every peak and trough bringing ever more fist pumps from the throngs packed tightly at the foot of the stage. Never ones to forget the universal appeal of pop, the pounding beats slowly subside for the slightest tinge of French house, and a funk horn looped endlessly in repetition. The cycle snaps eventually, breaking to yield for a rapid-fire party suite that includes ‘D.A.N.C.E.’, Junior Senior’s ‘Move Your Feet’, Fatboy Slim’s ‘Renegade Master’, The Chemical Brothers’ ‘Block Rockin’ Beats’, Gesaffelstein’s monstrous ‘OPR’, ‘Phantom Part II’, ‘Never Be Alone’ and T-Rex’s ‘Get It On’. So, something for everyone, and Justice for all. And while they might not represent the cutting-edge zenith of cool they have in years gone by, they’ve still got it
If Justice play tunes that are capable of pleasing everyone, then The Presets make tunes that are capable of pleasing everyone, and in that way, they’re the perfect Australian festival closer. Big enough to be familiar to all and sundry; hip enough to appeal to the kids with side fringes and black stovepipes; radio friendly enough to get the most muscular of arms fist-pumping; ‘strayan enough to keep the sunburned surfers proud to party; euphoric enough to ensure that the hedonistic excesses of the day remain relevant. Their closing set is reflective of this rare kind of flexibility, moving from the giddy fluorescence of new material like ‘Promises’, to the sing-along anthema of ‘This Boy’s In Love’, to the menacing rave-rock of ‘My People’. The lively indie-disco of ‘I Go Hard, I Go Home’ to the mindlessly pounding electronica of ‘Youth In Trouble’ and back again. What’s most impressive about their set isn’t simply the variety they offer, but the way in which they manage to coalesce all these wildly different sounds into something fluid. And not only that, but the way in which they manage to simultaneously elicit so much fluid while doing so, whipping an enormous crowd into sweaty fervour for the duration.
With that, thousands of punters abscond into the night. And as another Parklife falls by the wayside, the gluttonous tsunami of summer festivals begins to loom large on the horizon. May they bring the warm weather with them.
(Photos: Leah Robertson)