Laneway 2016 is well and truly underway having already knocked down 50% of their dates over the past week swinging by Brisbane, Adelaide and Sydney. 

As organisers promised, an assortment of some of the music scene’s best and brightest bands and artists, including Grimes, Battles, FIDLAR, CHVRCHES, Shamir, and more tore up the Sydney College Of The Arts (SCA) ground over the weekend and here is what we learnt. 

Laneway Are Better Tastemakers than Pitchfork

Laneway’s status quo has always been about giving airtime to some of the lesser- known acts in Australia and abroad. Although this year’s lineup boasted some of the biggest names in the music world (Flume, CHRVCHES, Purity Ring), the first few hours of Laneway still revealed plenty of acts bound for all sorts of adulation in a few years time.

Unearthed winners ADKOB opened with an admirable set, whilst Ali Barter gained hosts of fans with an incredible voice that bolsters her recorded output into startling magnetism.

However, it was Blank Realm, the cult noise-pop group from Brisbane that stole the early hours. Although beginning with a shaky start, 2014’s ‘Reach You On the Phone’ brought Blank Realm up to their standard speed as one of the most brilliant bands this country has produced.

A blurry cocktail of wailing guitar, heartbroken lyrics and enough victorious keytar to give a Duran Duran fan a heart attack, Blank Realm are as essential to a record collection and “seen live” list as any other big act one could care to name.

Royal Headache Are Objectively the Best Band in Australia

On the topic of essential, Royal Headache exemplify and extend the very definition of the word. Their songs are endlessly listenable – deeply personal, but ingrained in a simplicity that echoes to even the casual listener, encapsulating the very meaning of a “good song”.

But Royal Headache don’t stop at being merely electrifying on record, as the band bring a hurricane of soul, punk and rock n roll to a crowd forced to succumb to the talent. Frontman Shogun throttles his way through the band’s two albums, from the early favourites (‘Eloise’, ‘Girls’) to cuts from their 2015 sophomore masterpiece High, and two unreleased tracks that point to the cult of Royal Headache garnering even more fans when they see a release.

Rock Is Alive and Well in Australia

Laneway always do a good job of representing the loud and guitar-ish side of things. As has already been established, Royal Headache planted themselves at the top of the pile, but the more popular fronts of The Smith Street Band and Violent Soho are still worth mentioning. Both bands are drastically different: the former engages in do-or-die earnestness that speaks to the anxious little kid inside of everyone, the person that doesn’t know what the hell they’re doing in the big, bad world of adulthood. The latter provide the sort of anthemic rock that leans on grunge and the sweat and beer stained howls from the pub stage (as evidenced by Soho’s cover of GOD’s classic ‘My Pal’). The crossover for Smith Street and Soho is their fans; dedicated moshers, crowd-surfers and bellowers who know every word to every song. There’s a love, dedication and passion felt between the bands and their punters that should remove any cynicism and snide remarks regarding the death of rock.

Hip Hop and Neo-Soul Acts Are the New Titans of Pop

Laneway’s bill boasted one of the biggest alternative pop stars since Peaches, but Grimes’ set felt awkward, as her music and delivery was completely outshone by her backup dancers. Instead, the real pop achievements belonged to neo-soul artists The Internet and Thundercat, and the thundering hip-hop of Vince Staples. Although none of these artists are “traditionally pop”, they were far more enticing than the conventional acts on display. The Internet, formed by former Odd Future members Syd the Kid and Matt Martians, has an eclecticism and vibrancy that was sorely missing from their former collective. They move with fluidity, a power that swoons organically, no forced hints apparent in their addictive swagger.

It’s #Thundercat! That bass, that voice, the man is badass #Laneway2016 😎😎😎 A photo posted by St. Jerome’s Laneway Festival (@lanewayfest) on

Meanwhile, Thundercat oozes good vibes, turning on a set of gentle and serene music that forces jaws to drop out of respect for the musicianship alone. The former Suicidal Tendencies bassist has done a 180 degree turn, erasing his former skate punk past in favour of a six-stringed bass and collaborations with Flying Lotus. By this turn, Thundercat ended up delivering one of the most intriguing sets of the day.

Finally, Vince Staples proved to be a powerhouse, a hip-hop dynamo with brutal ferocity. He commands the crowd as Moses would the sea, grasping at the adoration with authority. Working through cuts from his debut album Summertime ’06, Staples’ sheer charisma and fortitude behind a microphone positions him to be the kind of hip-hop star prone to dominate the world.

The Experimental Triumphed Over the Traditional

Throughout the day, Laneway attendees faced the difficult decision of deciding to see a niche acts or some of the biggest artists in the indie realm, and the stranger acts won that battle every time. In the early portions of the day, METZ punched the air out of lungs with a debilitating noise-punk set, whilst the Oasis-lite DMA’s trod through predictable tune after the other.

Battles thrashed through their wonky take on rock and pop, and Vince Staples wreaked havoc whilst CHVRCHES plodded along. But the biggest case of giants being toppled came from the most unsuspecting of places…

Flume Was Blown Out of the Water by Two Lesser Known Producers From the UK

With Laneway nearing its end, the festival’s headliners stepped up to their respective stages… and stalled. Beach House gave an ethereal but un-remarkable show, whilst Flume felt completely flat and clunky; older staples such as ‘Holdin’ On’ garnered initial screams of glee, but newer material failed to raise the masses’ pulse. Flume looks to have moved on from being the posterboy for EDM to being merely predictable.

[include_post id=”470101″]But tucked in the corner, available only to curious eyes, the cult of Sophie and QT giddily drank from the weirdness being shot from onstage. Sophie and QT’s music is utterly bizarre, slithering between brave sounds that shouldn’t work, but do.

Jarring, unpredictable, incredible – what Sophie and QT do is something that won’t appeal to everyone, but the cult they have amassed will defend it to death. At a bare minimum, most folks will be able to admire the experimental flourishes to their music and collaboration, striking out randomly when larger acts are happy to rest on their laurels.

Diversity is Laneway’s Greatest Strength

It’s an obvious point that Laneway celebrates, indeed THRIVES, because of its elaborate lineup. From the crushing heart severing of Majical Cloudz, to the garage stomp of FIDLAR, to the throbbing buzz of Hermitude, Laneway offers up a bold variety that most festivals wouldn’t dare touch, a move that should continue to be applauded as they continue to rise above their humble beginnings in the backstreets of Melbourne.

By the same token, the sheer range of acts attracts a swathe of crowds whom all descend and co-exist in a matrimony that doesn’t really seem natural, but thankfully is. Shirtless shaka bros hi-five parents who just want to know what they hell their kids are into these days.

There’s a harmony that doesn’t really exist amongst other festivals, and makes for a day far smoother and more enjoyable than others are capable of. It’s the diversity, both in artists and patrons that create the unique stamp that Laneway should be proud of, and the factor that fosters its continual growth.

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