Some may still be nostalgic for Laneway’s origins, cramped into the nooks and crannies of Melbourne’s CBD, but there’s do denying that the move to the Footscray Community Centre has seen the St. Jeromes’ curated event blossom in recent years.
With no strict ‘main stage’ to speak of, Laneway instead provides a series of hubs and lineups tailored for every kind of genre fanatic, while providing enough open space to make moving from stage to stage a snap.
In fact, the whole event runs rather efficiently. Changeovers are snappy, security is present but never overbearing, toilet and food options are abundant with lines that aren’t too long.
As for the final rogue element of the festival equation, the behaviour of the crowd themselves; the presence of Taco Truck, an on-site ‘vintage’ market, and an ASOS booth should tell you all you need to know about the relatively tame clientele – though there are always exceptions (isn’t that right Mr. Piss-into-a-bottle-and-hurl-it-for-a-laugh!?)
The weather conditions are near-perfect as well, leading to one simple prediction. “This will be a great day for a festival,” chirps Erlend Øye of Kings Of Convenience, who have the (self-imposed) duty of kicking off the day’s proceedings (excluding Triple J Unearthed winner Ali Barter’s satisfying mid-morning set).
It’s been over a decade since the Norwegian duo’s debut Quiet Is The New Loud, unwittingly named the acoustic movement of the early oughties, and as many years for their first ever Australian tour dates; but the pleasant whimsy of Øye and his counterpart, Eirik Glambek Bøe, has dated none.
Though the crowd at the Dean Turner stage is thick with the hum of light chatter, as festival-goers rendezvous and plan their respective routes, the duo don’t seem perturbed to be providing more of a glazed backdrop than an enthralling spectacle.
After a few gentle numbers (and a short pause over their concern for a fainting woman), the twosome introduce a backing band to beef up their fey catalogue.
‘Boat Behind’ benefits most, with an extended disco shuffle that prompts Øye into some humorous dancing (proving his other musical moniker, The Whitest Boy Alive, pretty accurate). They prove a wonderful way to ease into the festival mood.
Seated at the foot of a hill flanked by rose bushes, the River Stage provides a picturesque setting, and Jack Milas – who with Oli Chang forms High Highs – courteously point out as much, “this is easily the most beautiful stage we’ve ever played on.”
Based in Brooklyn, but returning to Australia with a well-honed debut, Open Season in hand, their ambient-hazed delicacies are as shimmering as the water that stretches behind them on the Maribyrnong River, but unfortunately, not as deep.
The warm subtleties of their recorded sound translates to a bit of a lazy, dull hum in the live setting, but forgivably, well suited to the flocks of people loafing and dozing on the hillside.
No disrespect to the drummer that augments the duo, but the thick of four-four beats – a tactful heartbeat on record – translates to a leaden thud on stage, with a bass-heavy mix that fails to accommodate their feather-light atmosphere being partly to blame.
‘In A Dream’ and ‘Open Season’ demonstrate that High Highs posess a confident, crafted sound but their graceful, understated tunes and underwhelming live presence are aimed little at energising a crowd, and they give little back in kind.
It’s a criticism that could also be levelled at Snakadaktal, whose version of dream pop is still taking its damn time to take shape in the live setting, even if the presence of a strong turn-out shows that they’ve built an admirable following.
There’s not much point crucifying a band still so early in their career, with the words ‘talented’ and ‘teenager’ still hovering through every mention of the five-piece (whoops, guilty); but sandwiched between The Men and Cloud Nothings, two bands with far more distinctive sonic appeal, they appear sorely out of place.
By contrast, Perfume Genius – the stage name for Seattle’s Mike Hardeas – does far more with much less.
Opening alone with the quavering vocals and keys of ‘AWOL Marine’, the sawing synth and lightly brushed drums of his bandmates slowly enter the picture.
Though still mostly horizontal, the River Stage’s hillside mob responds receptively to his slow-mo balladry, his torch-lit songs even enticing a small pack to rise and get front and centre without prompt from the timid Hadreas.
The tender ‘Dark Parts’ and haunting ‘Learning’, where he’s squeezed together with bandmate boyfriend Alan Wyffels as a piano duet, are definite highlights amongst the bruised and poignant, yet engaging tunes.
Meanwhile, there’s passion of a less anguished and more angered kind at the other end of the Laneway site, where Cloud Nothings are tearing shreds off the sequestered Eat Your Own Ears Car Park stage.
Against an industrial vista of docking containers and silos, the urban setting is also completely at the mercy of the now beating sun, allowing the rowdiest of head-bangers to let the rays smoulder the alcohol churning in their system.
One circle pit takes turns necking a bottle of Smirnoff, and to their credit, manage to contain their violent shoving to themselves, while the barbed wire alt-rock of Cloud Nothings provide the perfect soundtrack.
Looking every bit the slacker idol with his scraggy locks tumbling out from his snap back cap, Dylan Baldi provides the focal point for their aggressively jagged aural assault, sharpening the fuzzier edges of Attack On Memory.
Even the pure melodies of ‘Fall In’ and ‘Cut You’ threaten to be swallowed whole by lashings of noisy feedback and the sheer turbulence of the quartet’s momentum.
Baldi’s usual punkish snarl is serrated into a shredding howl, particularly on the unrelenting ‘Wasted Days’, where after nine minutes of thrilling ear-battering, the shrieked coda of “I thought/I would/be more than this” drives the more sensitive away in packs.
Those that survive the savage turn are treated to a particularly doom-laden rendition of ‘No Future No Past’, its slow-burn crescendo of brooding guitars and unrelenting rhythm inevitably exploding into a full-blooded rock catharsis.
It’s one of many punctuated moments in a set that proves to be a fiery festival highlight.
For the more commercially sensible, there’s the soulful, stoic rock of The Rubens who bring sing-along selections from their self-titled debut.
Their set (much like their career) is contoured to crowd-pleasing, working through ‘Elvis’, ‘My Gun’ and a fuller if less blues-dappled take of ‘Lay It Down’ with workmanlike vigour.
A spontaneous cover of ‘The Seed 2.0’ by The Roots, complete with a surprise appearance from Melbourne rapper Seth Sentry, is a welcome shock in a robust set.
Though yet to experience the full blown crossover of some of their indie contemporaries, off the basis of Poliça’s live show, it’s not long before they do.
They put a unique twist on studio-honed electropop with two key weapons – the dexturous synergy of twin drummers Ben Ivascu and Drew Christopherson, and the magnetic presence of vocalist Channy Leaneagh.
Her honeyed, partly-digitised singing is gloriously rich, but rather than stand demure in her delivery, she throws herself into her performance, twisting and writhing with each phrase of the group’s effortless grooves.
The polish of ‘Amongster’ and ‘Leading To Death’, along with the inherent charm of their enthralling frontwoman, sees them worming their way infectiously into the crowd’s hearts and feet.
The River Stage’s first sizeable crowd, all stamping in unison, make Poliça look and sound the part of a long-honed festival act, despite being only two years into their career.
Wedged between food stalls and the vintage market, those gathered at the Future Classics stage were getting into the selection of moody beat-peddlers Holy Other and Shlomo; but in the distance the characteristically frazzled sounds of Pond were very audible.
That’s not a critique of any sound bleed, but says more of the volume and freewheeling potency of the Perth collective.
Their ties to Tame Impala, in both lineup and fondness for psychedelic strains gone by, is well noted, but Pond really no longer live in the shadow of their successful sister. Their woolly jams and natural chemistry make for a deliciously entertaining live show.
As he whips his boyish frame into an increasingly dazzling array of cartoonish gestures and gurning expressions, it’s clear that Nick Allbrook has evolved into a hugely charismatic frontman, physically expressing the haywire energy that thunders through Pond’s intoxicating conniptions.
Though less demonstrably showy, bandmates Jay Watson, Joe Ryan, and the rhythm section of Cam Avery and Jamie Terry are no less enthused, as they deliver a smattering of their new material amongst tour-hewn peaks like ‘Moth’s Wings’ and ‘You Broke My Cool’; the end of their 45 minute set coming all too soon.
The crowd quickly thins only to bulk up again in anticipation for the arrival of Canadian duo, Japandroids. With the gusto you’d expect of a group who named their latest LP Celebration Rock, they waste no time diving head-first into their head-strong riffage and breathless anthems.
Unfortunately, despite the comforting presence of a wall of Marshall amps, Brian King’s guitar sounds decidedly thin on the ground, especially next to the limb-dazzling display of drummer David Prowse.
They’re not lacking for urgency, but their raw, visceral punch only hits hardest to the already converted, as small groups begin to wander off to other locations.
Many of those droves join what feels like half of the festival’s population attempting to catch Chet Faker.
As listeners swoon to the bearded sex symbol’s soultronica swagger, the slinky grooves of his three-piece band provide a secondary, but no less essential counterpoint. The measured improvisations from tie-dye sporting drummer, Sam Hirschfelder, in particular.
After a vibrant run of “Cigarettes And Chocolate” and the crowd-baiting “I’m Into You” close Chet Faker’s set, the biggest migration of the day occurs, as hundreds shift back to the Dean Turner stage to catch the textural, experimental indie of Alt-J.
Getting anywhere near within view of the Leeds quartet means traversing nearly a kilometre’s worth of densely packed bodies, shoulders jammed and lungs chanting along to the likes of ‘Tesselate’ and ‘Something Good’ with deafening volume.
The two large plasma screens that act like checkpoints on the way to the stage are also thickened with punters looking to enjoy the band’s inventively astute art.
The revelry comes to a crashing halt however a few bars into ‘Fitzpleasure’ where, with no explanation, frontman Joe Green leads the band in putting down their instruments and leaving the stage. (It later transpires that some fool up a tree looking to get an unobstructed view had fallen… hard.)
The quartet soon returns, drawing little attention to the incident and instead barrel on with their set, including an ear-splitting round of ‘Breezeblocks’.
Few bands have captured the zeitgeist so ferociously in the last year, and it’s still slightly baffling that Alt-J’s high-brow, genre-defying fusion is so widely adored (a cymbal-less kit? How queer). But then that’s their gift, being able to translate the unconventional – both sonically and lyrically – into the palatable.
How else to explain ‘Taro’? A song about a wartime photojournalist stepping on a landmine providing the rousing set-closer, as the fanatic masses sing back every fragmented phrase and melody word for word.
It’s here that the dreaded clashes begin to truly plague festival-goers’ final courses.
An evening with hip-hop producer El-P and obscuretronica maestro Nicolas Jaar for a mock-forest rave at the Future Classic Stage? Or perhaps a dose of indie supergroup Divine Fits followed by Sydney beat junkie Flume at the Car Park stage?
Feel pity then for poor Alpine. Who perform a polished set to a rather diminutive crowd; many working from the philosophy that Melbourne bands will be easier to catch again than the rare likes of international headliners.
Others just want a second helping of the tried and true, and for anyone who caught the Brooklyn boho-popsters at their 2011 appearance on the same stage, Yeasayer’s slot at the Dean Turner provides the best kind of déjà vu.
As if on cue, Chris Keating remarks about the “best fucking thing [he’s] ever seen” being the wheelchair-bound crowd-surfer from their last Melbourne Laneway visit.
There’s no such re-enactment, but the kaleidoscopic rush of ‘O.N.E.’, ‘2080’, and the sticky grooves of ‘Longevity’ inspire some of the most creative dancing of the day as the entire thoroughfare becomes a giddy pit of smiling faces and winding moves.
Yeasayer then pull out well-worn favourite, ‘Wait For The Summer’, and with the sun (ironically) retreating from view, the amber glow of the stage lights looks glorious against the sea of figures coiling into a final, delirious rave to their colourfully ambitious psych-folk.
As dark descends, the stage is littered with an array of instruments gilded by old lanterns, setting the perfect mood for closing act Bat For Lashes.
First her backing ensemble enters, then the bob-cut vision of Natsha Khan herself, draped in a holographic sarong, and a glossy, corrugated cape. Her arms outstretched like foil feathers with each dramatic gesture.
There’s plenty of them in the natural opener of ‘Lilies’, which swiftly showcases Khan’s glassy vocals, rife with melancholy but also feminine resolve. The sensuous build to her cry of “Thank God I’m alive” is breathtaking, as the band create the delicate mix of organic and artificial sounds with dazzling fidelity.
From the stirring electropop of ‘All Your Gold’ and ‘Marilyn’ to the darker ‘What’s A Girl To Do?’ and an electric version of ‘Daniel’, it’s remarkable how much of her sophisticated storytelling sparkles in the live setting.
The chunky, stuttered synths of ‘Oh Yeah’, the snap of the auto-harp adorned ‘Priscilla’, the rumbling, tribal rhythms of ‘Pearl’s Dream’ – all are eminently danceable and festival-savvy.
There’s even the requisite audience karaoke in the show-stopping ballad ‘Laura’, stripped back to Khan’s tear-jerking vocal and evocative piano part.
The inherent longing and sadness of the music never overwhelms the show, buoyed chiefly by Khan’s sweet charm, offering just the right amount of encouraging banter between her elegant songs.
Spotting the apartments that hang within comfortable viewing distance of the stage, she gently pokes the lounge-dwellers viewing her set with a mockney call; “havin’ a nice cup of tea?” Adorable.
The romance of her music isn’t lost on the crowd either, with couples huddling close, sneaking in long kisses, and one enthusiastic fan reaching breaking point and crying “We fucking love you Natasha.”
The feeling it seems, is mutual, with Khan and her talented band extending past their allocated set time, leaving an intensely gratifying impression on the stunned assembly.
With another winning edition complete, Laneway Festival once again proves that with a setting and organisation that’s as strong as its well-curated lineup, it’s fast becoming the most enviable date on the summer festival calendar.