There’s no getting past it: while Australia is spoilt when it comes to top-notch music festivals, Byron Bay institution Splendour in the Grass is the biggest and best of all of them, seeing tens of thousands of Australian music fans congregate on a sea of tents each year to watch for music than any one person could reasonably ask for.
Last year’s event was filled with ridiculous highlights and, like any event, some unfortunate snags as well, and overall managed to well-and-truly hold onto its crown as the festival to beat, no matter what sort of experience you’re after.
Whether you’re a festival veteran or a relative newcomer, there’s nothing else quite like Splendour on the music calendar, so we’ve put together a guide with some of our tips to make sure you have what’ll probably be the best (if also the most exhausting) weekend of your year.
Come prepared, and Splendour is the best weekend on the Aussie music calendar
Don’t underestimate the mud
Splendour is basically the closest thing Australia has to Glastonbury for two reasons. One is the sheer size of the festival and its lineups, overflowing with international bands. The other is how ridiculously wet the festival site can sometimes end up – 2015 was affectionately titled ‘Splendour in the Mud’.
While it’s not always a disaster zone, and this year the forecast is only predicting a small amount of rain if any, even a small shower can be enough enough to turn the place into a mud-pit that no amount of woodchips can cure, so it’s always best to pack for the worst case scenario.
Forget fashion for a few days, and think about your poor shoes, because there’s a chance that as soon as you step out of the car or bus on your arrival, you’ll be going feet-first into a situation not too dissimilar from those mud wrestling rings you always see in American flicks from the eighties. If you don’t have a serious pair of gumboots, bring plastic bags and elastic bands, and get prepared to strap those babies up, because it’s either that or throw them out on your way back to the airport.
Similarly, for the rest of your soon-to-be-filthy body, don’t wear anything you’re not prepared to either throw away or scrub thoroughly afterwards, and definitely bring a raincoat or poncho. You’ve got three whole days to get through, and whether it happens on the first day or the last, there’s a steadily-increasing chance of stacking it on a wet hill and landing right in the mud.
It may not be ‘Splendour in the Mud’ every year, but come prepared just in case
Get ready for a cross-country marathon
If you’ve never been to a Splendour before, it can be a bit of a shock just how big the site is, a tent-filled paradise stretching out in all directions until it could eclipse a small town – and with over 30, 000 people rocking up each year, it’s got the population of one as well.
It can be tempting to look at the set times (which you can find here) and think to yourself “well, I’ll just dash over to catch such and such for 20 minutes, and then run across to see so and so…”, but when your mad dash turns into more of a slow trudge through crowds and mud, you may have to give up on seeing every single act you were hoping to.
The words ‘pick your battles’ definitely ring true here, so make sure you leave plenty of time to get from one stage to another, and be prepared to make some tough decisions.
Last year’s aerial shots show you exactly how far you’ll need to walk – and back
Mary’s Burgers are a must
Sure, part of the fun of going to a festival like Splendour is that there are so many different ways to blow all of your money on food, and they’re almost universally good – festival food has come a long way from the carnival hot chips and donuts that used to be the standard.
But another part of the fun is finding Mary’s Burgers, and then finding them again every single time you’re even mildly hungry. Just feel like a sit down? Better with a Mary’s burger. Soaked to the bone? A Mary’s burger will warm you up. Lost all of your mates in the crowd? They’re probably at Mary’s, and if not, you’ve just found your new best friend anyway.
In all seriousness, they’re some of the best burger I’ve had, at a music festival or otherwise. The Newtown burger joint is run by a team of music lovers who actually just bought and reopened Sydney venue the Lansdowne, and they know exactly what a hungry punter is after.
The only problem here is that they’re located in the Gold Bar, which is reserved for those with a VIP ticket, but if you were on the fence about grabbing VIP passes and rubbing shoulders with the artists, this monster below might just sway you. If not, they’re also running a pop-up version of their pub The Unicorn Hotel in the Very Small Suburb area, so maybe that’ll hit the spot instead?
You’ll regret drinking too early and missing LCD Soundsystem. You won’t regret a Mary’s burger.
Take a break from the music
Yeah, it’s the biggest music festival of the year, and whether you’re here for the massive headliners or the buzzworthy emerging talent, you won’t have time to see it all as it is. But Splendour puts on some genuinely great stuff that can be perfect for when you need to give your eardrums a rest.
The Forum is a spot that runs from 10-4 each day and features a bunch of interesting discussions and panels to give you something interesting to say when you bump into that guy you worked with three years ago and he asks “hey bro, how’s your festival?, including a panel on cyber-security hosted by Dr Karl (who is always great value at Splendour), a songwriting chat with Julia Jacklin, Airling and Luca Brasi’s Tyler Richardson, and comedian Tom Gleeson grilling Greens senator Richard Di Natale. There’s even a new science tent this year for those who FL science as much as they FL music.
If your brain’s a bit too… ‘tired’ for any of this stuff, there’ll also be an array of comedians hitting up the Comedy Club across the weekend, including former triple j presenter Matt Okine, who will be performing his stand-up set rather than his latest rap tracks. All in all, there’s heaps to check out each day, so there’s no excuse to be stuck around the campsite for too long.
There’s comedy, science and politics on offer as well as all that music.
Bring the kids
Don’t be one of those parents who has kids and then is never seen of heard from at a live music venue again – Splendour knows it can be a battle, and is doing its best to help with Little Splendour, tailor-made for tiny punters.
There are a range of kids activities running from 10am to 5pm Friday to Sunday, like a sand pit, jumping castle, and an arts and crafts tent, plus activities for the older kids as well – and coffee facilities for the parents. Better yet, the place is open until midnight each day, with access to change facilities, meal areas, charging stations and everything else you’ll need to keep the family happy.
You can hire custom wagons to wheel your tots around in, but perhaps most exciting of all is the babysitting on offer from 12pm to 12am each day, letting parents drop their kids off for up to two hours so they can head back into a mosh-pit full of slightly bigger people who also happen to be dirty, semi-naked, covered in food and paint, drooling, and barely able to speak English.
Find out all about the Little Splendour facilities here, and give your kids a festival they’ll be too young to remember.
Plenty on offer to keep the kids happy while you duck off to the mainstage for an hour
Know the new security rules
There are a host of new rules being brought in this year, and while some of them may seem a bit annoying, they should be relatively painless if you head along prepared.
The main thing to note is that backpacks over 3ocm tall, 20cm wide and just 5cm deep aren’t going to be allowed in the main festival area, although any bag you want to take into the camping area is obviously fine. Organisers are saying to “embrace the bumbag”, and it’s a good thing they’re pretty trendy at the moment, so there’s every chance you’ll get a compliment on it if you wear one.
Also, there will be drug dogs at the festival this year, and all cars will be checked by security at some point throughout the festival, whether upon entry or when parked, so make sure you don’t get yourself into any trouble. There will also be metal-detecting ‘wands’ in use around the entrances to scan for hidden metallic objects, so stuffing a hip flask in your jocks is a bad idea as well.
You can check the full list of banned items over on the Splendour website, and it’s not worth being kicked out of the festival, so be smart about what you’re taking in.
Security is tightening up this year, and you don’t want to be kicked out
Leave the cultural attire on the shelf
As many festival-goers have realised in recent years, while it’s fun to dress up with your mates as you escape reality for a few days, there are certain items with cultural significance for entire groups of people that definitely shouldn’t be worn as costumes.
The most prominent of these in recent years is the Native American headdress, which is unfortunately sold by plenty of stalls at festivals across the country, despite being an object of honour only to be worn by respected elders. It might just be a pretty decoration to you, but it’s important to know the story behind items like these before you reduce them into a fashion accessory and run around in the mud.
There are plenty of ways to stand out from the costumed masses, so consider whether the outfit you’re putting together might be turning someone’s cultural heritage into a fancy dress costume – and yes, that probably goes for wearing an Aussie flag as a cape, too.
Don’t be this dude.
Look out for the doctor
Wherever you go, and no matter how munted you are, be warned: Dr. Karl is out there, and he will hit your frazzled brain with a dose of reality and festival-related science. Last year the good doctor was roaming the camping grounds and, well… some people were in better condition than others to hear him out.
While there are almost 20,000 punters camping at the site, nobody is safe, so don’t say we didn’t warn you.
If you’re too scattered on Sunday morning to remember your own name, he WILL find you
Finally, check these bands out – they’re good!
We won’t hold it against you if you’re really just hanging to see headliners like QOTSA or LCD Soundsystem blowing away an entire hill of fans in one go, but with so much depth to the lineup, you really do owe it yourself to get out there and see some of the names printed in slightly smaller type.
Now, there are seriously too many to choose from, but allow us to recommend a few of the non-headlining acts from each night you should definitely pencil in when checking out the set times (located right here).
Thursday night may just be the warm-up, but it comes with a lineup that would put many boutique festivals to shame. The Red Bull mix-up stage gives an impressive run all the way through with GL, Alta, B Wise, Mansionair and Sydney hip hop queen Sampa the Great (a must-see) all guaranteed great sets, but the Tiny Dancer stage is also putting on an amazing night with BUOY, Charles Murdoch, Fortunes and UV Boi making for an amazing lead-in to the double-header of Touch Sensitive and Wave Racer.
Things get tougher on Friday, so a few names we’d recommend trying to swing by are young Melbourne producer Alice Ivy, UNFD-signed experimental hardcore outfit Ocean Grove, and young songwriter Jarrow making it worth getting down to the GW McLennan tent at 12:30.
Dune Rats and Splendour in the Grass are pretty much a perfect match
Saturday gives anyone a great reason to get down for the first acts, with Mallrat, Hockey Dad and Gretta Ray all kicking off their respective stages, while breakout talent Middle Kids will pull a big crowd soon afterwards. Dune Rats’ 2015 set was without a doubt one of the highlights, and it’ll be even bigger this year, and producer Harvey Sutherland playing with his live band Bermuda is one of the night’s must-see acts.
Winding things down on Sunday by staying just as crazy, the lineup offers up talented emerging producer Kuren right off the bat at the Mix Up stage, although he’s competing with a one-two punch of The Murlocs and The Peep Tempel that is pretty impossible to beat. Christopher Port and Planete will be keeping the Mix Up stage nice and toasty later in the evening, and if anyone’s looking to escape the madness of LCD Soundsystem, the closing set by Bonobo will be just the thing.
We’ve also got a road-trip ready playlist of 40 artists we’re hanging to hear this year, but you really can’t go wrong no matter where you turn, so make sure you see heaps of music and have a ball.