Laneway Melbourne 2013 @ Footscray Community Arts Centre 03.02.13

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Laneway Melbourne 2013 @ Footscray Community Arts Centre 03.02.13

By Jake Cleland (words and picture)

Big Day Out this year had one of its strongest lineups in recent memory. Sure, the crowd was par for the course, the fields were packed with fluorescent billboards, the lines were interminable, and the general experience was more or less unchanged. But the lineup? Last year the future of all Australian festivals seemed in jeopardy over financial uncertainty – a precarious state which shows little indication of slowing, given the economical fuck-up of Peats Ridge – and yet Big Day Out managed to enroll a lineup overwhelmingly comprised of former indie darlings now at the peak of their commercial success. Animal Collective, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Vampire Weekend, Sleigh Bells, Crystal Castles; all bands who at one point epitomized the alternative mainstream but which now sell out stadiums. The other notable connection between these bands is that, at least in America, they’re known for the support of Pitchfork. Between the ‘fork and triple j, if Big Day Out’s lineup this year was only arguably its greatest, it was demonstrably its hippest. And yet Laneway gets pegged as the hipster festival?

First of all, the people here are marginally better dressed. Second, of course, the lineup is a lot more Now. Indie-electro singer-songwriter Julia Holter and her major label counterpart Jessie Ware haven’t even begun their moment yet despite the deserved acclaim of last year’s Ekstasis and Devotion respectively. Japandroids and Cloud Nothings have, after a spectacular 2012, but they both still sound just as vital and they’re both yet to be tested on the Australian crowds. It’s hardly boutique but for those whose tastes skew between the irrefutably niche and the openly populist, Laneway has long covered the territory.

We start with Holter. A promise of rain turns into a straight-up lie when the wayfarer crowd has taken up every inch of shade, leaving me, my friend Kate, and a handful of others to stand right up the front in the literally blistering sun. Coming off Laneway Sydney and a DJ set the night before, Holter apologises for being “a little bit under the weather”. “Don’t you think this music would make the perfect hangover cure?” Kate says. Maybe Holter can enjoy some of her own medicine. The setting’s ill-matched to her contemplative sound so early in the day and it diminishes her very intimate arrangements. To her immense credit, though, she hides whatever agony’s wracking her by playing well under the circumstances. Damned with faint praise, but like so many artists, I imagine she’ll fare a lot better at the sideshow.

Perfume Genius at the River Stage. Everyone’s sitting on the vast lawn slope. The stage is set against the backdrop of the shipping yard across the Maribyrnong River. Palm trees. A couple of cops wander over. Do you think cops like Perfume Genius? “No. I don’t think they like gay people. Or ice heads,” Will says. Do you think Perfume Genius is punk? “Yeah. He’s on Matador.” “This is as close to a party upbeat song as I get so I thought it might be nice to end on that,” he says. He closes the set with ‘Katie’.

Cloud Nothings are loud. Fucking loud. Frontman Dylan Baldi’s voice sounds fucked, even raspier than on the record. It kicks off with ‘Fall In’. Something about the position we’re in means we’re receiving all the blaring force but the nuance is almost lost in the breeze. As the song ends they don’t stop; rather they play on, wailing on their instruments, chasing the melody, until it segues into ‘Separation’. ‘Wasted Days’. “I thought! I would! Be more! Than this!” Hands shoot up, punctuating every pause of the disenfranchised rallying cry. Another instrumental break, extending the already long song to what feels like more than twice its length. It’s awesome. This isn’t guitar masturbation. It’s guitar blue balls. It’s guitar priapism. All build up, no release. Kate keeps me apprised of her favourite songs. So you like the slow ones? “I like the ones with the most tension.” This entire set is tension. Until it’s catharsis. Cloud Nothings’ prolonged-teen angst totally bums out the crowd and behind me is a sea of morose looks. Still, good to be together.

A girl asks me for a lighter and we get talking. “Who’re you going to see next?” she asks. Japandroids, of course. “I think I’m gonna see Chet Faker.” He’s good, I saw him at the AIR Awards, but you know you can see him any time right? “Yeah, I always say that! But then I never end up going to see those bands anyway, so I made a promise to myself I wouldn’t do that this time.” Fair enough. Cheerio.

Japandroids open with ‘Adrenaline Nightshift’. Brian’s in his now-trademark skinny black tee with the sleeves rolled up. The Springsteen comparisons have been done to death but boy, there is really something Springsteen-Clemons about the chemistry between King and Prowse. During ‘Younger Us’ he runs over to Prowse’s side of the stage and sits down on his kick drum. This is their ‘Born To Run’ cover moment, the charismatic frontman literally leaning on his other half. Throughout the set, King refers to Prowse as “My attorney David,” mimicking the relationship between the infamous Raoul Duke and his attorney, Doctor Gonzo. King introduces ‘Evil’s Sway’ by saying it’s for all the drummers in the crowd and if you’re a drummer, put your hand up. I never touched a drum kit in my life but I put my hand up anyway. Everyone’s a drummer when they’re listening to Japandroids. Even King himself who, between riffs, bashes an air drum a couple times before remembering his own instrument. It’s infectious. ‘House That Heaven Built’. “It’s our quote-unquote ‘hit single’.” Everyone shouts all the words, even adding whoa-oh-oh-ohs where they didn’t exist. Pay attention to Prowse, kiddies, he’ll tell you when to shout. Not that I’d deny anyone the unadulterated thrill. Rock gimmick? Cliche? Shortcut to “anthemic”? So what? It feels like an age since Pitchfork first posted that single. “YOU’RE NOT MINE TO DIE FOR ANYMORE! SO I MUST LIIIIIIIIIVE!” They close the set with ‘For The Love Of Ivy’ and an explanation: the reason they didn’t play a sideshow this year is because they’re coming back in May. The cheers outdo the PA.

We end on Nicolas Jaar.

All day, the Carpark stage has been blaring the worst music between sets. Horrible, generic banger shit, a completely senseless choice given that every act on the stage was in the vicinity of capital-r Rock. In contrast, the Future Classic stage precedes Jaar with beautiful orchestral music. My friends all go separate ways to find their place in the crowd. I hang out near the sound booth. At about a quarter to nine, kids start streaming in. I’m not terribly familiar with Jaar but I do know that Bat For Lashes is playing on the Dean Turner stage and Flume, the triple j artist du jour, is at the Carpark. Both huge acts, but Jaar doesn’t suffer a bit for it. Pretty soon the main area is packed shoulder to shoulder and then out past the trees, past the food stalls, pretty much anywhere a body could be in direct eyeline of the stage was occupied. It’s not as big as Bat For Lashes, who has to have a giant screen erected hundreds of metres away from the stage just to accommodate how far back the crowd has gone, but that there are so many kids leftover for such erratic electronic music is testament to just how popular the truly off-beat can get.

After another quarter hour of tension building, the throbbing bass kicks in, sending the crowd into fits. Flume may have been the better dance party, but this time of night, at this level of inebriation, in the cool summer air, this is the place to be. Jaar’s MO is to wind the crowd up as much as possible, teasing and teasing and teasing, delivering just enough to keep them hooked. Wonder what the intersection is between Jaar’s fanbase and the television show LOST’s. Tension-loving Kate manages to get a photo with one of the band. Will’s lost in the crowd with his girlfriend. Folks are starting to give me weird looks for not dancing. I’m worn out. Jaar manages to outlast Bat For Lashes and Flume, which is apparently enough for him too. The chants for an encore bring nothing but disappointment. But how could anyone not be happy with what they got? Hipster festival or no, 2013 proved that Laneway is one event whose survival was well earned.

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