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REVIEW: St. Jerome’s Laneway Festival, Melbourne

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For a festival that started with the humblest of beginnings, in a Melbourne laneway, it’s somewhat startling to see the event sold-out at $160. For the purpose of comparison, when Big Day Out raised its ticket prices to over $150 in 2012, the event failed to sell-out and forced organisers to offer two for one tickets in Sydney. So why does it work for Laneway? Probably because punters can see the heart that goes into the festival. Each year the lineup makes total sense, the venues are carefully picked and the experience is paramount. This year was arguably the festival’s greatest lineup, justifying every dollar of that $160.

If we’re going to chatter on a little more about the excellent lineup, might we add that at 3pm the Footscray venue was almost packed, a testament to both the festival and Aussie artist Andy Bull who pulled an excitable crowd. Despite the blaring sunlight, Bull captivated with his collection of melodically on-point tunes. Baby I Am Nobody Now proved early on his heighty vocal-chops while a cover of Everybody Wants To Rule The World kicked the crowd into full-gear. He may have been one of the more no-frills performers of the day, but with his keyboard at his side, he delivered perky renditions of Talk Too Much and Keep On Running.

A performer who captured the energy of Laneway perfectly was Chicago’s Vic Mensa who hyped the crowd into an absolute frenzy. Almost ignoring the blazing heat, Mensa’s DJ hyped the crowd up so much that by the time the rapper entered the stage they were bouncing off each other to every shuddering beat. Without an album to his name, Mensa easily entertained full the whole set traversing both traditional hip-hop and electronic styles. It takes an impressive rapper to effortlessly open a set with Wimmie Nah and finish it with Down On My Luck despite their obvious stylistic differences. Mensa was an absolute warrior on stage thrashing around the microphone stand, launching into the crowd and climbing on stage scaffolding. Never was there a dull moment, event when he took some time to showcase his vocals on slow-tempo numbers. The response to Drive Me Crazy which is all of a week old proved just how dedicated the crowd was.

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Sneakers were aplenty this year, both as a fashion statement and a measure of practicality. The Footscray site is beautiful but spread out and making it to the main stage directly after an act proved to be a workout. It’s why we only caught the end of the charismatic Mac Demarco, floundering about on the main stage. Thankfully, we were given a little more time to return to see his Mum, Annie Demarco, introduce British band Jungle like a pro. Jungle were last here for Splendour In the Grass but their on stage entourage was noticeably bigger this time around. The leading duo were dressed in a baseball outfit and an ARMY uniform, ready to bring the funk.

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And bring the funk, they did. With the extra band mates they were able to deliver a far more instrumentals-dense set, that added just that little bit more gusto to their performance. It’s nice to see a band that’s been touring for so long still show signs of joy and as such it was heartwarming to see Tom and Josh look to each other and smile when they realised just how far back the crowd stretched. Busy Earnin’ was the highlight of a brilliant set, largely thanks to a guest appearance by Vic Mensa who prolonged the song’s end and made us realise that we’d be happy for him to add a verse to every song today.

From one Brit to another, the crowd waded towards the main stage for FKA twigs. There had been murmurings for the Laneway’s previous that twigs was the one to see and it seemed those Chinese whispers had spread as a massive crowd turned out. As three (!!!) drummers took to the stage it was pretty clear that this one was going to be a rib cage shaker and it turned out to be exactly that. Twigs is probably the only solo performer who could’ve weathered the shuddering beats and somehow come out as the centre of attention. Her ethereal, slight vocals pierced above all else as she stalked around the stage like a beast searching its prey. The way she moves to the, mostly irregular, beats is utterly mesmerising. She understands fluidity in a way no other does. She hits accents with hearty force and in between moves like a gust of wind over water, extending limbs beyond the impossible. All of this comes together most evidently on Pendulum where she acts as if the drum stick is within her body, beating her around the stage. As she ends on Two Weeks, it all comes together. The voice sounds crystalline, the instrumental is full-bodied and she dances like a pop star who actually understands the artistic power of movement. Quite frankly it’s hard to remember a performer like twigs. She’s not weird, her friendly encounters with the crowd prove that, but she’s got a sharply artistic mind which she conceives with perfection.

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When the sun goes down at Laneway there’s always a strong sense that shit’s about to get real. And when you’re standing front-row at Caribou where the entire band is illuminated and the bass is shuddering through every inch of your body, nothing could be more true. Dan Snaith aka. Caribou was one of the older members of the lineup, but he’s as relevant as ever. His set melded together warm melodies with hard-hitting bass and forceful synths making his performance one of the more profound of the day. Set opener Our Love kicked the dance-vibes into gear while a mid set drop of Odessa raised thousands of arms in the air. He focused more on his most recent record Our Love more than anything else but nobody cared. The record is a knock-out and nothing proved it more than when he added an extra chorus to Can’t Do Without You and knocked the crowd-over with a rush of the most textured yet abrasive synths you’ve every heard.

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Caribou was always going to be hard to beat but if anybody was going to do it it’s Annie Clarke, better known as St. Vincent. A little like twigs, Clarke is otherworldly. As she enters the stage all her movements are clean yet a little alien. She shuffles about the stage as if she’s on a conveyer belt on Mars and also moves her arms about in a robotic yet beautiful motion. Essentially her songs operate in the realms of pop but live she brings a real rock grunt to them. She absolutely shreds on the guitar and despite her crisp look, she gets down and gets to work. It’s never more evident than on Birth In Reverse where she marries pop synths with a growling guitar, fusing for a massive chorus. Her voice is also crystalline for the entirety of the performance making quieter numbers like Cheerleader captivating. She deserved every bit of the Grammy she won today even if she herself couldn’t give a toss.

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Running down the hill to catch the final moments of American BANKS, we were immediately hit by a flurry of smoke and lights in which she waded around in her dark gown. There were rumours that she only wanted photographers to take photos of her left side and as such photographers were blocked from shooting from a certain side of the stage. She’s definitely got the songs, as brilliant closer Beggin’ For Thread proved, but the whole thing felt a little measured. That’s why it was so good to hear her let loose and say “Melbourne, this has been one of the best fucking shows of my life”.

On that point, BANKS’ sentiment was one that many of the acts echoed. Many were overwhelmed by not only the size of the crowd but the palpable energy which occupied every space of the festival. There was barely any rogue behaviour, rather just 12,000 plus who appreciated good music and showed their appreciation respectfully. Every year Laneway reminds us why festivals aren’t dead. They just need to be treated and attended with love.

GALLERY: St. Jerome’s Laneway Festival Melbourne

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