You've got to hand it to Laneway Festival. They've stuck to their guns and gone from being one of the underground heroes in the festival market to the big player as they watched giants fall around them. Laneway still feels friendly and contained. Sure, it's expanded over the years but not to the point where it's overwhelming. It still feels like you're discovering everyone's favourite band before anyone else, even though many of the acts on the lineup now are established.
Sydney's location of Rozelle Art School is beautiful and we were treated to an even more beautiful, if not hot, day that made it feel like we were right in the midst of summer. The heat deterred some from making it in early for the real burgeoning stars like Jess Kent and NAO but by the time Mick Jenkins was heating up the Future Classic stage with his wobbly, groovy brand of hip-hop, thousands of punters were pouring in.
The Australian festival market is a very interesting one at the moment because some of the most popular acts around are emerging Aussie artists, proven by Amy Shark and Tash Sultana's placings in the Hottest 100. It meant that Laneway's most popular acts were local with Sultana, Gang Of Youths, A.B. Original and Jagwar Ma were in the upper echelons of the bill in spots often occupied by international acts. That's a really positive thing for Australian music but it does mean that we've seen many of these guys multiple times over the summer. Laneway used to be the festival you'd go to see artists for the first time but this year it felt like it'd lost that a bit. Still, the heavy turn out for these guys suggested punters didn't mind at all.
One Aussie-based superstar that is on the verge of big things is Sampa The Great. Laneway took a chance with putting her later on in the afternoon and she proved it was a worthwhile choice, bringing her A Game to a packed out crowd. Sampa takes reigns of the stage like an old pro and instead of simply performing, she includes the entire audience as if she's amongst us. F E M A L E is quickly becoming an anthem thanks to her commanding performances, as is the HERoes trilogy which places her in the ballpark of greats like Lauryn Hill. Throwing out African patterned material across the crowd, Sampa made sure her set was just as visually stunning as it was audibly.
followed immediately after with a haunting, hip-hop leaning set with higlights Vince Staples' Norf Norf and All Nite. For those who have followed Clams since the early days, this would've been a bucket list moment. He used to be one of the most enigmatic producers in music and while there was still something mysterious about his set, it was incredible to see him in the flesh. It would've been even greater at night but we would never complain about hearing I'm God blast out over a see of people.
From there, the Aussies took over. A.B. Original gave a powerful and political performance to a receptive crowd, D.D. Dumbo solidified his place as one of the new local greats and Tash Sultana drew an unbelievable crowd for someone with just one EP, albeit an excellent one. It was exciting to see so many future Australian headliners in one place.
For so much fresh talent down below, the three up the top of the lineup felt a little misplaced. Nick Murphy's appearance was justified given that he's got an album on the way although the two singles so far have failed to stick and his set didn't carry the same excitement as his shows at the Opera House in 2015. Glass Animals are a vibrant live act but they've been here once already off the back of their latest album How To Be A Human Being and have played here numerous times before that. The main event Tame Impala have already toured Currents around the country and played Splendour In The Grass, so they didn't feel as fresh a headliner as, say, Flume last year who had a new album in the works and was debuting a completely new show.
These are criticisms that would not be aimed at other festivals but Laneway has built a reputation for being ahead of the pulse. Perhaps it was the absence of Young Thug, who was scratched from the lineup, that was needed. He could've been the injection of fresh talent that the top of the bill was crying out for. Something unpredictable and new.
That said, Tame Impala delivered a masterful, dizzying set with every person in the audience leaving just that little bit more in love with Kevin Parker. Elephant stomped hard, Eventually was euphoric and closer New Persons, Same Old Mistake closed the Currents chapter beautifully.
The event sold out in Sydney this year, once again delighting punters. It's still got that boutique feel and there's a definite community formed by everyone who attends Laneway. It's the only touring festival that can achieve that all around the country in different locations and that's seriously impressive. With risks few and far between in the festival market now though, let's just hope Laneway stay wild and don't play it safe.
Photos by Peter Darnley-Stuart.
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