Hidden away in Lorne’s picturesque Erskine Falls, the four-day soiree that is Falls Music And Arts Festival kicked off on December 28th running through until January 1st. Now in its 22nd year, the festival has become somewhat of an institution. Despite a bout of last-minute lineup cancellations (Robyn, Royksopp and Julian Casablancas and the Voidz) and some seriously unpredictable weather, Falls Festival 2014 went off without a hitch.
Falls 2014 didn’t quite get off to the best start weather-wise. Heavy rain and winds left a path of destruction through the campsites as many a camper tragically lost their gazebos. Even this year’s new addition Rancho Relaxo; a chillout spot with food, tunes and stalls, was temporarily closed as the elements brought the covering down. But there was very little that could deter campers from catching some tunes.
Melbourne’s Northeast Party House earned the set of the day with their late afternoon slot; the five-piece drawing a particularly dense turnout. Proving why they’ve been crowned one of the best local live acts, the group turned it up for Lorne with their fast-paced jams. ‘Sick Boy’ got the party feet stomping, continuing throughout ‘The Haunted’s’ epic build towards its howling, siren-like synth instrumental. The band’s raucous energy and momentum was matched every step of the way by the crowd, climaxing in the perfect combination of the band’s Like A Version cover of Violent Soho’s ‘Covered In Chrome’ followed by their anthemic hit ‘Youth Allowance’. Singer Zach Hamilton Reeves admitted it was a 10-year dream come true for the band to play at Falls Festival (which they already have, but still).
Possibly the most anticipated act of the day was German folk duo Milky Chance, taking the prime time slot at 8.45PM. They opened with a rollicking rendition of their most recent single ‘Stunner’, taken from their 2014 debut album Sadnecessary. Appearing carefree and at ease on stage, many of their songs had an understated appeal. Some of them, however, were lost in one another – sharing too many toe-tapping similarities. One song that managed to rise above the folk simplicity and become inescapable is Hottest 100 contender ‘Stolen Dance’, bringing the set to a close with swaying sing-alongs.
Punters were decked out in coats, ponchos and beanies; not exactly the makings of an Australian summer festival, but then neither was the weather for a second consecutive day. However, whatever Falls was lacking in good weather was certainly made up for in Australian talent. Sydney’s Sticky Fingers (champions of the bucket hat) drew a large crowd at the Valley stage and even managed to draw a little sunshine through the clouds. They kicked things off with ‘Gold Snafu’ – the first single from last year’s Land Of Pleasure. Their unique blend of reggae-infused-pop-meets-Australiana had the magical ability to transport patrons away from the strong winds and rain into a clear-skyed summer’s day. No tune was more fitting to see out their set than ‘Australia Street’ from their 2013 debut album Caress Your Soul, with its lazy beat and shout-a-long designed chorus evoking a fittingly frenzied response from the crowd.
Next up were electronic psych-rock trio Jagwar Ma, with the aid of Warpaint’s Stella Mozgawa on drums. Despite the fact that they’ve only got one album to their name so far (2013’s Howlin’) the UK transplants certainly know their way around the stage, warping and bending soundscapes to recreate favourites like ‘Man I Need’ and ‘Let Her Go’. Using an intricate mixture of guitar, synths, bass and beats all blended together and topped with immense hooks, the result was a vibrating wall of noise that penetrated through the crowd. Jagwar Ma showed the Falls crowd exactly why they’re a band that are best appreciated in a live setting, coming to absolution with a bursting rendition of ‘Come Save Me’.
Continuing the ‘Aussie expat’ theme, Cloud Control came up next on the Valley stage – bringing along their feel-good-roots-instilled indie rock. ‘Meditation Song #2 (Why Oh Why)’ had the crowd chanting and stomping along. The set was almost like a homecoming for the four-piece, who are originally from New South Wales’ Blue Mountains. The band had two announcements for the crowd: the first that they are moving back to Australia. The second was that founding member and bassist Jeremy Kelshaw was leaving the band. This didn’t put a dampener on the show, however, with the rhythmic melodies and catchy choruses of songs like ‘Scar’ and ‘There’s Nothing In The Water’ spreading a sense of joy throughout the audience. Cloud Control is indeed a chorus band. In a live setting this means plenty of big, bold, heartfelt harmonies and crowd sing-alongs.
Bringing the Valley Stage festivities to a close was masked vigilante SBTRKT. The London-based producer, who prefers to remain a little mysterious, was adorned in a colourful angular mask covering most of his face. The crowd seemed to each be in their own little world, but still came together for a rapturous reaction to ‘New Dorp New York’. The deep, obscured vocals of the chorus combined with the kaleidoscopic visuals of the backdrop were enough to send anyone on a trip. 2011’s ‘Wildfire’ slowed down the pace for some slow and sultry booty shaking before SBTRKT worked the production back up into a frenzy, using a collision of sonic elements and trance-like lights. Collaborator Sampha joined him onstage for ‘Hold On’ and despite a few sound issues, particularly with the vocals; the late night crowd weren’t fazed as long as they could move to the beat.
New Year’s Eve: the final day of the year, the final day of Falls Festival, the ultimate hangover for those who had partied a little too hard on the previous three. Unsurprisingly, punters were hesitant to throw themselves straight into the bright sunny day. In their early afternoon slot, Wolf Alice only managed a small crowd while many sat on the comfort of the grassy hill with its sloping view of the Valley Stage. Those who made it into the action certainly made up for the lack of people. The British alt-rock group gave it all of their energy with grunge-fuelled guitars and raspy vocals, interlacing all the while between more mellow folky tunes and softer choruses. Front-woman Ellie Rowsell demonstrated her incredible vocal range with an enticing cover of Chris Isaak’s ‘Wicked Game’. Beginning as a slow-burning ballad, Rowsell flipped the song on its head with grating guitars and gravelly vocals.
A little later at the Grand Theatre stage, Glass Animals were letting their slow-trickling, woozy, psychedelic brand of pop dribble its way through the crowd. Although their debut album Zaba was only released last year, it was difficult to find someone in the crowd not warbling the words to ‘Gooey’. They also performed a throbbing cover of Kanye West’s ‘Love Lockdown’ which they envisioned for triple j’s Like A Version last year before launching into safari soiree that was ‘Pools’ – combining rhythmic drumming with front man Dave Bayley’s sultry vocals.
As the sun set over Falls (and the year 2014) for the last time, an unlikely act drew a very large and very loose crowd. Bluejuice took to the stage for a bittersweet performance; their third last gig ever. Perhaps timetabling was on their side, or perhaps their songs really just are that catchy – whichever it was you couldn’t fault their dedication to putting on an entertaining show. With a career-spanning set of songs like ‘(Ain’t) Telling The Truth’ and ‘Vitriol’, Jake Stone and Stavros (Stav) Yiannoukas whipped the crowd into a frenzy of ecstatic shouting, jumping and moshing.
Accompanying the party anthems was a bizarre collection of video clips including Seinfeld’s George Costanza to match their song named after the man himself as well as a “tribute” to Jodie Foster paired with the dates 1962-2011. Perhaps they weren’t fans of her work that year. By the time Bluejuice were down to their third last song, Jake and Stav were down to their underwear and members of the audience were following suit and getting as naked as the day they were born. Squeezing in their own interpretation of Lana Del Rey’s ‘Video Games’ before they brought the rowdy performance to a close with ‘Act Yr Age’ and ‘Broken Leg’, Bluejuice certainly knew how to go out with a bang.
As the clock ticked away, The Presets were on hand to welcome us into 2015, kicking off the New Years celebrations. Churning out dance anthems like ‘My People’ and the more recent ‘Youth In Trouble’, the electronic duo has become a staple in the Australian dance scene despite its ever-changing landscape. They read the crowd with ease, mixing a combination of apocalyptic-sounding beats and catchy choruses. Their most recent release, last year’s ‘No Fun’, reverberated throughout the crowd in the form of feet stomping and bodies pulsing.
Falls Festival punters quite literally danced their way into 2015 and I’m sure some of them are still recovering. Despite the festival being plagued with last-minute lineup changes and challenging weather conditions, it had no trouble in showing its patrons a great time. There is very little that Falls couldn’t handle, and when the unexpected came, the festival and its patrons pushed on to have a ripper.
* Photographs of SBTRKT and Wolf Alice taken at Marion Bay Falls.