There’s something about St. Jerome’s Laneway Festival that is so instinctively Melbourne. In early beginnings, it’s conception had flourished amongst chipped milk-crates and acrylic peeling walls; halfway crammed between a tiny hidden bar on Caledonian Lane by the vision of a single man. By 2005, drinks with mates had been tossed (quite literally) out the back door, with Melbourne experiencing it’s first and fundamental Laneway Festival as locals pilled into the tight backstreet.
Becoming more than a glorified speakeasy, Laneway has quickly become one of Melbourne’s hallmark music events – breaking, building and breathing new life into the Australian festival scene. Through steady growth and carefully curated lineups, the event has now expanded to all main cities across Australia, New Zealand and Singapore, delivering three simple but golden rules for every instalment: good company, good food and very, very good music.
Resonating through the managing missteps and cancellations of Big Day Out, Future Music Festival and Soundwave, Laneway Festival 2016 had suddenly defaulted to Australia’s biggest one-day alternative touring concert – with Sugar Mountain, UNIFY Gathering, Bluesfest and more continuing to retain their exclusivity in the crowds they attract through their selective genres. There was a noticeable difference in this year’s turnout to just twelve months ago, with onlookers gliding down in beige-twisted Yeezys, silver foil temporary tattoos, pastel locks and a plethora of Savers-plucked florals. With no time to spare in the early hours of the festival, the Footscray Community Arts Centre and River’s Edge began to fill with folks from all walks of life; circling and laying about the Future Classic Stage to listen to Melbourne’s own Banoffee. Serving her signature downtempo pop, Martha Brown welcomed the day with evaporated vocals and chic, fixing her possessive lyrics to fans through the highs and lows of ‘With Her’.
Swiftly migrating to the rolling gardens of Mistletone Stage, there was a handful of onlookers clutching the rails as High Tension readied themselves. With a warm introduction, vocalist Karina Utomo stomped down hard against the midday sun; cutting between tedious breakdowns and vivid chords. Showcasing the attitude held so dearly in their latest LP Bully, the group continued to spill positive energy as each track clocked in and drew fans in closer. Conscious of the gap between herself and the gravel pit, Karina motioned for people to move in closer as she hoped down and over the elevated stage’s railings. Impulsively circling the mosh, single ‘Bully’ was welcomed with deep-throated chants; bursting into a quick-lived and chaotic crowd surf, crying, “Show you how it is, show you how it’s done, bitch!” Laughing at the circle pits conscious ebbing and that one hero continuing to crawl the crowd up into a wild surf, Karina joked and pushed around before gurgling, “This is just like a Bar Mitzvah!”
Running between the end of Slum Sociable and the mid-set of Majical Cloudz, the Maribyrnong River had never looked more inviting as the venue and sun intensified between crowds, stages and options. “You two, yeah, the one’s who are dancing”, nodded frontman Devon Walsh as he patted the sweat off his forehead, “Please, don’t stop dancing. Thank you. Thank you!” With his signature and sombre lyrics, ‘Silver Car Crash’ echoed across the venue, allowing listeners to take a moment to breathe and reflect on something a little more than their cool, dripping tinnies. Or, alternatively, wonder how many pairs of white t-shirts and black skinny jeans Devon actually has. Or maybe that was just me. Fuck, I need to know.
Catching the final aural moments of Japanese Wallpaper, I quickly positioned myself under the shade near the Future Classic Stage, patiently waiting for XL Recordings’ 2015 golden child Shamir. Proving there’s never enough cowbell or sass, Shamir Bailey held out his hands as he delivered his addictive and bass-laden singles from debut, Ratchet. Spreading dance like a jittery shockwave, listeners bounced and scaled the nearest possible trees for the best slice of ‘On The Regular’; Shamir bending and snapping as he giggled, “Don’t try me, I’m not a free sample!” Causing fans to knock bottles and clap in time, track ‘Hot Mess’ commanded all eyes-on-‘Mir, seducing and conquering with a punchy hook alone. Many were not 100% prepared for the energy of Shamir, a diva who will always be know to Melbourne as Las Vegas’ very own sweetheart.
Skipping out on The Smith St. Band – because hey, let’s be real, they’re always playing somewhere in Melbourne – I found myself passing DIIV before returning to the effortlessly cool Thundercat. With the smell of illicit substances in the air, the crowds jammed slow with Stephen Bruner as he smiled and noted, “Good to see kids lapping the good shit up.” Moving around between keys and crescendos, the crowd swirled amongst tracks from 2015’s The Beyond / Where The Giants Roam, welcoming every plucky rhythm and strong, distinctive groove with a bodily movement. ‘Them Changes’ was the clear crowd-pleaser as everyone gave out a collective sigh on it’s arrival; hypnotised by the familiar Isley Brothers drum sample and the kind of core-shaking funk that cuts fast, clean and deep upon first listen.
Weaving between crowd migrations to Big Scary and Health, I made my way closer to the frontline of SOPHIE and QT’s shared set. Completely owning the stage on arrival, producer Samuel Long – better known as SOPHIE – slowly paced towards his set, covered in thick smoke projections and purple lights that reflected off his futuristic figure. Bringing in golden hour, SOPHIE’s exaggerated impulsions of pop were widely celebrated; fans taking their time absorbing the electronic textures and high-pitched meltdowns of ‘MSMSMSM’. Fashioning his LP Product with elements of hip-hop goddess Le1f, listeners dipped and tossed to the security’s surprise, feverishly watching on and craving the moment QT found her way to stage. After absorbing selfies and touching shoulders with fans, Hayden Dunham sulked into view, embodying QT – AKA Quinn Thomas – in the flesh. Better known as a performance artist, QT was pokerface and heart-eyed in her delivery of unreleased ‘Baby Bubbles’; strutting around in floppy, layered materials as she looked up shyly behind the mic and gave shoutouts to her signature beverage, DrinkQT. Of course, fans screamed as hyperreal and hypernatural product jingle ‘Hey QT’ begun; allocating an empowering supercharge to those who swayed to PC Music and the critical – I mean, super fun – message on consumerism.
Finding myself (once again) at the hands of The Internet’s set, I swayed between constellations of jazz-infusion and the smooth vocal arrangements of Sydney Bennett. Having caught their sideshow, “You fucked up!” was more poignant than ever; the Dean Turner Stage becoming an overflow of energy and confirmation that neo-soul was more popular than ever before. Twisting and turning to the quick-witted verses of Goldlink, Laneway Festival was now washed with a soft pink sky. I found myself gazing up at The Very West Stage’s hire screens as Grimes stepped onto the cooling metallic, welcoming a crowd that stretched all the way along Maribyrnong St. and continued to grow. Curating the energy of the crowd, Claire Boucher used the entire stage as she extended, clicked and shook her own body to the jittery and pounding bass of recent single, ‘Kill V. Maim’. A total priestess and inspiration to strong, female producers, Grimes held down her own amongst spinning backup dancers and sizzled amongst the setting sky.
Before the night grew cold, I had soon found myself pushing into the crowds of Vince Staples. Predominately filled with drunk men with bad sunburn, bodies were sweatily supporting one another; moving with every hook, line and I’m-joking-but-deadly-serious “fuck the police” statement Vince threw. Ending up right in the heart of the mosh, Vince commanded all hands to be up and swaying, to which he laughed between bandmates and onlookers, “Feels beautiful to see the white man do what the black man says!” With a string of playful disses directed at Red Bull after acknowledging the Future Classic stage was presented by Red Bull Music Academy (oops), ‘Norf Norf’ had everyone moving – the opening hook “Bitch, you thirsty, please grab a Sprite!” cutting the mosh in two. Aggressively stalking across stage, fans soon began circling each other as every bass drop of ‘Blue Suede’ caused the mosh to frenzy; Vince himself etching closer and closer as he spat, “Fuck that.”
Continuing to dance into the later hours of the night, Beach House and Purity Ring signed off the night for my 2016 Laneway experience. While I can’t say I remember too much, I can say this: if St. Jerome’s Laneway Festival continues to champion experiences and book highly anticipated local and international acts, it will maintain to inspire the masses to enjoy alternative live music. Until next year, Laneway.
Words and film images by Monique Myintoo / @aumonique.