Falls Festival @ Marion Bay (28/12/2011-1/01/2012)

It is surprising that after nine years of travelling down to Marion Bay for the annual Falls Festival in Tasmania, the beauty of the coast that accommodates the swell of interstaters and homebodies is just as thrillingly beautiful as ever. As the event, which has injected so much life into a previously thinning music scene in Tasmania, as well as a surge of interstate visits, comes under threat of extinction due to funding, let this be a celebration of the damn good party bestowed on Tasmania and let’s hope it isn’t the last.

After setting up camp, the Field Stage played host to the cute-as-a-button Brisbanite, Miss Emma Louise. With her velvet Pete Pan collared dress and suspender tights, she looked like a cross between Wendy and a fantasy from Sucker Punch. The crowd was surprisingly large for that time of the morning and eagerly supportive – clapping without instruction to the beat of several songs. It’s possible that the majority of them were waiting for her break-through song Jungle, but they didn’t show it. It was impressive to see that the tiny singer was the only one in the band playing guitar, accompanied by three guys playing bass, keyboard and drums, and clearly the only writer – giving background story to almost every song and saying “coolio” every now and then.

The unfortunate clash of E-L and Alpine meant I just made it over to the Valley Stage in time to see Hands which was equally thrilling live as on record. The Scientists of Modern Music were up next and by the huge reception it was obvious Cal and Simmo had come home to an extremely loyal Tasmanian crowd. In true Tasmanian fashion, there were murmurings from each member of the audience of their personal connection to the boys onstage. For a 1pm timeslot, the crowd was incredibly energetic; they moshed through pretty much every song, hands raised and shrieking with delight as TSOMM broke out their best robot moves simultaneously.

I must admit that Kimbra was a favourite of mine going into the festival, and my expectations were high. Having played her Live at Sing Sing Studios steadily for the past 12 months, I was expecting fireworks, and I’m happy to say I got them. Off the top of my head, I can’t name you another performer who could don a puffy-sleeved, short as shit bright pink dress and pair it with the kinds of moves she pulled out – legs spread, fists in the air, hips grinding like a boss. She got down. She is one of those extremely lucky performers who has the kind of vocal instrument that is so good it has the potential to be played with a “let’s see what will happen if I do this” attitude and it sounds awesome. Her band seemed genuinely impressed, excited and psyched to be part of the audience. Even finishing with a new song – a risky move in any set – proved to be a hit and her cover of Every Little Step gave new meaning to the name Bobby Brown for a Gen Y crowd.

French band Nouvelle Vague was a confusing combo of fairy-floss sounds with filthy gutter language. In 2008, Tassie was introduced to French maiden Soko and there were many a hand-over-mouth moment, particularly when she announced she couldn’t be pregnant because the only sex she’d had was with her hand. This was brought to mind, as the band yelled into the mic “too drunk, too drunk to fuck!” and then taught the crowd how to say fuck in French. I’m afraid this could be reason why Tasmanians are at the same time in love with, and terrified by the French as a people.

Aloe Blacc was as smooth, if not smoother than his name suggests, rubbing his soothing soul voice and moves into a sunburnt crowd. Sexy as hell and dressed in a three-piece suit, Blacc was on the money. His set was immaculate and predictably concluded with I Need a Dollar. Not so predictable was the extra verse and chorus, done reggae-style.

The Naked and Famous delivered what was expected – a collection of greatly popular and very catchy electro-indie tunes – but no more. They dutifully reproduced their tracks and the crowd certainly got around them, but they weren’t transfixing to watch and there were no surprises.

In 2009, the few who out-lasted the majority of festival goers on the night of the 30th and caught The Wonderful World of DJ Yoda’s set in the early hours of the morning knew what was coming when he was announced for 2011/12. Back then, his set was a genius mash-up of video installation and music mixes. It not only included global favourites, such as Fresh Prince of Bel-Air and George. W. Bush getting hit with a flying shoe; the UK native had done his homework and thrown in footage of Mr. G from Summer Heights High and finished with John Farnham’s The Voice. So when he was scheduled to play at 8.40pm to a massive crowd of majority DJ Yoda virgins, I was excited. The result was dynamic; people lost their shit. As expected, his set was a mix of popular dance tracks mashed with a plethora of globally familiar favourites – Enya, Tetris, Wallace & Gromit, Azealia Banks’ 212, as well as some closer to home moments – Today’s host Karl Stefanovic’s abhorrent pizza shop joke he told to the Dalai Lama – remixed. The crowds’ reaction is a treat, but what is even more loveable is Duncan Beiny’s (aka DJ Yoda) reaction to the crowds’ reaction, particularly when he unveils colloquial gems – his smile reaches from ear to ear.

The Arctic Monkeys took the prime timetable slot on the 30th, and their sound was massive – Gone With the Wind-type epic. The boys looked slick, like the cast of Grease with front man Alex Turner perfecting Kenickie’s ducktail doo. The Monkeys played like pros and they brought a real UK punk rock feeling to a mainly indie/alt line-up. They played I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor mid-set, which may have been a mistake because there were a few disgruntled murmurs of “too long” rippling through non-fans, but by the time When the Sun Goes Down played, people were hyped again. A personal grievance was the lack of Mardy Bum.

The night finished with a bang, and then a whimper. Crystal Castles delivered everything and more, but due to a late cancellation by Totally Enormous Extinct Dinosaurs, they were followed by a sub-standard DJ, which killed the buzz a little.

The morning brought clear skies, cloudy heads and a sea of lost shoes. The modest Lanie Lane was the accompaniment to many hair-of-the-dog beers on the lawn by the field stage, and she confessed to being surprised when people knew her songs. She played to a mainly subdued audience on a beautiful archtop electric guitar bigger than her, until Bang Bang saw a fairly animated mosh develop.

An honourable mention must go to Grouplove for a whole-band dance effort. They steadily drew the biggest day-crowd of the Festival, and at the conclusion of their set the applause surged from the camera pit and travelled all the way up the natural amphitheatre to reach the shops at the back. Front man Christian Zucconi looked like Joseph with his Technicolour Dreamcoat and together with the adorable front-lady Hannah Hooper thrashed around onstage as if possessed, narrowly missing each other and bassist Sean Gadd. Hooper was met with squeals of delight when she announced the band was going to come out and hang with crowd after, if that was alright.

Never in my live music attendance have I seen a more loved-up crowd than when Missy Higgins entered the arena. Back from the States, Missy played her second show in Australia to a crowd of 18 – 30 year old, mostly female admirers, who had likely been at one stage or another deeply touched by her emotive lyrics. One fan held a sign “Marry Me Missy” as she desperately repeated every word to every song – an action taken up by almost everyone around her. It was a crowd of comrades and at one point through Scar the whole band stopped as the crowd finished half a verse.

The Australian flavour of the year, The Jezabels were a massive hit as expected. The bands’ dramatic performance onstage and mix-mash of genre sounds – gothic/pop vocals, metal percussion, folk guitar and classical piano – kept the crowd alert and responsive. When Hayley Mary took off her shirt to reveal a much skimpier one underneath, the effect was lethal. By the time the conveniently-titled track Endless Summer came around, the band had them eating out of the palm of their hands. They certainly made an impact, again.

At the top of my list of bands to see at this year’s Falls, was Metronomy. I had the pleasure of seeing this adorable group of four at Parklife a couple years back, when they had just added drummer Anna Prior to the fold, and from then to now their onstage show has gone from strength to strength. The members themselves are sleeker – apart from maybe Gbenga Adelekan, who has always been immaculately styled. They played all of their well-known tracks perfectly, as well as an instrumental piece where they all soloed and a sweet as punch performance of Everything Goes My Way by Prior, as the boys literally stood back and she took the lead on vocals. Let’s just take a minute to appreciate and pay our respects to the bass playing skills of Adelekan – what a gem. When a man jumps from playing a lightning fast staccato bass line to violently strumming that same instrument, you know you’re witnessing a great. The only thing amiss perhaps was front man Joseph Mount’s very high-brow English countryside jokes. At one point, he delayed too long with the punch line when he said, apropos of nothing in particular, “we don’t like cricket…” (crickets chirping) ”…we love it.” causing confused whimpering among the crowd. It sort of fit though, given Metronomy’s oddball feel.

As I headed over to the valley stage to see Tim Finn, a strangely protective demeanour came over me. There is something very dad-like about him that makes me feel like a bad word said against him would induce an ass-kicking of sorts. However, he performed like he’d been doing it for years, which he has, flat-out demanding the attention of the crowd, and making me feel childish and ashamed of any protective feelings. By the time Six Months in a Leaky Boat came around the young and old crowd was captivated, and it was fun to see a few middle-agers on shoulders.

John Butler introduced his set with the usual “traditional owners of this land” spiel. It’s always appreciated, but might it be time for him to update his disgruntled political rants from John Howard to the current PM? Just sayin’. Tired grievances or not, the man can play – he extended an already brilliant Ocean, as he took the stage alone and weaved in and out of plucking to strumming to bashing his guitar and then back again. It was every teenage to 20-something man’s wet dream.

The New Year was brought in – just – by a very energetic performance by The Kooks. Luke Pritchard cut Seaside short in time to count down the last 30 seconds, and it came together nicely. The first track heard by Marion Bay in 2012 was Naive, and while it wasn’t a body thrashing dance track, it seemed very appropriate and was received well. The boys onstage looked like a mix of Oasis and Talking Heads, all Hawaiian shirts and pink suits.

Any mellow cobwebs left by The Kooks were blasted away by a roaring Pnau. Their light show was intense and the beats shook the earth. Due to the band’s hiatus, tracks seemed to pump out like beloved, almost forgotten crowd favourites.

All in all, Falls built on previous years and provided a killer way to bring in the New Year. Let’s hope we’re all doing this again next year…