Laneway Festival 2017 review: New faces meet new beginnings

Melbourne’s Laneway Festival welcomed its patrons with perfect weather and a breeze off the docks, and while cancelled headliner Young Thug was missed, the festival’s lineup of just-beyond-emerging local and international talent managed to deliver, despite a sense of very real diversity fading after dark.

Unearthly delights

Winners of the triple j Unearthed competition IV League opened the Dean Turner stage, intimidatingly well-dressed and sounding even better. Their songs, like the best of early Best Coast but heavier, with some of Mitski’s bite and Pavement’s guitar melodies, prove that they’re young pioneers in the 90s rock revival. Lead singer Bella Venutti has a solid, impressive stage presence that promises only to grow as the band play more gigs as great as this one.

On almost the opposite side of the festival site  hip hop ingenue Baro played to a relaxed crowd on the Future Classic stage. Joined by a live band featuring members of Melbourne’s beloved Good Morning, Baro’s set makes a case for hip-hop backed by guitar, bass, keys and drums: there’s an energy in his interaction with the band members, and his ability to steer the songs where he wants them to go (an extra chorus here, a breakdown there) means that it never feels stiff or over-rehearsed. Joined onstage by Nasty Mars for his final tune, the joyous ‘wdubi’, Baro remains one of the most promising rap prospects in Australia.

The Future Classic played host to Jess Kent next, whose brand of pop and/or hip hop (again performed alongside a live drummer) is undeniably endearing, if a little confused. Kent sounds like an Adelaide-born, London-raised Charli XCX doing Drake covers, which certainly has its moments, and pleases her crowd, but doesn’t quite measure up to Kent’s confident, enthused stage presence. Kent is followed by Melbourne’s GL, who never fail to remind us that they’ve pretty much nailed synth-pop: Ella Thompson’s voice is elastic as always, alongside her bandmate Graeme Pogson’s tight percussion and two backing dancers.

Camp Cope

On the festival’s largest stage, the Very West, Camp Cope prove themselves as one of the most adored breakthrough acts of last year. Drawing a huge hometown crowd at 2pm, lead singer Georgia Mac seems genuinely delighted by her crowd: the numbers, and the fact that they seem to be respecting each other’s space — Camp Cope pioneered the ItTakesOne campaign to make Laneway a safe space, and the band are stoked that it seems to have worked.

Reports of indie-rock’s death have been greatly exaggerated

As the 3PM heatwave hits, indie-rock angels Whitney set up amiably on the Dean Turner stage. After chatting with front-row fans, they begin their set of to-the-point pop songs, accompanied by the cleanest guitar sound this side of country music. The band are utterly beguiling: lead singer Julien Ehrlich is also the band’s drummer, which begets a real lyricism in his playing, the drums rising and falling with the subtlety of melody.

“Toledo busts out a pitch-perfect cover of Rowland S. Howard’s iconic ‘Shivers’, only further endearing himself to a Melbourne audience.”

Playing the best cuts from debut album Light Upon The Lake alongside two covers — Bob Dylan’s “Tonight I’ll Be Staying Here With You” and NRBQ’s “Magnet” — which undoubtedly keep their set fresh with only one album to play from, the band’s playfulness alongside their tight playing is winning: at one point Ehrlich asks the crowd if anyone watching is in love. The crowd responds, couples hug, and Ehrlich, smirking, responds, “Go fuck yourselves… single’s where it’s at.” At the set’s close, typically noncommittal, Ehrlich dubs Melbourne “Actually kinda the best city in the world”.

Whitney are proceeded by fellow 2016 breakout Car Seat Headrest. The band’s leader and mastermind Will Toledo reminds us what the opposite end of the indie-rock guitar spectrum sounds like: it’s loud, distorted, and filled with a louder angst than Whitney’s malaise. Mid-set, Toledo busts out a pitch-perfect cover of Rowland S. Howard’s iconic ‘Shivers’, only further endearing himself to a Melbourne audience. CSHR’s presence, alongside Whitney’s, feels like a reminder that indie rock is not in fact dead and buried: both these bands belong in the genre’s most recent golden age, on The O.C.’s soundtrack.

A.B. Original

Rap duo A.B. Original take the Spinning Top stage next, energetic and unapologetic. Briggs and Trials are dynamic, as they offer pertinent, serious commentary on the state of Australian Indigenous culture, without forgetting that the most effective form of communication in the festival context is one of a united front. The duo marvel at the fact that their protest song ‘January 26’ placed at number 16 on the Hottest 100, on the very public holiday they aim to abolish.

As Sampa The Great takes over from A.B. Original, drawing a rapturous crowd, the festival sees its last female performer the event take the stage — at 6:10PM. Sampa’s set is received rapturously, with vibrant cloth being passed overhead to the rear of the crowd, and one can’t help but wonder why the festival lets go of its diverse program before nightfall this year.

Nick Murphy

New name, old guard

Nick Murphy, FKA Chet Faker, tests out his new identity as rockstar frontman in the penultimate main stage set. While it comes as no surprise that he still plays ‘Talk Is Cheap’, there is something slightly jarring about this somewhat half-hearted re-brand. Murphy’s crowd adore him, but there’s a subtle tinge of identity crisis to his set.

Festival–exclusive headliners Tame Impala grace the main stage. In the interest of full disclosure, it should be noted that to actually see this set, one would need to be one of the audience members perching on a significant other’s shoulders, or in the front row. When packed with a large percentage of the festival’s crowd, the Very West stage is a disappointing experience: the sheer mass of the crowd means that if a patron isn’t blessed with a couple of inches on those in front of them, they’ll have difficulty hearing much of the mix – even with PA stacks staggered throughout the street. That said, Kevin Parker and his cohort play a set that feels short and sweet: tracks from Currents are received best, and closing with exceptional album finale ‘New Person, Same Old Mistakes’, leaving the cloying ‘‘Cause I’m A Man’ by the wayside, is a great choice — and a few rounds of confetti cannons somewhat make up for a lack of visibility.

All photos by Nicholas Irving