It’s that time of year again. The weather was predictably ominous, gumboot sales hit an annual high and patrons from all over the country migrated to North Byron Parklands for Australia’s premiere music festival, Splendour In The Grass. If you’ve never been to Splendour, then you’ve probably never been to Woodstock either, but it’s something like what you imagine Woodstock to have been like, except with hipsters everywhere instead of hippies.
Day One / Milk was a bad choice…
Day one was hot. Despite the inevitable forecast of rain, the weather couldn’t have been better, with warm sun and endless blue skies in every direction. The day was opened by two incredible emerging artists, Unearthed winner Airling, whose ethereal sounds seem to be drawn straight from a dreamscape, and Fractures, the electronic-indie mastermind behind Won’t Win, a track that has been getting much airtime of late.
Brisbane’s punk-rock two piece, DZ Deathrays followed in the early afternoon. They played a raucous, pyrotechnics savvy set which inspired some early festival moshing, even by those who had chosen to don full costumes and I’ve got to say, there is something quite special about watching a chicken and gorilla square off in a death circle.
The Preatures were up next at the amphitheatre and its easy to see why these guys have risen so quickly to prominence, with front woman Isabella Manfredi had the crowd enraptured from the moment she stepped out on stage. And from their newer stuff like Better Than It Ever Could Be to their defining track, Is This How You Feel?, ThePreatures outdid expectations and cemented themselves as one of the highlights of the first day.
As always, Ball Park Music delivered an incredible showing and managed to do the only thing left to make their set more light-hearted and fun, finished with a cover of Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody, enough said.
Spiderbait are a band that have always had an incredible rock bravado and that couldn’t have been demonstrated more perfectly than when vocalist/drummer Mark Maher brought his daughter onstage and proclaimed “She is the future of rock and roll!”. Also, you know, Black Betty…bah bah-nah.
The Presets were added to the lineup after the highly anticipated London Grammar dropped out of festival due to illness. And although many would have been undoubtedly disappointed by the change, their dancing shoes would have surely thanked them because The Presets did not disappoint, delivering heavy, electro-dance sounds that had everyone grooving.
Over at the MIx-Up tent, Childish Gambino was reminding everyone why he is quickly becoming the best thing to happen to rap in a long time. Aside from the obvious showing of 3005 and Sweatpants he reworked a bunch of his songs into a mash-up melody, performed an intense, impromptu freestyle and danced the whole set like a piece of ribbon caught in an updraft, the guy is a lord.
Headlining day one of Splendour was Andre 3000 and Big Boi, together forming legendary hip-hop duo Outkast. After some time apart, their comeback had been met with tepid review, but the guys were quick to extinguish any doubts, playing an amazing hour and forty-five minute set with songs from throughout their 20 year career. The capacity crowd sang along in a deafening chorus to Hey Ya! and I’m Sorry Miss Jackson and danced along like the occult to B.O.B. Without a doubt Outkast are back and they truly are so fresh and so clean (probably).
Day Two / Violent Sticky Island Foals, also Dallas Green.
Local act Tora kicked things off on day two of Splendour and their indie-electronic mix drew a substantial crowd considering the early time slot. They were followed a little later by Sydney favourites Sticky Fingers who quickly got the crowd bouncing and jiving to the catchy, reggae riffs of Gold Snafu and Australia Street. And though their outfits would have been just as at home on a 80’s porn set, their sound most definitely belonged on the main amphitheatre stage.
The GW McLennan tent resounded with the whimsical vocals of Dustin Tebbutt, a solo artist whose been making waves since his single The Breach dropped last year. Although it was a slower set, his soothing melodies were a welcome comedown from the downright debauchery that was Sticky Fingers.
The downtime didn’t last for long though as Brisbane four piece, Violent Soho were next to take the amphitheatre stage, playing their biggest show yet. The rough, distorted riffs of Covered In Chrome and Fur Eyes were exactly what the crowd wanted, erupting in a huge mosh with the first chord and never letting up. They were also the second act to bring a toddler onstage, though these guys took out the “more concerning” descriptor when bassist Luke Henery continued thrashing around the admittedly ear-muffed child.
Future Islands have seen a huge surge in popularity since their single, Seasons (Waiting On You) — or more specifically frontman Samuel Herring’s dancing to Seasons (think Peter-Garrett but less terrible) — was unearthed earlier in the year. They proved to be one of the best acts of day two, delivering an awesome synth-pop set to the adoration of the crowd.
The rain that had been threatening the festival all day finally arrived in the early evening, greeting The Jezabels on the amphitheatre stage. Thankfully the vibe remained bone-dry and the crowd danced along enthusiastically to The Jezabels powerful vocals in Easy To Love and the effortless musical progressions of Dark Storm and A Little Piece.
With huge sound, Foals followed up on the main stage, having stepped in to replace the originally billed Two Door Cinema Club. The precipitation wained as the British indie-rock outfit hammered out a set which offered everything from the slower tracks like Blue Blood with it’s defined orchestral beauty, to their more up beat songs in TwoSteps Twice and My Number, both of which caused that indie style of mosh-dancing to permeate the crowd. Although the omission of Two Door was disappointing, especially at such late notice, Foals’ was easily one of the best performances of the festival and could hardly be seen as a downfall. It’s like reaching into a box of Paddle Pops (rainbow flavoured) and pulling out a Bubble-O-Bill — objectively better, even though both are delicious live acts.
Day two saw Dallas Green as City and Color headline, delivering a powerful and heartfelt performance well into the night. Tracks like Weightless and Sleeping Sickness showcased the Canadian singer’s strong vocals while songs like The Grand Optimist, written for his father, were especially moving. Anyone even vaguely familiar with City andColor would know Green has one of the most hauntingly beautiful voices around and his showing at Splendour only reaffirmed that reputation.
Day Three / And the horse I rode in on.
Day three of Splendour dawned, bringing with it a euphoric wooziness that only a three day festival can provide. The Creases took the stage early on in the day and rocked their single, Static Lines, before New York’s Skaters played a bunch of their Strokes-inspired garage-rock sounds — there must be something special in those New York City garages right?
Melbourne’s rock outfit Kingswood were next to play the amphitheatre, where they dropped their latest single I Can Feel That You Don’t Love Me as well as their breakthrough track Ohio, the set ending abruptly with guitarist Alex Laska jumping through the drum kit.
At the Mix-Up stage it was the UK’s modern soul collective Jungle who had the crowd moving to the beat of their punchy dance numbers into the afternoon. Their recent hits Time and Busy Earnin’ were easily the highlights of the set but all their tunes were definitely dance-worthy.
The fun continued over at the amphitheatre in indie-rock form with California’s Grouplove putting on a stellar performance which culminated in the destruction of a pastel-pink acoustic guitar. A huge crowd had flocked in to see everything from their breakout track, Colours, to the ever-popular Tongue Tied, and danced along frantically the whole time.
Scottish electronic trio Cvrches may not be able to spell but my they certainly can put on a live performance. With catchy electronic riffs running deep throughout, impressive, resounding vocals and a tessellating visual backdrop, tunes like Recover, Lies and the more tempered The Mother We Share all captivated the crowd. Centred amongst a minimalistic stage setup, front woman Lauren Mayberry delivered a vocal performance that really seemed at home in the large outdoor amphitheatre.
Experimental indie-rockers Wild Beasts played to a disappointingly small crowd on the GW McLennan stage later that evening, especially given the group’s incredible talent. It did create a distinctly intimate feel, however, the likes of which is usual absent from festival acts. Boasting some of the best harmonised melodies in the business,Wild Beasts played a solid set, showcasing their full musical range and from the intense, layered vocals in All The King’s Men to the gradually building mystique of Hooting and Howling they had the crowd swooning.
With an endearing shyness, singer/songwriter Ben Howard stepped onto the GW McLennan stage, greeted by the deafening applause of an adoring crowd. The low humming of the Foster The People set could be heard in the distance as Howard began, his eerie voice quickly drowning out everything except the careful echo of the crowd as they sang along with every song. Black Flies and a longer, more experimental live version of The Wolves being the highlights of a truly memorable set.
The days were hot, the nights cold and the lines long but this year’s Splendour In The Grass really was a thing of musical dreams.