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Civic Sounds painted AC/DC Lane black with musical hysteria

Bringing the true laneway festival back.

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Image source: 
Dylan Martin

Though it still bears the “laneway” tag, St Jerome’s Laneway Festival is no longer a DIY Melbourne experience -- it’s transformed into an open-air behemoth showcasing unmatched talent from home and abroad. Melbourne Music Week must have sensed the need for a restoration of the classic laneway festival, concocting Civic Sounds as a diverse music celebration showcasing both rising and established stars.
 
The crowd revelled when Democratic People’s Republic of Surf took to the Stone & Wood stage. Both them and Batz opened the day with well-oiled grit-punk machines, skulking with energy and a modicum of charisma. Batz singer Chrissie Aubry pulled plenty of punk poses, boasting of a drunken wedding the day to a crowd that only got out of bed an hour before. A catch-cry of “B-A-T-Z” was filled with an aimless rock n’ roll fury, sorta contrived, sorta fun.
 
When IV League arrived, the crowd had begun to fall into its mould. The band’s warm post-punk was able to latch onto whatever groove it put its mind to, with ‘Lose Me’ beaming into the crowd’s psyche. Beside the Rage Against the Machine mock-up on the wall, a man wore a fluoro green ladybird-propellor fedora and googly-eye rings on his fingers, following the beat of the snare drum under his breath. 
 
“Melbourne!” he yelled.
 
Bec Sandridge plied an impressive manic St Vincent-esque energy, stripping back to just a guitar and drums and favouring a karate kick as her signature stage move. ‘You’re a Fucking Joke’ was the set’s fully formed highlight, as Sandridge yowled in female falsetto over a pouncing chorus-ridden guitar.
 
Then it was on to The Bennies, who pulled one of the biggest crowds of the day. The self-proclaimed party-sovereigns drove a high-density laneway into fits as they tore through themes of weed legalisation, first signalled by a 4.20pm scheduling and skin tight-marijuana leaf leggings, then a series of songs entitled ‘Legalise (But Don’t Tax)’, ‘Get High Like An Angel’ and ‘Mushroom Tea’. The band’s ska-punk-metal-hip-hop resembled a reggae-LMFAO, though the crowd couldn’t have loved it more. Bon Scott, forgive us.
 
RVG faced a thinned and subdued crowd, almost an antidote to the Bennies with their considered jangle-punk, railing against crackpot readers of the Herald Sun. RVG have always flourished under an audience’s gaze; the band’s excellent 2017 debut A Quality of Mercy was recorded live at The Tote. While the atmosphere was modest, singer Romy Vager’s howl was hoarse, guttural, almost heaved out of her throat in romantic rebuke. ‘That’s All’ struck like sudden heartbreak as Vager spat she’d “been trying, to get out of your way”. The band stood emotionless, allowing the singer to jerk through an incendiary set.
 
Nai Palm of Hiatus Kaiyote had the laneway’s attention before she even played a note; her gilded streamer wig, opaque sequin bodysuit and flying V Jackson guitar had an ethereal presence. Playing solo on the electric, Palm flowed through her set in free-time, her voice and guitar jutting in abstract directions. Solo material melded together with Hiatus Kaiyote, along with a cover of David Bowie's ‘Blackstar’ that conjured a spiritual energy so powerful one woman in the front row began to convulse. The pace of her set might have mystified some punters, and perhaps Palm might have been served better by swapping with RVG.
 
Any doubts over whether Regurgitator still hold enough sway in Oz music to comfortably hold a headlining throne were immediately dispelled by the sardonic glee of ‘I Sucked A Lot of Cock to Get Where I Am’ opening the set. The band, in their 25th year, have aged, sure, but importantly, they haven’t let that form any kind of legacy arrogance in their own minds; flipping through their '90s catalogue, and screwing up with abandon. ‘I Wanna Be a Nudist’ and its psycho-fuzz broke the crowd into a mosh whirlpool that persisted violently even through the '80s kitsch of ‘Polyester Girl’. Every time the set felt like it came to a natural close, singer Quan Yeomans would ask with a hint of derangement if the audience wanted another song -- a debauched “yes!” was always the response. ‘! (The Song Formerly Known As)’ was the actual conclusion, launching the crowd into involuntary vertical jumping fits.
 
As the flushed and drunk funnelled out, something felt validated. The Melbourne music scene can be as derivative as it is original, and sometimes it can’t read a room. Other times though, there’s something in the tobacco-stained, confined laneway air that is unidentifiable, absurd and joyous, facing you in a silly hat, telling you not to think too hard.
 
Highlight: The sheer emotional power of RVG’s ‘That’s All’.
 
Lowlight: Punk music was the status quo for the day, and by the end, it had gotten a little samey.
 
Crowd Favourite: The Bennies ‘Party Machine’ and the ecstatic finish of ‘! (The Song Formerly Known As)’.

Melbourne Music Week continues on into the week and finishes up on Saturday November 24. Check out the huge program and grab your tickets via the MMW website.