Photos by David Harris
Since its inception in 2005, St Jerome’s Laneway Festival has continued to set the standard for what a one-day touring festival should look like and while it’s gone from a boutique event to a world-class affair, it has never lost touch with its tastemaker roots.
Now in its 15th year in Melbourne, Laneway is well and truly proving why it deserves to be a staple in every punter’s calendar. From top-notch internationals to the best up and comers Australia has to offer, the latest edition of Laneway Festival was certain not to disappoint.
It’s only fair that in a city where you never know what the weather is going to dish out, Mother Nature was here to turn on the sunshine right from the get-go. And there is no better way to enter a festival and soak up the sunshine than to the sounds of Pist Idiots. They might have been given a far-too-early timeslot, but that didn’t do a thing to deter the band from delivering a huge set. Harsh sun be damned, Laneway Melbourne was here to get rowdy, and you bet that’s exactly what it did.
Even punters who stumbled upon Omar Apollo’s stage completely unfamiliar with his repertoire were very quickly swept up. Strutting onstage in a sequined shirt, Apollo’s audience were ready for a spectacle, and he delivered on all fronts. Moving between laidback ballads and upbeat jams, he showcased the full range of his interesting funk, pop, Latin, R&B, indie-rock fusion, and whether he was dancing around the stage or grooving behind his guitar, he had the crowd right there with him. The vocal backing track might have detracted more than it added, but that’s only a small hiccup in what was a great set.
All the way over on the Future Classic stage, the crowd was taking a little longer to warm up, but Kucka’s feelgood electropop was exactly what they needed to get moving. Playing through a mix of old and new tunes, she bounced around the stage, her smooth falsetto vocals and glitchy, woozy production proving the perfect combination for the early afternoon.
The power combo continued with Kaiit. An absolute queen on all fronts, her silky smooth vocals and infectious grooves will see her storming up lineups in no time, and alongside her incredible band (who deserve props for being so damn tight) she absolutely owned the Fishbowl stage.
One of the breakout stars of 2019, kiwi pop act Benee had what looked like 90 per cent of the Laneway population wrapped around her every word and movement. Effortlessly cool and not afraid to goof around, she was an absolute joy to watch. She welcomed huge singalongs for summer-soaked tunes like ‘Glitter’ and ‘Soaked’ as the crowd hooked into her infectious presence.
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Meanwhile Unearthed’s latest heroes Spacey Jane were watching their crowd balloon in size as they rolled through their set. With huge fuzzy guitars and upbeat indie-rock anthems, they are sure to become a staple on the Australian (and hopefully international) festival circuit. Speaking of regulars on the festival circuit, is there a bigger Aussie artist than Tones and I right now? Packing out the main stage as we headed into the evening, you could almost predict it would be the last time we’d ever see her play this early. For all the people who have tried to criticize her rise, watching Tones and I onstage is all the proof you need that she is an absolute star. And watching her tear through ‘Dance Monkey’ will go down as a Laneway highlight for sure.
While Tones and I was wrapping up, a dedicated and buzzing crowd were getting ready for Windang favourites Hockey Dad to take over proceedings. An ever-reliable live staple, their huge indie-rock anthems and laidback joyful attitude were the perfect antidote to the dust-storm whipping up around the crowd. It’s easy to forget how many huge singles they have in their arsenal, but their Laneway set almost played out like a greatest hits, with tunes like ‘I Wanna Be Everybody’, ‘Sweet Release’, and ‘Join The Club’ spurring punters into endless pit circles.
It’s unusual to see Sydney lads DMA’s take to a festival stage with the sun still out, but they didn’t let that take away from the show. Launching into ‘Play It Out’, the crowd joined in what became a set-long singalong as they belted every word out at the top of their lungs. Their new electronic bent, showcased in new singles ‘Life Is A Game of Changing’ and ‘Silver’, went down a treat, building excitement for what their sets might look like post-album release, but it was their classics like ‘Dawning’, ‘Delete’ and ‘Lay Down’ that proved the biggest crowd-pleasers.
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If you were looking to get swept up in a barrage of sound or seeking a concoction of huge, endless riffs, smoke machines, pounding rhythms, and massive singalongs then Psychedelic Porn Crumpets were your guys.
Dropping into the lineup as a last minute replacement for Fontaines DC, their set hardly felt like a late addition and would easily make it onto many a highlight list. The crowd were swept up right from the get-go, and PPC continued to cement why they’re one of the tightest live bands we’ve got. Besides, is there a better festival-perfect singalong than ‘Keen For Kick-Ons?’?
Continuing the psych onslaught into the night, King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard stood tall as the highest billed Aussie act on the lineup. They didn’t need to do much to get the crowd on their side, but if there was anyone unfamiliar, you can bet they were swept up into King Gizz’s loyal and almost cult-like following in no time.
The fuzzy, almost free-flowing set can’t be described as anything less than epic, delivering a knockout (almost) hour worthy of closing the whole festival down. In a whirlwind that easily ripped through their more recent thrashier material alongside class cuts from Nonagon Infinity (‘Gamma Knife’ a definite peak) all the way into vibier jams like ‘Her And I (Slow Jam II)’. A musical rollercoaster only King Gizz could take us on.
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It’s not often that an Australian festival locks in an international pop artist as a headliner, that’s why it was even more incredible to witness the display Charli XCX put on. From the lighting to the staging to the dancers, every moment absolutely slayed. Whether you think the choice was controversial, crowd reactions don’t lie, and there wasn’t a single body still for a second of her set. Huge hits like ‘Boys’ and ‘1999’ served as the biggest crowd-pleasers, but Charli also threw in some Icona Pop and ‘Spicy’ (with its Spice Girls verse), giving those unfamiliar with her catalogue something to sing along to. Charli XCX is a master force and exactly the kind of act our festivals should be billing more.
Pop brilliance aside, the Laneway 2020 crown has to go to Manchester’s finest, The 1975. Flying through a set that covered every inch of their ever-growing catalogue — from ‘Sex’ all the way to the freshly released ‘Me & You Together Song’. There aren’t many bands whose entire catalogue is as equally loved, but hearing classic cuts like ‘Chocolate’ and ‘Robbers’ receive just as much love (and hysteria) as the likes of ‘Somebody Else’ or ‘People’ is testament to not only The 1975’s strength but also the dedication that they inspire.
While the crowd were dishing out all the energy they had left, the band matched it ten-fold. And with additions like a saxophone player and onstage dancers, the spectacle was heightened. From intense energy to silence in a second, frontman Matty Healy expertly conducted the crowd as Greta Thunberg’s climate change speech echoed across the festival fields – an important and moving moment of pause – before the crowd stood with their fists raised in the air as the political ‘Love It If We Made It’ kicked into gear.
As far as passionate fans go, The 1975’s might be vying for top position, and the band themselves made it pretty hard for any future festival headliners to raise the bar.
Now we start the countdown until Laneway 2021.
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