Ever since its humble Melbourne debut back in 2005, Laneway Festival has evolved into the staple go-to for fans of alternative music all over Australia. Steamrolling into its fourteenth successive year, the annual event has become a vital part of the cultural makeup of Sydney’s live music scene and a key highlight on the calendars of those who know the go.
Held at the sprawling Sydney College of the Arts for yet another year, punters from all corners of Sydney marched into the festival grounds in high spirits. With the sun beaming down all through the afternoon, the whiff of secondhand cigarette smoke and Red Bull concoctions provided an oddly warm sense of familiarity as the picturesque day quickly dissolved into the balmy night.
From the mesmerizing JBL Pulse Wall to Odesza‘s magnificent light display, it was an audiovisual feast of gluttonous proportions. As per usual, the BB crew were deep in the cut, roaming the festival grounds, soaking up all the good vibes, snapping special moments and shooting cinemagraph portraits with a handful of the lineup. Here’s just a few of the highlights and key takeouts.
AGE IS JUST AN INSIGNIFICANT NUMBER
“Being young is weird…I’m the oldest I’ve ever been, ever.”
Everyone seems to have a weird obsession with age. We often attribute artistry to life experience – which definitely does often come with age – but when Billie Eilish stepped out onto the Laneway stage, she came ready to break the mould with her intelligent brand of off-kilter pop.
Drawing a seriously healthy crowd for such an early afternoon set, Eilish dominated from the get-go, immediately marking her territory and fulfilling expectations. With hype blowing in her sails, she steered the crowd through killer track after killer track from her debut EP ‘dont smile at me’ (and even slipped in a Drake cover for good measure). It wasn’t long until she had a full blown moshpit rallying at her feet, and no faulty mic was going to stop her from setting the bar for the rest of the day.
A FESTIVAL WITHIN A FESTIVAL
Nestled between the Cooper‘s Beer Garden and the impressive assortment of local food vendors sat Red Bull Music and I OH YOU‘s Block Party. Dubbed a festival within a festival, the stage, inspired by the spontaneity of the very first Laneway festival, kept the vibes flowing in abundance. Playing host to a hand-picked lineup of predominately local talent, the stage provided an escape from the big festival antics while still managing to deliver some of the biggest sets of the day.
Tucked away from the madness of the original main stages, a hundred odd disco heads and I boogied to Andy Garvey‘s wavy mid-afternoon disco set, while later in the day B Wise brought the Block Party crowd to their knees as the crowned prince of Aussie hip hop came through the cut with nothing but heat.
ONE TIMELESS RNB RECORD GOES A LONG WAY
It’s been over two years since The Internet and Anderson .Paak released ‘Ego Death’ and ‘Malibu’ respectively. Though The Internet have put out respectable solo releases since and .Paak has collaborated with just about every artist under the sun, it’s those two albums that brought fans in droves to catch both acts in action.
The Internet, having toured a number of times here in the past few years, served up a delicious entree before Anderson .Paak came through with a fiery main. .Paak and his band, The Free Nationals, had the crowd absolutely mesmerised, with hits like “Glowed Up” and “Come Down” striking a clear chord amongst fans and inciting absolute riots.
The Internet and Anderson .Paak have been touring the same records for over two years, but you know what? Even if they were to both turn around and announce another Aussie tour later this year, without even having released anything new, we’d probably still welcome them both back with open arms.
OLD DOG, NEW TRICKS
No, I’m not talking about Mac Demarco. Tucked in between Anderson .Paak’s funk flows and the drummed-up futurists ODESZA was Bonobo. The accomplished British musician and producer has slowly expanded his act over the last decade into a full travelling band, occasionally even bringing featured vocalists and trademark violins along for the ride. While this year’s Laneway featured fewer frills and more heavy hitters, Simon Green pulled in punters with a high-flying trapeze through his entire back catalogue, turning over more stones in one hour than imaginable in a standard festival time slot.
“Kong” visited to pay respects to Bonobo’s long-standing fans who remember the days of isolated journeys through bamboo forests, while “Cirrus” tore up Rozelle’s rolling green lawns with concertgoers cutting shapes to its eerily disconnected chimes – matching the winding and grinding of THAT mind-bending music video. All that said, his newest album had a chance to show off its syncopated drum rolls and downtempo claps on “No Reason” and “Kerala”, proving themselves as true crowd pleasers with cheers rushing back to the stage as the first notes rung out. Bonobo’s biggest surprise came near the end of his show, when he broke into a rock-ready guitar riff that would have been comfortable on Queens of the Stone Age’s latest record. This music reviewer and avid fan wasn’t able to place it – perhaps it was a taste of things to come?
THERE’S A CERTAIN MAGIC IN FESTIVAL DISCOVERY
Every year I head to Laneway Festival with a rough plan. Sitting on a spectrum between artists I need to see and artists I’d be willing to give a go, I try to remain open to every artist on the bill because every year I find myself falling in love with a band or artist that I’ve neglected in the past.
Last year, it was Camp Cope; the year before, it was DMA’s; but when the day started drawing to close, I had almost lead myself to believe that this would be the year where I would walk away without an amazing new discovery.
I was wrong – enter Philadelphia’s The War on Drugs. Led by frontman Adam Granduciel, the band dished out a set of drawn-out indie rock ballads, serrated with piercing guitar solos and emotionally stirring instrumental breakdowns. Somewhere amidst the seven glorious minutes of “Strangest Thing”, I had my heart ripped out of my chest and stitched onto my sleeve. Sober yet caught in a daze, Laneway Festival had somehow managed to hand me another defeat – a ritual I hope continues for every Laneway to come.
Words by Edmond Wiafe and Aaron Vargas. Cinemagraphs by Jordan Munns. Live photos by Lachlan Tompsett.