"Nothing could muddy these musical highlights"
For its 20-year anniversary Splendour In The Grass pulled together yet another brilliant lineup – so brilliant, in fact, that punters were willing to negotiate the muddiest grounds the festival has seen in as many years. In fact, before fans could even think about who to see each day, they were considering what to wear as they braved the wet and cold. Function over fashion was the theme of the day, along with a few innovative “soggy chic” hacks and plastic bags over shoes. Despite the delays confronted early on and the cancellation of Friday’s performances, one thing remained consistent with the many brilliant events gone before: nothing could muddy these musical highlights.
On one of the first slots of the festival was the Canadian pop-punk group, PUP, giving the amphitheatre the first run in three years and testing the super muddy bowl. It was also a chance to experience the brand new mega stage and epic video screens to match. Seriously impressive, as were the band.
Meanwhile, the soulful sounds of Budjerah were emanating from the next stage, setting the tone for a great day out. At just 20 years old, he embodies a confidence and control beyond his years – a confidence shared by his band, judging by their all-white outfits. Set highlights included his latest single Ready for the Sky and his energetic cover of The Temper Trap’s Sweet Disposition, showing off vocal control to rival Dougy Mandagi himself.
By the time The Chats took to the Amphitheatre, the sun had emerged and everything started to feel good again. It didn't stop the Sunshine Coast band from calling out the NSW Police and the abundance of sniffer dogs in attendance. We sung along to songs about pub feeds, 6-Litre GTRs and of course, the traditional smoko.
While Stevan was crooning at The Parklands tent, Alice Ivy had the Mix-up Tent in the palm of her hand, dancing fervently around the stage and hyping the crowd up with her infectious energy. She even brought Sycco onstage for a rendition of Weakness that buoyed the crowd.
Speaking of, hard-working Sydney band The Buoys took full advantage of the opportunity to play at Byron Bay Brewery bar after their Friday set was cancelled. Despite only a few dozen punters there at the start, the crowd swelled to an upbeat and raucous group as the four-piece ripped through a number of hits from their catalogue, from the old – Wah and Liar Liar – to the brand new – ‘Red Flags’ and ‘BDSM’. The band played with gleeful abandon and huge smiles in a pop-up show that quickly became one of the day’s highlights.
By mid-afternoon, indie rocker Noah Dillon and his band were looking like the perfect palate cleanser, and they didn’t disappoint. Knievel Daredevil showed off Dillon’s powerful vocal range, while Matthew McConaughey (the song, not the man) revealed the playful side of his stage persona – that, and unforgettable lines like “did you know that sneezing is like a mini orgasm?” Overflowing with charisma and warmth, the performance drew an ever-growing crowd into the mud-filled mosh area and highlighted the hard-won chemistry between band members.
In a surprisingly early time slot for their stature, the aptly-named Jungle Giants came ready to put on a show, and they didn’t disappoint. Frontman Sam Hales was the undisputed star of said show, whether he was wielding the guitar like an axe or strutting around the stage unencumbered. Showcasing hits like Something Got Between Us, Feel The Way I Do and Used To Be In Love, the band kept the energy up and the performance playful. The crowd responded in kind, pulsating from the nosebleed section to the top of amphitheatre hill and singing along with gusto. It was such a show worthy of a mic drop and a commemorative picture, and disposable cameras thrown into the crowd ensured that the Jungle Giants got both.
One of the more controversial acts on the festival bill, American social media star turned musician Oliver Tree is many things, but he’s not one to do anything by halves. His impressive mullet, eccentric style and loud persona made for an action-packed 45-minute set, that also included a few doppelgängers and a few more c-bombs. Although his pandering to the crowd felt overly theatrical, his tunes Do You Feel Me, Life Goes On and Cowboys Don’t Cry were clear winners, as were his cowboy hat, scooter tricks and karate moves. In one sentence, his performance was a metaphor for the power of being yourself, and perfectly reminiscent of his album title Ugly is Beautiful.
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On the way across the waterlogged site, Triple One were tipping the Mix Up tent stage on its head with a fire set and many costume changes! The Sydney rap crew have more than a few fans and with a new track released, they were relishing the chance to put it on display.
The journey to the next tent, though muddy, was all worthwhile for the chance to see Stella Donnelly put on a charming performance for a full tent of fans. They came for the music and stayed for the banter, which included a very cute story about her grandmother asking about what a vibrator was in reference to the song Mosquito. “It’s how you rate the vibes!”
It was time to return to the amphitheatre for what was to be a nostalgic and bittersweet final (for now) Splendour performance by Violent Soho. Before their indefinite hiatus would take effect, the Aussie punk-rock legends were determined to put on a show full of hits, as well as a rendition of their new track, Kamikaze. “It’s about putting your band into hiatus at its peak!” joked singer, Luke Boerdam. Speaking of peaks, the sound of ten thousand people yelling “Hell f*ck yeah!” was a highlight for energy, volume and feeling – and there’s no doubt these festival veterans will be missed.
US rapper Jack Harlow took every opportunity to introduce himself to a crowd of potential new fans during his main stage SITG debut. From Route 66 about his early life in Kentucky to Side Piece, an insight into his relationships, Harlow proved himself a natural storyteller through his songs. Of course, his breakout hit First Class was an undisputed set highlight, and the crowd was all too happy to back him up on the instantly recognisable chorus line lifted from Fergie’s Glamorous. While fancy lighting, graphics and smoke machines did a lot of heavy lifting for the set, Harlow’s natural confidence was a strong asset, and he never missed an opportunity to interact with the crowd – that is, until some fans called on him to do a shoey. No dice.
In the dark, making our way back to the GW McClennan tent was hard work, but again, the reward was in the music. Ruby Fields did not disappoint, giving a warm, wholesome and upbeat set. In the true spirit of Splendour, she also handed over some time to her guitarist and solo artist, Adam Newling, whose set was cancelled the day before. Fields’ set was full of twists, turns and singalongs, from the personal and passionate Bruises to the nostalgic Dinosaurs. Accompanied by a series of self-made visuals on the big screen, Fields put on a show that demonstrated her immense growth and the promise for a bright future.
Any triple j listener and festival punter could have predicted that Glass Animals would be a lineup highlight, and they would have been right. With his quirky yet effortlessly cool stage persona, frontman Dave Bayley was in his element on a main stage, and his songs stood up to the test. Trademark fun energy, fluid dance moves and a set consisting of fan favourites Life Itself, Tangerine and Gooey set the band up for a well-deserved win. At one point, Bayley even told fans in the mosh pit that they smelled good, which, after nine hours in the mud, is an impossibility, but only made him more likeable. Finally, the eagerly anticipated Heat Waves made for the ultimate set finisher, leaving the crowd hyped and sweaty in spite of the chill.
Musical comedy legend Tim Minchin was perhaps an unexpected addition to the Splendour lineup, but the punters who made the trip down from the amphitheater knew they were in for a show. With bare feet and a perfectly awkward stage presence, Minchin and his band of brass, guitars and backing vocalists played through some of his most popular tunes for a packed tent, from Rock and Roll Nerd to the inimitable Cheese. As a triple threat – singer, pianist and comedian – Minchin made just as much out of the spaces between songs as he did his lyrics, often jokingly lamenting the popularity of The Strokes who were playing on the main stage during his time slot. The ultimate merging of music and comedy came in his rendition of the band’s hit Last Night, followed by an impressively energetic cover of Billie Eilish’s Bad Guy. All in all, Minchin’s ability to create comedic micromoments out of facial expressions and quips made this an unforgettable set.
Having lost a third of the headliners, there was some significant pressure on The Strokes to deliver, and the bursting amphitheatre was ready to be impressed. Despite rumours swelling around frontman Julian Casablancas’ state and a potential for a late cancellation, they turned up and then turned up, no doubt earning a sigh of relief from organisers.
The set included a healthy chunk of their seminal 2001 album, Is This It, which this week will celebrate its 21st birthday. Albert Hammond Jr.’s impressive guitar work made a set highlight out of Heart In A Cage, the iconic tone reverberating through the crowd.
Casablancas himself was not one to say much, nor acknowledge the crowd greatly and there was a feeling that he was either pretty tired or not quite up for it, but to his and the band’s credit, they sounded great as a collective and gave us pretty much what we all expected, having played the same stage before.
For many, the commute home sullied what was otherwise a great day of music, but for those that took the moments when they came - to close their eyes, soak in the sounds, the atmosphere and the fact that Splendour was back – it was all worthwhile.
Following the unfortunate debacle of the bus queues after the previous night, it was a reasonably slow start for the site on the Sunday. With this in mind, it was key to hydrate and find a cosy stage to replenish the soul.
King Stingray were the perfect antidote. Playing on the GW McClennan tent early, the North Arnhem Land group attracted a massive early crowd and they were rewarded with a landmark performance from the group on the verge of their debut album.
‘Let’s Go’ was a massive highlight with the crowd clapping and singing along followed by an obviously stoked and excited Yirrŋa Yunupiŋu smiling widely and saying, “it's a bit muddy out there. It's annoying, hey?", prompting a shrug and a laugh from the crowd. Their cover of Coldplay’s ‘Yellow’ was joyous, along with their other big singles, ‘Camp Dog’ and ‘Milkumana’. The group is just at their start of their career, but one gets the feeling that next time they’ll be on a much bigger stage.
Andy Golledge, unintentionally, became the crossover hit of the festival as he performed at the Parklands stage to a growing crowd basking in the early afternoon sun. His rollicking set would have had many toes tapping if their boots weren't stuck in the mud, too! His songs are an infectious mix of country, rock and Americana and with an all-star band, including Caitlin Harnett on guitar and banjo, Ollie Thorpe on guitar and Nick (Birthday Boy) Ryan on the bass, the sound was crisp and joyous, again, helping us forget the stresses of the previous night, especially with Golledge braving the elements at the front of the stage during huge finale, ‘Rescue Me’. A set that solidified the artist’s rise to make alt-country a mainstream success in this country.
JK-47 exploded under the Mix-up tent to a passionate hometown crowd. With seven on stage at one point, bringing the ECB (East Coast Brotherhood) together in joyous collaboration as well as oft-collaborator Nerve, the set felt like a party. We were lucky enough to catch his cover of 2Pac’s ‘Changes’ and confirmed that his star is still rising and there's a huge crowd that are keen to come along for the ride, adding quite a few more after a couple of big festival sets over the last couple of years, including Yours & Owls Festival and Bluesfest.
Pond played a sunny afternoon before a packed amphitheatre and the delicious irony of playing a cover of Dragon's Rain under brilliant blue sky was not lost on anyone! Their brilliant set, highlighted by front man, Nicholas Allbrook's sensational stage moves and interaction was a brilliant success for a band that continues to make glorious music, perfectly suited to a sunny Splendour amphitheatre.
It may have been 4pm, but there was dancing to be had under the Mix-up tent as Northeast Party House took over. It was also time to make a decision. Go hard, or go home. The former was the right answer as Maz DeVita from WAAX took to the stage and delivered a memorable imagining of One Step Closer by Linkin Park. With the tent overflowing and spirits high, we swam in circles to ‘Calypso Beach’ and everything felt pretty right with the world. Giant blow up balls of glitter bounced over the crowd as ‘The Haunted’ belted out, before a new song was dropped in ‘Cranky Boy’. Domino rounded out a big, party of a set from the party starters themselves which would end up being one of the highlights of the day and the festival judging by the delirious faces of the punters in the crammed muddy tent.
Keeping the vibes high throughout the break, DJ Shantan Wantan Ichiban dropped hit after hit to keep everyone on top of their game before one of the hottest properties of Australia hit the stage.
Genesis Owusu, fresh off shows and festival slots from around the world, hit the stage ready to launch the next chapter in his epic and evolving musical journey. In what was a first, he combined ‘ The Black Dog Band’ and ‘The Goons’ into one epic set. Entering atop the shoulders of his goons, ‘The Other Black Dog’ brought Owusu to the stage along with a hectic energy that propelled the whole set. The juxtaposition of combining both aspects of the artist was the launch point for his new persona, as ‘Roach’ announcing that he was “formally The Black Dog” and wearing a striking red jacket and shaved head. The performance of brand-new song, GTFO, was a striking addition to the set that paves the way for the next chapter. The tent was heaving as he, and the band, performed Don’t Need You to an adoring crowd, singing every word. An epic set from an epic talent.
There's something comforting knowing that Grinspoon are still playing the main stage of Splendour after dark. Lost Control, Just Ace, Pedestrian - songs that have been a part of Australia's story for over a generation and here they are, presented to a crowd that may not have seen them ever play live before. Phil Jamieson is, of course, the consummate front man. Whether he's strutting cockily around the stage, or carrying the vocals whilst strumming, he doesn't stop for the duration and man, he's still got it.
Calling on the crowd to chant Ken West’s name, Chemical Heart was delivered with extra passion and feeling as a tribute to the Big Day Out founder. Champion was dedicated to the front crowd in an ironic fashion, but the song was still delivered with the punch and commitment when we first heard it 24 years ago. The new video screens really came to the fore with this set, red lightning strikes accentuating the music, along with a close up of the artists, giving people up the hill the chance to still feel immersed. The set gave us all the hits and a chance to reminisce on one of the best bands to ever come out of this country.
The tack changed suddenly for the next set in the amphitheatre as UK DJ, Duke Dumont took the stage and dance music took over. The crowd popped hugely for song after song, especially smash hits, Red Light, Green Light, Ocean Drive and The Giver, all coming with a light show to at least give us something to look at!
The trek to the GW McClennan stage was easily the most challenging of them all, with some mud holes sinking you above the calves, but it was worth it to see Amyl and the Sniffers perform an almost headline set to round out the stage for the festival. "How are ya going, ya bunch of fucking cunts!", was a fitting way to stay the show from guitarist, Declan Mehrtens. Amy Taylor was in fine form throwing herself around the stage with wilful abandon delivering her caustic and entertaining lyrics to tracks, particularly from their second album, Comfort To Me. Being from the area, Amy regaled us with a tale of working in the Mullumbimby IGA, “There were the best four years of the my life!”
Songs like Capital, Maggot and Security were delivered with their short-sharp ferocity that we’d expect from the Melbourne four-piece, but tracks like Choices and Knifey have that extra layer of meaning and passionate delivery. Taylor’s ability to hold the crowd in the palm of her hand is a skill she has in spades, but the rest of the band and playing just as hard as she is singing.
“I've had a wild time, I got to meet Dicko!” laughed Taylor before diving into oldie, Some Mutts (Can’t Be Muzzled). It was certainly a bigger crowd than the smattering that showed up early in 2018 for their amphitheatre slot and a testament to the hard-work they’ve done since. It also felt a fitting way to wrap up the festival and for many that were scarred from the night before, it felt like the right time to call it.
For those that didn’t leave (which was plenty), Tyler, the Creator wrapped up the festival with a smile and a set that gave everyone a chance to exhale together in a collective sense of exhaustion , relief and euphoria
The stage, adorned in a green hills, and his persona, that from his latest album as Tyler Baudelaire, were the initial backdrops for his set, but he covered everything, from Yonkers to RUNITUP. Even if you weren’t intimate with the catalogue, Tyler managed to keep everyone watching. His love of performing and his animated stage presence kept everyone enthralled for the entirety of his set, with noticeably less people leaving early than the previous night.
The placement of big names in the rap world headlining Splendour has become a regular occurrence and this set will go down as one of the greatest and a much-needed salve to the woes of the weekend. Over the coming weeks, people will analyse Splendour in the Grass 2022 and go over what went wrong and why, but as is the case with most music festivals, it will be most remembered for the music that was performed and the music of this year was great.
Despite having fewer international artists than other editions, the strong local contingent and the support that they received, shows just how much live music can be appreciated in this country and the efforts that were made to not only be there, but to put in such a great show despite all of the roadblocks is a testament to the importance and stature of the festival in its 20th year.
Hopefully, with the benefit of hindsight and a clearer forecast, Splendour will continue to be the yardstick of festivals in this country and surely, with such a wealth of experience behind them, the post-Covid era from 2023, will redeem this once great adventure.
For now, all we can do is wash our clothes (and our hair), catch up on sleep and anticipate it all again for next year. Because, after all, we still love a festival.