Live Review: St Jerome's Laneway Festival

15 February 2016 | 12:32 pm | Bryget Chrisfield

"There's a punter holding a rake up in the air within the crowd. What's that all about?"

After an annoying Officeworks pitstop (forgot to print our ticket out, didn't we?) it's a smooth entry into St Jerome's Laneway Festival with absolutely no queuing required around midday.

Red Bull/Future Classic Stage is the place to be with tonnes of shady grass areas and Banoffee pulls a decent crowd. She rocks blue hair at the moment (and matching blue reflector sunnies) and we want that vibrant purple, red, yellow and white pinafore. Beginning by acknowledging the traditional owners of the land, Banoffee (Martha Brown to her nearest and dearest) then presents that beautiful soaring-yet-fragile voice of hers. Banoffee rolls as a three-piece these days with her mate Oscar Key Sung on beats plus a bass/keys player adding to her own digital tweaks. Those down the front get their early dance on. Her "oldie" Got It demonstrates the rhythmic prowess Brown possesses vocally. Banoffee gains momentum with I'm Not Sorry. Then Banoffee plays a track Brown tells us they reworked for a recent gig at Sydney Opera House (Let's Go To The Beach); Key Sung's opening vocals make us swoon and then Brown shows off The Running Man in profile before four dancers swarm the stage for some synchronised chorey. Banoffee is going places.

We spy Laneway's official MC Kirin J Callinan early on looking fabulous wearing a gold brocade bomber jacket, black beret, spectacles, gold fan and bright red lippie (later we see posts of him naked while interviewing artists?). Not only is there a Messina stand onsite, but also an adorable gourmet icy pole stand selling watermelon icy poles on a stick that actually look like slices of watermelon!

It's almost as if the train rumbling overhead as we walk underneath the railway bridge toward Mistletone Stage is preparing our ears for the brutal awesomeness of High Tension. There's a hillside of lush green grass to sit on and this natural amphitheatre is the bomb for a perfect view. A cinematic Star Wars intro tape sets the scene. And don't think we haven't noticed the awesome female talent being showcased at this festival. High Tension's new drummer Lauren Hammel is a pummelling beast. Now where do we start with Karina Utomo? We've had a crush on her since she fronted Young And Restless; she absolutely owns that stage with her demonic yowls and menacing glares (would love to somehow put a GoPro down her throat to see what's going on in there). Utomo welcomes Jelena Goluza (the singer from Outright) to the stage then heads into the photography pit before jumping into the crowd to perform from there. Goluza does a hitch-kick onstage and falls backward (nice save, though). High Tension have had loadsa line-up changes, but here's hoping this incarnation takes them global.

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Now it's time to head up the hill to Dean Turner Stage for Blank Realm "from Brissie". The quartet comprising three siblings — Daniel, Luke, and Sarah Spencer — plus one 'adopted' brother, Luke Walsh, play tunes with The Cure-inspired guitar. Sarah Spencer wields a keytar? Okay, wouldn't have expected that from listening to their excellent record, Illegals In Heaven. A singing drummer (Daniel) is always an impressive touch, the bassist (Luke) does a bit of Prancercise and there's a lot to like about Blank Realm.

Heaps of couples have coordinated their outfits today: one gent sports a bright pink suit while his partner in (fashion) crime coordinates with stockings in identically matching hue.

Highlight of the day: Mr Miyagi potato gem taco. We go back for seconds.

Majical Cloudz singer Devon Welsh says "okay" and "cool" a lot between songs, pogos around like a toddler who's just learnt how to jump and tells us he's concerned that while he gets water for free we probably have to pay for ours. "I want to kiss you/Inside a car that's crashing/And we will both die laughing" — such divinely maudlin lyrics! Welsh's voice is heartbreaking and he pours his soul out through song.

Some punters wandering around seem to have landed at the wrong festival. There's a chick wearing a green playsuit, completely covered in sequins and with ridiculously plunging neckline, fake tan and eyelashes (Stereosonic) and another with black hot pants, bra top and mesh bunny ears (Rainbow). Laneway is right up there for people watching.

There's a crush getting in to see DMA's. It looks wild down the front, but we only manage to secure a spot halfway down (thankfully in front of the big screen). Vocalist Tommy O'Dell must shop at a Big Men's Clothing store to score a T-shirt that oversized. Their nonchalant performance style evokes Stillism: DMA's just play the tunes and get it done. Delete is and always will be a masterpiece. And in lieu of an Oasis re-formation, we have DMA's.

Someone is actually dressed as a taco with Violent Soho scrawled on it.

Shamir brings Vegas to Red Bull/Future Classic Stage. His outfit could be a bit more fabulous — my dad would wear what he's got on today — to go with the fireworks this music brings; there's ray-gun synths and cowbell galore. All assembled instantly recognise On The Regular's intro and it's all hands up, clapping as directed. Shamir's henchwoman sports a long sleeved crop-top and beanie in the height of summer and his backing band bring great energy. A nearby posse feel compelled to stick adhesive jewels under each others' eyes. During Hot Mess Shamir fans his face with both hands to illustrate the song's lyrics. What an awesome voice! It meanders but always somehow sounds spot-on (think: Ofra Haza).

We finally gather the stamina to head to The Very West Stage for The Smith Street Band and, although we manage to get pretty close, the visibility is just shite. And god knows why they're using the smoke machine at this time of day (around 4.30pm) — it just looks like dust. The stage needs to be more elevated; we're better off going way back and watching the action on the giant screen. From here we can see the band's cool backdrop: three evil-looking cats (that look like owls) licking their chops. Then we discover our wristbands allow us to wander down by the river on the other side of the barrier where we can watch from the front, but away from the mosh. "This is the sorta thing we'll remember for the rest of our lives," frontman Wil Wagner — who loves dropping f-bombs — extols, revealing it's particularly special since he lives a short two-minute drive away. After-party at yours then, mate? Wagner dedicates a song (Throw Me In The River) to those who struggle with their mental health, adding, "You're not alone," and many in the audience yell back every lyric. The crowdsurfers that run past us look absolutely stoked, even a dude wearing one shoe; good luck finding the other one out there, bro!

There's a lot of experimental jamming up on stage when we pause at Red Bull/Future Classic Stage to catch Thundercat (Stephen Bruner when he's off duty). They're a trio: bass, keys and a drummer perched in profile wearing an oversized, rasta-coloured felt top hat. Add Bruner's soul-drenched vocals on top and it makes for an unusual sonic combo. And here we find a munter dancing to her own silent disco while auditioning for Gurner Of The Year.

Now it's back to our fave Mistletone Stage for Health. We're immediately taken by bassist John Famiglietti, his long locks perfectly accentuating vigorous helicopter head rolls. We're not sure what equipment they operate outta those road cases that are set up on the downstage floor, but these noise merchants certainly bring something fresh. Each band member looks like they're from a different band and Jacob Duzsik's singing style is not unlike Placebo's Brian Molko. If Famiglietti's stance gets any wider he'll pull a Lenny Kravitz! There's a melody somewhere that calls to mind Cyndi Lauper's Time After Time. Yes, "Life is good," as the band's New Coke lyrics proclaim, especially when watching Health. We're pretty sure they have Battles on high rotation, too.

Another hike up the hill to check The Internet takes us closer to our recommended daily 10,000 steps. Drummer Christopher Smith has effect holes in one of his cymbals and The Internet plus Thundercat would make a compatible double bill. Syd Bennett has a warm, easy presence onstage and Girl is a standout track with her voice effortlessly undulating. We're not sure what his official title is within the band, but the ripped dancing hypeman dude is everything. There's a punter holding a rake up in the air within the crowd. What's that all about? Gardening tools are not doof sticks.

Oh, crap! Is that the time? We stalk back down to Mistletone Stage with purpose for Battles. Drummer John Stanier might wanna rethink wearing a pastel pink shirt when he's a sweater — it's satched by halfway into song two. Ian Williams dances like a thunderbird and pulls some epic expressions while coaxing jaw-dropping sounds from his instruments. Dave Konopka is given between-song banter duty and when his dimples appear on his cheeks you know the band is killing it. Even the professor in Whiplash would give Stanier the double thumbs-up when he stands and massacres that high cymbal at such a pace that his hands disappear into a blur. They should use Atlas live to treat clinical depression — so many rolling peaks in succession! It's almost too much euphoria. Game, set, match: Battles.

As we wander back down by Maribyrnong River to The Very West Stage, we notice people have parked their cars and set up picnics on the opposite river bank for their own povo festival experience. Grimes is having some technical issues with her pedals as we arrive. Her camouflage netting stage set is cheap but effective. We're surprised by how breathless Grimes gets when she tries to speak between songs; she needs to get match-fit. But, then again, the backing vocalist pretty much sings lead vocals together with Grimes. It wouldn't hurt those backup dancers to get some rhythmic gymnastics lessons since one gets a knot in her ribbon and they don't demonstrate any skill whatsoever while using this apparatus. The beats in one song evoke Prince's When Doves Cry, but other than that it's all pretty interchangeable. Red Mini Mouse bows on headbands, fluoro green sweatbands — it's trashy style over substance. Especially if you legged it over here from Battles! Wish we'd prioritised Beach House instead.

Some minger with a ginger beard reaches over the barrier and grabs a bottle of water, empties it, pisses in it, puts the lid back on the bottle and throws it back over the barrier. (Gross doesn't even come close.)

We stay put for Flume. His console is made up of translucent cubes outlined by fluorescent tube lighting that changes colour. Flume comes out (looking business on the top with a crisp long-sleeved short, but casual on the bottom in shorts), commences, calls his tech back on stage and then they both leave the stage. A false start. Then he's back and grabs the mic, "Hey Melbourne!" Holdin' On takes us there as many hold onto barriers to keep them vertical — "Oh, HIP-shakin' mama, I love you!" The visuals are sharp as a samurai sword, featuring multi-chrome coloured mannequins free falling. A new track sounds crunchy and minimal with syncopated beats. The shattered-glass visuals look 3D! All of a sudden Vince Staples bounds out for a guest spot and Flume looks super-stoked. He's still under-25 and Flume (aka Harley Streten) looks so comfortable in this environment headlining a main stage. All smiles and gestures for us to 'turn it up', his closing set is victorious.

Passing Hudson Mohawke on Red Bull/Future Classic Stage, we wander towards the front (there's enough room to swing a tiger) to check it out. You'd need to have snorted your body weight in speed to keep up with these beats! We keep moving toward the exit for a quick passage out.