Live Review: St Jerome's Laneway Festival

8 February 2016 | 1:38 pm | Matt MacMasterMick Radojkovic

"This year's acts, with the inclusion of a few heavier bands, stood out for its diversity and ability to pick 'The Next Big Thing'."

The Laneway Festival stands alone as the surviving summer touring festival and for good reason: great line-ups, well behaved crowds and inspired venues. This year's acts, with the inclusion of a few heavier bands, stood out for its diversity and ability to pick 'The Next Big Thing'. 

Where last year felt overstuffed or washed out depending on where you were, this year things felt far more fluid and dynamic, with the sound issues plaguing the Garden Stage rectified and the line-up spread much more economically over timeslots and venues. Police and security presence was relatively subtle and effective with no major hassles. The official stats will likely be released from them directly but from our perspective fun and safety felt balanced. Food at festivals keeps getting better, with Laneway pushing ahead in terms of quality and variety. Facilities were plentiful. Cross-corporate advertising felt a bit overbearing at times with companies poking their noses in too far with displays and demonstrations and sign-up opportunities, but if it means money flows into the festival coffers then so be it.

Kicking off proceedings on the Mistletone stage was Ali Barter. She had a huge 2015 with the wonderful AB-EP and is looking to take the step to a full-length in 2016. Starting off with Blood, Barter and band moved through a catalogue of tunes that show off not only Barter's rich vocals, but the band's rocky chops. A perfect start to the day.

Due to Silicon's indiscretions, Slum Sociable were bumped up the schedule a slot and delivered a low-key but danceable set. The seated (already tired?) crowd soaked in the harmonies that have been helping them get noticed recently. New track, Apartment, was an example of where this band is headed.

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Putting on a band like High Tension early in the day is probably just as well because we were probably still half asleep. 45 minutes later we'd witnessed what would be the most intense and high-energy set of the day. Singer Karina Utomo is a force of nature, prowling the stage and delivering the best growl we've heard in a long time. Jumping into the crowd and performing in her own circle pit set the tone for a mammoth set.

Majical Cloudz played with all the focus singer-songwriter Devon Welsh's shows are known for. Insular and intense, he was a zen oasis in a field of bright colours and loud noise, and his stripped back balladry was transcendent. Songs like Silver Rings and This Is Magic made us swoon, and while the songs themselves were serious his goofy charm made things buoyant.

The Mistletone Stage was the place to be early with a great mix of up-and-coming bands. Canadian Sub Pop noise outfit Metz blitzed it, playing a crushing set focused on their new album II. The high pressure caterwauling and grinding riffs sounded epic, and while there were bigger names competing for attention there was a decent crowd in support, the band delivering a power-packed, sweat-soaked set that surprised many. Acetate, with its bass-heavy delivery highlighted a tight meaty set.

Preppy producer East India Youth looked out of place in the heat wearing a high-buttoned shirt and dark pants like he was about to take us through the journey of Joseph Smith. Those keeping tabs with Pitchfork may have been expecting a lukewarm Mercury Prize nominee playing tired pop clichés, but instead it was an exciting blend of post-punk, New Order, 4/4 club bangers and crescendos that left people exhausted. It was a hard set to program for two in the afternoon.

DIIV launched their new album Is The Is Are on Friday to immediate rave reviews and it was perfect timing to include them on this festival. Singer Zachary Cole Smith proceeded to ironically pronounce his band's name differently between each track, but the music did the main talking. A floating, airy set that showed off this shoegaze band's impressive progress under the melting afternoon sun. Well worth the time.

Shamir followed, dropping a sweet set of afro-funk and neo-soul that felt just right, a nice comedown after the previous effort. The Las Vegas natives had a great stage presence, slick but also a bit odd. Shamir's warmth and enthusiasm simmered.

The place to be at this time of day was up front at Mistletone as the MC for the day Kirin J Callinan decided (controversially) not to show off his privates before introducing local legends, Royal Headache. Shogun and band delivered a typical frenetic set, with the lead singer making the calls on the fly as to which song he could do or not. The crowd were in full flight during the set, with crowdsurfing becoming the norm. For a change, the security just watched and smiled.

The Smith Street Band performed a fast, solid set of favourites to a crowd that appeared to know every word, which was just as well as singer Wil Wagner's voice was struggling midway through the set, apparently due to screaming along to Battles too much. Small circle pits opened up throughout the enthusiastic crowd.

Down at the Park Stage Callinan inexplicably prompted a singalong of INXS' Never Tear Us Apart before introducing local duo, Hermitude. The crowd soaked it in, even as the dipping sun making it hard for El Gusto to actually see which buttons he was pushing. The warmth of the afternoon prompted a tropical set, pleasingly updated from their huge Hordern set from last year. The Buzz, hot off a top 10 Hottest 100 finish, punctuated a perfectly honed set.

GoldLink was explosive, spitting verses with laser precision and terse, crackling energy. Spectrum got a strong response. His pace was quick, he was wily, and his whole show was exciting and vivid. This was roughly the fulcrum of the afternoon in terms of energy with things shifting into the next gear, and this was the perfect time for him to play.

A quick bite to eat from the food area became a tricky decision. Between Mary's, Porteno and Eat Art Truck, the culinary choices were almost as tough as the bands. Team that with craft beers and a great range of stands, shops and art, and the festival had every avenue covered.

Meanwhile back at Garden Stage, Violent Soho played a full-blooded show, roaring into the face of the afternoon sun. The crowd bucked and sang and made the Brisbane imports feel at home. The crunchy '90s throwback Fur Eyes was big and brash.

Back at the Red Bull Music Academy Presents Future Classic Stage, Thundercat was giving punters a lesson in free-form jazz. He showed off his astounding skills on the guitar and bass, which sometimes delved into extravagant jazz improv breaks. The music didn't seem to suit everyone as the packed crowd started to disperse early to check out Grimes on the main stage, but he was well worth the time if you're into it.

For some reason Grimes has earned a reputation for being difficult or volatile, but she was nothing but smiles and good humour, even when she battled with sound issues that dragged her set down a bit. She was vibrant, and her technicolour performance was excellent, including Genesis and Oblivion in the setlist. She was a crowd favourite, which is case in point for how positive behaviour rewards positive behaviour.

We witnessed a thoroughly entertaining set from burgeoning West Coast rapper, Vince Staples. Despite the notably small stage, Staples managed to engage the audience well in a set including most tracks from his acclaimed album, Summertime '06.

A quick dash to the Garden Stage was met with a massive audience for Scottish stars, Chvrches. Returning to Laneway after playing the same stage two years prior (in a much earlier time slot), the trio were humble in their performance, which included a solid trio of tracks from their latest album, Clearest Blue, a highlight. Fantastic energy from lead singer, Lauren Mayberry.

Beach House's blissed-out drone was a great idea to program towards the end of the night, letting people refocus their energies and recalibrate themselves for the final couple of hours. Myth sounded gorgeous, building and building into a purple haze of synth hum and pulsing heartbeat kick drumming.

The crowd did the sideways shuffle over to the Park Stage as we waited for the anticipated homecoming set from Flume. We were made to wait with a huge build-up to the first track, but were treated with Holdin On, Sleepless and On Top in a solid opening. Then we were given a preview of new tracks from the album. Think atmospheric. Kucka and Vince Staples featured live, as did remixes with Hermitude, Lorde and Disclosure.

It was hard to see Purity Ring, as everyone flooded towards the Mistletone Stage one last time, but from a distance, they delivered a perfectly poppy and ethereal set to a crowd that still appeared hungry for more. Begin Again finished their set and the day, making a lot of us wish we could do just that.

Heavy-hitting Scotsman Hudson Mohawke closed the day with a short sharp set, basically a Best Of selection from Butter and Lantern. The RBMA Presents Future Classic stage was packed, being the only thing left open, and it was heavy going. People were digging deep and throwing it all into the final hour.

The day was expertly organised, curated and delivered. Long may Laneway rule the summer festival circuit because they do it so well.