It’s hard to believe that Laneway Festival’s origins lie in one of Melbourne’s renowned manky alleys, Caledonian Lane – home to startling graffiti, dusty milk-crates, pigeons and the sadly defunct St. Jerome’s. The bar, where you were likely to be served warm beer and use the shed-toilet on the dance floor, began the festival as a summer street party in 2004 and has since expanded to all main cities across Australia, New Zealand and Singapore. Sadly the festival has outgrown its prime real estate in the heart of the city, but it’s captured the essence of something growing across Australia: the alternative scene and its interest in unusual and unique music.
Now in its ninth year, the sold-out line-up presents an array of artists that don’t quite fit the bill anywhere else. If summer festivals were in high school, Laneway would be the gangly dudes in skinny jeans and bowl cuts, who are the first to get tattooed and usually found skipping school to smoke and play guitar by the tennis courts. And everyone who has ever listened to an indie song knows that they end up getting the girl. Or in Laneway’s case, 10,00 of them with glittery eyebrows and Day of The Dead hair adornments.
Arriving at Footscray Community Art Centre, looking across a sea of sun-hats and Hawaiian shirts and down at the helpful Laneway App that includes information on the artists and the ever-important set times, I was wishing there was an app that allows you to split yourself into two, or even… four. But instead of catching glimpses of everything I wanted to see, my friends and I chose to hang out with the aforementioned gangly dudes’ younger brother. He’s kinda short and has been sitting at the back of the bus with over-sized headphone and leaves mixtapes in your locker. The Future Classic Stage. With the most unusual collection of artists on the line-up, it was home to the artists that don’t yet have the biggest following across Australia, but are effortlessly cool. Including New York-born producer Nicolas Jaar, the only hip-hop act on the day EL-P, London singer Jessie Ware, LA beat-badass Shlohmo, shy-laptop-playing Holy Other, singer/songwriter Nite Jewel and the incredible multi-instrumentalist Julia Holter… who I had just missed, because I am a moron.
With a cider in hand, shade was hard to find at the smallest Laneway stage, but the unrelenting sunshine went perfectly with the smooth ’80s pop-funk of Nite Jewel. Having got her start recording music with an eight-track cassette in her spare time whilst studying philosophy, the LA-based musician Ramona Gonzalez has since released two albums and several EPs, last week recreated Kratfwerk’s seminal album Computer World alongside Peanut Butter Wolf in Sydney and collaborated with Dam Funk, as Nite Funk, for a rare, but lovely track. With her smokey voice and lo-fi electro-pop backing grooves, the crowd was a little spare, but for those that could brave the sunshine definitely worthwhile.
Unmasked and looking not entirely at home was Holy Other. Little is known about the producer from Manchester signed to Tri Angle Records, apart from his fondness for bedsheets as album covers and thunderously moody style that was at the forefront of the witch house genre. Crafting his tracks live with an almost divine concentration, he didn’t once look up at the crowd that had quickly gathered and head-nodded along to the abstracted vocals and submerged melodies. Playing the stingingly sad track With U from his first EP of the same name, and the haunted tracklist from the full-length Held, the daytime slot lifted the music from its usual 3.00 am home of a warehouse or the Berghain to a contrastingly uplifting mood. Holy Other’s ghostly set was perhaps a reminder or why this music has taken so long to bloom here in BBQ weather, while working elsewhere: it’s sad music in the summertime.
Judging by the size of the crowd surrounding the stage for Shlohmo, either he’s a lot more popular in Melbourne than I thought, or everyone that had gone to the nearby bar or food tents were startled by the contagious beats suddenly pouring out from the stage by a MacBook and a guy in a hoody doing the coolest version of the Snoopy Dance I’ve ever scene. For those who were expecting the sometimes melancholy love-and-lust driven sounds of his 2011 album Bad Vibes or 2012’s Vacation EP, the producer opted for a pure LA vibe. Representing his home-town collective of weirdo musicians WEDIDIT on his sweater, he was clearly bringing what would usually be reserved for the parents-are-away house parties of Lincoln Heights circa 2009. With everything from crunchy bass, slowed-down R&B and his re-works of Liana La Hava’s Forget and Jeremih’s Fuck You All The Time being completely infectious, it was clear Henry ‘From Outer Space‘ Laufer knew his beats intimately. Caught up in the party, it looked as though Shlohmo’s set was going to go all night, but I watched someone from the sound tent signal him and all too soon it was over – but he surely won a lot of new fans from the crowd.
As Jessie Ware‘s pop-meets-soul set began, my friends and I headed to the food section. Being in Melbourne after all, there’s a fair amount of food-snobbery taking place at Laneway. Bulmer’s had even built a cardboard Brick Lane, which I didn’t check out because there is too much music. Don’t distract me with badge-making! Popular pop-up van Beatbox Kitchen was my preferred choice and a quick tour of the other stages. It was completely impossible to get anywhere near Chet Faker – or his beard – at the River Stage and regrettably even harder to get to Alt-J at the Dean Turner stage. Each corner of the Community Centre felt like an entirely different festival with it’s diversity and never-tiring audiences. On the walk back from the River Stage, we spotted the Bieber of the beat scene, Flume accompanied by security guards and swooning girls. Word even came back from his headlining set later that a guy even stripped completely naked and crowd dived. Well, he does look quite nice in purple. But why anyone would want to miss Nicholas Jaar…
But before I go there, E-LP brought the Brooklyn-hip-hop vibes to Laneway. Known for his aggressive ryhmes that mix jazz-influenced production with a paranoid science-fiction theme, industry heavyweight Jaime Meline started yelling about robots hovering over the stage and went slightly political, yelling “If you elect me as president you won’t have to wait fifteen minutes for your dealer to call you back!” Maybe time for Brick Lane?
In some sort of modern-day version of an orchestra, Nico / Nicholas Jaar’s set began with blue mood lighting, a keyboard, guitarist, saxophonist and a laptop with Ableton on it. Unlike the formal hush before a recital, the crowd was buzzing – whispers about his Sydney show, Pitchfork reviews, the smell of weed – everyone was expecting something. The New York-born and Chile-bred musician approached the stage with a cardigan and a serious expression. To say Jaar’s music is textured is an understatement. Drawing influence from African-sounding percussion, New York jazz, Chicago soul and Chilean techno, it’s an exploration into the abstract side of music with drawn-out rhythms and repetition. With his album Space Is Only Noise sitting somewhere between 90 and 110 BPM, it’s hard to say that it’s specifically dance music. But dance people did and when I could tear my eyes away from the stage I noticed most people were doing so with their eyes closed. With the volume so encompassing, the use of his deep and melodic vocals and the five-minute long solo that had the saxophonist melting into the floor, the whole set was testament to music as pure expression. But it definitely teased. At least every few minutes I heard someone muttering behind me about the ‘drop’, and every swell of bass the crowd cheered with release. What’s that link between music and er, sex, again? At the very end, I overheard a girl asking her friend when the set was finishing, she replied instantly ‘Hopefully never’. I completely agreed.
In the crush to get back to the city, the crowds poured out of the laneways surrounding Footscray Community Centre (which the gangly high school kid seemed to have slightly grown out of) with dirty jeans, smudged glitter and an air excitement way too earnest to be cool.