Laneway throws a good party

Bianca Cornale headed along to Laneway Festival in Sydney, and even if the boutique festival has grown, it’s definitely not too big for its boots, or rather, its incredibly elegant pointy leather brogues. 

Few festivals in Australia are lucky enough to boast such an atmosphere as St. Jerome’s Laneway. It’s a very rare and delicate balance of party vibes and music lust, set at the picturesque Sydney College of The Arts. Expansion has hit since last year, adding another few thousand onto the capacity limit, and taking the festival far from origins in an actual laneway. Saturday’s celebration had everything you would expect from a festival held at an art school; sandstone infrastructure, grassy hillsides, and less pinging bogan assholes than usual. Instead, denim underpants were replaced with the oh-so-sexy rain poncho, as unseasonable chill bought tempestuous weather. Luckily crowds were not deterred and came out in droves to see great live acts, bask in the bounty of beautiful people and shell out too much money trying to get pissed.

Placed in the earliest timeslot, Norwegian folk minimalists, Kings of Convenience (pictured below) were first to tee-off the day. Live performances of this duo are a rare spectacle, playing only ten times in the last three years, and never before to Australian audiences. A decent crowd braved the morning rain to witness their quirky set, and were not disappointed. Halfway through, the two guitars and vocals were joined by backing band Shakes as they launched into Misread. This prompted a transition into a fuller and much funkier sound, especially on Boat Beyond. As the set drew to a close singer Erlend Øye asked the audience to clear a circle and chose individual crowd members to participate in a dance off. To everyone’s ecstatic surprise Øye then announced “here comes the challenger from Norway” and launched himself off the stage, moving like a science teacher at the year nine dance. As the set rounded off, he continued his adorably awful bopping until mobbed with head pats and high fives. Kings of Convenience raised the bar to a fantastic standard for the day, and considering no other bands had dance-offs, a standard that was not quite matched by anyone else.

lanewaybc2Huge props to locals, Twerps, as well as Brooklynians, The Men – both of which played fun, danceable, but very different rock and roll music. The kids from Melbourne owned their 60’s-infused scuzzed-out pop, while The Men blistered through their bluesy, face-melting, high-energy indie punk. Kudos all around.

As the temperature rose ponchos came off and people came out to see Real Estate. Lots and lots of people; Real Estate. The pensive, lo-fi tracks were as breezy as the weather; beautiful and gentle and gorgeous, making you want to hold hands with your sweetheart. However I was alone and embittered, and found their set fall a little flat. Still, album favourites Municipality and It’s Real were a real pleasure to hear live at last. Pretty, poignant, mellow – but bordering on just a little boring.

Especially compared to Melbournites Alpine; who gave a charismatic performance at the tightly-packed Courtyard stage. The six-piece had a surprisingly danceable set, considering their music is like chilled-out pop music for grown-ups. During Hands, Gasoline and Seeing Red there was some serious grooving going on, and closing song Villages even had the crowd jumping.

I caught some of the highly anticipated Alt-J, of whom I was cynical. As I walked over to the flesh flooded pit, a charming audience member who had infiltrated the bogan screening process quipped that he was “fucken keen as for Alt-J, aye!” But I was impressed against my will; they deserve their bombardment of hype. Sadly some of their truly beautiful vocal work was lost over the masses screaming their lyrics, especially Triple J’s Number 3 track of 2012 Breezeblocks. The British blokes called it in with crowd pleasing final track Tyrone, but honestly anything from the ex-art students would have been crowd pleasing.

From one packed audience to the next, Pond put on more of a party than a gig. They thrashed and writhed through psychedelic rock ‘n’ roll tracks with ocker banter punctuating songs, in a performance somehow concurrently polished and loose. And just when the audience felt comfortable they’d abruptly change direction into more meandering, hair-flailing psych. Easily the most entertaining was teeny tiny frontman Nick Allbrook, who had a performance presence five times his actual size. As the electric organ blasted at full volume, someone nearby sparked a pungent doob, though Pond’s mystical axe-grinding was enough to get less resourceful crowd members high. Highlights were Betty Davis transitioning into Moth’s Wings and album opener Fantastic Explosions In Time. Pond assaulted the crowd with noise, more expansive than their already expansive recordings, and did a fucking good job of it.

It was a long day, and by ten o’clock the mood was souring. Maybe emotions were already running high with alcohol excess and exhaustion. But whatever the cause, during headliner Bat For Lashes I cried my little eyes out. And Natasha Khan’s performance definitely had quite a lot to do with it. The British songstress wore a spectacular red taffeta pleated gown and cape, matching the drama of her emotionally turbulent and aurally opulent music. Khan wailed euphorically “thank god I’m alive” in set and album opener Lilies, before mystifying crowds through new and old material. A musical chairs of musical instruments allowed for Khan’s backing band to change their weapons of choice to suit individual songs. This was best used when two drummers and a drum machine pounded through What’s A Girl To Do, and of course when Khan sat at her grand piano for Laura. Khan’s overture ripped out still-beating hearts everywhere and was easily the most memorable moment of the day. A fantastic send-off to another year’s Laneway.

All in all it makes one a little nostalgic that Laneway has grown to such a degree in recent years. While a larger capacity means more people, it also means trying to appeal to greater masses. Organisers certainly have fingers on the pulse of music that is “now”, but in the festival’s expansion it has lost something tender. Still, far from the setting it was named for – Laneway can still throw a good party.

bianca cornale
Words and photos by Bianca Cornale