Review: Falls Music & Arts Festival Byron
North Byron Parklands once again offered its rolling hills, forest-lined flats and spectacular natural amphitheatre for the 2015/16 instalment of the Falls Music & Arts Festival. The lineup promised something for everyone; Bloc Party, Foals, Disclosure, Courtney Barnett, Wavves, Kurt Vile and Mac Demarco were just a few of the hugely popular artists to take the stage across a mammoth three days.
The unprecedented anti-alcohol measures at this year’s festival claimed bins upon bins of banned tins, but some more elusive smuggling techniques evaded authorities, allowing punters their preferred DIY buzz.
Taking the stage as the first international band, Wavves thrashed through a great set of their unique surf-meets-punk-rock. Sail to the Sun sent sandshoes stomping, flicking up dust that clouded the front ten rows of the Valley Stage for the rest of the gig. The crowd’s two eager mosh pits were showered with the invisible specks of fuzzy goodness flicked from former Reatards’ bassist, Stephen Pope’s, golden, head-banging curls.
Peking Duk have never been a disappointment live and it was no different on New Year’s Eve. Adam Hyde and Rueben Styles belting out their new, old, and remixed electro tunes in a killer set, the pick of which was 2014’s High.
Kurt Vile and the Violators kicked off Saturday afternoon’s slacker-rock proceedings in front of a smallish, but highly appreciative crowd on the Valley Stage. Waking on a Pretty Daze, I’m an Outlaw, Pretty Pimpin’ and other Violaters gems settled the sunburned crowd into a cooled down chill. The curtain of curls symmetrically covering either side of Vile’s face did nothing to dampen the effect of his introspective lyrics and seductive folk-rock voice which warmed the already balmy coastal air.
The ubiquitous (in a good way) Courtney Barnett followed Kurt Vile and the Violators, converting her studio musings into full-blown rockers thrown into the amphitheatre crowd. Barnett and her band were the perfect segue from afternoon to evening, treating the Valley Stage pilgrims to all their best tunes. If you’re not currently a fan of Courtney Barnett’s songs, do yourself a favour and get to one of her guarantee-to-be-sold-out shows.
UK indie veterans Bloc Party rounded out the second day’s proceedings, illuminating the amphitheatre with their hits of the last 15 years, finishing up with the beautiful This Modern Love.
Two large nights camp-trotting resulted in a later than expected kickoff on the final day, but I eventually made it back to the Valley Stage to check out Gang of Youths. The Sydney Rockers heaped praise on everyone in the crowd who’d ‘given a flying fuck!’ about their ripper 2015 debut, The Positions, and made their appreciation known by ignoring broken guitars and broken voices to smash through their set. Lead singer turned mosh pit patron Dave Le’aupepe performing Magnolias while riding a pulsating crowd surf.
Mac Demarco greeted the crowd with his loveable sleaze: “We’re going to play a few songs for you all; some old, some new. Sit back, relax, and maybe catch a tan.” Rolling into Byron being known for shows during which, among other things, he shoves drumsticks in his bum, Demarco played a markedly mellow set, crooning lazy heartthrob beats like The Way You’d Love Her and Still Together. Demarco is a goofball born to entertain; the gap between his teeth wide enough to have most of his tongue poked through for the majority of his songs and his hips gyrated from start to finish. Andy White’s electric guitar never stopped spitting slick jazz pop licks into the crowd, which eagerly swallowed them up.
Chaz Bundick’s chillwave filling every available inch of the Forest Stage was the perfect start to Sunday Pt. II. Toro y Moi blended beats new and old into a flawless self-advertisement to those unfamiliar with their addictive synth-pop jams. If not for what Foals were about to dish up on the main stage, they would have been my pick of the day.
I caught the end of Gary Clark Jr.‘s set at the Valley Stage, and was blown away by the last fews songs – the modern day Hendrix set the crowd ablaze with some outstanding guitar solos.
Foals‘ arena-sized anthems get more and more impressive, intense and absorbing each time I see them; their set tempo only slowing for the build-up to all-time favourite Spanish Sahara. Younger songs such as My Number, Mountain At My Gates and What Went Down appeared beside stalwarts like Two Steps, Twice. Yannis Philippakis looked commanding as ever standing below stage lights that burned white through the trees at the back of the Ampitheatre and beyond. Although Foals were possibly over-shadowed by Disclosure‘s mammoth festival-ending set, they were still my pick for best gig.
Given the adversity faced by the Victorian leg of the festival, punters at Byron were treated to a flawless event. A ceremonial cleansing of the grounds came in the form of the first rain experienced across the entire four days just as the exit lines began to snake through North Byron Parklands on Sunday morning.
Words and pictures by Matt Lengren.