AU ABROAD

Splendour Spotlight: Our 11 favourite sets of Splendour in the Grass 2015

Splendour in the Grass has once again come and gone, and while we're free of the mud-caked wasteland that North Byron Parklands became, we will miss what really mattered first and foremost: the music. Splendour is always teeming with bands and artists giving it their very all, matching the reputation of arguably Australia's best festival with career-defining sets from local acts and big showcases from internationals both new and old. There's always much, much more than just a few highlights coming out of the weekend, whether it be a new band/artist you stumbled upon or a long-awaited live performance from an iconic band. Here, we reflect on our 11 favourite performances from the three days of live music.

NB: the AU review only had one writer up at Splendour this year, and hence this list is based on which acts they managed to see. The schedule had quite a few clashes, so in many cases, Chris only managed to see half a set. The below inclusions are based on seeing at least the first six or seven songs.

11. Tkay Maidza (Mix-Up Stage, Friday)

Tkay Maidza is much, much more than what she first appeared to be when she came onto the scene. Slowly piling on hits, each more infectiously fun than the last, Tkay has gone on to amass a huge fanbase and they showed out in full force for her afternoon set at the Mix-Up Stage. The atmosphere was wildly enthusiastic throughout her set, Tkay leading the party with her bouncy, house-spliced rap and showing off how much she has improved as a performer since earlier days. Not even a hyperactive stage performer could slow her down as she powered through hit after hit, drowned out only by the thousands of fans screaming every line back at her - the ones they could keep up with anyway. Tkay raps with clarity and head-spinning accuracy as she hits every beat in between her modest, playful singing, and now that she has the live presence to go along with it, there will be little stopping her as she continues to grow into the superstar she is fast becoming.

10. Knxwledge (Red Bull Music Academy, Saturday)

Knxwledge is far from the only producer keeping the soul, the jazz, and the blues alive in hip hop but he may very well be the best. With a rising profile thanks to his work with Joey Bada$$ and Kendrick Lamar, the Stones Throw producer came to Red Bull Music Academy and brought with him a whole heap of interesting ideas, and genuinely provoking twists to classic hip hop and R&B that had him deliver one of the best DJ sets of that type I think I have ever witnessed. Though the crowd seemed to be largely unaware and uncaring about the actual samples Knwxledge seamlessly spun together, not one body in that space could resist moving to the heady blend of funk, soul, hip hop, and R&B that was given to us. It was the perfect way to wind down and get away from the crowd at the Ampitheatre and just one reason why Red Bull Music Academy was once again one of my highlights of Splendour in the Grass.

9. Purity Ring (Mix-Up Stage, Saturday)

Purity Ring did the Mix-Up Stage what Darkside did last year: fill it with supremely blissful electronica that reached far beyond the confides of tent, drawing punters in like flies to the pulsating multicoloured lights. The sound they create live is atmospheric and intense, wrapping you in densely layered, soul-shaking bass before spinning you off into galactic, fascinating sonic explosions with nothing but Megan Jones' triumphant vocals to tether you to reality. I had absolutely no idea they were this beautiful live, and it's a sure bet that when they return to Australia for Laneway next year (something they revealed at Splendour) Purity Ring will be one of the quintessential acts at the festival.

8. Mark Ronson (Ampitheatre, Friday)

This festival-within-a-festival didn't just rely on a big, flashy production to keep people planted firmly in the mud despite the pouring rain, it was driven by Ronson's showmanship and his many, many guest musicians who all worked together to interpret and deliver the producer's dominant hits. It was a greatest hits set, with fun the primary concern despite the initial unwillingness to dance in such gloomy conditions. From "Feel Right" to "Uptown Funk", Ronson never let the wild excitement die down, with help from the likes of Kirin J Callinan, Ella Thompson, Keyone Starr, Kyle Falconer, Daniel Merriweather, Kevin Parker, and Andrew Wyatt. His productions draw on a great range of musical styles, delicate beats that lend to a variety of vocals and instrumentals which came from his numerous guests. Though, nothing could outshine the penultimate performance of "Valerie", with no guests necessary, just the entire audience singing along with Amy Winhouse as we all celebrated one of the greatest and most unique voices of all time.

7. Total Giovanni (Red Bull Music Academy, Sunday)

A little sunset funk in the Parisian themed Red Bull Music Academy goes a long way when it's coming from these guys, Melbourne's newest buzz band which delivered a performance so incredibly fun and bizarre that I wouldn't be surprised if I saw them in high demand for every single festival over the summer period. They know how to work a crowd, they have a distinctive stage presence - similar to the defunct Bluejuice - and they worked perfectly in a festival setting. They aren't all on-stage antics and pizzaz though, these serious funk-disco rhythms are pure magic, forcing even the most resistant limbs to start swaying. The crowd was full of people making up their own dances on the spot, inspired by the penetrating sounds this quintet were throwing down. I didn't want it to end, and I was far from the only one.

6. Tame Impala (Ampitheatre, Sunday)

The majority of festival goers were anxious to see what Tame Impala would do to celebrate their Splendour homecoming and though nothing surprising happened in way of special guests or the like, we got a great, seamless set from one of our currently biggest musical exports. Little was said from frontman Kevin Parker aside from the occasional expression of gratitude and some little trivia before they busted into "Elephant" (they debuted the rolling rock anthem three years ago at Splendour), with the focus on the music. With new material that indicated a bit more of a focus on hypnotic synth patterns, Tame Impala certainly crafted a gorgeously layered, cohesive set for us that showcased their ability to take what was already exciting in the studio and augment it live, with thrilling instrumentals which lifted Parker's otherworldly vocals and carried it across the packed Ampitheatre.

5. The Smith Street Band (Ampitheatre, Saturday)

The most memorable moment of The Smith Street Band's Saturday set may have been when they unveiled a giant 'Real Australian Say Welcome' poster and belted out "Wipe That Shit-Eating Grin Off Your Punchable Face", but that was far from the only highlight of what was a defining set for the exceptional band. Frontman Wil Wagner seemed genuinely shocked that so many people turned out for their late afternoon set, but they shouldn't have been. Unbreakable, forceful music that inspired you as much as it made you rock the fuck out is what we got for a full hour that no one in that Ampitheatre will soon forget. This was a big moment for not just the band, but Australian music and Australian music fans.

4. Tuka (Red Bull Music Academy, Saturday)

Fresh off releasing his third solo album, Thundamentals emcee Tuka delivered his work at the Red Bull Music Academy to a very receptive, very lively crowd that stayed in perfect sync with his soulful tunes throughout. With assistance from reliable Sydney band Left, the emcee brought his heartfelt material to life and mixed it in with with fun, party-focused hip hop to make for a comprehensive showcase from one of the country's leading emcees. It was a reminder of just how powerful and beautiful hip hop is as an artistic outlet, Tuka's vigorous stage presence clearly communicating how much passion and dedication has gone into his latest project.

3. Florence & the Machine (Ampitheatre, Saturday)

My love for hip hop (Knxwledge was clashing) drew me away from the full experience of this glorious, highly anticipated performance, but I still got more than enough (the first 7 songs) from Florence Welch to know that her and her music entirely justify the hype. Her singular voice is often overwhelmingly powerful, reaching and echoing through the entire Ampitheatre and twisting along with her spellbinding stage presence. From a distance she is but a pure white and bright red glow leaping around the stage and floating amongst the front row, belting out the most heavenly melodies of contemporary pop music. There's less of a reliance on her signature harp, allowing Florence to move freely around stage while her band throw out mostly precise translations of songs like "Shake It Off" and "What the Water Gave Me" to help her along. It was all about that voice though, and Florence's strong, powering - often empowering - lyrics that had the entire Ampitheatre filling in as her choir.

2. Spiritualized (GW McLennan Tent, Friday)

Poignant, poetic lyrics and beautiful, progressive rock was what you would have gotten if you had the good mind to step into the GW McLennan Tent for Spiritualized. Sombre in their presence, but effectively dedicated to giving us the very best, the legendary band spun us through a spectrum of emotions as they would gradually lift their instrumentals into powerful, enormous soundscapes that juxtaposed against the grounded, often depressing - but always penetrating - lyrics from vocalist Jason Pierce. Recklessly fast at some points, slow and steady at others, each musician worked in perfect harmony to bring us everything from thrilling prog-rock to gospel-tinged blues, all working into one very emotional - and emotionally draining - hour of rock at it's finest and most powerful. Not a band one should ever miss live.

1. Blur (Ampitheatre, Sunday)

Blur surprised me. Not that I expected them to be bad, but there is always that gut-feeling that a band you have waited so long to see live is never going to live up to your expectations. I tried expecting nothing, but that seems impossible from a band of their stature and repute. They were in top form and exceeded expectation. If Albarn was telling it true, we have Byron Bay's famous Organic Doughnuts to thank for how much energy the front man gave us, running around stage and punching at the air to capture the weight of the impeccable instrumentals the band added to mostly every song they performed.

Classics "Beetlebum", "Tender", and "Song 2" were either paced differently or misshapen from their familiar studio versions but none of that mattered when Damon's crystal clear vocals rang out through the Ampitheatre, every bit as commanding as we could have asked for. Dave Rowntree's furious drumming was rich and deep, often working in harmony with the Damon's bouncy misdemeanor during the most crucial extensions of tracks like the aforementioned "Beetlebum" and the beautiful, high-flying set closer of "The Universal".

The deeper tones of Graham Coxon on "Coffee & TV" made for an early highlight in the set, reigning until that mindless hit of "Song 2" came in, which stood along with "Parklife" and "The Universal" as the crowning moments of not only Blur's set, but the entire weekend. Yes, it was most definitely worth the wait.

Set List

Go Out
There’s No Other Way
Lonesome Street
Coffee & TV
Out of Time
Beetlebum
Trimm Trabb
Tender
Trouble in the Message Centre
Parklife
Ong Ong
Song 2
To the End
This Is a Low

Encore:
Stereotypes
Girls & Boys
The Universal

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Best Food: Mary's (in the Gold Bar area); Beatbox Kitchen; Lángos (Hungarian snap-fried bread).
Best Sidestages: Red Bull Music Academy; Tent of Miracles.
Best Punter: The Little Mudman That Could (check our Instagram for a video).
Best non-music related thing: The Guardian's Splendour Forum.
Best Fashion set up: Levi's Tailor Shop.
Best Covers: Skegss ("I'll Be There for You" by The Rembrants); Megan Washington ("Another Night" by Real Mccoy); Marmozets ("Iron Man" by Black Sabbath).
Best guest appearances: Mark Ronson + Kevin Parker + Kirin J Callinan; Paul Meg + Ngaiire; and I didn't see it but I'd imagine Peking Duk + Harts would have been incredible.
Best Art Installation: "Treasure Mountain" by Pip & Pop.
Most Helpful Activation: Free pairs of socks at the Curve Lurve breast cancer awareness van.
Biggest waste of time: Azealia Banks (not as awful as I expected but still nowhere near anything to even come close to justifying her arrogance and self-importance; her opening song was perhaps the worst thing I have ever seen live at Splendour in the Grass).
Muddiest Areas: The area between RBMA and Mix Up Stage; the area surrounding Tipi Forest; my soul after seeing/tolerating Azealia Banks.

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Headline image by Andrew Wade for the AU review.

You can check out all our past Splendour in the Grass coverage (including previous years, sideshows, and more) at our SITG hub HERE.

Use #AUxSITG on Twitter and Instagram to go back through our social media coverage of this year's and last year's events.