AU ABROAD

The Festival Diaries: The Governor's Ball in New York City (Part Two: Day Two, 2014)

On day two, the set choices are a little less challenging, but the weather is rearing its head with some surprising issues. With the sun out in full force, so is the crowd on the Big Apple stage for local electro act Tanlines, who are struggling with sound quality issues due to the heat.

It’s not so bad on the ground, actually, but the heated equipment is causing dramas. “That sounded cool… but not the way we wanted it to sound,” and as the boys switch from one song to another, they’re finally ready to admit that, “It’s fair to call this set mired by technical difficulties.” Despite the somewhat polarizing lo-fi sound, and a few “helpful” fans who’d like to suggest “Go Acoustic!”, the crowd is overwhelmingly supportive, and wait for the fan to kick in before the set completes. It’s still early, and even Tanlines aren’t drawing the dancing crowd they deserve.

Next, the ladies of Lucius (pictured below), taking control at the Gov Ball stage, are resplendent in long, sequined gowns and Lady-Gaga-esque blonde wigs and sunglasses. The critically-acclaimed Brooklynites have seen their fair share of journalistic love over the last several months, and the crowd is in acquiescence: I mean, who knew chicks in gowns could rock out, says the polo-and-Bermuda-short-clad bros with their Fosters tinnies in hands behind their reflective sunglasses. Dedicating their hit Wildewoman to “All the ladies out there!”, Jess and Holly’s luscious harmonies are deliciously complemented by their full band, before ending the set with an infections rock-chick cover of Whitney Houston’s “I Wanna Dance With Somebody!” Yup, nostalgia’s here to stay.

It’s 4pm and the sun is shining high in the sky, so obviously it’s time for the only logistical shitshow of the festival – in this case, the water refill station, sponsored by Camelbak (talk about brilliant product placement). As responsible hydrates try to get some sustenance, the queue stretches out far beyond the awning and everyone’s fading under the summer sun. Having demanded all water be poured out from bottles at the entrance for security purposes, suddenly the safety concerns about binge drinking or drug taking are fading in view of some serious dehydration issues. Hot, sweaty and possibly chemically-impaired festivalgoers are debating the benefits of drinking water over the twenty minutes spent under the hot sun, and wondering which will lead to ample hydration before dancing the day away to house doyens Disclosure.

It’s time for the trade off! Insert drumroll music. Can the frail flowers wait in the shade while more gallant sun worshippers attempt on the mission? Or will people sacrifice one over the other and will we all die? Will there be layers of bodies littering the Randall's island park as everyone wheezes their last dehydrated sunstroked breath? As usual, this may be the Australian sunsmart doctrine kicking in, because Disclosure are on stage and no one is stopping to move their body to a set that is somewhat disappointing in its lack of differentiation from Disclosure’s recorded music.

The tempo’s picked up, and Disclosure’s synth-filled house beats are dance-friendly, if not original. Having seen Mary J. Blige and Stan Smith join the boys for their sets in the past, it’s disappointing to be greeted with no live vocalist for "You and Me", but Aluna Francis of Sunday’s lineup with band AlunaGeorge brings the crowd back up to speed when she surprises on stage for last summer’s smash "White Noise". The volume is a little low and it’s not easy to dance, but by the time they close out with the classic Latch there’s dancing from the Honda Stage as far back as the Big Apple, one of the many art installations littering the grounds in a homage to New York this weekend, though by the end of the day it resembles more of a strawberry as the red roses poking through the wire frame are picked clean by flower-headband-wearers all around.

The Naked and Famous are playing to a friendly crowd who have adopted the New Zealand dancehall kings in recent times, but it’s over in the Gotham Tent that the shit gets real as The Glitch Mob take away the surprise highlight of the day. They’re synthy, they’re poppy, they’re crunchy and they’re grindy and the superlatives are starting to run out as words are taken over by pure music, pure bass and pure joy. With a ripper cover of Dre’s "California Love", the roof of the tent is blowing off and the sweaty mass of bodies is ready for the night to kick in.

As Glitch dancers let the breeze dry the sweat from their bodies and dinnertime picnickers sprinkle across the grounds, the buzz is building for The Strokes (pictured above), rumoured to be playing their last show ever as fans decide whether Julian Casablancas solo set on Friday was preferred to today’s crowd pleaser. While the music might not make it into a nostalgic top five, it’s clear that The Strokes were always the draw here, because once again, as the sun draws those little yellow thingies over the grass, everybody – and I mean, everybody – is dancing like their life depends on it.

That is, until it’s time for the Sleigh Bells, and with this one of their only appearances in New York this summer, the Gotham Tent is packed with eager fanchildren, earplugs at the ready. This is my first time waiting for a set to begin, and suddenly I’m aware of the Governors Ball attempt at mid-set entertainment, also known as quirky, slightly corny New York based jokes and quizzes on the screen. I’d rather read the wrapper of a Laffy Taffy or under a Snapple cap, but hey, there are people here from Texas, some of whom I’ve just bonded with over our love of “pussy music”, which is what we are calling Sleigh Bells today. After urging the wee young things to check out Princess Superstar in all her 90’s glory, it’s time for the modern-day version as Alexis Krauss launches into what can only be called Noise.

Playing a mix of new songs from Bitter Rivals and favourites from 2012’s Reign of Terror, the Sleigh Bells are raising the bar for a night that will end with headliners Skrillex and Jack White, pleasing both the EDM-lovers and indie-aficionados at once. While Friday’s headliners were clearly biased in Outkast’s direction, the Saturday crowds are almost evenly dispersed as the countdown clock for Skrillex ticks down at the Honda Stage and a thousand pulses are unleashed with a set that defies categorization.

From Janet Jackson to The Lion King, Skrillex leaves no genre unexplored and damn, it tastes so good. Forget dubstep and all the assumptions made of a genre that boggles the over-35-year-old mind: This is live electronica at its finest with little resemblance to Sonny’s recorded repertoire. Ironic, isn’t it, that the two men holding court on separate stages tonight look so similar? Stringy black hair, pale skin, glasses, a Professor-Snape-esque similarity which matches their wizardy over their chosen musical instruments: For Jack White (pictured above) on the Gov Ball stage, it’s been about the acoustic guitar; but for Skrillex, the beats and the bass are dropping dropping dropping and it’s getting crunchy on every hilltop with a deft mix of old and new, sample after sample mixed with all the love and drenched in energy. The night has peaked, and so has the event, ready for the final Sunday cherry on the multi-layered cake with those fizzy popping candies inside.

Photos provided by The Governor's Ball Music Festival.