Ladies and gentlemen, there is a reason The Falls Music & Arts Festival won our festival of the year for their 2014 event at the recent AU Awards, and it wasn’t just a one-off. With the line-up boasting a stellar and eclectic hoard of musicians and acts, expectations were high for three days of magic, memories and highlights.
The slow climb in traffic up to the Marion Bay site was just like rising to the peak of a roller coaster: anticipation was building to the point it was becoming too much to handle. The narrow, car-filled roads would wind up a mountain and open into spacious fields with ocean views. Forecasts of 21 degrees were proved wrong, as the sun would never quit over the coming days; it was Summer bliss from the get-go. Immediate help from staff at the information booths sent us to our desired camp spot, and once set-up it was time to get down and boogie.
Tuesday night saw the Falls pre-party, Boogie Nights slowly tease us with what was to come over the next few days. El Vez gave a powerful set that can be perfectly explained just by the costume changes we saw – American Uncle Sam, to tiger print, to sequins. It was a spirited display of colour. Once the sun went down Fleetmac Wood took the stage. Their hour long set was a homage and appropriation of Fleetwood Mac’s biggest hits spliced together with dark, lunging and bassy Blade Runner-esque movements. The biggest drop of the night came in their set-closing, six minute version of “Dreams”, and boy it had to be the most beautiful drop this writer has ever experienced. Thumping bass bled into constant red and orange lights as 70’s nostalgia was injected a new life. Art Vs. Science capped off the night with an electrifyingly, hit-filled hour. It was all there – “Flippers” into “Magic Mountain”, into 30 seconds of “Enter Sandman”, to “A.I.M. Fire”, and climaxing with “Parlez vous Francais?”. It was kick-the-door-down, guns-blazing electronica as the trio were a never ending source of energy and hypnotic vibes and a reminder that Australia’s presence at Falls will be loud and proudly displayed.
The next morning opened with the galloping rock-scape of Gang Of Youths on the main stage. It was a tight and explosive set that featured a cover of “All My Friends” by LCD Soundsystem. Frontman Dave Le’aupepe sang with the same inflections as James Murphy, yet birthed heightened and strained vocals that gave the cover more power in front of a backdrop of inspiring blue skies and green headlands. “Where are your friends tonight?” he cried and questioned as the large, early afternoon crowd bounced and answered in the heat. Elsewhere, Nazeem Hussain and Becky Lucas gave favourable stand up comedy sets to an environment that wasn’t so successful for the rest of the comedians. Light laughter from an audience who had to brave the heat left some falling flat, but for Hussain and Lucas topics ranging from ISIS, to sex, to pen-pals had the right hook to score big laughs.
The soulful and alluring Meg Mac had the standout afternoon set of the entire festival. The force and purity in her vocals was charming as she bounced between “Grandma’s Hands”, “Every Lie” and her Like a Version cover of Broods’ “Bridges”. As Kurt Vile’s hair hung in front of his face, he transiently stirred between guitar and a banjo on top of a band that featured a saxophone. Grunge was mixed with sun-laden euphoria as the crowd swayed to smooth rock. The end of his set wasn’t suffocated and lost by the open surrounds, for it wandered far beyond the campgrounds and could be heard near the beach. Raucous guitars with trembling drums announced the start of The Maccabees‘ set. Delicate tempos were spliced with impressive layering for a live environment, that was until they shifted gears and charged ahead with hyperactive momentum.
If there is one thing Ash Grunwald is comfortable with, it’s wielding a guitar and using it like a weapon. Coastal vibes were peaking as Grunwald sang about sun and freedom with a smile. The Wombats leaped for a powerful set as the boisterous pop laden indie rock group progressed from “Jump Into The Fog” to “Moving to New York” to “1996” as they successfully captured the crowd with early hit after hit. “Let’s Dance to Joy Division” had the crowd ecstatically jumping with smiles before Murph dedicated the next song to the late Lemmy of Motorhead, which he had written after seeing Lemmy briefly in a LA bar. Toro Y Moi was pure calm and chill, as silky waves of vibrant harmony were emitted from the Field Stage.
This starkly contrasted the scene of Wavves who were up next. Their low-fi layering of songs to do with displeasure with life exhilarated the small, but eager crowd who turned up. “King of the Beach”, “Way Too Much” and “So Bored” were thrilling and contagious in all their gorgeous, disaster filled silliness. The band crafted a live experience to accompany their perfect balance of fuzz and unhappiness. Foals would then show why they’re headliners of the festival. Synthetic and crisp drum machine lines blinked behind the soaring vocals of Yannis Philippakis. Stadium-sized chorus’ beamed into the packed audience as colliding instrument tracks emerged into a fierce intensity. “What Went Down” was a pivotal change in the band’s set. This peaceful ballad is intercut with climactic distortion and a chorus that had the whole crowd arching their backs to shout. Strobe lights gripped a crowd who had risen and ascended just as Foals have done over their career. With each stage came rows of food stalls, and as this was Tasmania; fresh produce wasn’t hard to find. A pulled pork with apple and carrot relish was filling and light. Every third stall had a pulled pork variant amongst a sea of Bratwurst, pizza and juice options.
Seth Sentry kicked off the last day with striding between jam after jam. “Float Away” blended into “Dear Science” and “The Waitress Song”. High on energy Sentry truly came to life with the anthemic “Dumb”. “I mean at dinner parties I’m out my depth can’t remember cool stuff like them, I’ll just smile and nod my head I don’t know what the fuck she said; I’ll just Google it once she’s gone, so I can forget it the second I’ve read it”, he rapped amongst blistering beats and drenched in sweat in front of an adoring crowd. Brooklynite Mac DeMarco brought the charm of the festival. Dream-like guitar lines lay under a bed of charisma and hilarity. “Salad Days” finished in time for the guitarist to point at the flag of Norway in the audience and jokingly refer to it as the Confederate flag. A cover of Steely Dan’s “Reelin in the Years” made an appearance, before DeMarco closed the set with the delightfully rising “Still Together” and a trademark stage dive.
The microscopic eye of Courtney Barnett, who sees things we usually over look, was next. The CB3 commanded the stage as they harmonised on their successful minimalist style. Barnett may have given Seth Sentry a run for his money on ‘most-words-said-in-a-set’, yet even then she was not ever out of breath or looking uncomfortable as she rolled through her hour. Young Fathers delivered a hip-hop/pseudo-jazz hybrid that was a frenetic display of power and thrills. Minimal drums and wild, flailing bodies to staccato crashes cried anger and sadness. As YF used their bodies, Gary Clark Jr. used the roars of his guitar to explore love and the blues that echoed into the all-encompassing natural surrounds of Marion Bay.
The ensemble of King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard were mesmerizing with their use of harmonicas to xylophones to touching on garage rock. If all music genres with balloons on stage, the members ran around with pins interacting with each one. Their set was a vehicle through chaos and unidentifiable roads that all somehow became a prolific success. The blonde waves of hair of Tyrone Lindqvist fell out from under a cap as the RÜFÜS frontman stood still behind towers of blue lights. “Take Me” and “You Were Right” were notable standouts that had bodies springing up and down in ultimate unison. The day had been long, but now there were only two hours left of 2015, and the crowd were intent on embracing the chilled-out, slow jams of the RÜFÜS comedown.
“The Good News” signalled Bloc Party were here and the home-stretch to New Years was on. Their uncontrollable pop contagion was peppered with funk and intimacy had ripened into urban sophisticated rock, mainly due to guitarist Russell Lissack’s clandestine, gritty web of riffs. A blackout of all stage lights and brief microphone interruption during “Flux” three minutes before New Year’s had us worried we’d be welcoming 2016 in with a dark stage. But the roadies with flashlights quickly fixed the issue, and a countdown timer with two minutes left appeared behind the band. With “Banquet” having already been exhibited earlier in the set, the immediate post New Year’s and first live track of 2016 to be played was “Helicopter”.
The unhinged balled spirited the audience away as convoys of people embraced, loved, cheered and danced right on through ’til Disclosure. Howard and Guy Lawrence brought with them their full production. Perfectly timed video projections accompanied the duos biggest hits as the pair stood on opposite sides of the stage. “White Noise”, “Jaded” and “Omen” featured early in the set as pulsating lights and projections transformed the Marion Bay valley into an intimate club. They were effortless in their success to dissolve the thousands of individuals in the crowd into one, connected, sparkling techno loving gem. Bag Raiders would be our last act of the festival at 2am. The crowd was still large and even if you were exhausted by now, their hour long set would be one of revival. They were a prime example of the quintessential punch-the-air and dance in pure bliss electronica. Nothing complemented this more than their glorious “Shooting Stars” that preceded an exciting run of Toto’s “Africa” to close out Marion Bay Falls Festival 2016.
The site became not just a transient stop for great acts to play and leave, it matured into a primary showcase of all things Tasmania. From shockingly friendly event and stall staff, clean toilets and showers, cab drivers who would hark incest jokes to the supreme beauty of the forests and beaches as far as the eye could see. Accompanied by the best bunch of people, the Marion Bay Falls Festival proved again this year why they’re a necessary and fundamental institution that continuously feels fresh in the Australian music landscape which keeps getting punters coming back and having sell-out dates year after year.
Only 8 months till the 2016 line-up announcement and we can’t wait.