The return of St. Jerome’s Laneway felt much needed and right, but not as familiar as we remember it, unless of course you remember the Big Day Out.
The Sydney Showgrounds site, including the cavernous Boiler Room (version 2.0) on a 25+ degree summer’s day has been the location for many classic festival experiences and Laneway, worried about a La Niña influenced event, decided that concrete would be a safer option.
We would pine for the old days of the Sydney College of the Arts and Callan Park later in the day, but the convenience of the stages, food, drink and shade were most certainly a plus, despite the lack of aesthetic.
The music started with triple j Unearthed High winner, Jacotene, a young artist with an obscenely great voice, excellent crowd banter and no more than one song released! She kept the early crowd entertained expertly beyond her years and will almost certainly return in a later slot one day.
On the stage next door, Tasman Keith delivered a typically raw and passionate set. Combining his older tracks like sing-a-long, My Pelopolees, with songs from his acclaimed 2022 album, A COLOUR UNDONE, Keith is always on, painted in his traditional Indigenous white, waving the flag and all the while showing that he’s on the cusp of huge audiences and recognition in any genre.
Local lads, The Lazy Eyes, took to the stage and blazed through the psych-rock from their debut album, Songbook. The Seaside, with its 6-and-a-half-minute runtime gave the band space to spread their wings, the guitar shining, along with the killer stage moves – their wide smiles showing just how much this moment meant to them.
Over at the Hope Springs stage, a standalone stage in a huge trade hall, cheeky Leeds locals, Yard Act blasted straight into their set with the title track from their 2022 album, The Overload and didn’t stop through a packed and highly entertaining 45 minutes.
They nearly won the day with their between song banter (see below to find who beat them) as lead singer, James Smith, quoted the massive signs at the back of the hall randomly, pleaded for people to buy their merch so they could get home because they weren’t sure what would happen if they overstayed their visa and generally shared their local self-deprecating humour with the packed room.
Their cover of Eddy Current Suppression Rings’s “Which Way To Go” would become one of the highlights of the day. It faithful to the original, but they really gave it their own flavour. Finishing with “The Trapper’s Pelts”, they were sure to have garnered a bunch of new fans as the room swelled during their powerful and highly enjoyable set.
Sycco was nailing her main stage set as we explored the site. The hard-surfaced nature of the area meant that the ‘chilling on the grass in the shade listening to music’ option of previous years was not available. People took vantage points wherever they could to rest and sometimes that just meant on the huge expanse in the main stage area.
Food options were – with the prices that we’ve come to unfortunately expect at events like these – decent and the bars were large, meaning there was no reason to stock up on drinks as the walk through the queue line took longer than the actual ordering! Were people not drinking as much as expected or were the options not to everyone’s taste?
Back at Hope Springs, Auckland’s The Beths delivered a faultless set of their jangly pop-rock. The tracks were spread out from their three long players and served to showcase the solid catalogue that the four-piece are amassing as they start to consider album number four.
The first airing of album track, “Best Left”, was a welcome surprise as was the title track of said album, Expert in a Dying Field, which wrapped up a set that would have surely pulled in a new fan or two from the good-sized crowd in attendance.
As far as crowds go, you would be remiss to have missed out on venturing into the Everything Ecstatic stage a few times throughout the day to take in the DJs, dance and funk music that was wall-to-wall throughout the day and the huge and eclectic crowds inside. The horseshoe shaped woodchopping arena served as the perfect destination for this brand of music, despite the soaring temperatures and it reminded us what a hot, steamy Laneway is all about. Just don’t forget your sunscreen (which, coincidentally was thankfully handed out for free around the site)
When we went through, Harvey Sutherland, was spinning his epic joints from debut album, Boy, including the Dâm-Funk collaboration, “Feeling of Love”, arguably one of the best tracks of 2022. Harvey’s energy on the synths and passionate vocal delivery kept the crowd hyped as their continued to funnel in (when allowed).
As would be the theme of the day, you could go from hectic dance beats to soothing melodies in the blink of an eye and that is what we did as we settled into the back of the Hope Springs stage for the homecoming of Julia Jacklin. Despite dropping one of the albums of last year, her live performances have been few and far between, so this was the first opportunity for many to hear tracks from PRE PLEASURE in the flesh. Her delivery, as always, was sublime and despite the rowdy festival atmosphere, she brought a sense of peace and serenity in the heat of the afternoon.
“Lydia Wears a Cross” and “I was Neon” were standouts but finishing off with crowd-favourites “Head Alone” and “Pressure to Party” were inspired. It was a beautiful set, especially with the last-minute addition to the festival and serves as a teaser for her headline tour starting later this month.
To keep the see-saw going, we headed back to the main stage to catch a little of Finneas who was delighting the front row with some up close and personal attention (this happened a fair bit during the day) and then back out to the sun to see how much fuller the Everything Ecstatic stage had become as Chaos in the CBD certainly lived up to their name, albeit in a concrete horseshoe. It was getting super-hot and sweaty outside, so heading back to the main stage was a relief as girl in red started the really hyped part of the headline sets.
The Norwegian youngster was certainly passionate, but also, such energy! She was non-stop, bouncing around the stage, fronting a sizeable band and showing off her even greater charisma. Crowd-favourite Serotonin initiated a huge sing-a-long, there was a shoey with Marky in the front row being made to do that on stage, but the biggest crowd participation (no more boob signing allowed!) came during the ultimate track, “i wanna be your girlfriend”, where she asked the crowd to “stay in position” as she separated and allowed her to run up the middle of the packed room.
This was a perfectly ‘festival’ performance for an insatiable crowd and she nailed the brief. “I’m gonna have a tinny!”, she exclaimed before exiting the stage. I am sure she did.
Another brief was fulfilled by The Jungle Giants with their performance on the other side of the main stage. No strangers to big festival sets (see Splendour in the Grass 2022), this group never fail to maintain the energy. Lead man Sam Hales, adorned in bright pink, gives the crowd enough to keep them primed and ready for what was to come and of cause, “Heavy Hearted” was the ultimate opportunity to limber up for the next set on the other stage. As always, they were solid and fun, but it really did feel like a prologue for the rest of the night.
If you didn’t know who Fred Again… was until he was announced on the Laneway line-up, you certainly would have discovered him since then. Relatively new to the international electronic scene and live performances (despite a producer of the year gong at the BRIT Awards in 2020), he has been blowing audiences away in ‘Post Covid’ 2022 and his arrival in Australia was highly anticipated. “So many of my DMs were from Australians!” the artist would exclaim later in his set, such is the love the locals have for him.
This set was, in a word, massive. The crowd swarmed into the main stage area, however with the barrier preventing people from moving forward from the back, there was plenty of space at the back of the front section for people to soak it in, without being too squashed. This was frustrating for a large portion who were trying to get in – with many jumping the halfway barricade in defiance of security – but made sense to avoid an all-out crush at the front.
The musicianship of Fred is extraordinary. Whilst it’s just himself and a fellow producer on stage, he doesn’t stop, whether it’s completely smashing the pads on his sequencer, playing keyboards or singing, he’s manic and has the sweat to show for it.
The way his music ties into the visuals of the singers and voices he samples, is something else. It is so effective that you are entranced by not only the music, but the whole production. “Marea (We’ve Lost Dancing)” was a huge highlight of a set that was easily the stand-out of the day, but the inclusion of “Angie (I’ve Been Lost)” featuring our own Angie McMahon was a masterstroke and brought everything together beautifully.
This was one of those moments we’d look at and really soak in as to where we were two years ago and how much we need to appreciate where we are now. A joyous celebration of dance, music, people and community.
But the festival wasn’t over by a long shot. Phoebe Bridgers somehow had to compete with the lasting euphoria of the previous set and instead of it feeling like a let-down, she managed to provide a juxtaposition of a set that actually nestled into the flow of the day perfectly. Arriving on stage to Disturbed’s “Down with the Sickness “was a cheeky masterstroke and then straight into “Motion Sickness”. The set then flowed beautifully between songs from her catalogue, including just the second performance of “Kyoto” since her Dad’s passing.
With the recent announcement of a new boygenius album, it was a treat to hear “Emily I’m Sorry” from that forthcoming album, and equally a treat to hear how many had already learnt the words!
Just like the previous act, there were many at the festival who were squarely there to see one artist and Bridgers didn’t disappoint with a beautifully constructed set, some en pointe banter, “I love abortion” and “I hate my stupid ass bitch fucking country” and many, many tears in the very young audience that completely stan her.
So, onto post-punk from Dublin. With the withdrawal of Grammy-nominated Turnstile, Fontaines D.C. had a major opportunity to proudly wave the rock music flag at the festival and they certainly filled the void. The set was a driving, precision-like performance of songs from their three albums and delivered what many were craving at a pop-heavy festival.
Despite loads of people streaming out of the exits, the five-piece made good on a long-awaited debut to Australia and showed why their music had become so important over the last few years. Lead singer, Grian Chatten, is not known for his banter, so instead let his laps of the stage, a shake of a tambourine and a hell of a passionate voice do the talking while the crowd also let loose with the lyrics.
In a welcome respite from some occasional heavy-handed security throughout the day, people were allowed to mosh and really feel the music as they wrapped up a tight and well-received set with “I Love You”. The feeling is mutual, Fontaines D.C.
It was 11pm and whilst a huge amount of people had left the site, there was still the headliners to go and HAIM were particularly appreciative of the opportunity, having played Laneway in 2014. The three sisters from Los Angeles know how to work a crowd and their stage banter, choreographed dance moves and jokes were only upstaged by their musical talents. The way they transitioned between instruments, positions and interacted with each other and the crowd were slick as and we were treated to a huge set of highlights from their catalogue.
The disparate, but charming personalities of Este, Danielle and Alana were on display as they took any opportunity to chat to the crowd in between songs, with touring anecdotes, questions on where the after-party should be (The Bearded Tit apparently!) or what happens when you ‘AirDrop’ a photo of your boob to the wrong person. Then they would get the crowd involved and we’d sing and dance and just let loose. “Forever” rounded out the main set and even though it was already midnight, they pushed through with an encore of “The Wire” and a super-extended version of “The Steps”. Shania Twain’s “That Don’t Impress Me Much” played through the speakers as we made the scramble to the train station and it was a song that provoked many thoughts as we contemplated the day.
It’s fair to say that Sydney’s Laneway, as an experience, is no longer what it was. Obviously, the move from actually being in a laneway, to trying to recreate that at Rozelle’s College of the Arts site to the unfortunately weather-affected jaunt at The Domain to the concrete jungle of Olympic Park has changed how we view the bands, but the once quirky nature of the line-up, pop-up stalls and ‘Laneway-uniqueness’ seemed to be lacking. If they were looking to be become a new single-day touring festival that fills the massive Big Day Out-sized hole in the summer schedule, then they are on track. Is that what we want, though?
As far as the content of the day goes, it was a very strong and well curated line-up – despite the challenges along the way – and this meant that the diverse nature of the crowd kept things interesting and fun. The sound was great, the lighting was great (except for that time the house lights came on in Fred Again..) and the staff and volunteers were amazing.
Long may Laneway survive – because it is such a vital summer festival experience – but here’s hoping that the future somehow returns to the past.
FOUR STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
All photos by Bruce Baker – see more photos from Sydney’s Laneway festival ’23 HERE