The actual laneways may not exist anymore, but the hot weather remained for the 17th Sydney edition of the St. Jerome’s Laneway Festival.
The Sydney Showgrounds were again the venue for the well-loved festival and despite some trepidation at the change last year, there were some nice additions that improved the experience this year.
With the temperature hitting over 35 degrees on the day, the organisers took the front foot with offering plenty of sunscreen from the entrance, free water intermittently during the day and – the best part – big chunks of ice to cool down with at the end of the night.
A chilled-out lawn near the entrance, with DJs performing on a solar powered stage – thanks to Wildlive – provided the soundtrack for the main eating area, although more shade would have been nice. (we miss the trees of Callan Park!)
As we walked past the first stage, you could literally feel the cool air pushing out. Air conditioning! It was a godsend to have cooler places to retreat from oppressive mid 30’s heat, but it also gave us a chance to experience Western Sydney’s up and comer artist, Friday*.
“This is the biggest room we’ve played!” exclaimed the youngster as he delivered a mishmash of hip-hop, soulful love songs and pop. The inclusion of the ‘Reading Writing Hotline’ jingle was a nice touch as was the surprise appearance of Dylan Atlantis. There’s some very exciting talent coming from that region.
A beautifully delivered Welcome to Country was then presented on the main stage, with multiple performers taking us through age-old traditional dancers and songs. It was a mini set in its own right and well received by the early crowd
Then it was time for VACATIONS to take the stage for their first Laneways appearance and they looked very comfortable in front of a big crowd, something they have been doing all over their current home in the US. The Laneway Festival inclusion seems to finally have cemented their popularity in their home country – the longest over-night success ever! The audience grew throughout their set and “Over You” was received with rapturous cheers and singing. Rounding out with “Midwest”, a prize cut from their recent album, “No Place Like Home”.
One of the best things that Laneway has provided over the years is the hugely diverse line-ups, whether it be cultures or genres. It’s also traditionally been a festival where you can discover someone new and that was certainly the case when checking out DOMi and JD BECK at the – curiously named – Everything Ecstatic stage.
Described as “goofy magic” in the program, their style would more accurately be described as futuristic progressive jazz and the duo’s meandering, eclectic style was a perfect fit for the festival that offers something new. Having signed with Anderson .Paak’s APESHIT label and been nominated for a Grammy last year (they lost to jazz singer Samara Joy), they are certainly getting lots of attention and although the crowd wasn’t heaving, it was an engaged and enthralled audience.
The combination of astounding keyboard playing from the abundantly talented DOMi Louna and perfectly matched JD Beck on drums provided a cacophony of sound that somehow just seemed to work. Some unfortunate technical issues (damn DI box!) marred the end of the wonderful set, but they will certainly have gained some life-long fans.
An artist that has once again captured the imagination of Australians with her latest album is the wonderful Angie McMahon and her inclusion on the line-up was enough for some to buy a ticket solely to see her set. “Light, Dark, Light Again” was one of the albums of 2023 and getting to see songs like “Fish”, “Letting Go” (including extremely cathartic singing of ‘Make Mistakes!’) and “Divine Fault Line” live was a real treat – as was her rendition of ABBA’s “Knowing Me, Knowing You”.
There was joyous singing and dancing in the super warm and loving crowd at the Good Better Best stage and it rejuvenated the soul before diving back into the intense afternoon heat.
In a complete juxtaposition of genres, the Everything Ecstatic stage was probably at its fullest for one of the most hyped acts on the bill, the Los Angeles duo, Paris Texas. They didn’t disappoint. The infectious energy of the group (there were actually three on stage) spread to the crowd as they duly obeyed demands to crouch, jump, open up the pit and generally go crazy. They did the call out for ‘bogans’, titillating the crowd and generally just did a lot of very excitable yelling.
The heat of the day was keeping people indoors, but for those ballsy enough to wander the site, fortunately there were misting fans in place, lots of water refill stations and plenty of places to sit, including the ‘Chop Shop’ stage, which – when opening at 4pm – offered a space to relax in the shade whilst listening to DJs, including Jai Piccone, RONA. and 1tbsp.
The main stage area was filling up at this point as the day turned towards the pointy end. Beloved locals and festival favs, Confidence Man, did their usual hyped, choreographed performance with all its hilarious deadpan delivery whilst the drummer and keyboardist played with black lampshades on their head. They know how to bring smiles to the crowd though, who bounced along to latest track, “Now You Do” and old favs, “C.O.O.L Party” and “Don’t You Know I’m In a Band”. They’ll be heading straight to the UK following the Laneway tour before playing the Reading and Leeds Festivals later in the year. Festival darlings indeed!
The size of the crowd desperate to catch a glimpse of RAYE was confirmation that Australia loves the British soul singer-songwriter. She has consistently been in the top 10 played artists on iTunes in this country and her momentum, especially since the release of debut album, “My 21st Century Blues”, has garnered her support slots for Lewis Capaldi, SZA and Kali Uchis plus an appearance at Glastonbury.
After commenting on the experience of playing the Enmore Theatre earlier in the week and how much love she was getting, she proceeded to make another very full room fall in love with her all over again. Channelling the memory of Amy Winehouse and the sheer passion of just who she is, the artist produced a magical and mammoth set that transferred that passion to our very beings.
“I commend you for having all of this beautiful energy!” exclaimed the artist who brought that same energy to the stage despite the heat. Now, as an independent artist, she is making huge waves around the world and all the accolades are deserved. Her future is exciting and this iconic set at 6.50pm on a Sunday night in a showground shed will go down in history as something very special. She finished with “Escapism”, before the incredibly happy and perspiration heavy crowd attempted to escape from the main stage area, knowing that the heat and the squeeze was worth it.
Over at the ‘Hope Springs’ stage, Faye Webster was bringing us back down to earth. The warmth and other-worldliness of the singer’s music was giving us life and, to be honest, a much-needed cooldown. There was plenty of space to take a seat around the back of the crowd where we soaked in the sexy vibes. Because, how sexy is a saxophone?
Her viral upbeat hit, “Right Side of My Neck”, was a rare chance to have a dance but, for the most part, it was a more sensual – or at times visceral – set.
As Laneway is want to do, it offers up moments throughout the day that can be almost jarring, such is the diversity of the artists on the bill. Walking back outside for a bit of a break, we were instead magnetically pulled to the Everything Ecstatic stage for the hardstyle EDM of horsegiirL, a Berlin DJ, singer and songwriter that dresses with a horse head and goes by the name of ‘Stella Stallion’. We may have only caught a couple of tracks, but this was certainly a smattering of what it feels like to be at a doof!
With the sun set and the still evening air lingering, we returned to the main stage area for the baby-faced 28-year-old American, Dominic Fike. The artist has certainly exploded since his last visit to Australia in October 2019 and he recognised the fact, asking who was at those Oxford Art Factory shows over four years ago. (They can’t have all been there!) He’s also been nominated for a Grammy, performed at Coachella and appeared on the show, ‘Euphoria’, and this rise reflected the enormous crowd and cheers he received for every track.
You would be excused for becoming a bit of a convert if you came into his set with uncertainty. His charisma and charm, chatting in between each song, was endearing and really highlighted his likeability. Some hardcore fans were not impressed with the fact that he didn’t sing his biggest track, “3 Nights’ (almost in the billion plays club on Spotify) instead leaving it to the band and a backing track. Although the fans on the barrier were super impressed by the fact that he jumped off stage, looked into their eyes and touched their hands instead. Swings and roundabouts, I guess.
His cover of the Red Hot Chili Pepper’s “Can’t Stop” was a pleasant surprise for some (he’s a big fan of the group) but seemed to bemuse others. In all honesty, his music doesn’t feel like it’s quite where it should be, but his charm and the crowd reactions won us over in the end.
There were a lot of covers on the day from a range of performers, some were excellent (ie. Angie McMahon’s ABBA) and some were not so stellar. Steve Lacy is an interesting artist. Seemingly not wanting to be placed into any specific genre, transitioning from hip-hop to alt R&B to hard rock but it was his cover of “Killing in the Name” that lost us. It was also his second song in, which seemed a strange choice and for an artist that has made his name on sultry smooth tracks like “Sunshine” and “Infrunami”, both of which would appear later in the set.
“I’ll never leave you again,” stated Lacy as he addressed the crowd early on. It’s not clear what he was referring to, since he’s been in the country every two years since last attending Laneway with The Internet in 2018. Clearly there is a huge fanbase for him in this country (and worldwide) and the crowd sang along with passion at each song.
Leaving the uber-fans to Lacy, we headed to the Hope Springs stage for one last time to take in the brilliance of Unknown Mortal Orchestra. With album number five, “V”, under their belt, it was a perfect time to catch some of the new tracks live. Whilst we did get to hear a few new tracks including “Meshuggah”, “Layla” and “That Life”, we were also treated to combinations of older songs from their catalogue mixed seamlessly together.
The set almost reminded us how great older tracks, “Multi-Love” and “Hunnybee” are. A sublime set form an exceptionally talented group.
And so it was, that at 10.45pm, the sunburnt, exhausted crowd who were keen to stick it out till the end jammed into the main stage to witness the headliner, Stormzy. This guy has presence, charisma, and the chops to match. Sharp, witty visceral raps layered on seemingly stock grime beats, but with a stack of personality and an imposing frame.
He easily grabbed the crowd early with hits, “Big Michael” and “Know Me From” and he didn’t stop there. There set was epic – flames, fireworks, a killer light display and he just banged out huge tunes, including the indomitable “Big For Your Boots” that prompted a massive crowd response.
Sweaty, tired feet, sore neck, beating heart. A twelve-hour one-day festival will always make you feel alive and then completely dead afterwards, but as we took the train back home (battling the crowds at Lidcombe…ugh), we had a chance to discuss the day, think about the big moments and realise that there were many. Laneway had once again pulled it off.
Between the logistical challenges, the years off, the musical climate, the heat, the police presence, the egos and the needy crowds, the festival looks set to charge towards two decades in this country and that’s something to be hugely proud of and, as a fan, excited about next year.