What: St. Jerome’s Laneway Festival
Where: Footscray Community Arts Centre, Melbourne
When: Sunday 3rd February 2013
What initially started off as a city centre based music event in a Melbourne laneway in 2004, the St. Jerome’s Laneway Festival has since developed into a large scale touring affair. Nowadays it stops off at spots in Sydney, Perth, Brisbane and Adelaide, as well as dropping into New Zealand and Singapore. This year’s Melbourne leg was held in and around the side streets of the Community Arts Centre in Footscray.
Spread across four stages, numerous up and coming local bands, as well as world renowned international acts, were here to keep the seemingly never ending festival season ticking along. Each of the stages had a specific theme running throughout the day. The narrow lane set up of The Dean Turner Stage, was where the main international acts would be plying their trade; the River Stage’s played host to the more subdued sounding bands on the bill, who would be facing their audiences perched relaxingly on a gradually sloping grassy knoll; a couple of minutes’ walk along the Yarra River, led you to the Future Classics stage, which hosted the up and coming acts, and was tucked neatly in behind some trees and food and clothes stalls; Finally the Eat Your Own Ears Stage, aka the car park stage, would be accommodating the more sonically ear bashing bands of the day.
Those who made the effort to get in early were treated to an hour long set from Norway’s Kings of Convenience. Having only listened to them in the days leading up to their performance, I felt as though their mix of acoustic melodies and subtle folk sound would be an ideal way to start my day. I wasn’t wrong. The duo of Erlend Øye and Eirik Glambek Bøe, appeared on stage and announced that, they were at last delighted to be making their debut, here in Melbourne.
Their lush vocal tones sounded reminiscent of Simon & Garfunkel mixed with Nick Drake, while still retaining their own signature sound. ’24-25’ from 2009’s ‘Declaration of Dependence’ was an early standout, as their whispered lyrics about longing for love, seem apt for what was becoming a blistering hot early afternoon. Half way through the set, the guys were joined by their backing band. This led to Øye having more freedom to dance and prowl around the stage, where he seemingly morphed into a different person -including for a brief moment, a yoga instructor – which added another dimension to the collectives act.
The gig was stopped for a short while, due to an audience member fainting up the front, which was rather quickly spotted by Bøe. Luckily the happy vibe picked up within minutes, as ‘I’d Rather Dance with You’ and ‘Boat Behind’ showed that Kings of Convenience know how write catchy folk spattered pop songs, which can lead to even their newest listener, dancing in the street, literally.
It was then off to see Brooklyn band The Men, on the Eat Your Own Ears Stage. They were sauntering onto the stage by the time I got to, what was the largest, yet ugliest of the four stage set ups. From the off these guys blew whatever cobwebs were in my system, right out the window. No doubt the same could be said of the decent crowd who made their way here. Their raw punk sound and boundless energy was clear for all to see.
As the songs don’t seem to include too many lyrics, this was ably counter balanced by their lengthy, at times heavily distorted, instrumentals, including the odd harmonica solo. This let me tell you, in no way led to any Young or Dylan comparisons though! These guys are an incredibly tight unit live, and with their fourth record due out in the first quarter of this year, and based on this evidence alone, their second visit to Australian shores shouldn’t take as long.
Local high risers, Snakadaktal followed on the same stage. However during the period it took to set up their gear, I decided to venture off and top up my water supply, the hipster based crowd numbers swelled dramatically. So I was left to view them from much further back then I had hoped. Unfortunately this led to some woeful sound issues, with the drums drowning out the guitar and keyboard on nearly every song. With the continuous rise in temperature, mixed with the vast numbers ahead of me, I wasn’t prepared to venture in any further. Having heard this teenage band’s electro pop hit ‘Dance Bear’ a few times before the festival, it’s a shame it didn’t sit with me in the same positive way this time. Having spoken to a friend shortly after, it seems as though there were no such issues closer to the stage.
The next decision was centred around seeing Ohio’s Could Nothings or local musician Henry Wagons, who can include The Kills’ Alison Mosshart and Robert Forster from Aussie indie pop favourites The Go-Betweens, amongst his guests on his debut solo album. I went with Cloud Nothings, who were here promoting their Steve Albini (Shellac/Big Black) produced 3rd record ‘Attack on Memory’. They blitzed through opening number ‘Fall In’, while ‘Separation’ contained squealing guitar and thumping drums throughout.
Their manic playing continued and ‘Stay Useless’ got the crowd fist pumping in the air, while singing the chorus in unison. There wasn’t much interaction with the audience bar the odd thanks from frontman Dylan Baldi, as the band went about their business in ear numbing fashion. ‘Wasted Days’ continued along the same pummelling sounding vein, which included some incredibly intense drumming from Jayson Gerycz. Final number ‘No Future/No Past’ had the band finish on a serious high, while the ringing in my ears lasted for some time thereafter. Job well done I’d say.
It was time to explore for a short while, as the stomach was beginning to grumble louder and louder. Imagine if you will how a child starts screaming when demanding something over and over. So I had to abide by its wish. There was a variety of food stalls set up near the Future Classic Stage, ranging from dumplings, to stone baked pizzas, and Greek wraps to hotdogs, but instead I opted for the safe bet that was the burger. Having munched away at that, I noticed a small bright yellow shack, with vinyl sitting on its shelves, so I made a bee line straight for it. The basis behind it, was that 365 songs from British bands songs’, from the 60’s up to the present day, had been assigned a particular date of the year. You then gave your date of birth and are sat down on a comfy couch, headphones in place and listen to your song spin. I got an extended version of Massive Attack’s ‘Unfinished Symphony’ to keep me company. Result.
Perth misfits Pond were unfortunately, over half way through their pulsating, psychedelic rock infused set, when I got back to the car park. Considering they contain two members of current media darlings, Tame Impala amongst their ranks, I was surprised with the turn out. Not that it was small by any means, but with their last record ‘Beard, Wives, Denim’ garnering such rave reviews, more people had shown up for Snakadaktal earlier in the day. I was instantly drawn to their psyche garage rock sound, emanating from the speakers. It was at times hypnotic, while at the same time taking swift shifts in pace, be it from the twin guitars or pounding keyboard. Front man Nick Allbrook, comes across like a deranged and animated Gollum like figure.
He prowled around the stage, as if possessed by the music, and brought an abundance of character and lunacy to Pond’s performance throughout. Their final song ended with both guitar payers falling over one another, yet their instruments continued to wail with distortion. Only after Allbrook finished endlessly battering his keys for some time after the band exited, did the audience respond with rapturous applause.
It was the back over to the Dean Turner Stage, where Icelandic folk favourites Of Monsters and Men were nearing the end of their allotted time. Due to this area being the narrowest set up of the four stages, I was at a loss in trying to get through the masses who had gathered to see them. I was fully aware this would be case from the off today, – Pond were too good to leave early anyway – but gladly the organisers had erected two large screens for anyone stuck too far down the back. This also enabled me to actually see the band finish their set, without the obstruction of a large tree, which is situated just to the left of the stage. ‘Little Talks’ was left second last and had the crowd singing back to the band. They seemed quite humbled by the support they were receiving. Once they finished up, a small exodus allowed me to sidestep my way as close to the stage as possible.
Where else did I end up but behind said tree, albeit a little to right! As a result my view wasn’t too obstructed for Alt-J when they took to the stage. With their debut Melbourne show last November selling out way in advance, and having since won the Mercury Prize for their debut album ‘An Awesome Wave’, every nook and cranny was filled with fans, hipsters and everyone else in between. Their mixed indie-pop and folk sound, also includes partial synth and electronic elements, is all over the radio and net these days. Yet they seem to have carved out their own niche of this ever growing genre. I base it mainly, but not solely, on vocalist Joe Newman’s unique sound. It doesn’t initially seem as though it should sit with the music they produce, yet somehow, however unconventionally, it does. ‘Something Good’ and ‘Tessellate’ were both performed early on in the set.
A few people had decided to get a better view of the band, by climbing the tree obstructing their view. After the novelty eventually wore off, all bar one of the group came down the way they went up. That person decided to jump back or fall, if you like, into the audience. Soon after ‘Fitzpleasure’ began, the plug was pulled and the band left the stage, due to police entering the crowd to take, said jumper out. Credit to Alt-J they began the tune again and followed it up with fan favorites, ‘Breezeblocks’ and ‘Matilda’, both of which received the loudest cheers of the band’s set.
Once they’d finished their set, it took a few minutes to get through the crowd and down the narrow alleyway, for my final excursion over to the car park to catch Divine Fits.
This recently formed; indie super group consists of dual front men, Dan Boeckner (Wolf Parade/Handsome Furs), Britt Daniel (Spoon), drummer Sam Brown (New Bomb Turks) and multi-instrumentalist Alex Fischel. They released their debut record ‘A Thing Called Divine Fits’ to wide acclaim late last year and with it being their sole release the set was never going to be too long. Opening with ‘Neopolitans’ the large crowd, were into it straight away, while Fischel’s tight keys playing was prominent throughout ‘Flaggin a Ride’. Twin vocalists Boeckner and Daniel then swapped instruments, which happened a few times tonight, for ‘Would That Not Be Nice’. Like Cloud Nothings set earlier on this stage, there wasn’t a whole lot of chat from either of the main men bar a “thanks for coming” every few songs. The second half of the set contained the first real highlight of their dual vocal capabilities during ‘The Salton Sea’.
The finale of ‘Like Ice Cream’ and ‘For Your Heart, allowed Boeckner’s screeching guitar sounds to easily partner Brown’s obvious drumming proficiency. Having gone through their full quota of album tracks, they bravely threw in a cover of Melbournian icon Rowland S. Howard’s Boys Next Door era song ‘Shivers’, which went down a storm.
Without knowing too much of all four stage headliners, Bat for Lashes, Flume, Alpine or Nicolas Jaar, I opted to watch some Bat for Lashes on the Dean Turner Stage. I based my reasoning on the fact that a) my friends were going to see her, and b) it was the closest stage to the exit! Harsh I know, but life goes on! With Yeasayer having performed just beforehand I was surprised that there were such small numbers assembling to watch Natasha Khan and co, with less than five minutes before they were due on stage. She was here promoting her new album ‘The Haunted Man’, yet having not heard any of her songs prior to this; I was on a losing battle from the start in being able to distinguish new songs from old. Khan is indeed a commanding presence on stage. She always seemed at ease with the audience and was very grateful for the warm reception each of her songs received. For me she kind of sounded a little like Florence Welsh – perhaps a tad bit lazy on my behalf there- which is in no way a negative, but I just wasn’t really taken in by the songs. After about 25 minutes I decided to jump ship and beat the rush for the trains back into the city centre prior to the 10pm curfew.
For me the festival was a great one dayer. It was obvious the organisers put a lot of effort into placing artists on particular stages throughout the day, rather than willy-nilly, and it worked wonders in my book. The idea behind this festival, in going for something a little different, really has paid off, and it now stands alone as being something quite unique amongst other festivals on offer.