Laneway Festival

with Steering By Stars, Austra, Cults, Chairlift, Yuck, Active Child, The Drums, Geoffrey O'Connor, Laura Marling, The Horrors and M83

The main issue I had with the St. Jerome's Laneway Festival last year was that the entire set out of the festival fell victim to the sheer amount of people who attended. Congestion problems during the evening meant that people who wanted to see acts such as Les Savy Fav inside Fowler's Live couldn't get inside the venue, and those of us who wanted to catch Gotye on the other side of the site couldn't get there in time. 2012 saw a restructure of the Adelaide Laneway site and although I was still bitter from the year before, I headed into this year's festival with a fresh set of expectations.


The rain teasing the city didn't seem to affect the amount of punters who'd rocked up before the gates had opened, with the line reaching right up and around Hindley Street. Already kicking off at the George Street stage was the winner of the Alleyway Band Competition, Steering By Stars. The Adelaide band, which I've always seemed to miss when they've played elsewhere in town, drew a bit of a crowd which was great to see so early on. The gloomy nature of the weather at this point did nothing but add to the drama of the band's music and watching them in action proved to be one of my personal highlights of the festival. Lachlan Wilson exuded a raw vocal talent that I had not been expecting and up against the aggressive rhythmic quality of the band's music, it was a talent which commanded the listener and took control.


The Courtyard Stage was where Canadian dark-electro act, Austra was entertaining a sizeable crowd. Katie Stelmanis and her backing vocalists were as dreamy to listen to as they were to watch, looking as if they'd stepped out of some gypsy-esque dreamscape. I loved Austra's debut record, Feel It Break, and Stelmanis' live delivery of songs including "Lose It" and "Hate Crime" did not disappoint. For the band's debut tour of Australia, I would say that they had a blessed one, as today's crowd had filled out the area comfortably and were really getting into the music. While there is a distinctly gothic element to Austra's music, they've also got a clever hold on electro-pop, which is deliciously interwoven, to make the material easy to listen to and danceable.


The following few hours of my Laneway experience was spent dashing from stage to stage, in an attempt to soak up as many bands as possible. Geoffrey O'Connor, performing inside Fowler's Live, had turned his surrounds into what looked like a snapshot of an 80s synth-pop film clip, complete with overused smoke machines, and incredibly fashioned band members. I'd only heard O'Connor's remixes, so I had no idea what to expect from him as a live performer, but he wasn't bad. His album Vanity is Forever has been raved over and while the man definitely demonstrated talent as a musician, his vocals weren't nearly as loud as they should have been at points and I felt he was drowning in amongst the rest of the instruments being thrashed behind him.


Cults, the New Yorkers who've given us catchy indie tunes such as "Go Outside" and "Most Wanted" had pulled a big crowd over on the Register Street stage, but I wasn't as impressed as I'd thought and wanted to be by them as a live act. Although I wasn't nearly close to the stage, their presence didn't seem to extend further than the immediate audience and a lot of their performance seemed more appropriate to be listened to as background music. They weren't horrible; there's no denying that the band have a good grasp on the formula adopted by many indie bands in making a generally good and listenable record, but for the most part I remained slightly bored.


It would get better though, as Chairlift were preparing to take to the Courtyard Stage, in front of one of the bigger crowds I'd been a part of so far today. With already three albums behind them, the New York band had been wowing crowds consistently on this Australian tour. Caroline Polachek's was gorgeous to watch as she contrasted her modest front woman persona with some fierce vocal deliveries along the way. The rain began to set in as the band performed tracks off their popular record Something and the conditions, coupled with the band's constant praising of the Adelaide crowd as ‘the best Laneway', only made people dance more. Winding things up with the ridiculously catchy "Amanaemonesia", Chairlift was definitely a band I didn't mind being stuck in the rain for 45 minutes listening to.


Back at Register Street, British rockers Yuck were already into their set. I'd been impressed by the few songs of theirs I'd managed to hear before today and they were a cool band to watch. Though technical issues (broken amps, etc) came into play during their set, the four piece managed to pull off a decent set of indie tunes. I began to notice how many of today's bands have garnered such large followings off the back of one record, in some cases – a clever move by Laneway to capitalise on as many hot bands as possible. Mariko Doi, the band's bassist, stood out as an image of indie/hipster hotness, as many of the guys around me fawned (as manly as they could muster) over her looks and talent. I wish Adelaide had gotten a sideshow from this band, as I think I would have enjoyed their set much more in a different vibe and venue. For now though, Yuck were anything but what their name alludes to.


You remember that congestion issue I was writing about in the beginning? Well it's about this time in the evening that the new layout of the festival was put to the test. With Active Child taking to George Street, it was evident that this was an act on many people's must-see lists. The narrow nature of the area in front of the stage caused many people to climb the walls during the set to get a better view, while the rest of us remained cramped, the crowd reaching almost back to the main entry. Active Child, the moniker of ambient electronic artist Pat Grossi soothed and instantly conjured an atmosphere of dreamy theatrics as he crooned away from behind his harp. The You Are All I See record spawned some great songs, but it seemed that a lot of people were only sticking around until "Hanging On" was dropped. Once it was, there was a mini exodus and finally I was able to get some sense of what was going on onstage.


I thought it stupid to venture far away from George Street following this set, considering The Drums were up next, but even with this little snippet of logic keeping me nearby, the same issue plagued their set as well. With a crowd larger than the one before, I had to settle with imagining what Jonathan Pierce was like to watch live as I listened to the Brooklyn five-piece perform an otherwise energetic set. Opening with "Best Friend", The Drums had the crowd jumping and throwing themselves about as much as they could. I stuck around for about 15 minutes of their set before resigning myself to the fact I wouldn't be able to actually see the band performing, so I left the dancing hipsters to chill out back at the Courtyard.


I hadn't planned on seeing much of Laura Marling tonight, but I was so glad I did. Providing a much needed break from all the electronic driven sounds so far at the festival, the British songbird had everyone in the palm of her hand. I noticed a few of her fellow Laneway tour buddies were crammed side stage to watch Marling perform live and it's not hard to see why. Armed with an acoustic guitar, Marling is an ethereal artist to watch live. Her lyrics are given so much life when sung live, her skills as lyricist and musician are just as strong as those of her male indie-rocker counterparts on this tour and she stands apart just as much.


I moved in amongst the crowd more in preparation for The Horrors, which was possibly the stupidest decision I'd made today. I hadn't seen the band since they played here in 2010, but considering Skying was one of my favourite albums of last year, I wanted a premium position. As the band, led by Faris Badwan began to play, the crowd got progressively rowdier, resulting in me spending most of the set avoiding being crushed in the circle pit taking place next to me. Where, earlier in their career, The Horrors would have been more associated with the post-punk revival in Britain, their last album demonstrated a move in an almost psychedelic direction. "I Can See Through You", "Still Life" and "Moving Further Away" remain standout performances from the band in my eyes; Badwan's stage presence was impossible not to pay the bulk of attention to, especially as he leaned as far as he could off the edge of the stage and connected with the crowd, making sure we were all on the ride with him.


With half an hour or so to wait for French electronic act, M83, there was time to get out of the mosh and crack bones back into place. The weather had cleared up completely and there was an excited buzz filtering throughout. With "Intro" off their awesome record, Hurry Up, We're Dreaming signalling the beginning of what was to be an excellent set, M83 entered the stage to rapturous applause. Anthony Gonzalez and Jordan Lawlor worked so well alongside one another on guitar, and keys duties and they didn't seem to miss a beat. The set was flawless, though Gonzalez stopped to say that this stage had the worst sound he'd dealt with so far, and it was just one song after another without a break. "Midnight City" was the one song I'd been waiting for all day and it was nothing short of amazing, although it lacked live saxophone, which was a bit of a let down. An excellent and fitting way to wind up a day full of live music, M83 refused to drop the ball and provided the massive crowd with a memorable set.


Numbers at this year's Laneway Festival were clearly down from last year and I think that the organisers still need to improve on where stages are situated. Considering Adelaide had quite a few acts lopped from the line up, yet still managed to finish at 1am was a bit bizarre, and it was no wonder the festival didn't sell out. Overall, a great day out and it was clear to see so many acts who'd never been here before clearly going down well with the Australian audiences – hopefully it won't be long before we see some of them again.

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