“Wow, when you highlight them all it sure looks like a lot” was the passing comment of a friend when spying my pink highlighted non-male Laneway schedule. Indeed, the once niche-now-premiere one day festival of Australian summer, St Jerome’s Laneway Festival, certainly was presenting itself as one of better variety in gender representation even if it stalled around the 30% mark. Even beyond a regard to gender, the lineup for this year’s Laneway Festival emphasises a preference to showcasing a variety of musical genres rather than commonality or booking acts that either already sell out stadiums or those nostalgic acts we all fawned over when we were younger. So, in a market where long standing juggernauts whimper away and new festivals falter in their starting positions, how does a festival who steers away from the ‘safe’ festival norms succeed?
Well slowly melting under Melbourne’s increasingly unbearable summer sun certainly isn’t a positive attribution to any summer festival, much less one where ‘laneways’ are substituted with long stretches of glaring bitumen. Feeling somewhat like a dunce for taking an early start at Footscray Community Arts Centre, it was the ample shade before the Redbull Academy Stage that had the most bodies present in the early moments of the festival as punters sought refuge beneath the trees. Despite the swelter, a dedicated group of fans swayed to the boggy pulse of Banoffee‘s R’n’B inspired electronica, an enthusiasm matched at the nearby Mistletone Stage, where local heavies High Tension roused a crowd surf or two as vocalist Karina Utomo got comfy on the barrier.
The crowds remained fairly sparse until the mid-afternoon, though the sightings of Violent Soho shirts were always ample no matter where you looked. While the most eager of fans were preparing to stakeout their spots on the main stages for the later sets of Grimes and CHVRCHES, it was the playful R’n’B disco jams of Shamir that were creating a solid party vibe at the Red Bull Stage while over at The Dean Turner local duo Big Scary were fleshing out their brooding indie with three personnel additions to their live show.
From there it was a matter of true decision making. The line up this year’s Laneway proved to be one of great versatility and I found myself waving others off as we all went our separate ways depending on what took our fancy. That is the wonderful appeal of a festival that builds it lineup with variety. What I experienced through my deliberate avoidance of ‘festival bros’ differed from those of my friends who wanted to tumble over each other in the pits of Smith Street Band and Violent Soho. Like a round of ‘chose your own adventure’ the apparent balance of electronic dark pop to guitar fuzz to whatever wonderful definition you would give to Health‘s music, Laneway carved out various paths for us without having to follow one defined kind of musical act.
The inevitable clash of acts at the pointy end of the day meant that it became a matter of ‘see five songs then bailing’. Marred at the beginning of her set with foldback difficulties, the technicolour madness of Grimes picked up quickly with a Russian version of ‘Scream’, her Art Angels heavy set coaxing many a grooving body down the long stretch of road to The Very West Stage. Over at The Dean Turner Stage CHVRCHES were letting their dark poppy anthems wash over the buzzing crowd, Lauren Mayberry aka “the chiffon wizard” moving back and forth across the stage with an energy many of us sunburnt, sore-footed people could only be jealous of.
And as I finished off my night soaking in the view of the Melbourne cityscape – providing the perfect dappled lit background to Purity Ring’s bright refracting pop tracks – I marvelled at my day at Laneway. Set in the expansive yet still out of festival normality setting of ‘Footscray by the Maribyrnong’s edge’, this year’s Laneway succeeded because it picked for everyone. It gave electronic pop lovers their sublime raves; fuzzy guitar rockers their sweaty pits and it gave me a chance to fill me day with the powerful, emotive songs of women and non binary artists without feeling I had to leave early.