Words by Isaac Selby
Photos by Dave Court
Last Friday St Jerome's Laneway Festival returned to Adelaide for its fifth instalment at Port Adelaide's Harts Mill. Year after year the St Jerome's team take their expertly-curated touring juggernaut around our country's ‘laneways’ and consistently manage to draw world-class acts in alongside your new favourite band.
First cab off the rank were Triple J Unearthed winners Paradise Club, who evoked shades of Modest Mouse’s 90’s output with their well-considered blend of emotive indie rock, a sonically compatible pairing with Rolling Blackout Coastal Fever who subsequently opened up the Harts Mill stage. Speaking earlier in the year vocalist/guitarist Joe White told Yewth that “we don't hide the fact that we try to write pop tunes, music that humans like,” a statement that was reflected by the gradually swelling crowd that made their way in early to catch the Melbourne outfit charge through the great swathe of material presented on 2015’s Talk Tight and last year’s equally great French Press EP.
Each year Laneway manages to book a strong selection of acts riding on the crest of a wave of hype, with Billie Eilish exemplifying this early on while performing to an adoring audience. At 16-years-old the American singer’s brand of electro-pop elicited screams from her fans and the realisation for most that in comparison they’d spent their teen years unproductively. The fact she managed to pull through a set plagued with tech issues only confirmed her talent and hype.
With such a stacked lineup there were always going to be tough clashes and the first came in the form of the Alex Cameron/City Calm Down double header. Both acts released terrific, brooding albums in 2017, Alex's artistic persona somehow runs a tasteful gauntlet between cheesy and sleazy while producing some of the best (and weirdest) sounding pop our country has to offer. Unfortunately his set was plagued by sound issues early on which made it a tough sell while City Calm Down were owning the Lion Flour stage.
Riding off the back of the strong singles they released last year, City Calm Down bring to mind a select few obvious influences yet make their post-punk sound feel fresh, replete with all-black outfits, defiantly ignoring the soaring temperatures.
One of the best things about Laneway is coming away from the festival with at least one new great band up your sleeve. This year produced Icelandic/British punks Dream Wife, who brought a strong showing of blistering and raucously fun punk tunes. Lead singer Rakel Mjoll expressed her gratitude for actually being able to play, as the previous evening the band had almost been arrested after accidentally sneaking into the Governor General's house under the impression that it was a cemetery; a favourite hang-spot of the band.
Another artist who subscribes to a fairly idiosyncratic punk ethos is (Sandy) Alex G. He propulsively kept the crowd on its toes with his genre-mashing blend of country-grounded tunes. One of the highlights of his excellent set came when he brushed off the folk sounds from earlier in his set with Rocket highlight ‘Brick’, a hectic and bruising metal-electro hybrid that can be easy likened to Death Grips heaviest material and certainly terrified a few of the blissed out revellers who’d been gently tapping along their feet so far. From here Alex and his crack-hot band moved through jazz, warbled autotune ballads and delivered one of the most diverse and thrilling sets of the entire day.
A similar dilemma with perennial goofball Mac Demarco lead to the decision to leave his set and head towards the Future Classic stage to witness an awe-inspiring performance delivered by Moses Sumney. The vast majority of the songs from his debut full-length Aromanticism go to great lengths detailing his incapability of reciprocating romantic feelings yet still make you want to clear out the spare room and give the kids a heads-up that they might have a new sibling some time in the next 9 months. The sparse instrumentation of his band allowed for his devastatingly beautiful falsetto to take its rightful place at the front and centre of their performance. A true star with infinite potential.
An integral ritual of Laneway is wearing the acts you plan to see for the day as a badge of honour when you bump into your friends around the festival. The verdict seemed to unanimously be that everyone was damn keen to see Anderson Paak. From the first note of Malibu highlight ‘Come Down’ Paak and his Free Nationals had the crowd in the palms of their talented hands, displaying tremendous musicianship and charm for days. For anyone wondering if they needed a mash-up of his Kaytranada collab ‘Glowed Up’ and 'Ignition (remix)' by R Kelly in their life; you totally do.
Up next was Bonobo who laid down one of the finest electronic Laneway sets since Caribou’s headlining stint in 2015. Simon Green has spent the better part of the last two decades making great down-tempo tunes that are just as suitable for wild nights out as they are for relaxed headphone listening. That being said it's quite clear that the addition of a full backing band and UK singer Szjerdene Mulcare makes for the ultimate Bonobo experience. Migration cut 'Bambro Koya Ganda' contains one of the greatest drops of 2017 and was a highlight of the entire festival.
It’s been some time since Slowdive have graced our shores, and the euphoria experienced by some of the older attendees at the festival no doubt matched and possibly eclipsed that experienced at big dance sets of the day. The hallucinatory visuals accompanying the set left many a reveller swaying with their eyes closed as if in a hypnotic trance from finally seeing the legendary shoegazers in action.
The headlining sets for the night left most punters with a dilemma: The War on Drugs or BadBadNotGood. Those who decided to check out the former were treated to an absolutely spellbinding set from Adam Granduciel and his prolifically talented band. Granduciel’s lyrics can be quite difficult to decipher. That being said it matters not when you can somehow convey specific emotions through every immaculate note played by the band. Songs like 'Under the Pressure' and 'Red Eyes' swell to gigantic proportions when played live, and their set was truly incredible to behold. The War on Drugs are one of the greatest rock bands in the world and it’s a credit to the festival that they were chosen to cap off a fantastic day of music.