St Jerome's Laneway Festival 2016

Words: Cam Hurst

Bouquets of roses, heart-shaped chocolates, sending your boyfriend to an 8 hour shift at IGA while you go to a massive festival on a perfect summer day...What’s not to love about Valentine’s Day with Freo’s West End packed on Sunday for the amazing lineup of St Jerome’s Laneway Festival 2016.

I arrived at the crack of 11:45AM for locals Hideous Sun Demon, the winners of the Path to Laneway competition. Their energetic post-punk and borderline possessed stage presence was as riveting as always, with the four-piece playing an exceptionally tight set on the back of supporting punk legends Thee Oh Sees last month. It was interesting to see how Hideous handled a stage considerably larger and an audience considerably more sober than their usual set-up, and they pulled through with panache. Fingers crossed these guys are going far!

Photo: Mason Devine

Photo: Mason Devine

Despite the huge Esplanade pine trees, by midday the 35 degree heat was really beginning to punish the festival attendees. There was no shade to be seen in front of the main stages, but WAMI winners Methyl Ethel still drew a sizeable crowd (albeit one with sweat-dripping foreheads and the beginnings of sunstroke). Despite a minor sound issue, their dreamy indie pop set was solid. Twilight Driving was the clear favorite of the hour with everyone dancing and singing alone. The only reservation I have about Methyl Ethel is their stage presence – they’re cute but often all they seem to be doing is just standing around and getting through their songs.

By contrast, Canadian duo Majical Cloudz were entrancing. Lead singer, Devon Walsh and producer, Matthew Otto cut stark figures in all black and a minimal set up, and they had an intense stage presence to match it. I couldn’t take my eyes off Walsh. As he sung, he would slowly turn on an axis and make eye contact with every audience member, barely swaying to Otto’s unadorned electronic backing. Silver Car Crash was one of the most beautiful songs I’ve ever heard live – as Walsh let out a guttural scream after each brutally honest verse I felt as though I was watching something incredibly personal and emotionally overwhelming. Majical Cloudz were the highlight of my day, and I’d love to see them in a more intimate setting.

Diiv were a sweet shock back into reality after my pseudo-spiritual experience with Devon Walsh. The New York indie punk guys fronted by Zachary Cole Smith were scrappy and fun, playing tunes from their excellent new album Oshin in addition to back catalogue favourites. The crowd was into it, but the band repeatedly let everyone know how bad they thought they were playing. I found it hard to wholly enjoy their set when Cole kept saying stuff like ‘…sorry about this, it’s the shittest we’ve played at a Laneways gig so far.’ Even with this negativity, Diiv still sounded pretty great to me and provided a perfect vibe to bring in the afternoon.

Next I ventured downtown to the Red Bull Academy Stage to watch the amazing Shamir, who was the most fabulous performer of the day by a sassy country mile. Introduced by everyone’s Valentine, Kirin J Callinan, the Las Vegas local’s brand of unique alt-dance music had the packed alleyway dancing hard. Shamir’s band were also totally on point so to speak, and the hit that made him a Pitchfork protégée On the Regular was a bonafide banger.

Big Scary played some funky new songs and admirably had an anti-offshore processing protest on their banner. After the party at Shamir they seemed super mellow to me, but die-hard fans were singing along to every word of every song and it was a generally good set. Joanna Syme on drums and vocals was so great as a lady queen of Aussie music, and I feel like Big Scary are going to become canon classics of this era of Australian indie-pop. At this point in the day it became apparent that about half of the festival’s attendees were only rocking up now, many of them bearing the signs of going hard at pres.

Photo: Mason Devine

Photo: Mason Devine

At one point in the day I accidentally found myself at the front of Hermitude with a loved up couple grinding against me on one side and some skinny drunk bohemian girls trying to shove past me on the other. A notably more fucked up crowd threw themselves wholeheartedly into the set and it was cool to see live video of the duo playing Ableton Live as opposed to DJing via pressing play on their iTunes playlist. After a gym short clad butt on some slimy shoulders invaded my personal space one too many times, I headed over to claim a front spot at The Internet.

Nailing the art of audience participation, Syd the Kid and her smooth alt RnB geniuses were a perfect sundown band (and prompted Frank Ocean withdrawal syndrome). As for Violent Soho… they lived up to their name, I came out dripping with sweat and felt lucky to be alive writing this today.

Photo: Mason Devine

Photo: Mason Devine

Grimes identifiable as such an ethereal goddess it was almost shocking to hear she was battling nausea like a mere mortal. You wouldn’t have known if she hadn’t said it, as she killed freaky tracks from her latest masterpiece Art Angels and her classic Visions. Accompanied on stage by an all-girl crew of dancers and musicians, it was a badass show of female power after a considerable amount of dudes with guitars on stage all day. Any person that can sound and look as good as Grimes whilst needing to vomit receives a 10/10 from me.

Being a serious Beach House devotee and also feeling the effects of intense sunburn and alcohol consumption at the main stage, I was perfectly contended lying on the grass looking at the stars and listening to Victoria Legrange’s phenomenal baritone. The sound quality at the front of the stage was slightly fuzzy and muffled, but sitting further back in the area made the sparkling pop sound as good as it does on a record. After this calming respite, it was back to high energy with our very own boy wonder Flume finishing the night with a set of classic bangers from his debut album and fresh tracks from his new release. Amongst the revelry, the obvious highlight was Kucka and Vince Staples joining the electronic king and his awesome light show onstage for a performance of their new collaboration Smoke & Retribution.

Photo: Mason Devine

Photo: Mason Devine

Whether they were dragging fatigued feet or still grinding teeth fiercely with dilated pupils, the crowd at Laneway left satisfied with a perfect day of great music and a whole year to countdown ‘til next time.