Laneway Festival @ Footscray Park, Melbourne – February 9, 2019.
Header image by Tim Lambert; see the full gallery here.
The following statement will irritate people who are Actually Old, but: Laneway Festival makes me feel like a grandpa.
Perhaps it’s more indicative of my slow march into the 25-49 marketing demographic, but a festival like Laneway – with it’s summer vibes atmosphere and vertically-integrated marketing opportunities – feels deeply alienating at times. Something that was once for you, but no longer is.
Location-wise, Melbourne’s Laneway 2019 has a new face, snuggled between the hillside of Footscray Park and the Maribyrnong. It’s a weird locale, with a dense, leafy entrance which opens to a… kind of desolate field? A strange thing to be presented with if you were, say, under 18 and had waited until after 1pm to actually make it into the place, missing many of the opening acts (which did happen).
This year, exposed as it is in its new home, Laneway’s place as a corporate and social engagement opportunity seems clearer than ever. At one point, Opposition Leader Bill Shorten shows up. Obviously there is something to be learned here about tapping into the youth demo.
Removed of all the food trucks and the double stage set up, you’d wonder just what exactly this park is used for, save for succumbing to heat exhaustion within a 15 minute drive from the CBD. There’s a fenced-off pond in the centre where all the aforementioned industry types hang out, but you need a special wristband to get in.
Laneway tries to walk the line between ‘boutique experience’ and ‘summertime bash’, but – and apologies for taking so long to get to this – has this year managed to bring the music along for the ride?
Short answer: Yeah, kinda.
Again, I preface all this by acknowledging two things Laneway seems to have the mandate on. One, shipping in major independent artists from all over the world, and two, providing a launching pad for Australian up-and-comers to hit some career firsts and play to some massive audiences. This year was something of a wonky expression of both.
Let’s start with a peak. Baker Boy, riding the high of his Young Australian of the Year Award (or possibly just riding high on being great) delivered the kind of set that’d ease you nicely into the ‘live festival with tonnes of weirdos all around you’ mood. Bouncy and tight, he’s continuing to own large swathes of the Australian hip hop scene.
Clairo does her best Mazzy Star tribute, softly cooing into the microphone, all mom jeans and a washed-out Slayer tee. She’s started to remind me of Angel Olsen around when Burn Your Fire For No Witness. Her set takes something of a left turn into some agreeable electro dance-pop, and ends with a trap horn for some reason. Memes, I suppose?
It’s extremely rare to be totally transfixed by something at an outdoor event like Laneway, but Mitski makes it happen. She’s effortlessly performative, pacing the stage, almost sermonic in manner. Within the space of 45 minutes, there is already an iconography to the set. Spread legs on a folding chair, a silent scream, the pounding of the earth – each look exact, each step moreso. It begins to feel like the scaffolding of an even grander performance, begging for a dedicated venue. Oh, by the way, there are crunchy guitars and some ominous organ drones, but it is all channelled through Mitski Miyawaki herself. Astounding.
Skipping forward some and we find ourselves at Parquet Courts who have kind of never written a bad song. I’m serious about that; I can’t think of one. Their set obviously leans well into their 2018 release Wide Awake!, but also finds time for fan favourites Light Up Gold II and Master of My Craft, into Borrowed Time, of course.
Courtney Barnett enjoys a warm welcome from the home team. There’s a particularly anthemic rendition of Nameless, Faceless with Camp Cope’s Georgia Maq on backing vocals/twerking duties. Apparently the Adelaide crowd was a tad shocking towards Our Courtney, so it was nice to watch her get the love she so deserves.
I personally elected to close out the night with Jon Hopkins. He’s one of those producers that you can actually observe construct a track out of its base ingredients, wrangling the oscillations and delaying the oh-so-sweet drop ‘til the optimal moment. He’s backed by some truly hypnotic visuals, like a MP3 visualiser with a Disney/Pixar budget. Colours were running the full gamut as night descended on Footscray.
Ultimately, it’s Laneway’s inability to satisfyingly execute that hobbled it this year. An awkward introduction to a new site, along with an unexciting line-up which leaned heavily on Australian mainstays like Gang of Youths and Courtney Barnett alongside strangely-placed internationals. Of course fantastic performances were seen, as an artist’s ability to kill a slot isn’t directly predicated on the festival itself.
Perhaps after the blockbuster year that was 2018, the next time ‘round was always going to be a let-down, but when I think back on Laneway 2019, I think I’ll always just be imagining a desolate field.