Splendour XR: Saturday 24th and Sunday 25th July, 2021
Gotta say, it sure was fun working out our festival schedule the night before this ‘event’ given that Splendour XR is a multi-stage virtual affair.
To get in the mood on Day One, we crank a gee-up playlist (Underworld, Leftfield, Fatboy Slim – that kinda thing) from midday onwards and reflect upon highlights from previous IRL Splendour benders: Remember that time when you tried to scale a barrier and cut your hand? What about that year Tina Arena joined Client Liaison onstage for a stirring rendition of Sorrento Moon? Then there’s the time Fat White Family’s frontman performed completely nude, during their afternoon slot! And how about the moment when Daniel Johns performed Silverchair’s Freak during his mate What So Not’s set?
Then we get all misty-eyed recalling Splendour’s splendiferous VIP area, Gold Bar – how consistently good is it in there, year after year!?
After mistakenly believing the TV screen would just magically start streaming content from the advertised starting time of 2pm, we accidentally lurk around the festival entrance – which is, comfortingly, a digital reconstruction of the actual entrance to the Splendour In The Grass festival site, just outside of Byron Bay. Eventually, we figure out that turning the iPad on its side throws up multiple stage options as well as extra areas for those with fancy VR headsets who wish to ‘mingle’. If you’re rocking the optimum headwear, it’s apparently possible to explore and walk between stages, but the rest of us mere mortals just have to settle with clicking on our desired destinations.
Splendour XR’s 10 MVPs (In Order Of Appearance)
THE SOUTHERN RIVER BAND
Thornlie’s greatest-ever export, The Southern River Band – who boast one of this country’s finest/ most hilarious frontmen in Cal Kramer – burst outta the gates, clearly frothing to show us what they’ve got. The SRB are as authentic as they come. After a tray of shots is brought in for immediate consumption, Kramer proclaims, “We are 100% better than every other band on here, including The Killers!” Happy to report we’re up and dancing and it’s only 2.30pm!
“‘Cause there’s a bullet with my name on it,” Kramer roars, totally rocking his short-fringed mullet and ‘stache combo. There’s no escaping Vice City II’s duelling riffs and, during The SRB’s electric closing number, we’re reminded how many muscles it takes to pull an appreciative stinkface while enthusiastically head-nodding to the beat. From go to woah The Southern River Band perform as if they’re plugged into maximum high voltage. We wouldn’t have been at all surprised if actual sparks flew through our telly.
You know how wandering aimlessly around festival sites IRL tends to offer up the occasional new-fave-band discovery? Well, while flicking between Splendour XR’s ‘stage’s we chance upon Yolngu surf-rockers, King Stingray. Dr Google reveals King Stingray is the project of Yirrnga Yunupingu and Roy Kellaway, who were both toddlers within Yothu Yindi’s tour entourage (Yirrnga being the nephew of Dr M Yunupingu, and Roy, the son of bassist Stuart Kellaway), back in the ‘90s! Both Yirrnga and Roy perform in Yothu Yindi as well these days, as lead singer and guitarist respectively. Check out King Stingray stat!
All Splendour XR sets have been pre-filmed exclusively for Splendour XR, but most of the bands that stand out shoot their footage with multiple-camera setups in striking locations. In the case of Methyl Ethel, their creative direction elevates a fabulous performance to beyond next-level. The band’s mastermind/frontman Jake Webb himself occasionally wields a camcorder, providing yet another alternate view.
We’re transported to the white interior of a large warehouse space. A roller door opens to reveal Methyl Ethel, standing on the other side of the roller door, sporting matching white boilersuits. Hand-painted animation – splashes, squiggles, splodges and snakes – add spontaneous interest (think: INXS’s Richard Lowenstein-directed What You Need video, but not as busy). While lounge-room dancing to Neon Cheap, with its bizarre melodic hook that kind of sounds like stepping on rubber duckies, we marvel over the warmth this synth-based outfit somehow manages to exude at all times.
Methyl Ethel face the challenges – and bizarre nature – of performing a festival set for a virtual audience head-on to proudly present this innovative, memorable work of art.
Just WOW! Pond easily win best set design of Splendour XR. And then there’s frontman Nick Allbrook’s silver pants – want! In perfect keeping with their psychedelic, stoner-rock tendencies, Pond perform for us from inside some kind of mirrored room. Even when aerial shots are utilised, we still can’t work out the logistics of their setup but it sure is spectacular; kinda like the band has been dropped into a kaleidoscope.
Pond never disappoint, but also don’t seem to even have to try – they’ve just got it. Giant Tortoise is life-changing, flute has never sounded so cool and Pond’s special brand of hypnotic synth wonderment conjures Underworld when experienced ‘live’. Although friends recommend checking out other ‘stage’s (via Facebook Messenger), we can’t drag ourselves away from Pond’s ruling energy. A memorable, mesmerising, world-class performance.
Another Splendour XR discovery, 20-year-old Chinese-Jamaican songwriter/producer Griff effortlessly holds our attention accompanied by an impressive, nuanced drummer. The vulnerability she pours into her songwriting is both brave and endearing: “So I put one foot in front of the other today/ I stretched my arms out wide and it felt real strange… ‘Cause things just take longer to heal these days.” One of Griff’s standout numbers, Good Stuff, which she wrote about her family fostering its fair share of kids over the years, pretty much says it all.
We’re now officially nuts about The Snuts. This Scottish quartet breeze through their set like seasoned festival stalwarts even though they look like teenagers. Frontman Jack Cochrane’s soulful pipes lure us in (he kinda sounds like Evermore’s Jon Hume!) and the fact that the other three band’s members – guitarist Joe McGillveray, bassist Callum Wilson and drummer Jordan “Joko” Mackay – have all known each other since they were aged about three can’t hurt their alchemy. The Snuts deal guitar-based tunes with shiny melodies and beats to bop along with – an irresistible combo.
KING GIZZARD & THE LIZARD WIZARD
Even though they’re restricted by opting for Splendour XR’s green-screen setup – which drops bands onto the digital reconstruction of the actual Amphitheatre stage and probably gains wow-factor when experienced using a VR headset – King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard still win the Band Olympics. The six-piece ensemble – utilising just one set of drums these days – transmit next-level feral vigour from the very first note. The amount of pedals on King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard’s stage is astonishing and this band’s years spent as internationally touring road dogs serve them well – theirs is telepathic-level playing. One keys effect evokes the sound of a tin whistle, but there’s no bells and whistles as such (especially for those among us without VR headsets).
King Gizz’s thrash-metal closer is a head-banging, ponytail-flicking moment, complete with false ending – such teases! These sonic magicians are unstoppable and have us grinning from ear to ear, even without the VR accoutrements.
Crooked Colours perform for us from an outdoor stage set up in front of a massive, colourful, rainbow structure in Freo – pretty spectacular! Many commenters seem shocked to discover that Crooked Colours are not only talented but also smokin’ hot. It seems matching white boilersuits are the way to go for Splendour XR (Methyl Ethel and now Crooked Colours…), although this trio have accessorised their chosen stage outfits with embroidered patches (eg. Atari and Pepsi – savvy sponsorship, perhaps?). Do It Like You is a set highlight and Rüfüs du Sol spring to mind. Would love to hear Crooked Colours cover Visage’s Fade To Grey, transforming it into even more of a banger.
AMYL & THE SNIFFERS
Amy Taylor’s mullet seems to get more feral every single time we clap eyes on her! Those speed-dealer sunnies are pretty bloody awesome as well. Throughout Guided By Angels, Taylor refers to her “energy currency” and we feel her high-voltage transmission.
The backing vocals supplied during I’m Not A Loser, which reassure the song’s protagonist (“You’re not a loser!”), are hilarious, and I Got You slays. Fast-as-lightning riff breakdowns, Taylor speak-singing (and dropping c-bombs on the reg) – what more could you want!? If we were in an actual tent at a real festival right now, condensation would legit be dripping from the roof like rain. Amyl & The Sniffers’ Born To Be Alive cover is a genius set inclusion.
As soon as the world opens up again, Amyl & The Sniffers are match-fit to pursue global domination – this band is tight as a fish’s b-tthole and Taylor’s simultaneously appealing and terrifying charisma brings to mind The Prodigy’s Keith Flint (RIP). The world needs more Amy Taylors.
Okay, so this set was actually filmed at one of The Avalanches’ Sydney shows at Enmore Theatre, during their recent tour. So we clap eyes on euphoric punters dancing in front of their seats and suddenly miss the communal nature of IRL gigs/festivals!
The funky-as-hell Subways is a hands-in-the-air moment and we commend The Avalanches for dreaming up epic-but-unexpected mashups: Queen’s I Want To Break Free morphs into their own We Go On and the messaging here speaks volumes to our current locked-down, isolated circumstances. They pull shapes behind their consoles and it’s a joy to see Robbie Chater and Tony Di Blasi doing what they do best: serving sonic bliss-bombs and lifting our collective spirits.