Falls Festival in Lorne was not at all unlike the year it was seeing out; hyped up, marred with controversy, tragedy and social media shitstorms. In a weekend that should have been a celebration of making it through a tough 2016, and with a lineup boasting some of the world’s best artists it’s disappointing that what it will be remembered for is the Grand Theatre incident that saw 60 punters injured. But while I want to start off by sending love to those impacted in any way, and wishes for only the speediest recoveries, I feel lucky that my own experience was one of only great music, fantastic friends and a festival deserving of its reputation.
We headed down the windy path to the campsite on Thursday morning, arriving for what was technically Day Two, but the first day of full programming and luckily, just after the rains hit. We set up camp – pretty quickly for two chicks that considered a stay at the Hilton doing it tough for Coachella – and headed down the slope just in time to catch a few acts that were early faves for best on ground. AlunaGeroge and Illy had the afternoon crowds bouncing in the afternoon sun, the latter even dropping his triple j Like A Version medley of Aussie faves, and loving every moment of the crowd roaring along to radio smash ‘Paper Cuts’. And while I’ll be honest, I still have major beef with MO for the last minute cancellation, homegrown replacement, Golden Features took us to town with a filthy set of weird and wonderful dance tracks that left me wondering why he wasn’t on the OG bill. He is going to be BIG guys, watch this space.
The night wrapped up with the mostly mellow and super soulful sounds of Childish Gambino, whose captivating set left little to be desired but was ultimately outdone by preceding NZ locals Broods. Siblings Georgia and Caleb Nott have been local faves for a while and are without doubt a must-see act on any stage they grace. Their glorious mix is one of beautiful, powerful songs, Caleb’s flawless musicianship and Georgia’s stunning vocal performance. Plus, man this girl can move! Older tracks like ‘Bridges’, ‘Mother & Father’ and ‘L.A.F’ hold up alongside newbies ‘Free’ and ‘Heartlines’, making them my Day One fave by a mile.
We approached Friday with foggy heads, a little worse for wear but keen to do it all again with a line up consisting of Aussie music legends like Bernard Fanning and Matt Corby, who drew huge crowds in the late afternoon and delivered equally stunning sets, both mixing old and new music with a little nostalgia and optimism to farewell 2016. And while the night rounded off with an epic set from Violent Soho, Friday belonged to DMA’s in the Grand Theatre and London Grammar on the Valley Stage, and it was this unfortunate timing of back to back fan faves that added to the crowd crushing event that has left a cloud lingering over what would otherwise have been an incredible weekend.
While DMA’s delivered a banging set atop the hill, there were mere minutes between their final track and the opening of British darlings London Grammar on the Valley Stage. My crew were lucky – we decided to miss the crowds and leave during DMA’s last track. It’s been reported that the stampede that followed was due to lack of crowd control, poor set up or other factors that could have been avoided. While festival organisers have released a statement letting us know investigations into the cause are ongoing, I saw a culmination of things that are perhaps only easily identified in hindsight.
It is true that the exits to the Grand Theatre were quite small, rather than being an open tent that is accessible from all points. It is also true that at these exits, there was a steep hill leading down to the main stage. Another contributing factor, though, were the group of fuckwits amongst the crowd yelling “JUST FUCKING PUSH EM!” that undoubtedly made things worse. The people at the front of the crowd lost their footing, falling down the hill and these punters began pushing from behind, as if their time – and lives – are more important than anyone else’s. Organisers could not have foreseen it. Medical and security staff responded as best they could.
Social media has been quick to blame the organisers for not only the incident itself but for a “lack of communication.” Also, unfair. Not only were there shuttles into Lorne at very regular intervals where there was plenty of reception, but the organisers also provided free hard lines for anyone wanting to contact their loved ones. This was communicated on the big screen, by signs around the festival grounds and via the Falls Festival app. Like any situation, it comes down to being mindful, taking responsibility for yourself, taking care of one another and not adding to any situation that can become dangerous. I’ll be forever grateful to have been with friends that were constantly looking out for each other and the people around them.
Somewhat tragically, given the chaos that was ensuing at the time, London Grammar’s set was a beautiful treat. It’s no surprise that worldwide megahit ‘Strong’ was the highlight of the set, but sitting on that hill listening to Hannah’s gorgeous voice was well and truly worth the wait. It was perhaps only the head smashing set from homegirl Alison Wonderland that outshone their mellow sounds, with drops from her own discography mixing with the likes of Safia and Flume making sure the crowd stayed put well and truly into the early hours of the morning.
It’s no surprise that New Year’s Eve belonged to the bangers. While the crowd were buzzing about the events of the night before, stragglers wandered into the grounds covered in glitter and sparkles, ready to send a major Fuck You to 2016. Drawing the crowds early were UK champs Jamie T and Catfish & The Bottlemen, while Grouplove’s replacement POND brought their psychedelic rock sounds to amp up the party vibe.
The Valley Stage was owned by The Rubens and City Calm Down early, followed up later for the countdown with The Avalanches, ‘Frontier Psychiatrist’ providing the most memorable moment. But it was the dance acts in the Valley Stage that took the night. The first being Berlin Based noughties duo Booka Shade, whose tribute to their 2006 album Movements a tough act to follow. Sydney-based Producer Kilter rose to the challenge, though, securing his place as an almost completely one man music machine as a must see Aussie act for 2017. Rounding out the festival back down in the main arena was the vibrant and energetic Tkay Maizda and a dominating set from LDRU, making this New Years Eve one to remember. And isn’t that what it’s about? Making memories.
It’s getting hugs and kisses from 20 of my favourite people within minutes of the New Year, while The Avalanches played in the background. It’s these little moments; the new songs you find, the conversations on the grass with people you love and laughing with new friends. It’s Gozleme for breakfast and smiles from the babes in the coffee truck. It’s glitter in your hair, signposts of George Castanza and making out at midnight. Music festivals create memories, and the crew behind Falls do it better than most. Music is still magic, and I can only hope that the injuries will quickly mend, the lessons will be taken seriously, and the actions of a few dickheads will not mar what is still one of Australia’s best events. IMHO anyway. Happy New Year everyone.
Gallery: Falls Festival 2016 – Lorne / Photos: Nikki Williams