The pop-up tent city on the vast flats surrounding the North Byron Parklands was already well populated as the sun began to rise on the first day of 2014. In the days that followed, Falls Festival’s inaugural leg in Byron Bay would be a blur of brilliant musicianship, enchanting art installations and eccentric sideshows all swept up in a living, breathing tree-lined diorama.
Melburnian Chet Faker helped christen the New Year with his soulful brand of down-tempo electronica. “Welcome to 2014!” he said with an air of suppressed joy. With the release of Faker’s debut album set for later this year, the man with the beard would be right to sense big things on the horizon. Performing latest single Melt under the stinking Summer sun aptly left the amassed crowd warmed-up for the next two days of acts.
Over at the Forest Stage, Violent Soho were belting out their grunge-revivalist style of face-melting rock. Covered In Chrome was an obvious favourite, with the chorus conjuring up a tornado of crowd-surfers, flying hair and dust, destroying the visual and aural senses of all in its path.
Energy levels were clearly high all over the festival, as punters bounded up and down the steep hill which formed one side of the vast natural amphitheatre surrounding the main stage. It is an impressive site to behold, and certainly adds to the essence of wonder and beauty already established by Byron Bay’s sister venues in Lorne and Marion Bay.
Late afternoon saw Johnny Marr sweating it out in black jeans and black hair under the Australian sun. Any discomfort didn’t show as he effortlessly provided lead guitar and vocals to a healthy mix of his own songs and classics from The Smiths. Marr is undoubtedly a technical master, and his fitting finale How Soon Is Now? was flawless. Surprisingly, the distinctive oscillating guitar riff which should have resonated deeply with the festival crowd seemed to echo emptily around the sparsely occupied hills.
It was the fellow English gent succeeding the main stage who would really draw in the crowds. The man/producer/wizard known as Bonobo came, played, and conquered. The infectious rhythm of opening song Cirrus travelled into the ears and through the bones of all. The amphitheatre crowd was a joyfully writhing pit of humans, each absorbing and physically expelling each instrumental layer of the intricate track.
Electronic acts made up a good chunk of the bill at The Falls this year, but were mainly confined to the smaller Forest Stage. Two of Sydney’s breakthrough electronic act of 2013, RüFüS and Flight Facilities, were definite highlights of the genre. With non-stop dance beats, the two acts ensured the party atmosphere continued right through to the last minutes of New Year’s Day. Over on the main stage The Cat Empire were cementing their position as kings of the festival vibe, while Vampire Weekend rounded off the night with an overflow of feel-good indie rock.
Good vibes were ever-present by day three, with strangers frequently exchanging grins and high-fives, but energy levels were clearly dwindling. The majority of festivalgoers began to traipse and trek, rather than dashing to their next port of call. Canadian indie rockers Born Ruffians and gentle Aussie singer-songwriter Gossling enchanted the midday crowds in very different ways over at the Forest Stage.
But it was back at the Amphitheatre that day three’s greatest rapture would occur. With a mane that would make Rapunzel jealous, Solange sang, strutted and emanated star power that would remain unrivalled for the rest of the festival. With the authoritative air of royalty, Beyoncé’s baby sister renamed Falls Fest as a massive “Grind Fest” and succeeded in getting shower-deprived campers even more down and dirty.
The Wombats and MGMT unsurprisingly received a huge deal of adoration from those whose weary limbs confined them to the hills in front of the main stage. While Solange couldn’t be topped for sheer energy, the emotional peak of the final day was reached with British alternative dance band Crystal Fighters headlining the Forest Stage. The overall loved-up vibe of the three dates of Falls Festival culminated here in a big hug-fest, as the band encouraged everyone in the crowd to embrace the stranger next to them.
The Byron leg of Falls was, of course, not perfect, but inconveniences such as long showers and parking queues could not overshadow an overall blissed-out ambience. Any logical person would note that the first year of a large-scale event will involve some wrinkles that need ironing out. It’s like the time you pitch your first tent — you’ll unfurl the package, there’s a reasonably well-formed idea of the method, yet you might not put the poles in all the right places straightaway. In an environment like Falls Festival, though, there’ll be no shortage of help available to set you on the right track and you should have a hell of a lot of fun along the way.
Photos by Jade Davis