St. Jerome’s Laneway Festival has been a consistent cornerstone of the country’s touring festival scene, with a reputation of booking artists just as they’re on the cusp of blowing up. So, when the festival actually occurs, they’ve got some of the buzziest acts in the country gracing their stages. With a lineup featuring BENEE, Tones And I, Mahalia, The Chats and more, it seemed that 2020 would be no different. However, the festival’s Sydney leg faced a number of challenges and extremes that could potentially change what we look to Laneway for in the future.
The Sydney leg of the festival underwent huge changes months before the event kicked off. Late last year, it was announced that it would change location from Sydney College of the Arts to The Domain. Then, it announced it had changed its age restriction to 16+. Just one day before it kicked off, headliners The 1975 pulled out of the Brisbane leg due to frontman Matt Healy falling ill which sent Sydney punters into bouts of uncertainty. All of these things inevitably drastically altered the Laneway we’d come to expect – for better or for worse.
Of course, the music – which is what a music festival is obviously about – was fantastic. Oliver Tree was rambunctious and brazen, managing a huge and passionate crowd at just after 1pm. BENEE, who is fresh off Hottest 100 glory and probably played a little too early given her popularity, had the crowd hooked on her infectious personality. She was unashamedly herself on stage, always wanting a laugh and messing around, but delivered her summer-soaked (no pun intended) tunes to one of the biggest crowds of the day.
Benee @ Laneway 2020 / Photo: Dan Lynch
In fact, it was a very summer-friendly festival. Hockey Dad, Last Dinosaurs and DMA’s all did what they do best and were complete crowd-pleasers with their surf rock, their pop bangers and Britpop revival respectively. Hockey Dad even took a moment to rejoice in their audience, saying that it’s “one of the biggest crowds we’ve ever played to”. Considering they’re a band that have been adored by Australia for years, that is saying something.
However, the day time performances were plagued by one thing – the heat. It was hot, really hot. One stall was making an absolute fortune by selling fans for a cool $35, with every second person waving one of them profusely. At times, areas outside of the mosh pits were near-barren because people were desperately huddling under trees or cover for shade, which there really wasn’t enough of.
But, minutes after DMA’s walked off stage, the weather went from one extreme to another and we were blessed with torrential rain. People weren’t looking for shade now – they were looking for shelter. Well, they were for maybe 30 minutes and then punters just accepted their new, wet fate. Ruel was the first act to play the soaking crowd, but no one was too worried as he belted his way through hits like ‘Painkiller’, ‘Free Time’ and ‘Real Thing’, charming the audience’s minds away from their own saturation.
Ruel @ Laneway 2020 / Photo: Dan Lynch
Tucked away behind the main festival area was the Future Classic stage, nestled among trees and feeling like a bit of an oasis. It was here that the best set of the festival was played, and it was by a band who weren’t even playing until the morning of. Cub Sport was announced on the bill at the last second, presumably being booked in case The 1975 had to pull out. Of course, they didn’t, but Cub Sport made use of their sundown set with devoted fans and a huge downpour. It rained the entirety of the set, and it rained hard. But, the band commanded attention, singing ‘Chasin’, ‘Hearts In Halves’ and more against red spotlights and through the glitters of water hailing from the sky. In fact, it almost felt like the band opened the skies up themselves with their stage presence. Beyond that, they brought out special guest Mallrat, who called Cub Sport her “favourite band in the world,” to perform their track ‘Video’ together. Following that, Mallrat took centre stage to perform ‘Charlie’, fresh off an amazing #3 get on the Hottest 100. It was euphoric and it was gorgeous, helping everyone forget about the downpour. Cub Sport followed that with their cover of Billie Eilish’s ‘when the party’s over’ and the audience was transfixed by its simplicity and its beauty, matching that of the original. It was a glittering and triumphant set that almost didn’t happen, but we’re so glad it did.
But, if we address the Domain-sized elephant in the room, Laneway really…wasn’t the same with the new venue. SCA, while a nuisance to get to and from for almost everyone and much smaller than the Domain, made Laneway feel special and ultimately different from any other festival out there. Seeing some of the world’s buzziest acts nestled in stages with brick towers beaming over them was something that no other festival in the state offers. Sitting on the hill watching headliners take on the two main stages meant that everyone could witness their favourite acts do what they do best. Festivals at The Domain, like Field Day, aren’t inherently bad because of the venue, but we know what we’re getting.
At The Domain, Laneway didn’t feel like Laneway anymore – it honestly felt more like Groovin The Moo, except Groovin has the hugely overlooked benefit of being far more accessible for rural audiences in Australia. The venue change might have been necessary to accommodate a growing audience – especially with the age limit being pushed down to 16 – but it took away a large part of what made Laneway a highlight of the festival year. Of course, headliners Charli XCX and The 1975 killed their sets, even if the crowd for the former didn’t really give back the energy she was giving them. Matt Healy rocked up in a hospital gown and hooked to an IV, which is both hilarious and genius.
The 1975 @ Laneway 2020 / Photo: Dan Lynch
Laneway has spent years building up a certain reputation and capitalising on it. While music festivals should be about the music, that’s just not the case anymore. As far as performances go, Laneway continues its winning streak but the venue change, while clearly an assessed risk, has caused a chink in the Sydney leg’s glistening armour. It’s their first year there, so maybe next year it’ll be more equipped – more installations, more vendors, more shade. But we’ll just have to wait and see.
Gallery: Laneway Sydney @ The Domain, 04/02/2020 – Photos: Dan Lynch
St. Jerome's Laneway Festival, The Domain - 2/2/20 - Music Feeds
Laneway Festival continues this week in Adelaide, Melbourne and Fremantle. Head here for set times.