Image: Laneway Festival / Facebook

Laneway Festival, Melbourne – 03/02/18

The spiritual home of Laneway will always be Melbourne – the touring festival originating as a mega block party in an actual laneway 14 years ago. These days, the event is held in the Western suburb of Footscray, beside the Maribyrnong River, amid old oaks and peppercorn trees – and the vibe is consistently good. Laneway’s promoters pioneered festival curation – music, food, market stalls… Yet, in 2018, they’ve apparently even curated sponsors (ahem, – Kiehl’s!). The year’s obvious drawcard was The War On Drugs, on the back of A Deeper Understanding. But Laneway likewise presented cult live favourites, such as Anderson .Paak & The Free Nationals and The Internet (who appeared in 2016), neither act in an album cycle. Still, the festival also billed Dream Wife – the Brit punk trio airing their eponymous debut only late last month.

In 2018 Laneway officially introduced an intimate fifth stage in Red Bull’s I Oh You’s Block Party – and it hosted one of the day’s premiere buzz artists, Jesswar, in the early afternoon. Incredibly, the dynamic Brisbane MC, aligned with Hilltop Hoods’ Golden Era Records, briefly performed off-podium among punters. Jesswar showed her mettle under trying circumstances, too. Her DJ’s laptop crashed in the summer heat. However, Jesswar rocked the crowd with an acappella rendition of her break-out ‘Savage’ (and offered hilarious wisecracks). If there’s a better MC in Australian hip-hop, we ain’t heard ’em.

The Melbourne glisstro outfit KLLO were touring globally well before releasing their debut Backwater via Detroit’s Ghostly International in October. But recently they’ve gigged heavily locally. With cousins Chloe Kaul and Simon Lam both working synths and MIDI controllers as Kaul sings, KLLO played to a receptive audience at the Future Classic Stage. The surprise was how dancey their chilled electro-pop is live.

Laneway’s main hub is The Very West Stage – and, mid-afternoon, it belonged to the teen electro-pop star Billie Eilish from California. The much-hyped Interscope signing headed The Toff In Town in September – a showcase of sorts for her Laneway set. Wearing oversized cloud-blue tunic and shorts, plus a bucket hat, Eilish arrived 20 minutes later than scheduled, but no one minded. Joined by her brother Finneas O’Connell (guitar, keys and backing vocals) and a drummer, Eilish comes across as a seasoned performer – and possesses a huskily soulful voice. She opened with 2017’s ‘bellyache’ – O’Connell strumming an acoustic guitar. Cooler again, she cleverly transitioned from the plaintive ‘watch’ into its hip-hop flip ‘&burn’ (minus Vince Staples’ rap). Underscoring her urban affinities, Eilish then sang Drake’s ‘Hotline Bling’ as an intro to the spiky ‘party favor’ – which also saw her pick up a ukulele. The Spotify princess saved her biggest hit, the ballad ‘ocean eyes’, for near the end – and managed to make it festive. Eilish might be the anti-Britney Spears. (She and her sibling did tease choreography routines.) And Eilish revealed her sass, telling the crowd, “I just want to thank you for standing in the fucking sun – that takes courage.”

One of Laneway’s most publicised homegrown acts, Brisbane art booty rapper Miss Blanks brought energy to the Future Classic Stage with her troupe of “honeys”. The key tune was ‘Clap Clap’, Queen B’s signature party anthem. She closed with the gorg, mellow, Janet Jacksony ‘Fantasy’, off the Diary Of A Thotaholic EP.

Since Los Angeles’ Moses Sumney first toured Australia last summer, he’s delivered his debut album, Aromanticism. And the charismatic indie-soulster has become a countercultural icon. This visit, he was backed by a band – complete with clarinettist. Sumney, swathed in a gothic black robe, displayed his trademark wit, announcing from the Future Classic Stage, “Look at all the fucking hipsters – my people!” But, overall, he bantered less than usual. Sumney’s set was intense af – his vocals so pliable as to be otherworldly. Live, ‘Quarrel’, Aromanticism‘s subliminally political single, is deep cosmic psychedelia. His delicate guitar ballad ‘Plastic’ may be more suited to a concert hall, but Sumney took it home with an epic ‘Lonely World’.

Fronted by Ellie Rowsell, Wolf Alice are being hailed for revitalising rock. The Brits raised the day’s soaring temperatures on the Dean Turner Stage, sounding simultaneously like Siouxsie And The Banshees, Hole and Garbage. Their killer song was, in fact, not a single but the title-track from 2017’s sophomore Visions Of A Life – Rowsell sparring vocally with co-guitarist Joff Oddie.

While Anderson .Paak was Laneway’s marquee hip-hop act, Loyle Carner impressed with his endearing stage presence. Early last year, the London MC debuted with Yesterday’s Gone – throwback boom-bap – and received a Mercury Prize nom. Hitting the Future Classic area pre-dusk, Carner formed a tight unit with his DJ/co-rapper/bestie, Rebel Kleff. The pair rapped on ‘No Worries’ – Carner following with a freestyle. Particularly popular was the jazzy ‘Ain’t Nothing Changed’. Carner and his homeboy also performed that bespoke Like A Version cover of George Benson’s ’80s disco ‘Give Me The Night’. After the nostalgic ‘No CD’, Carner concluded with a slam poem in which he name-checked Mobb Deep’s late Prodigy. Tears!

So diverse was Laneway’s roster that it wasn’t until evening when some must-see white male acts surfaced (!) – among the first, American indie-folk icon Father John Misty (aka Josh Tillman). Nevertheless, Tillman is plausibly disrupting (or corrupting) the patriarchy with his cerebral eccentricity alone. The hirsute former Fleet Foxes drummer was accompanied by his unobtrusive band on the Spinning Top Stage – the amphitheatre brimming. Kicking off with ‘Funtimes In Babylon’ from 2012’s Fear Fun, Tillman’s slot was as arch as a fan could hope. Though the Maryland native issued a third album, Pure Comedy, last year, he’s reportedly already prepping a follow-up for 2018. But Tillman didn’t preview material, rather focussing on classics and ‘Pure Comedy’ (its piano-based title-track especially theatrical). Donning an electric guitar, he rocked things up on his vintage ‘Hollywood Forever Cemetery Sings’. His most rousing song? The finale ‘I Love You, Honeybear’. Oooh – the real Man Of The Woods?

The mystery of Laneway 2018 was why TOKiMONSTA attracted such a relatively small turn-out on her first major Australian festival run. Despite having roots in the West Coast glitch-hop scene, she’s now a HUGE EDM deal Stateside. The vivacious Californian (in a beanie!) dropped a high-tech DJ set on the Future Classic Stage. She raided her own discography (the single ‘Don’t Call Me’, featuring Yuna, from the current album Lune Rouge) and the pop culture canon (Missy Elliott’s bhangra ‘Get Ur Freak On’), while chatting on the mic.

Timetable dramz are inevitable at any quality festival – and the dilemma over which Laneway headliner to catch was real, the distance between stages accentuating the problem, even with programme overlaps minimising full clashes. Sooo… The War On Drugs or ODESZA? Leaders of the US contra-EDM movement, ODESZA triumphed by bringing the spectacle to the Dean Turner platform. Leaving early was simply impossible. The Seattle melo-bass duo (Harrison Mills and Clayton Knight) are not content to bop away behind their keyboard consoles. Their audio-visual show launched dramatically with an illuminated drumline (Diplo gotta be gutted he didn’t think of it). And, this tour, ODESZA had a horn section. There were yet more tricks: ODESZA shared a custom take on ‘Locomotion’, Kylie Minogue’s inaugural hit. The smoke machine warriors demonstrated their love of Australia in other ways – performing their festie banger ‘Line Of Sight, featuring Aussie band Mansionair (and WYNNE), off 2017’s Grammy-nominated A Moment Apart (alas with pre-recorded vocals). Recently, a Stereogum writer, lamenting the disappearance of rock bands at Coachella, queried the high ranking of ODESZA on that bill. If dude covered Laneway, he’d get it.

Laneway Festival 2018 continues next weekend in Brisbane and Fremantle.

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