I just got back from a grueling but totally awesome 5 days at Splendour in the Grass. The festival was moved this year to it’s new home at the North Byron Parklands, which was such a beautiful venue. It meant we were all nestled in the pit of a huge valley, with an extensive patch of dense bushland separating the festival stages. Yes, it was muddy, as it is every year, but being armed with gumboots (more Farmer Joe styles than Kate Moss at Glastonbury) meant I survived relatively unscathed.
The festival kicked off on the Friday, with a badass line-up of artists, including the charmingly bratty Brisbane trio Dune Rats. They were obviously equally as stoked as they were surprised to be playing their first Splendour, with the lead singer, Danny Beusa, admitting that they had been expecting a crowd of ten or twenty. They played a manic, fast set, kicking inflatable toys into the trendy (mainly 19 year old) crowd, leaving them warmed up and ready for Californian surf-punk party boys, Wavves. Wavves were steady, if slightly disconnected from the audience during their 50 minute set, but managed to include a banging cover of Sonic Youth’s classic “100%”. Nathan Williams, the band’s lead singer and writer, has the too-cool-for-school-swigging-whiskey-on-stage act fine tuned, but it works in his favour because it feels totally genuine. My first festival night concluded with Babyshambles, who were a treat to watch. I had my reservations about how such a notoriously reckless band would perform live, but they delivered on all fronts. Pete Doherty was his usual sweaty and wasted self, but sang and played his heart out- with a vulnerability and sweetness to his performance that was both unexpected and sort of made you fall in love with him.
My Saturday kicked off in the early afternoon with Brisbane grunge boys Violent Soho, who were really great. Their mosh pit was absolutely insane, and refreshingly diverse, filled with punters of all ages going hard. (I even saw a Dune Rat in the midst, being thrown into the air). Although they’re still young, the band are really unpretentious on stage, which for me always adds to the appeal of a live performance. Chet Faker was up next, someone who I’d been wanting to see live for ages. I’m assuming he surprised the Splendour organizers with his turn out. He was on at the Mix-Up tent in the early afternoon sun, and the space was absolutely overflowing with fans who were all keen for a slice of the Melbourne-based singer songwriter. His set was gorgeous, slow and intimate, which was impressive considering it was shared with thousands of others. Fat Freddy’s Drop and Flume rounded out the craziness of Saturday night, getting us to dance and thrash around as much as humanly possible (quite a feat, considering most of us were suctioned into the earth, ankle deep in mud).
Sunday was a struggle as we were all starting to feel the weight of the multiple day festival exhaustion. I chilled in the calming, other-worldly chai tent until early sundown, when I’d mustered enough strength to dance my ass off to Hermitude. The Blue Mountains boys are always such lovely, generous performers and this gig (surprisingly their first Splendour) was no different. Frank Ocean was supposed to be the epic conclusion to the festival, but pulled out a couple of days before after tearing a vocal chord. Because of this, Sunday night was a bit of a mess, with the organizers desperately trying last minute to fill such a big musical hole. They succeeded with Lorde, the incredibly talented 16 year old girl from New Zealand, who stunned everyone with her obvious maturity and musical skill. My my number one festival highlight came in the form of James Blake, hands-down. I’m a long time fan of the British singer songwriter, and I knew he’d be good- but he was near flawless. Everyone stood still as he crooned onstage, with his memorizing vocals supported perfectly by a super-tight drummer and guitarist, who until then were completely unknown to me. He played a delicate mix of his first and most recent second album, and wrapped up with a tear-inducing cover of Joni Mitchell’s “Case of You”.
There are a lot of really great Australian festivals, and a bunch of not so good ones too. In my mind, especially after this year, Splendour is a good example of a flawed festival that comes together to create something special. Yes, much of the camping experience is slightly heinous (don’t use the Portaloos on the third day), and you do spend a lot of precious time mud-sliding between stages (my friend Gabby got bogged in waist-deep) and lining up for mid-strength beers. But in such a magical location, with so many talented artists from all corners of the globe, there is a shared musical experience between punters and performers that makes it all worth it. Just remember that hangovers and tents are a fucking awful combination!