Words by: Grace Hood-Edwards
Photography provided by David Watson
Thousands of festival goers flocked to Albert Park this week for Laneway. The small park heaved with everyone in their summer best, swarming in and amongst one another in a brightly coloured, dizzying hive. It’s convenient that the wheel of fashion has turned again to the point where summer looks are in. Wherever you turn, everyone you see somehow looks in fashion. From the glittered eyes to the high-waisted shorts to, even, the bloke who undid his banana costume partway through the day like some avant-garde coat. We are blessed with many a floral and many a pattern – and a shout out to the couple co-ordinated outfits. A couple who wear watermelon print from head to toe together, stay together.
The one thing – apart from the music or where to get the next drink – that was predominant on everyone’s minds was the beating afternoon sun. New Zealand is suffering from a heatwave this week, and no one felt that more keenly than the festival-goers. The heat was sweltering and, at times, unbearable. Conveniently, Laneway had allocated enough refillable water stations – but there can never be too many. Sprinklers, water cannons or some other water feature could have been useful – particularly for those stuck in crowds under the unforgiving sun. Some murmurs were heard about wishing there was more shade – and it would be good in the future to potentially rig up more sunshields. I expected – and there should have been – a stand selling fans, parasols, hats and cover-ups. Sun safety is important – and the team behind Laneway should invest in ensuring it for their concertgoers.
Nevertheless, people mustered through – hundreds lounging on the ample grass as others danced, bonded by the stick of sun-cream and the kind camaraderie of sun-drunk strangers.
This young British artist George Van Den Broek is cool and collected. His music fits in perfectly with this summer’s day, slow and funky with just enough pace to keep the crowd’s attention. His gravelly voice croons and occasionally explodes into fun swooping shouts. He shifts gears quickly – the beat and the crowd picking up for ‘What’s It All For?’ His music – like his voice – is often raw and the crowd eats it up. The keys receive a few star solo moments within George’s songs, and are highlighted by George, whose own hands slide easily up and down his guitar. At times the set slips into a slightly dreamlike wave. As perfectly laidback as his performance, George ends with a “Peace out”, before leaving the cheering crowd for the rest of the day.
It seems at the Princes Stage – right in the middle of a cordoned off Princes Street – that no one is more hotly anticipated than 2018’s indie darling Mitski. Mitski enters wearing a black knee-length skirt and a white shirt tied in a knot à la Britney Spear’s nominal classic ‘Hit Me Baby One More Time’. The look would be almost nymphish, if it weren’t for the black knee pads underneath. Her mournful voice and steady gaze seem to set a tone, before she switches – pacing frantically back and forth along the stage. She drags a fold-up black chair languorously across the stage like she’s in Chicago. It has a small strip of paper tape stuck to it – denoting Mitski in marker. The audience is hinged tightly on every action, shouts and screams bursting from the audience whenever Mitski moves. She lies back, her feet pedalling through the air with slow and controlled rotations. Her songs are like a slow dance – a performance for no one and everyone. There’s a strange dissonance as the crowd cheers and laughs as Mitski claws at the sky and screams silently. Through a short period of years, 28-year-old Mitski has done a brilliant job in developing the myth, the cult of Mitski. Her eager fans and viewers scream and cheer when she takes a long drink from her water bottle – knees splayed, back arched. She knows theatre. Her whisper-high voice pierces as she sings out, “There’s no need to be brave”. She is alight with this earnest, half-manic joy as she reaches out to the audience and cries “All I ever wanted… it’s always you” in I Will. The crowd sings along loudly to her Spotify number one hit Nobody while she rows in place. Mitski gives the impression on stage that she’s experiencing a world we are not a part of, her peerless gaze rising above us all. At times funny, sad, mad and strange. Overwhelmingly curious. She’s a great storyteller on stage. Even the minute gesture of her tongue flitting out in anticipation at the beginning of songs contributes to her persona. During Happy, Mitski turns slowly and wraps the mic cord around her neck and body like a noose. Her performance is emotional for all involved and a favourite of the day. An image that summaries Mitski and her music best is during Geyser as she reaches out with both arms, bending over, desperate. The crowd reaches back.
This New York rock band is pure headbanging rock fun. They electrify the crowd from the first instant with high energy and mean guitar solos. This is a party for everyone. A. Savage, lead vocals and guitar, half-yells out “Can someone tell me the reason?” in two-part Almost Had to Start a Fight/In and Out of Patience. Their performance is very fun and their music feels like true, wild, barrelling down the highway rock ‘n’ roll. The audience’s bodies shake and jerk along with the insistent, frenetic drum beats. Their songs seesaw between surfer and garage rock before slipping into a more underground feel with Before the Water Gets Too High with a slow, meandering bass line. The mosh pit was truly alive during their performance, with fans being rewarded by both new and old tracks. The concert reached a peak as Parquet Courts slid into the funky Wide Awake, with actual cowbells and whistles signalling for people to get up on their feet and dance. During this track numbers of lounging audience members leaped up to join in the fun.
There was a heaving crowd for Jorja Smith – 21 year old British R&B singer. Smooth and powerful are words to describe Jorja’s voice and similarly great words to describe her performance. Considering her recent rise, Jorja’s command of Laneway’s Rotunda Stage was impressive. Her strong, sweet voice rings out above the crowd who go crazy whenever the music breaks down into a dance beat. A soft burr emanates in quiet moments and whenever she reaches down into her lower ranges. For those sober enough to pay attention, an emotional turn hits when Jorja sings out “you’ve done nothing wrong, blue lights should just pass you by” from her hit Blue Lights – a song about racial profiling and police brutality.
Tell Me How You Really Feel. Melbourne rocker Courtney Barnett is framed against the title of her 2018 album in stark red and white. Wearing a white shirt, black pants and a mullet, Courtney staggers around the stage with her flaming red guitar. This is rock chick cool. The audience dances energetically as she breaks into Avant Gardener. The crowd is wide and diverse in relation to age, but everyone seems to be enjoying themselves. Courtney is laidback and chill, until the moment her guitar solos arrive when she storms up to the front of the stage and absolutely slays. In Small Talk she sings out “I hope they have kids so I can be a cool aunty.” If Courtney Barnett ever became an aunt, there’d be no doubt about that. The lights shift to cool blue as she croons into the microphone for Need A Little Time. Courtney Barnett invites a young woman named Georgia onto stage for Nameless, Faceless where they rock the stage – the crowd goes mad as the chorus is punctuated by flashing lights. The performance gets loud as Courtney Barnett breaks into I’m Not Your Mother, I’m Not Your Bitch, half-screaming the titular line along with the audience. In Small Poppies her voice gets hoarse as she lopes through until she reaches “an eye for an eye for an eye”, breaking into this incredible screaming. We love it. I wrote last year that the women of Wolf Alice and Miss June had something of Joan Jett in them. Courtney Barnett has a whole heap more. She yells out at the crowd “You all looking after each other?” before announcing “I’m gonna play a beautiful ballad about house hunting in the suburbs.” The line “if you’ve got a spare half a million/you could knock it down and start rebuilding” from the aforementioned Depreston is sung out with particular fervour by the predominantly young crowd. The switch of Courtney’s guitars is accompanied by a loud, jumpy drumbeat before she announces her final song Pedestrian at Best – “This is an upbeat song about depression and anxiety.” The crowd thrashes wildly.
Florence + the Machine
One of the three final acts of the night, headliner Florence + the Machine returned to Laneway to celebrate its tenth anniversary. It was also the tenth anniversary of Florence’s own headline at Laneway – the artist’s own first time headlining. During her set she admitted she had a soft spot for our country and that we’d always been “so kind” to them, even though they were apparently terribly drunk during their headlining performance those many years ago. These little asides to the audience intersperse and contribute to a glorious performance by Florence Welch. Wearing a semi-translucent dress, her hair a halo around her head Florence looks like a Pre-Raphaelite painting. She sounds angelic. Her songs are heavenly. What celestial body can Florence not match? A transcendent and bewitching performance, the crowd is hooked on Florence – a wave of movement in the audience mimicking her movement across the stage as the audience cranes towards her. Her voice soars and the audience’s undoubtedly aching feet pound against the tarmac. She encourages the song to dance and “get loose” for the sparkling Only If For a Night and the audience happily gyrates along with her. She professes that she likes the energy of this gathering and praises the feelings of openness, femininity and safety that seems apparent within Laneway this year. At the end of the day it certainly feels that way – that this year the organisers have made a serious effort to diversify their artists. With Florence closing the night, the women have really rocked Laneway this year. Florence certainly cultivates an atmosphere of love commanding the audience to hug the people next to them, hold their hands and tell the stranger by you that you love them. She brings the small moments of connection at a festival or a concert into the light and has them bloom. Addresses to the audience can often be unwelcome to some, but Florence absolutely charms. Before Patricia she welcomes the spirit of legend Patti Smith to the arena before condemning toxic masculinity. Two power moves if ever I’ve seen them. As she howls out “you’re a real man and you do what you can/you only take as much as you can grab with two hands”, she sets one leg up and leans forward in a fierce lunge, slowly hiking her gossamer skirt up in a defiant challenge. Her performance is electrifying for the audience. Her vocals are masterful – as always – and a favourite moment of power and experimentation is when she gets on her knees and lets her head fall back in a guttural yawn during Big God. With What Kind of Man as her final song before the encore, Florence bravely dives into the audience to be embraced by the masses, who she blesses in turn, balancing above them on a railing while the crowd strain towards her. It paints a heavenly picture.