Finally! After hours spent driving up the East Coast of Australia I reached North Byron Bay Parklands ready for the monolithic music festival Splendour in the Grass! Even though I was already in a sombre state of self-reflection when I realised that I forgotten to bring gumboots to combat the absolute disgusting amount of mud, Friday kicked the festival off with a bang bang bang.
My day began with a quick dash into Byron Bay to acquire an essential pair of gumboots. Yet it seems the Gods of Splendour were mockingly laughing at me, as the only pair I could find were five sizes too small…
So alas, there I was awkwardly hobbling off to see the first tunes of the weekend!
The first act of the festival was Ballarat guitar slinger Harts. The main fact I knew about Harts was that he was invited to jam with the one and only Prince, and it quickly became clear why the five-foot funk maestro digs the Ballarat boy. Armed with a range of loop pedals, bass synths and a live drummer, Harts unleashed a bluesy-funk catalogue littered with a barrel of raucous and groovy guitar solos. While possessing a bag full of guitar tricks and mountain loads of swagger, I feel that Harts is a little bit of a one-trick pony at this stage and I look forward to seeing how he progresses.
I stuck around the GW McLennan Stage to catch British dream-pop act Gengahr. The quartet has drawn lofty comparisons to psych pop acts MGMT and Unknown Mortal Orchestra and I dug the singles off their new album A Dream Outside so I was game to check them out. However, in a live setting Gengahr didn’t really make any impression. Their singles received a good reception and all the songs were nice enough, but I left feeling as if they missed the memo that Splendour in the Grass is all about making a statement.
I moved to the Tiny Dancer stage to catch electronic wunderkind and Monocle enthusiast Japanese Wallpaper. Drawing a huge crowd, the teenager was clearly stunned with the hordes that had flocked to catch his woozy and lucid beats. Along with his features from guests Airling and Montaigne, Japanese Wallpaper demonstrated impressive range in his own right and left it clear in our mind that the only way is up for the daring producer.
Next up was the utterly unique Client Liaison. With Melbourne DJ CC Disco setting the tone perfectly, the crowd was bursting with excitement for the time-travelling electro pop duo. As they walked out in their matching teal and peach suits to greet their fans, it was clear right from the very beginning that Client Liaison got the memo and were here to make a statement. With lead singer Monte Morgan’s captivating charisma and choreography driving the crowd into frenzy, Client Liaison hit the ground running and never looked back. Their set was complete with costume changes, 90’s video graphics and décor, back up dancers, a complimenting live band and of course Fosters stubbies. When I thought Client Liaison couldn’t get any more love from the Splendour punters, they broke into a cover the INXS classic ‘Need You Tonight’ and pure pandemonium ensued. I left their set thinking Mark Ronson would have to bring his best to beat Client Liaison’s set.
And considering that Client Liaison were playing at Seven Nightclub 18 months ago, it’s fair to say that they are rocketing to the stratosphere. Catch them while you can.
Before I knew it, it was dark and I was heading to the main stage for Of Monsters and Men. A consistent theme of Splendour was my surprise at the sheer crowd size some acts could pull and Of Monsters and Men was certainly a part of that trend. Drawing perhaps the biggest crowd of the night, not even the incoming rain could dampen the crowd’s spirits. For myself, I have never really got around the Icelandic folksters but they played an enjoyable set and I even found myself singing along to their hits.
But the main thing I was waiting to see was the extravaganza that producer Mark Ronson had in store for Splendour. With imposing white columns supporting the live band that enabled guest vocalists full range of the stage, Ronson’s set featured high energy cameos that kept the crowd moving throughout the heavy rain. It was a nice touch for Ronson to prominently feature Australians within his set, from Ella Thomson covering MNDR on 'Bang Bang Bang', Kirin J Callinan providing soulful guitar licks, and Daniel Merriweather with his smooth vocals. Of course, most of us got what we wished for when Ronson hopped down to play guitar for with man of the festival, Kevin Parker. Parker played all three of his feature tracks from Ronson’s most recent album Uptown Special, with the funk-soaked 'Daffodils' being the undoubted high point of his cameo.
Ronson also brought out internationals Keyone Starr, Kyle Falconer, Theophilus London and Andrew Wyatt from Miike Snow for special appearances. All features gave their individual twist to Ronson’s show and kept the set lively and provoking.
Ronson’s set featured a particularly touching moment as he payed tribute to his friend Amy Winehouse for the four-year anniversary of her passing. The band played along to the original vocal track of 'Valerie' and the punters of Splendour were given their first great sing-along of the festival. Leaving Mark Ronson particularly moved and giving his regards with a simple ‘thank you Splendour, that was beautiful’.
Naturally, a significant portion of the crowd attended to hear one song and Ronson happily obliged with an extended version of the mega-hit ‘Uptown Funk’. The vibe rocketed up to 11 as the Amphitheatre went bonkers for some of that funk. Ronson brought out all of his guest stars for a boogie and thank god he did, cause I don’t think I will ever forget Kevin Parker’s incredibly awkward dance moves.
We had completely forgotten about the rain until the end of the set and we faced the grim reality of having to trudge back to our campsite in a torrential downpour, all funked up.
A crusty Saturday began by heading over to the AIM stage/shack to see local Melbourne avian lover Flamingo Jones. Complete with a live band, Jones kicked the day off with a tropical set with guest features from Kanye and Vanessa Amorosi… sort of.
I managed to hobble off in my excruciatingly small gumboots in time to catch Brisbane boys, Dune Rats. Everyone’s favourite stoners brought a wild set complete with inflatable tube men, a giant rat ball, naked streakers and plenty of marijuana references. Sure, Dune Rats aren’t the most elegant or complicated band going around, but they certainly have their charm and it’s almost impossible not to enjoy one of their sets.
Saturday evening turned into marathon of music at the Amphitheatre. I returned to personal favs Pond to kick off the evening. As it was now my eighth (or ninth?) time seeing them, I was fairly familiar with their set. But hey, there is certainly a reason I keep going back. With mate Kevin Parker proudly looking on, Pond played to what drummer Jay Watson acknowledged ‘might be the biggest turnout for the ol’ Pond’. Pond kept true to their formula with a set crammed with explosive psych jams and vividly colourful breakdowns. Their shout out to Brian Eno, otherwise known as ‘the man who made the receding hairline possible’, was definitely a highlight.
Every festival I attend, I try to discover a new act that completely surprises me and becomes my new favourite artist. For Splendour 2015, it was without a doubt The Dandy Warhols. I’m not saying they were necessarily the best act I saw, but for what I was expecting and what I got, it was safe to say I was a stunned mullet. I really only had heard their singles ‘Bohemian Like You’ and ‘We Used to be Friends’ previously so I was expecting a 2000’s indie rock outfit. And thus my naivety about their music was ruthlessly and embarrassingly exposed as The Dandy Warhols dropped a set more akin to Pink Floyd than the Strokes. With a dazzling display of tripped out guitar effects and wacky, spaced-out explorations, The Dandy Warhols thoroughly won me over as a fan with their depth and consistency. Plus, when someone let off a flare in ‘Bohemian Like You’, it was just the tits.
As it is with the inevitable nature of music festivals, I was left with the decision to either see Nancy Whang of LCD Soundsystem or the Wombats, and due to my company and ailing gumboots I decided to stick it out at the amphitheatre. Even with their popularity, I just never really dug the Wombats; I find their songs cringey and corny. But I also knew that festivals are their element so I decided to give them a chance. Whilst my impression of their music live stayed relatively the same, I couldn’t help but acknowledge how insane everyone in the crowd was going to the Liverpudlians’ indie-pop bangers, although my personal highlight was the random two-minute heavy metal jam they did right at the end for some reason. Why don’t they do that more?
Maybe I should’ve stick to my guns and seen Nancy Whang… who by all accounts was pure bliss. Oh well, you win some, you lose some.
The best thing about seeing the Wombats was perhaps it granted me prime position to see Florence + The Machine. Florence and co. are one of those acts that I would never really buy tickets to see on their own but I was still super keen to see them at the festival opportunity.
And I was sure glad I did.
The headline performance was utterly mesmerising. Backed by a powerhouse of a band, Florence’s colossal voice conquered Splendour and it was clear that all in attendance were left in pure awe. No mean feat considering they drew undoubtedly the biggest crowd of the entire festival.
I could go on, but all I can really say is Florence Welch is a complete goddess and I thought they were the best act from the whole festival… and I only knew a handful of songs.
An even crustier Sunday began with waking up to the sounds of rain and the inevitable incoming doom that meant more mud.
As I slipped and sloshed around the campsite, I discovered a new way of wearing my seemingly microscopic gumboots that left me pain-free. YAY! But seriously thank the gods of Splendour because I’m pretty sure if my mates heard one more time about how my feet hurt I would have driven home alone.
Anyways, with the rain soon stopping and feet finally ready to boogie, vibe was at an all-time festival high.
The first act of the day was British rockers and Lucifer's favourite angels Wolf Alice. Coming off a buzzing reception from Glastonbury and their new album, the hype, and the consequential pressure, was on Wolf Alice. In response, Wolf Alice produced on the combo of unforgiving and eccentric noise rock combustions mixed with lead singer Ellie Rousey’s subtle feminine intuition and leadership. Ending with the triple punch of ‘Bros’, ‘Giant Peach’ and ‘Moaning Lisa Smile’, arguably the band’s three biggest songs, Wolf Alice delivered a boisterously wild set that resulted in the crowd doubling in size by the end.
I was then able to catch Melbourne indie poppers Alpine. I’d seen them previously and dug their first record so I was game to check out how they progressed. Unfortunately, whether it is from the amount of mud at the Mix Up Stage or just the realisation that I had complete lack of interest, I was left underwhelmed by their performance. They played well enough and the crowd got around them, but Alpine just didn’t resonate with me. I like the fact they have two female lead singers, but more often than not they just looked they were each trying too hard to grab attention away from the other.
Again I was faced with another timetable clash between Melbourne disco party boys Total Giovanni and British two-piece Royal Blood. Considering that I have never been happier getting absolutely destroyed in mosh than at Royal Blood, I went for the British boys.
As much as I tried to be well behaved and stay with the girlfriend, as soon as I heard the opening riff of ‘Figure It Out' I was off into the mosh, leaving her in the back window (repercussions followed but totally worth it). The set was exactly as you expect a Royal Blood set to be: anarchic, rowdy and bold. The extended version of hit single ‘Out of the Black’ featuring a cover of Iron Man was especially riotous and left me battered, bruised and wanting for more.
The darling band of the festival, Tame Impala, followed on next. You could make a very easy case that more people were excited to see Kevin Parker and company than they were for headliners Blur. Having just released new album Currents the previous week, Tame Impala were riding a wave of excitement and hype as they greeted the crowd. Opening with a prog-rock jam that morphed into 'Let It Happen', the first song released off the new album, Tame Impala delivered a set of pure psychedelic bliss, stapling themselves as future festival headliners. However, I, and many others, was bitterly disappointed that they finished their set 10 minutes earlier than scheduled. Especially considering that I heard them sound-checking new tunes ‘Eventually’ and ‘Cause I’m a Man’ earlier in the day. Both these songs were left off the set list and at least one, if not both, would have fitted in the time remaining. When you’re the ‘it’ band of the festival, it’s short-sighted to do that at such an important gig. As much as I love Tame Impala, and believe me I really do, I can’t pass them with flying colours for this performance.
The last act of the festival was legendary Britpop superstars, Blur. Hitting our shores collectively for the first time in 18 years, I saw an increased number of older punters hit the mosh and get ready for their time to shine. I was pleasantly surprised with the warm reception their newer tunes got from a festival crowd, but it was incomparable to the insanity of the classics. The words to songs like ‘Parklife’, ‘Tender’ and ‘Girls and Boys’ were shouted back fearlessly to provocative lead singer Damon Albarn and inspired a passionate performance from the quartet. Blur were exciting, daring and at no point whatsoever did I even think that they were ‘past it’, despite their heyday being 20 years ago.
And of course, there is nothing on earth like being in a crowd on 30,000 punters screaming ‘woo-hoo’ for the absolutely outrageous 'Song 2'.
But you get the picture.
So that’s a wrap, Splendour. Even with your abundance of mud, your nonsensical approach to camping, and shortage of appropriately sized gumboots, you were pretty damn good this year and sure as hell made that drive worth it.
Hopefully we can come back next year and give an even bigger review...
... you know, like if we had media passes...
Alex Capper, once affectionally called by Ross & John of 3AW as the '7 foot fucker', loves the Essendon Football Club, stalking reddit and dabbing. He thinks he can speak French, but he can't.