St. Jerome's Laneway Festival @ The RNA

Boutique music in the blistering heat.

In a time when festivals everywhere are foundering, Laneway remains one of my favourite boutique events. I think the lineup this year was a bit leftfield, maybe, even by Laneway's music-nerd standards and some of my friends stayed away. There was still a whole lot on the bill that caught my eye, however, and it started in the blistering midday heat, with Koi Child. The West Australian hype kids are known as a live band: they began their rather unbelievable story as a scratch act whose first gig so impressed Kevin Parker he gave them a regular slot supporting Tame Impala. Appropriately there was a lot on display on the Future Classic Stage. The mixture of hip hop, jazz, funk and soul was impressive, though the rather shoddy sound took a little bit of the shine off. Cruz Patterson's powerhouse rapping was largely inaudible and, oh well, festival sound, I thought. I was set for a day of rushed soundchecks and muddy mixes.

Didn't turn out that way though, kudos to the sound techs, they got their balls in a row on all stages for ... pretty much the rest of the day. Really pleased to hear the vocals nearly uniformly high in the mix, so unusual in rock. Haven't seen a lot of Camp Cope or heard a lot, actually, but I took some time to hear them at the Good Better Best stage, largely because a lot of people I know rate them. Sorta like a female fronted Smith Street Band right? I'm sure I've set a lot of fans' teeth grating, sorry! Thoroughly emotional alt rock, I can see why they're generating the interest.

GL are one of my favourites. The duo of Bamboos' drummer Graeme Pogson and Dorsal Fins' vocalist Ella Thompson make badass electro-boogie, ranging from nu-disco to new wave, Madonna-esque pop to early house. The load-out was a bit different from when I saw them last: heavier on the synthesisers, allowing them to do more than just drum and sing against a backing track (although they killed it with just that much). Honestly, I figured this was going to be one of my picks of the day but it was sooo hot I could barely move, never mind cut a rug and I had to beat a retreat.

My disappointment was remedied by the much more temperature appropriate alt-country of Julia Jacklin. I only caught the end of the set, but the numbers included Pool Party and finished with the title track to her album Don't Let The Kids Win. For that last, she stripped the band back to just herself and a guitar, with some backing vocals from her drummer. It was movingly beautiful. Honestly, I don't know how you perform a song like that every night – so full of sadness and desperation, but the emotion sounded no less raw than the first time I heard it. Don't tell anyone, but a few tears may have mingled with the sweat.

Techno is another tough choice for a sweltering Summer's day in Australia, but I found a breezy spot at the edge of the crowd for Roland Tings and enjoyed myself much better. Honestly I've been hearing some less than positive press for Tings lately and debriefing after the set, some others thought the clunky live mix – Tings told the crowd he wanted to do some live beat mixing – was a bit too much to bear. I dunno, I know what they mean, but as the thing reached a climax with the final leg doing a psychedelic blend of latin house and techno, it kinda won me over.

Laneway opened up Brisbane to sixteen and seventeen year olds this year and they seemed to spend most of their day in front of the big names on the Good Better Best and Never Let It Rest stages. The hot and claustrophobic shed which housed both sure had its share of idiots and I ran into a lot of them trying to get in to see D.D Dumbo. Even the guy standing behind me adding his own wooh-ooh-oohs to every song, at the top of his voice, couldn't obscure the fact that Oliver Hugh Perry was just killing it. Every time I've seen him previously his complex setup of loop pedals and electronics had some kind of critical failure which detracted from his sugary but utterly surreal pop. Here though, with much of the complexity delegated to a full band, it was just flabbergasting. I was a bit worried, from his recent album, that his voice wouldn't be able to take the fairly intense strain that he puts on it. What strain? He actually sounded better than on the record. Soaring to the heavens, the comparisons to Gotye, Sting and Phil Collins are nothing less than accurate: quite an instrument.

I caught some of Mick Jenkins' set. The conscious rapper is a bit of a breath of fresh air out of gangstariffic Chi' Town. The beats were diverse and Mick's rapping was athletic and crystal clear. He's no slouch as a soul-singer either. He does like his symbolism and turned it into some fairly heavy call and response with the crowd. Honestly, if I heard him call out Drink! More! Water! one more time I might have gone a bit batty (if you want an explanation, look it up), but, you know, he was trying to find a connection with a new crowd in a new country and … it's always this way, with Laneway's token African-American rappers: it's just a bit of a weird dynamic trying to come together with aaall the well-heeled white kids.

Car Seat Headrest, though hidden away up on the smaller Spinning Top stage, were the number one band to see for many people I know. Live, Will Toledo's Virginia outfit lacked maybe a few of the production bells and whistles that make their recorded work pretty great, but their arty, complex rock still has a lot to offer and, for all that it's complex there's an emotional immediacy which can't help but bleed through. Perhaps that's amplified by the stripped back live performance. Toledo has a kind of (American) Jarvis Cocker suave which doesn't hurt either.

It being the 26th, it was a significant day for A.B. Original, and understandably the atmosphere was a bit sensitive, even tense. Once again it was black rappers facing down a crowd of callow white kids. They let everyone know exactly what's important to them, giving the stage over to traditional performers from the North Stradbroke Quandamooka people (and I think locals from the Turrbal?) for the first quarter hour of the set. When A.B Original hit the stage themselves, Trials tried to defuse the weirdness by acknowledging it and what it was like to be performing really politically, racially charged, indigenous rap to a bunch of white folks. He -graciously- said that every white person could be an honorary black person for the duration as they launched into 2 Black 2 Strong. Trials continued to play diplomat, for the length of the set (which is a weird thing for a guy from Funkoars to do). Briggs by contrast seemed like he had balled up fury simmering just beneath the surface, the whole way through. It was kind of strange watching the two playing off each other that way, but when they rapped it just didn't matter: Briggs in particular has a voice like a wrecking ball and together they killed it. They went all out on the guests, too. On the decks was none other than DJ Eclipse of X-Ecutioners imparting an oldschool turntable flavour. Caiti Baker bashed out her big soul sound on a number of the album tracks she's featured on. Given recent history you might have been expecting Thelma Plum to round it out, but instead Dan Sultan made an unexpected but motherf***ing timely appearance for a rendition of January 26th. I think a lot more Australians would consider changing the day if they'd been there.

Sometimes I feel a bit guilty about how easy Tycho is to listen to, but after eight hours rocking in thirty degree heat his blissful electronic post-rock and its accompanying, mesmerising videography pulled my tired body out of reach of the pain and into a happy trance. The horrendous crowd at the Good Better Best stage were pretty chill for most of that, but I did meet my horror punters for the day. A tall couple crashed into me and stood directly in front. She started dancing like a crowd dispersal device. They were all over each other in a … not happy? Not druggy? Kinda neurotic, nearly broke-up just before, needed to be really demonstrative way … snogged for ten mintues and left. Seriously. F*** you.

There were quite a few clashes for things I wanted to see, but none bigger than Tycho and Floating Points. The snoggers helped convince me to leg it up the hill and catch … very nearly the same show. Floating Points does so many things I wasn't quite sure what he would bring to Brisbane. As it turned out, spacey, electronic, experimental post-rock. Both he and Tycho flirted witch dance and the real distinguishing features were that Floating Points was more jazzy and intellectual, while Tycho was just more flat-out blissful. Both really good.

I finished the evening with Sampa The Great. The last time I saw her was at GOMA Up Late and the difference between the two shows could hardly have been more pronounced. Before she just had DJ Godriguez, this time she had the full band. Before it was all extended crowd banter and the choppiest breaks between short songs, this time she just performed everything back-to-back and proved why she's the critics' go-to for hiphop and soul in Australia.

It was a shame the crowd for Sampa was small, but, y'know, Nick Murphy, Tame Impala. As the set drew to a close, rain started to beat down and I ducked under a narrow eve, next to some other punters. “At least it's cool now” I joked lamely. The guy next to me misheard and said “oh yeah, she's great”. Most. Authentic. Thing. I heard all day. Kinda awesome. Thankyou Laneway for another exhausting year. Assuming there are still rock festivals and I'm not too old to get in, I'll be back next year.

- Chris Cobcroft.

Zed Facts

When 4ZZZ's original space was being built by hand under the Schonell Theatre at Queensland University, a baby grand piano from the theatre above was bricked in to Studio 3. We don't know how they got it out...