North Byron Parklands
Thursday, July 24, 2014 – Sunday, July 27, 2014
On first impression, Splendour In The Grass was absolute carnage. We’re talking 17-year-olds double dropping in line while the stereotypical alpha males chugged goon bags in the car park, sensory overload, and an utterly overwhelming amount to do, see, play and eat. By 10pm Thursday night, the North Byron Parklands (otherwise beautiful) looked like a post-apocalyptic scene from The Walking Dead.
The DMAs delivered a set with enough confidence and control of the audience to blow any initial hesitation away. They had the crowd in the palm of their hands for 45 minutes and proved that they have a lot more to offer than an overplayed single on triple j rotation. DZ Death Rays, one of the most sonically impressive bands of the day, pulled the first big crowd to the Amphitheatre stage. Their polished brand of psychedelic rock seemed to come so naturally to the boys, a polish that is usually lacking in the genre.
Sydneysiders The Preatures got off to a slow start and found it hard to match the intensity of Death Rays, but once they hit familiar territory with Better Than It Ever Could Be the energy lifted. They rounded out the set with a cover of the Aussie classic Am I Ever Going To See Your Face Again?, to which the crowd happily chanted back, ‘No way, get fucked, fuck off’, and finished off with crowd favourite Is This How You Feel?
Oz rock veterans Spiderbait delivered an incredible set to stumble upon halfway through – the three-piece still live the nose-thumbing dream of Frenzal Rhomb and The Hard-Ons. Kram delivered a genuinely enthusiastic performance from the drumkit, at one point bringing his kid on stage (the other was a little “too instrospective” to take up the opportunity); Damien Whitley worked tirelessly through every polka-punk riff, at one point ripping through a solo using his teeth. Black Betty was fed generously to a mostly ‘90s-born crowd, and received with as much love.
The Presets, for all their national and international love, have a sound bordering a teeny bit on ‘Cool Dad’. Their set, though, was seamless, very well received, and beautifully designed, with alternative drops, enormous LED hexagons, and frequent Julian Hamilton Cool Dad dancing. Their hard-hitting set concluded with bangers Goodbye Future, Are You The One and This Boy’s In Love.
Interpol, repping the stiff-upper-lipped The National look since before The National could get to it, played a deliberately inexpressive set: aside from a jittery lead guitarist who didn’t get the memo, no hint of audience pandering was given. Lead singer, Paul Banks, played with deliberate restraint – every guitar line was tight, to the point of flatness, and no unsung words were given except for a weak ‘Thank you very much’ or a ‘That was Interpol’. Needless to say, Australian radio favourite Barricade was not played.
For many people making the Splendour pilgrimage, Outkast’s single Australian show on their commemorative 20th anniversary tour was the reason to be there. Fighting through a overfilling nosebleed section was 100 per cent worth tripping over diehard fans’ urine bottles and being splattered by glow paint. Watching Andre 3000 (in a black jumpsuit with an oversized ‘SOLD’ tag and a silver New Romantics wig) and Big Boi (in pastel Africa pants and faux-bling) work was surreal. Andre’s fond of a doom metal growl, Big Boi does a shocking Australian impression, and with surprise guest Sleepy Brown they both stormed tirelessly through everything from Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik to Speakerboxxx. Don’t believe the bad Coachella hype.
The biggest travesty of the festival was the distinct lack of people watching Melbourne nine-piece, Saskwatch. The onstage presence is electrifying to say the least. They had the crowd bouncing from the very first chord of A Love Divine and kept that energy flowing until closing the night with These Hands. Nckechi Anele’s voice was flawless, and the band played as relaxed and spontaneously as if you were watching them in a small bar to 50 people.
Kelis was boring. She obviously didn’t want to be there and had next to no engagement with the crowd. Her milkshake wasn’t worth going to the yard for. Sky Ferreira, too, performed listlessly – her Joan Jett-esque appearance didn’t stand up.
Violent Soho have been touring madly off the back of Hungry Ghost, and performed with the grunge intensity you’d hope for. Nothing out of the ordinary for these guys – only three weeks ago, they played a string of three Perth shows in a row – but a rewarding one, with prominent hits such as Jesus Was My Girlfriend making a pronounced appearance. As far as their skater-slacker ethos goes, the most radical they got was a shout-out to stoners in the crowd, and a sheepish, ‘It’s a long time past 420’.
Australian wave made a significant appearance, with the Mix-Up tent featuring Peking Duk, Basenji, and a particularly on-point Wave Racer. Although the open-air tent wasn’t particularly conducive to daytime sets – dim enough to be seedy, not dark enough to effectively used projectors – Wordlife dropped a deeply appreciated set, culminating in a filthy-innocent inclusion of You Used To Fuck Me. Hot Dub Time Machine played an uninspired but bloody fun party set, highlights including a balloon drop for Nena and a forced audience crouch for House Of Pain.
For anyone who caught Group Love at Big Day Out earlier in the year, you know that they are worthy of their slot on the main stage at Splendour. They had the entire amphitheatre on their feet from their first song, I’m With You. This is a band that breathes so much more life into their songs during their shows that despite what you think you’ve heard from them, you need to see them live.
Penultimate Saturday act FOALS were absolutely on-point, and often wordless – they opened with a math-rock instrumental, for instance – and delivered the kind of smart, pointillist music a Splendour crowd could still groove to. A sweaty, soulful Yannis Philipakkis did his band’s name justice, practically prancing across the stage in an incredibly energetic set that occasionally drifted from Vampire Weekend pop into DnB breaks.
For some reason, Foster The People broke out on stage to an underwhelming and disinterested audience. Frontman, Mark Foster, worked every inch of the stage as he led the band and tried his best to engage the uninterested crowd. It wasn’t until they closed the set with Pumped Up Kicks that everyone finally got up to dance and sing along. Put this down to them being placed before Lily Allen.
Festival circuit queen Lily Allen burst onto a stage full of illuminated milk bottles with back up dancers in tow. ‘Are you ready to close this fucking festival, Splendour?’ Allen asked, before jumping straight into Smile. The session band’s live interpretations of her radio-friendly pop suited the festival vibe perfectly and some what made some of her less popular songs more enjoyable. Despite continually talking about her camel toe and asking someone to throw her a fag, Allen seems to have matured her performance since last time she graced our shores in 2007.
TIM MILROY & ZOE KILBOURN