St Jerome’s Laneway Festival has regularly counted among this reviewer’s favourite days of the year, ever since its 2009 WA debut in the Perth Cultural Centre. And yet we approached the 2019 edition with trepidation; on paper at least, the line up looked closer to Groovin The Moo, with Australian headliners and an obligatory smattering of internationals playing (mostly) the side stage.
Added to this was the downsizing with one stage scrapped entirely, a number of acts who had been to WA recently, and one that hadn’t – arguably the 2019 line up’s biggest international drawcard, Mitski – not coming to Perth, and it felt like the promoters were preparing us for a fall.
After all, this is the festival that has blessed WA audiences with incredible international performances from the likes of Slowdive, Savages, Bat for Lashes, The Hold Steady, FKA Twigs, The xx, St Vincent, Grimes, Purity Ring and Car Seat Headrest in years gone by. By contrast, this year looked recycled. On paper.
Perhaps it was the lowered expectations but whichever way you spin it, the day itself was a blinder. The lower numbers meant it was easy to get around and finding a good viewing spot was never an issue. The new layout was a dream, keeping the best bits like the LNWY.CO stage under the trees and doing away with the hot fourth stage in the carpark.
This proved a masterstroke for Jon Hopkins, who produced the set of the festival with an epic showing of original techno you didn’t have to like techno to enjoy. Really it was a VJ show, the music and ecstatic visuals were so in synch, and in the micro-forest setting his show’s peaks were an unbridled joy.
In fact, neither DJing and VJing really do justice to Hopkins, who brings as much live sound as prerecorded – his ability to turn up the white noise live made every drop sharper and every sound somehow heavier than anything in electronic music today. There was brutality in the beauty and vice versa.
It was a shame Hopkins clashed with Gang of Youths, who were owning their own headline spot on the mainstage, in what was likely their biggest WA show to date. Likewise for What So Not, who brought a stunning visual assault headlining the adjacent main stage and rocking out with live guitars and a mighty cover of Silverchair’s Freak.
But it was back at the smaller LNWY.CO stage that Middle Kids made a strong case for band of the day with a barrage of excellent songs. For a band with one album, they seem to have an awful lot of great material at their disposal, and frontwoman Hannah Joy brought the requisite amounts of natural energy on an upside down right-handed guitar (played left-handed, Jimi Hendrix style). Never Start to open, the blissful falsetto at the end of Edge of Town, and an amazing build at the end of Brought In were all incredible, while new single Salt Eyes coming so soon after their debut album last year suggests this is one Australian band on a roll.
Courtney Barnett was also in fine form at the main stages, and really kickstarted the evening just after 7pm. Playing a similar set to her Metropolis Fremantle one last year, she dropped Avant Gardener and Need A Little Time early but it was the one-two of Nameless Faceless, which saw Camp Cope singing along on stage, and intense rocker I’m Not Your Mother, I’m Not Your Bitch complete with spectacular lighting, that really stood out.
Barnett had earlier also joined Camp Cope on stage, in a set that was an early afternoon highlight. Singer Georgia Maq walked it how she talks it, calling out sexual assault in the crowd, promoting discussion around appropriate behaviours and backing it up with affecting songs like Jet Fuel Can’t Melt Steel Beams.
Even better was hip hop up and comer Baker Boy, who proved a treat for early arrivals bringing culture, didgeridoo, dancers and fun choreography to an energetic set. Last song Marryuna even proved he has the maddest flow going around.
WA was represented by Carla Geneve before midday, and a new look Methyl Ethel giving us a taste of their new album out this week, before they asked why we had to go and cut our hair then finished on an impressive live version of Drink Wine. Meanwhile, the Girls Rock! stage was a bit of a failure (despite being a great initiative), with plenty of amazing local talent and a solo Georgia Maq getting drowned by the main stages – when Maq couldn’t be heard from two metres away over The Smith Street Band it seemed particularly insulting.
Late additions The Smith Street Band covered Icona Pop’s I Don’t Care and Metallica’s Enter Sandman between their own pub rock standards; Skegss were accurately described by one punter as “like Jebediah went surfing”; Masego had a fairly glamourous six-piece band featuring live sax; and Clairo was a rare let down on a consistent day’s play.
The pick of the afternoon’s acts before sundown, however, had to be New York’s Parquet Courts, who brought attitude, swagger and X-Press’ number one album of last year Wide Awake! to WA. The latter translated particularly well on the title track, plus set opener Total Football and firebrand single Almost Had to Start a Fight/In and Out of Patience. They didn’t forget their early fans either either playing Master of My Craft and Borrowed Time back to back, then Light Up Gold II closing the set. They may be regular visitors but it’s always a pleasure with Parquet Courts.
A successful year despite smaller numbers, with a line up that batted above its average and probably the best festival venue in WA right now, Laneway proved itself to be the fest to beat once again in 2019. In retrospect, when you have a bill featuring Jon Hopkins, Middle Kids, Parquet Courts and Courtney Barnett, it really shouldn’t have come as a surprise.
Photos by Linda Dunjey