Didn’t make it to Byron this year? We sent two Time Out reviewers to experience the bands, the DJs, the lack of sleep/showers and the splendid atmosphere that makes it all worthwhile
For a sweet, sweet three days, 50,000-odd punters made a winter seaside sabbatical to North Byron Parklands for world-class music, a diverse arts program and camping good times at Splendour in the Grass.
Arriving a day before things really got going, we discovered that Thursday evening wasn’t so much about the live music than it was about the DJs (Wordlife, Sable and LDRU), the rapid-fire succession of comedians in the Forum Tent (Bedroom Philosopher, Tom Ballard, Josh Earl and about 20 more) and craft singles night at Splendour in the Craft. The lesson here? Any festival in which you can go from raving in a sweaty lantern-lit disco den to DIYing within minutes can’t stray too far from awesome.
Day one: Friday July 25
Waking up to the hot Byron sun (something that we Melburnians had almost forgot existed), it soon became clear that it was up to the emerging Aussie bands to really get the energy going. At the dance-focussed Mix Up Stage, Adelaide’s 18-year-old electro-rapper Tkay Maidza kicked things off at noon. A few hours later, she made another appearance with local producer Ned East, aka Kilter, who impressed the crowd with his percussion-laden, tropical live set. Confirming what we said last year, this kid is one to keep your eye on.
Next up was a trek over to the Amphitheatre – the festival’s new main stage. Set in the bottom of two calf-burning hills, it provided perfect views for lounging from afar, if punters were so inclined.
But if those milling around the Amphitheatre expected to ease into the weekend slowly, then Queensland rockers DZ Deathrays soon thrashed away that notion – in the best way possible. Ending with a circle pit-inducing rendition of their dance-punk single ‘Gina Works at Hearts’ – complete with pyrotechnics – they remained a solid highlight of the festival despite their early slot.
Back at the Mix Up Stage. Danny Harley, aka the Kite String Tangle charmed an enthusiastic young crowd with his surprise swirly synth hit ‘Given the Chance’. The afternoon (and the undercover tent) heated up with a sweltering set from Peking Duck, which offered plenty of eye-candy in the form of guest appearances from the Kite String Tangle, Safia and 360, and plenty of C02 smoke and flames. Afterwards, Burka Som Sistema’s high-energy Latin jams had the crowd totally rammed.
If Brisbane guitar-pop darlings Ball Park Music were just finding their feet in their 2012 Splendour performance, then this time around, their Amphitheatre set was proof of just how far they’d come. For the rest of the weekend, sun-baked strangers opened conversations with, “Did you see Ball Park’s ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ cover?” Woe to those who missed out, for surely, a loved-up festival experience doesn’t get better than belting Galileo! to your fellow festival-goers.
Yep, festival FOMO is a truly terrible thing, and tough timetable choices had to be made. Some – like choosing the energetic, yet ultimately predictable Presets over Kelis – will weigh heavy on this reviewer’s mind for weeks to come. Our other Time Out-er opted to see if Kelis’ milkshakes bought any boys to the yard, and yes, they sure did. The gutsy goddess’ set was jam-packed with hip-hop-pop gems like ‘Trick Me’, and of course, ‘Milkshake’. However, the set was skewed more soulful and slowed-down than the booty-shaking sweat-fest we were expecting. That said, remaining at the Amphitheatre for the entirety of Interpol instead of cutting through the crowds to Childish Gambino proved worthwhile. The New York four-piece powered through a festival-friendly set of introspective, moody favourites and hooky basslines, starting with ‘Say Hello to the Angels’ and ‘Evil’.
By the time Interpol were finished, the crowd had beefed right up to the fringes of the Amphitheatre. The reason? Outkast, of course. There was a sense that musical history was about to be made; after all, the hip-hop innovators reformed this year to celebrate 20 years. Andre 3000 and Big Boi bounced onto stage with a high-energy performance of ‘B.O.B.’, oozing charisma through their chalk-and-cheese personalities that somehow work so well together. Unfortunately, it soon felt as if the crowd, ravenous for nostalgia, waned in enthusiasm during the songs from Outkast's back-catalogue that only the die-hards at the front knew well. Of course, everyone went wild for ‘Hey Ya’, ‘Miss Jackson’ and ‘Roses’ – but when the latter was finished, scores of satisfied fans were spotting leaving the Amphitheatre.
Day two: Saturday July 26
An iced coffee, tasty taco and visit to the giant blow-up sculpture of Lionel Ritchie’s head (exactly what it sounds like) later, we found our way back to the Mix Up Stage. Saturday kicked off with zippy sets from Tom Purcell, aka Wave Racer, followed by his fellow Sydney mate Basenji.
She might’ve emerged in the early afternoon, but Sky Ferreira's smoky, swaggering presence drew her diverse crowd deep into her dark, yet irresistibly catchy 2013 debut record Night Time, My Time. The sopping blonde hair on her controversial half-naked album cover was now black and messy, and the 22-year-old wore an oversized ’80s metal band T-shirt as a dress, a leather jacket and mirrored sunglasses. Spitting out lyrics like ‘It ain’t your right’, her deeply confessional lyrics hit even harder live. Despite fame finding her early (she was signed to Parlophone at 16), the LA singer/model/actress was surprisingly humble, breathlessly admitting “I didn’t expect so many people to be here!” before launching into the distorted retro-dipped track ‘Boys’.
Next up was yet another Sydney producer Touch Sensitive, whose faultless set was funky, filled with bass-heavy bangers as well as some of our favourite remixes from the past year.
Zipping over to the Amphitheatre, local talent once again won out out as Brisbane’s Violent Soho took to the stage for their biggest ‘HELL FUCK YEAH’ of their careers. When they unleashed their ubiquitous ‘Covered in Chrome’, even the security guards couldn’t stop punters jumping the barriers to join their cult-like mob of fans in the mosh pit.
If reviewers have neglected to mention mash-up maverick DJ Tom Loud – aka the ‘captain’ of Hot Dub Time Machine – it’s probably because, admittedly, he is a bit of a dork. The premise of Hot Dub is that his crowd are passengers in a time machine that has travelled back to the ’50s, and the only way to get back to 2014 is to jive, boogie and head-bang their way through the greatest hits of each decade. For some who’d been on the journey before, it was a rehash of the same party trick. But for everyone else, it was like a perfect pop-tastic house party, without any need to maintain any sense of cool (you can’t when you’re stomping to Queen or rapping all the words to ‘Gangsta’s Paradise’). Besides, a synth-heavy set from Motez and some breezy indie pop from Metronomy restored the Mix Up Tent’s electro cred soon enough.
Lots of people remained at the Mix Up Stage for Rufus, who’d bagged an even bigger crowd without Two Door Cinema Club to compete with. The Sydney three-piece could rely on knocking out a heavily produced/pre-recorded set quite easily, but instead they played live, showing off Tyrone’s vocals and James Hunt’s snappy drum skills, making for an super-danceable end to the evening.
For others who snuck off to the Amphitheatre during Metronomy, there was barely time to wipe of the sweat before it was time to catch Foals. After apparently getting a “tepid” response from Splendour’s organisers when they asked to play the festival, the UK indie dance-rockers were announced last week as the replacements for Irish band Two Door Cinema Club. From the start, the band pulled the crowd in on a tight leash, sucking them in with tight guitar licks and building up to huge, heavy distortion and wild vocals from frontman Yannis Phillipakis. Concluding with their 2008 track ‘Two Steps, Twice’, the band were the real headliners of the night, despite the far more subdued City and Colour finishing things off with slide guitars and Dallas Green’s dreamy lyrics.
Day three: Sunday July 27
In what was beginning to feel like festival déjà vu (or maybe it was the overload of midriffs and flowers woven into beards that were frying our brains), younger punters once again flocked to the Amphitheatre early to show their devotion to Aussie rockers. This time, it was Melbourne four-piece Kingswood. They’ve done over 100 shows in the past year, and it showed: Fergus Linacre’s supreme retro rock’n’roll falsetto never sounded better than in their performance of fan favourite ‘Ohio’.
Kingswood’s unfailing energy wasn’t matched until the Californian indie-pop group Grouplove took to the stage. As a versatile, upbeat five-piece who love jumping around the stage in sparkly outfits, they’re not too dissimilar from Ball Park Music. And after they whipped out ‘Ways to Go’, they revealed that they’d also prepared a cover: Beyonce’s recent track ‘Drunk in Love’. Cue sing-a-longs and late-afternoon grinding.
By this time, Chvrches had a big crowd to impress. Yes, the Glasgow trio had got their melodic, blissful electro-pop sound down pat (and a hypnotic back projection to boot) but frontwoman Lauren Mayberry remained relatively motionless towards the back of the stage for most of the set, making for a vibe that was far more low-key than it should’ve been.
While innovative New York collaborators Nicolas Jaar and Dave Harrington of Darkside entranced punters with their electronica-meets-psych-rock soundscapes, a female-heavy crowd awaited the appearance of Lily Allen at the Amphitheatre. Set to close the festival in a flurry of pure pop, Allen had not played in Australia since 2007, and emerged a decidedly more measured performer this time around. Kicking things off with the flippantly cheeky track ‘LDN’, then cutting it off short for her recent single ‘Hard Out Here’, the Brit's sharp-tongued commentary and tongue-in-cheek irony in her songs was matched by her flirtatious digs at the policemen standing at the barriers. While songs from her third album Sheezus didn’t come close to getting the same ecstatic reception as her older stuff, her set was peppered with entertaining back-up dancers, an impressive band and a hilarious quick-fire montage of naked male models with graphics like lobsters, cars and aeroplanes superimposed onto their crotches during the hoedown finale ‘Not Fair’.
And that was it – unless you were one of the ravers at the Earthcore-esque Tipi Village, which by then had become a full-blown bush doof. For many, the night concluded with well-earned food truck sustenance. Others marvelled at how they’d actually made it through three full days of pure Splendour madness (and far lower standards of personal hygiene) alive. But trust us on this one: no matter how drained you feel the next morning, it doesn’t take long before you wish you were rolling into the hallowed parklands again. Next time.