It's tough out there for a music festival, but the organisers of Laneway get it right.
Laneway is not a festival that relies on a sense of nostalgia to sell tickets. Back in 2010, when the event made its New Zealand debut at a relatively small and cramped space in Auckland’s Britomart, things were slightly different; that line-up banked on reviving the past, with Echo and the Bunnymen, The Dirty Three, Daniel Johnston, and The 3Ds among the names that played alongside then-emerging acts like Florence and The Machine and The xx.
But things done changed. Laneway isn't here to pander to no cool dad, like the “family friendly” festivals that also fill our summer. (It’s 2016 - why can’t we seem to accept that no one needs to see Modest Mouse play live ever again?)
So no, this was not the time for looking back. Well, except for the fact 90s / early 00s alt-rock trio High Dependency Unit reformed for the festival, a moment of contentedness for the arms-crossed audience skewing the event’s median age.
Laneway 2K16 succeeded by keeping true to its promise of delivering untrodden talent straight to our doorstep. And so, after a particularly enthusiastic set from DIIV, this year’s highlights came quick with a mid-afternoon back-to-back run from Shamir and The Internet - two acts who showcase their album’s weird soulfulness particularly well on stage. Shamir, the futuristic non-conformist; The Internet, cool and composed.
From there it was onto the smaller Cactus Cat stage for a ground-rattling and triumphant set from Vince Staples. During a quick intermission between songs, while puffing on an inhaler, Staples told the crowd: “When I was young, I hung around a lot of white people - that’s why I feel comfortable here.” Later on he would shout out, “my Usos in the building”. There was also a bit about Steven Adams and another about how he trusts no cops, let alone anyone who plays one on TV. But while he’s only just beginning to be appreciated for his wit, it was his sword-sharp raps people were there to hear. For the set, album joints were interspersed with cuts from his EP. Songs were kept short; a verse, a chorus, then onto the next one.
Elsewhere, Thundercat felt a little out of place with his existential bass noodling, but it was still mean. And while it meant missing Courtney Barnett (who played Laneway just last year), the payoff was seeing Silicon’s kinda-notorious performance involving Kody Nielson scaling the outside of the Thunderdome and singing from atop an ambulance, much to the amusement of the medical and security troop watching on. His bro-in-arms, The DHDFDs’ Scot Brown, did much the same and rarked it up in the crowd, which seemed to be the entire reason he was there.
As the sun went down, dream-pop act Beach House played in semi-darkness and proved they could outdo their performance from 2011’s showing at Aotea Square. It could have been the heat, but their last run of songs - ‘Sparks’, ‘Myth’ and ‘Elegy To The Void’ - were particularly momentous.
More than anything else, though, this year was about the three acts that closed out the main stages. Despite no real association, Grimes, Chvrches and Flume are artists that are all somewhat caught between the worlds of mainstream pop and their DIY-ish roots. It made for a seamless run to end the evening, with no doubt that all three had a vote of confidence from the crowd.
A few complaints: despite the open space, at times it still felt like a battle to find shelter away from the sun. Also, can we just put all rap shows on the bigger main stage from now on, please? They deserve it.
And one other thing: it’s time to retire the bindi look. Trust us on this.
Yesterday marked the last time that Laneway will be held in Silo Park, and while it seems to be in a good place, it’s still tough out there for a music festival. The game is the game, and this one is especially high-risk. So while we’ve watched others like Soulfest, Westfest and Echo all fall over in the past few months, it’s especially gratifying to see it work out when organisers take a chance in believing in themselves and what they have to offer.
Let’s see where they go from here.