In spite of a few glitches, Laneway proved once again that, for punters, it is the Auckland festival that matters.
It’s funny to think that a year after we all slunk into Laneway the day after news of Donald Trump’s first very bad decision (if you can’t remember that far back it was the announcement of the nightmarish immigration ban), this year’s festival was kicked off in typically upbeat fashion by none other than everyone’s favourite pregnant prime minister, Jacinda Ardern.
Opening the festival with a speech that I didn’t quite get there in time for (more on that later) Jacinda reminisced about her stint DJing at the festival:
“I remember that so well because I have permanent hearing damage through my left ear as a consequence, and it was amazing to be a part of a festival that is so intrinsically Auckland.”
Whether you are a Jacinda supporter or not, she’s right. Since the festival first came to Auckland in 2010 it has become a summer tradition synonymous with the city and, scheduled each year to fall on Auckland Anniversary Day, seems to have become to a new generation what the Big Day Out was to previous ones.
Fortunately, this is something that the organisers seem to understand and, in keeping with the predominantly young crowd, 2018’s line-up continued Laneway’s tradition of delivering new and untrodden talent to the masses while weaving in a few old favourites along the way.
Hits were found all over the place: 16-year-old American singer-songwriter Billie Eilish giggled between songs that sounded like a brattier version of Feist; Moses Sumney’s haunting set veered enchantingly between melancholy and manic; Kiwi to Berlin transplant Noah Slee, joined briefly by fellow performer and Auckland rapper MeloDownz, seemed delighted to be back playing for his hometown; and Mac DeMarco, who many of the young men in the crowd uncannily resembled, filled Princes Street with boisterous fans singing along.
While Kiwi songstress Aldous Harding’s typically weird set had the crowd entranced to the point where she chastised them for lack of response (“not very rowdy, are ya?”), other acts had revellers so hyped up that it was a sight to behold.
Californian rapper Anderson .Paak, along with his band the Free Nationals, in particular took the stage by storm and, in his first New Zealand performance, exhibited the kind of energy and rawness the day had been waiting for. Performing for a sea of what felt like every person in Auckland under 25, .Paak’s set - ill-advised R. Kelly cover aside - was easily one of the best and most raucous of the festival, creating the kind of frenzy that had everyone in the crowd bashing into each other.
Incredibly for me - a known Father John Misty sceptic - the folk rocker formerly known as J. Tillman was on par with .Paak as the standout of the day. With a seemingly effortless command of his audience, the stage presence of a cult leader, and a bloody incredible voice, Misty’s set built up to a perfect crescendo that somehow seemed magically to sync up with the merciful setting of the sun.
And oh god, that sun.
As you may have heard, things didn’t all go entirely to plan and when a glitch with the ticket scanners at the festival’s entrance caused delays, reports circulated of people passing out from queuing in the heat.
In the interests of journalistic integrity (and as an ill-advised demonstration of loyalty to my GA ticket-holding boyfriend) I forewent the VIP line that my media pass afforded me and experienced this sweaty crush first hand. Let me confirm: standing, dripping, beneath the beating sun, surrounded by hundreds of drunk, also perspiring 20-somethings for half an hour (or more, in the case of those who arrived later) is perhaps the most purely uncomfortable experience one could possibly hope to have.
While no one could accuse the organisers of being any more pleased about this than the punters, it was a particularly unfortunate thing to go wrong during a heatwave and, for more than a few people, put things off to a fairly rocky start.
Perhaps it is because of this early chipping away of my patience that the flaws inherent in Laneway’s second Albert Park incarnation felt a bit more apparent.
A combination of uneven terrain and the necessity of shade means that, in spite of Albert Park’s size, great portions of it go unutilised while others become unbearably overcrowded; stages, particularly the Rotunda stage, situated at the lower end of a slope, become nearly impossible to see from afar over the crowd and a few unfortunately placed trees; And, while an increased number of portaloos made bathroom breaks easier, by the evening they also permeated the entire park with that unmistakable - and in this case inescapable - portaloo smell.
Not to mention that, on a day when the Grammys basically ignored the existence of female artists - and a year after The Refused’s Dennis Lyxzén pointed out how few women were on the 2017 bill - it was not necessarily super inspiring to see male performers once again in the stark majority.
Still, for a festival in perpetual transition, Laneway seems to have a knack for giving its punters what they want and, for a festival that began as something of an alternative showcase, it is stunning to see the mass appeal that it now brings.
Capping off the night, there was a choice of three headliners: Kiwi electronic act Baynk; veteran British producer Bonobo; and US band The War on Drugs, who earlier that day won Best Rock Album at the Grammys for their fourth release A Deeper Understanding.
At the end of a long exuberant day, these choices struck me as wee bit anti-climactic and, standing before the nice but slow The War on Drugs, I couldn’t help but think the day might have culminated in a more exciting fashion.
Yet, watching the group of young people in front of me form a kind of hugging queue that they loudly exclaimed to be a “cuddle train”, and sway gently together it seemed as though no one cared too much whether the night ended with a bang or a ballad. For the day’s attendees - and in particular this cuddly bunch - just being there was what mattered.