Critics and musicians look back on their favourite moments from the festival.
It feels like it’s been a long wait, but this year’s Laneway Festival is almost here. The much-anticipated event, which takes place at Silo Park this Monday, sees Hudson Mohawke, Beach House, Chvrches and Battles all make their return to New Zealand, while we’ll also be treated to first-time visits from Vince Staples, Thundercat, Shamir and The Internet.
But before we look forward, let’s take a look back. Whether they were on stage, or looking on from the crowd, we asked a few of our favourite people to share their fondest memories of Laneways gone by. Here’s what they had to say…
James Harding, The Transistors:
I went to the first Laneway back in 2010 as Street Chant’s “guitar tech”. I don’t think I actually did anything useful, but I did drink a lot of free beer. I remember Emily was wearing a ‘Mats t-shirt and shades, she climbed an amp stack and flipped off the crowd with both hands. We went backstage and Daniel Johnston told us that he was “looking for the girls”. The 3Ds played, it was their first reunion show and they went off.
Three years later my band played Laneway. I thought we were killing it for the first half of our set and the crowd seemed into it, but then my guitar pedals stopped working and things fell to bits. I think we salvaged it though somehow.
As 'artists' for the day, we had lanyards that seemed to give us carte blanche to do as we pleased. It was basically like Wayne's World. I watched Girls from side of stage and they were great. There was a tent giving away Lee jeans to artists, I think it was supposed to be one pair per person but we took liberties and left with a carload of at least 30 pairs of jeans. John Baker drove us and stopped on K Rd to give several pairs to a homeless guy.
Henry Oliver, Idealog:
My fondest memory from Laneway isn’t musical, but, weirdly, civic. Arriving at the first Laneway at Britomart, I was struck by an immediate feeling of happiness that such an event was happening not just in Auckland, but in Britomart, a location that was, at the time, somehow representative of a new era in Auckland’s urban centre.
Living in Auckland, it’s easy to lose sight of it as a global city of nearly 1.5 million people. It’s easy to get stuck in a big city provincialism, thinking that everything is happening in bigger cities across the seas. Laneway arrived at a time when Auckland seemed to be moving beyond that thinking for the first time in my years here.
This was a less-appealing aspect of the following year’s event at Aotea Square, an institutional site of that type of cultural activity, but was again part of the success of the relocation to Wynyard Quarter. If Britomart was the current symbol of some new era, Wynyard was where that project might be heading, even if advancement of that project threatened the existence of the festival remaining in Auckland. But I hope, as Wynyard develops, Laneway does too, taking us to another under-utilised part of the city and showing us its potential.
Ben Howe, Flying Out and former Laneway organiser:
My strongest - and in a way fondest - memories of Laneway are from the very first one at Britomart in 2010. We didn’t really know what we were doing, at least Mark and me didn’t. Manolo gave the impression he knew a thing or two about music festivals. He definitely knew more than we did.
I recall waking very early before dawn and hearing torrential rain on the roof. When I arrived on site things were generally in chaos. Several tents had blown over and there was news that most of the food vendors weren’t going to make it. They were stuck in the mud after Parachute Festival - somewhere in the Waikato. Anyway, we soldiered on. I remember trying to reassure a call from Radio NZ News that everything was under control, despite the storm. Yes, I said, the festival was definitely going ahead. At that very moment I was actually also crawling around on my knees looking for some lost keys in a puddle. It was a heavy downpour. I had also dropped some crucial - but totally sodden - paperwork.
Those precious hours before the gate opens always pass in a flash. Luckily the rain eased off, and aside from a lighting tower collapsing onto a car, things kicked off well. Street Chant cracked into it and the bands all fired into action. The crowd was in good spirit and people were having fun.
In fact, some people started having too much fun. The food shortage, much alcohol, crazy weather and troublesome local bands led to an out of hand backstage party. It appeared there were more people partying backstage than actually out the front in the audience. It was out of control.
From mid-afternoon my memory gets a bit blurry. But I do remember pausing to see a sublime evening set from the 3Ds, taking a series of calls from an extremely irate council employee (we were running WAY behind schedule, WAY too loud), headliner tour managers flipping out because their bands couldn’t set up their gear amongst the backstage revellers and Ian McCulloch from Echo and the Bunnymen refusing to go on stage. Apparently we didn’t have the right brand of hair gel in his dressing room (which was actually just a half collapsed tent). In the end he borrowed an undersized hoodie from someone. It looked pretty stupid, but he wore it for the whole set.
At the end of the night we then realised we had forgotten to hire enough people to help pack up afterwards and the site needed to be clear by 9am. Mark, Manolo and me were lugging heavy furniture and beer fridges until dawn.
It was all very memorable, and a trial by fire. Luckily, the year after that - at Aotea Square - things pretty much ran like clockwork. Mostly they have done ever since. The current spot at Silo Park, right by the waterfront, is by far my favourite location, and there have been too many memorable performances to even list.
But I will always remember that first year.
David Benge, Vice:
I remember the first ever Laneway Festival in Melbourne Australia. I’d just started a record label and Danny Rogers used to make coffee at St Jeromes, a small little coffee shop in one of Melbourne’s inner city myriad laneways. He decided that the best thing to do with that laneway (Caledonian Lane from memory) was to build a stage at one end and pack 1000+ kids into it for the day.
In all honesty the day itself was a bit of a blur. I do remember The Avalanches playing, and the first band I’d signed to our record label, a Canadian band called The Dears served as the only international band to play. I remember we were packed in like sardines and the stench of the urine stained laneway and the sweat of 1000+ bodies was at times overwhelming.
But despite the heat, and the bodies and smell, there was something unique and special about the day. It wasn’t just another festival. There was a genuine sense of community and comradery. All for one and one for all. As the festival has grown, and with it, inevitably the size of the acts performing, it has remained true to its origins. It still feels like something special, something unique. All for one and one for all, whether these days it’s held in a physical Laneway or not!
Emma Smith, Music 101:
Laneway. Okay, some things I remember. Kirsten Johnstone and I came up from Wellington for the first one at a barren Britomart back in 2010. It seemed small, really small, and people spent a lot of time complaining about the queues for toilets and fried foods. I was side of stage for the Dirty Three and have vivid memories of Jim White’s whimsical drumming, and the dark glee with which Warren Ellis introduced ‘Some Summers They Drop Like Flies’, a song I assumed is about your friends overdosing in hoards in the height of the Australian heat. Their whole set was infused with this magical air of freedom.
I was most excited and nervous about talking with Daniel Johnston, and remember the interview being a confusing mess – likely my fault for being a total sycophant. His set was just as tender as I’d dreamed, though he was interrupted by Cut Off Your Hands on a neighbouring stage, starting before he’d finished in some wild attempt to get the timetable back on schedule. There were rumours that the Auckland City Council was charging the festival something like $1000 for every minute it continued after its midnight curfew. But Daniel just kept going, seemingly unaware that he was losing the competition to be heard.
A member of one the local acts dragged me into Florence and the Machine’s tent to ‘steal her rider’. I humoured the mission momentarily, but we left the beers where they were. At least I did… And the driving, grotty fuzz of the 3Ds. I can still feel that in my stomach.
Esther MacIntyre, 95bFM:
I went to my first Laneway at the start of 2011, after I had just started volunteering at 95bFM. I scored a free ticket for working coat check, a Lifetime Achievement at the time. I was green and enthusiastic, and Warpaint made my mouth drop. A year later at Silo Park, I wanted to see EVERYONE. The thing about Laneway is there are never really dud line-ups. It was nuts that year. The Horrors! SBTRKT! M83! Cults! Toro Y Moi! OPOSSOM! Washed Out! The Pains of Being Pure At Heart! Yuck!
Four years on, some of them no longer exist - except in dreams. One of those is Girls, who I’d never heard. They were running late, technical difficulties. It was hot. I was wearing my Nana’s old forest green floral dress; my Laneway dress. John Campbell was near the front, wearing Chuck Taylors and a massive grin. A sickly-seeming pale thing with faded green hair and an equally faded forearm tatt skulked across the stage. I’m ashamed to say I mistook him for a roadie, he looked so nonchalant. His jeans were ripped, but not in a cool way. It was Christopher Owens from California, and I fell in love with him when he opened his mouth. And played his guitar. And went a lil’ translucent in the sun. I couldn’t drag my eyes from his very white face. For the next six months I thrashed the shit out of Album (surely the best name for a debut), and still play Girls all the time on my radio show, carefully adding “NOT TO BE CONFUSED WITH THE OTHER BANDS WITH GIRLS IN THEIR NAME”, as is the current trend. I hope you have a fun Laneway! I’ll be in the green dress.
Claire Duncan, I.E. Crazy:
The model of stage-down verbal communication from artist to audience can be tiresomely autocratic; the gilded bubble of obsession with a particular artist is more often burst than cemented. And so for me, Laneway is marked indelibly by the 2014 and 2015 performances from Literal Fuck. In both cases, the artists forwent the stage in favour of the crowd, building a dancefloor of people in the dark of a cool concrete silo. During each show, the height of the audience’s increasing thrust was punctuated by a surprise performer: in 2014 a female Michael Jackson impersonator; in 2015 two beautiful Queens from K’Rd’s famous Caluzzi Bar & Cabaret, followed by an impromptu Vegas-style wedding for two young men very much in love. Ushering crowds into an unknown territory (one where they contribute significantly to the performance) is a kind of magic, it invites a spontaneous and singular experience. The 2015 show in particular was a celebration of Auckland street culture and the genuine love between local people, who really make any music festival what it is. To boot, I can’t think of a better way to end a night than dancing my heart out to Ultra Naté.
Sarin Moddle, 95bFM and freelance writer:
My favourite Laneway memory is a recent one from 2015. I should make a disclaimer that it’s hard for me to pick my fondest moment, because for me Laneway is all about moments... At this point, I don’t actually care about the line-up; I’ve come to love and appreciate so many artists I didn’t know by watching them at Laneway. I go not only for that element of discovery, but also for the supremely chill vibe that persists despite packed timetables, a hot carpark and drink tickets, and because I run into everyone I know and love at the crossroads near the water fountain.
Last year I’d found a mate I hadn’t hung with in years; we were missioning to the Cactus Cat stage, riding a pretty sweet buzz, and I passed another amigo Delaney (right next to aforementioned water fountain). I began walking backwards away from her as we wrapped up our brief conversation, and unfortunately fell onto / over a young woman and ended up on the ground in the midst of all her friends - her sunglasses askew, drink spilled, and a distinctly unimpressed facial expression. Not-quite-sober me felt that the appropriate thing to do would be to apologise profusely and then pull out ALL of my remaining drink tickets and shove them into her lap as I scrambled to get up and run the hell away as quickly as possible. The next day, a tweet from Delaney: “Highlight of Laneway was watching @sarinmods fall on top of my sister and then buy her off with drink tickets.” Yep, that was her sister.
That moment sums one of my favourite things about Laneway: it’s a festival where you are constantly (and sometimes literally) running into people at the crossroads.
Jaden Parkes, Leisure:
Several years ago I had sprained my knee prior to the festival so walking around wasn't a very leisurely option. I didn't want to burden friends with my immobility so I stayed in the same spot between the two main stages for the majority of the day with a four crate of white wine. I met so many great and interesting people, and saw some bands I really loved that I potentially wouldn't have chosen otherwise. My favourite moment as a result of this solidarity was watching Feist who had Kiwi Paul Taylor drumming for her. We went to Western Springs College together. He's a top human and his drumming was amazing. I really fell in love with Feist that day.
Max Oldfield, 95bFM:
Laneway Festival can be quite challenging, honestly. It sits snug at the peak of New Zealand's summer season, nestled amongst the towering, reflective office buildings and scorched asphalt of Auckland’s waterfront. But a lack of adequate preparation will see you sun stricken and parched before getting the chance to elbow a few cool kids out of the way to soak up the fuzzed-out noise of your favourite new band no one’s heard of yet.
Despite the environmental difficulties, though, the good people at Laneway manage to consistently host a festival that gets better every year. 2015, a year when I could literally feel the viscosity of the air and spent much of the day sheltered beneath the marquees at the festivals backend, delivered two performances memorable enough to cut through the haze of the days partying.
The Ratking show was like a cross between a rammed full Whammy bar and an all ages punk show at some weird unique venue like Grey Lynn Community Library Hall… people fending other people in the face, girls on guys shoulders, guys on guys shoulders, a legitimate mosh pit - these are the marks of a real live experience in my eyes. The sound may not have been tip-top, but the energy more than made up for it.
Flying Lotus, on the other hand, pulled together some of the most astounding visual accompaniments and psychedelic-yet-driving loops that the need for any movement at all was completely obliterated. Of course, the more lively of the bunch fist pumped at the front of the main stage, but the show was just as pleasing from halfway back, with a half square-metre of personal space and someone who cared enough about the holistic experience to occasionally shoot a knowing glance to.
I guess that’s the beauty of Laneway, really… it can be an underground hardcore show and a mind-blowing mushroom trip all at the same time. Just make sure you bring an empty drink bottle, a hat, and some goddamn sunblock, or all it’ll be is sunstroke.
Zac Arnold, Music 101:
There were a few years there where due to my New Zealand indie celebrity status I was asked to DJ the Thunderdome at Laneway. "Of course!" I replied desperately! Not only did you get free tickets but they were VIP tickets! Not the fancy toilet/smaller booze line ‘Friends and Family’ tickets but actual VIP with free food!
When I arrived it was a who's who of small time promoters, people who don't look like they see a lot of live music and the odd artist who will probably end up at the Red Bull Academy.
My only caveat (seriously, like I could even make demands) was that I wasn't DJing while A Place To Bury Strangers were on. Turns out I was DJing while A Place To Bury Strangers were on. So off to the Thunderdome, my collection of burnt CDs in tow.
I traversed the two-metre ladder climb to get to the DJ booth. Upon arrival I found three swole dudes pumping chill electronica and as much Red Bull as I could drink. So I cracked a RB and started DJing - I think my first track was Spik and Span by The Gordons, a real crowd pleaser, which cleared a good chunk of the d-floor. Their loss. It's a Kiwi classic.
After a spritely 45 minute set, I got down that ladder asap, running through the punters to get to A Place To Bury Strangers who were just starting to get into the guts of 'I Live My Life In The Shadow Of Your Heart'. My favourite song!
Oliver Ackerman, master of feedback, was rearranging amps and foldback, blasting earsplitting noise from what seemed like every direction. I think the song crescendoed with Dion throwing his bass in the air, catching it and then smashing it (a trick I remember him doing with The D4 the year they played at the VNZMAs back in the early 00s). Then they were finished. I couldn't believe what I had just seen. That half a song was one of the visceral moments of live performance I've ever bared witness too.
Bless Laneway and the people who organise it.
P.S. I'm still available for DJing festivals, corporate functions, parties...