Falls Festival @ Byron Bay, NSW, 31.12.2017: Day 1
I’m drowning. The heat. It’s 2.30pm on the opening day of Falls Festival’s 25th year. The ice is melting in my vodka coffee faster than I can drink it.
The first official act kicks off at 1.30pm. Who are they? Jonathon Boulet and Kirsty Tickle – Party Dozen. Cacophonous but never caustic, they create a music which is raw, articulate, and darkly romantic. The only catch is that it’s entirely instrumental and a little freeform.
Sweat rolls down my face. Both veterans of indie outfits, Boulet and Tickle have leveraged some modest goodwill to beat down doors in the name of experimental music. A sound hanging loosely off of what they captured on debut album The Living Man echoes throughout the festival’s Forest Stage. They cover Suicide and at moments this music rings out with a cavernous grandeur which turns my mind to Glenn Branca.
It strikes me that Party Dozen is a sight you would be more likely to catch cloistered away in a squat, share house or art space rather than a full-blown festival. Bringing something even slightly left-of-centre before this audience is admirable. It takes a confidence and self-belief.
Watching the pair riff off of one another is, at least to me, mesmeric. There’s something about seeing it on larger than life festival stage, like a photo that doesn’t really pop ‘til framed. It doesn’t feel alien, not the slightest. Maybe it’s time music let loose a little on the standard formats and gave itself a little more room to breathe.
It’s so hot. There’s a hefty crowd swelling into the expanse of the Forest Tent but once arriving most patrons can barely stand. DZ Deathrays begin fumbling around onstage for the sound check. The sweat’s back, it never left and by now it’s really rolling off.
DZ cut into their set. Instantaneously there’s slam dancing. Why?
I’ve been avoiding this sort of aggression since gigs immemorial but I’m starting swing around to the safe-space credo. I’m not saying stand there, arms crossed and immobile. A little bumping is okay and sure I’ll help you crowd surf – but stay friendly. Admittedly most people here are. But to the others, leave the testosterone and locker room bravado at home. It really detracts from the performance.
But the simple flat-out truth? The music’s good. It’s not underground or indie, but the crude impact of rock ‘n’ roll is what drives me, and I’ll take it where I can get. Consciously or not, DZ embrace the idea rock is fundamentally about those lingering frustrations of an angry teen. You can stretch the genre or expand as you will but at its heart, it channels the angsts, aggressions and ecstasies of youth. An anarchic howl of noise and guitar.
I concentrate on navigating the endless stream of shoes, drinks, bodies and other projectiles flying outwards from the crowd. My vision melts but so do a few of my inhibitions. The band are ripping it up onstage and to be honest I’m kind of drunk.
The group’s presence is raw and immediate. Musically they seem to be making some subtle steps, fine-tuning ahead of forthcoming LP Bloody Lovely. There’s a little artifice and quiet ambition lacing the goodtime fun.
The audience continues to wrestle with each other as Deathray’s songs blast across the PA. Staple ‘Gina Works at Hearts’ arrives with an eruption of chaos. Latest single ‘Total Meltdown’ plays out snappy and inventive but universalised too. Something that hits you a little in the head but mainly in the gut. It feels like the whole I Oh You brood is moving toward some interesting places in 2018.
I wander over to Confidence Man. They’ve been upgraded from the Forest Stage to the festival’s natural amphitheatre. Most likely on account of the intensity of the heat.
“What is the taxonomy of a buzz band?” I’m asking myself as I climb the step greenery leading toward the stage. I’m not out to myth-bust these guys before they’re out of the stable, but I have my reservations.
There’s a sturdy crowd and what’s more, they’re excited to see the group. Even in the midst of it all I’m not sure if I can get over the cynical idea that that frontpersons Janet Planet and Sugar Bones are little more than products of the age-old industry farce of slapping a few young faces on an older sound. And yes, I’m talking about the Jungle Giants. They’ve accrued some screaming enthusiasts, but what band pushed on radio doesn’t?
Their live act is better than most. Guilt-free dance pop. There’s some filler but ‘Boyfriend (Repeat)’, ‘Better Sit Down Boy’ and ‘Bubblegum’ come off well. Sugar strips down to his undies and Janet twerks a lot. The response is uproar. I enjoy the set but maybe I’m yet to hear the stroke of subtle genius that ties this project together.
4:54 pm: Fleetwood Mac’s ‘Everywhere’ somewhere far off plays.
Three hours later I disembark my tractor-drawn trolley. I’ve left the festival for an extended break. As I re-enter a bouncer tells a patron to bin their half-swilled bottle of Fat Yak (registered retail price ten dollars). Suddenly the drink holder becomes defensive. For a moment she seems a little repulsed by the idea of parting with her swill. Then hits the wave of genius. ‘Nah nah nah!’ she exclaims, then downs the remainder in a single take.
At the Galaxy Tent Brisbane ex-pat DJ Sezzo spins Daft Punk’s ‘Around the World’. Accompanying it are a hundred or so odd other radio hits and guilty pleasures. She’s ringing in the new year.
When it comes down to the midnight minute Flume (Harley Streten) is entertaining what looks like the entirety of the festival crowd. It’s a sight. At the base of the hill, it’s loose-limbed chaos.
Harley is a heavy talent, a flawless hit machine that never misses. He arrived at just the right time to break it in the States. Skin took everything self-titled debut had going for it and slammed it into overdrive. An artistic progression and a quantum commercial leap.
Before me now Streten commands the stage with a certain built-in cool. ‘Never Be Like You’ and ‘Say it’ hit this crowd like a psychic bomb. They twist and writhe. As the clock strikes midnight, a thousand arms erupt in applause. Wave over wave of pure euphoria. People are jiving while 29 metres away there’s a man is throwing up on a fence.
It’s fifteen minutes on and Harley’s spinning ‘Heater’. Things start to get weird. But what the hell, It’s 2018.