Falls Festival Downtown Review
Spanning over two decades, the Falls Festival has always been consistent in one area: the line-up. The 2017/18 line-up is no different of course, boasting an impressive mix of international and national acts spanning a magnitude of different genres. I was given the opportunity to experience all of the two-day festival in Fremantle over the weekend, taking place on the beautiful Fremantle Oval (With the more tucked away Valley Stage on the Parry St carpark a short walk away from the middle of the oval). I’m just going to put this out there: I am a total festival newbie. I’ve been to a few concerts in my time, but my experience with festivals stops at Laneway Festival (Melbourne) in very early 2017. There were some acts I missed during that festival that were playing Falls, however (Luca Brasi, Julia Jacklin, Ecca Vandal, D.D Dumbo, Dune Rats as well as BAD//DREEMS and Confidence Man, who were exclusive to Adelaide and Brisbane respectively). As well as some return festival-favourites I was particularly keen to see again (Camp Cope, Glass Animals).
Falls Festival really came out swinging with an insane line-up for day 1 (Saturday, 6 January). Acts included Fleet Foxes, Glass Animals, DRAM, The Smith Street Band, Alex Lahey, Jungle Giants, Julia Jacklin and more. Being a festival newbie, I was initially overwhelmed with all the options I had, so I took time out to plan the acts I was going to see.
Dave, a 19-year-old rapper from South London, absolutely tore up the stage in his 40-minute set. Yet to release a debut album, the rapper is blowing up in the UK so it’s great to see him get some international success over in Oz as well. After performing some of his biggest tracks like ‘Game Over’, ‘No Words’ and ‘Wanna Know’, a lucky fan was pulled out of the crowd and was given a mic. The kid absolutely nailed it, and you could tell it wasn’t just a special moment for the fan, but for Dave as well.
“Man, that would’ve been hard for him. He went absolutely IN! He’s got no training and he did that. I’m on stage right now about to have a heart attack after that song and he did it like it was nothing!”
Dave inviting a fan on stage to rap at Falls Downtown.
2017 was a breakout year for Alex with the release of her debut album “I Love You Like A
Brother”. After performing that title track at Falls, Alex explained that the first thing she did
after graduating was go to Falls, claiming that it was a very special moment for her to be on
stage performing. Then, she preceded to play her heart out, busting out a barrage of her
most popular, such as ‘Every Day’s The Weekend’, ‘Lotto in Reverse’, ‘Perth Traumatic
Stress Disorder’ and covering Natalie Imbruglia’s ‘Torn’, which she claimed would be the
final time she ever performed it live. The crowd was into it and Alex matched their energy perfectly.
Alex Lahey at Falls Downtown.
Julia’s soothing, beautiful set was the perfect soundtrack to accompany the orange sunset
glowing behind her. The crowd was swinging side to side to Julia’s wonderful harmonic
choruses from tracks like ‘Cold Caller’ and ‘Pool Party’. A wonderful performance that left the
Julia Jacklin at Falls Downtown.
I ran from the Valley Stage to the main stage to watch Daryl do ‘Horses’. Of course I did. It’s
a national treasure and to miss it out be un-Australian. The entire crowd went wild. I even
saw a plush horse being held up high during the performance. And Daryl performed the
track with passion and with an energy that musicians’ half his age should strive for. Also,
after he left the stage he was brought back on for the crowd to sing ‘Happy Birthday’ as a
large ‘69’ cake was rolled out, so that was nice.
Man, DRAM put on a show for his fans at the Valley Stage. Despite playing at the same time
as Angus and Julia Stone, DRAM pulled a massive crowd and made sure to put a smile on
everyone’s faces. DRAM just couldn’t keep his feet on the ground! But when he did, he was
running around the crowd collecting high-fives and even joining the mosh himself. Stand out
tracks were ‘Cute’ and of course, ‘Broccoli’.
Oh boy, did festival-veterans Glass Animals demand attention. Dave Bayley on vocals and
guitar has such a wonderful stage presence, I would be surprised if any of the punters in the
crowd took their eyes off him for longer than 5 seconds. Glass Animal’s indie psych-pop
sound worked its magic on the ever-growing crowd, creating what was probably my
favourite festival moment: dancing to ‘Life Itself’ surrounded by other punters who may well
be even worse dancers than I. Stand out tracks were ‘Life Itself’, ‘Gooey’ and ‘Season 2 Episode 3’.
Glass Animals, Falls Downtown.
I got really into Fleet Foxes last year. I had only listened to their self-titled debut and
‘Helplessness Blues‘ – Although I was listening to them top-to-bottom and on repeat – and
deliberately avoiding their newest album ‘Crack Up’ until I felt ready to fully appreciate it.
Falls was a terrific way to be introduced to one of my new favourite bands album. There
were 4 ‘Crack Up’ tracks in this set of 14, a perfect amount to get that sweet taste of new
Foxes I finally felt ready for while swinging left to right to left like an idiot to the beautiful
harmonies during the tracks I know and love. When you book Fleet Foxes for a festival, you
know you’re going to get a top-notch set. They absolutely did not disappoint, but I will say I
was not too happy with their placement in the line-up. If Flume were to remain as the
headliner, I feel the transition from Glass Animals to Flume would be much more effective,
sonically, than this deviation to Fleet Foxes. Regardless, I enjoyed myself thoroughly with
Fleet Foxes. Stand out tracks were ‘White Winter Hymnal’, ‘Your Protector’, ‘Mykonos’ &
Fleet Foxes, Falls Downtown.
I thoroughly enjoyed Elli’s 4-track EP ‘GOLD MESS’ that was released in April last year, so
getting to watch Elli was a top priority of mine. Elli was also part of Falls Downtown last
year, too. However, even with the release of the amazing ‘GOLD MESS’, and being one of
the winners of the Triple J Unearthed in October, Falls decided to move Elli from her spot on
the main stage to the hidden-away Valley Stage. Performing at the same time as Elli was
Ecca Vandal, another insanely talented artist who is a little louder and high-energy than
Elli. It’s understandable for Falls to hype the growing crowd by placing Ecca on the main stage, but disappointing nonetheless that Elli had to suffer for this. Regardless, Elli’s short set was amazing, with her incredible vocal range out in full force. Her crowd was small but loyal, singing along dutifully to tracks like ‘Gold Mess’. The standout track was ‘Mumma’. If you’ve ever heard ‘Mumma’, you would know how difficult it is to not sing along, and, to the enjoyment of Elli, everybody caved and harmonised with her.
BAD//DREEMS are an alternative Aussie rock four-piece from Adelaide. This was news to
me, as this was my first experience with the band but wow, they certainly know how to leave an impression. The band was playing stage 2 at the beginning of the day but they were treating the crowd like they were watching headliners. This kind of music needs to be played LOUD, and BAD//DREEMS were making sure that was the case. Lead vocalist Ben Marwe was a particular joy to watch, who was just as often singing on his knees lifting his shirt and rubbing his hands over his body than performing standing up, fully clothed. The crowd was going nuts for the band’s shenanigans. You’ve certainly got yourselves a new fan, boys. Standout tracks were ‘Cuffed and Collared’, ‘Gutful’ & ‘Hiding to Nothing’.
Bad // Dreems, Falls Downtown.
Holy shit. Next time Flint Eastwood is in town, DO NOT MISS IT. Flint Eastwood graced the
stage with a simple mantra – LOUD. NOT PRETTY. By demanding the crowd sings along and dancing like crazy during the chorus drops, Flint Eastwood was a festival highlight. She was even calling out the punters that weren’t singing and dancing! ‘ALRIGHT, ALRIGHT!’ the crowd belted during the chorus of ‘Monster’, with Flint smiling and pointing to those to where REALLY getting into it. She just seemed to be really enjoying herself, and this sense of positive unconcern translated to the crowd. Standout tracks were ‘Monster’ and ‘Queen’.
Camp Cope had been making headlines this festival run after criticising the lack of female
artists on the Falls line-up and leading the charge on the anti-sexual assault message sprawling throughout the majority of the acts. And while there were some that criticised the band for these comments, their supporters were out in full force during their powerful set. Quote of the weekend certainly goes to vocalist Georgia McDonald: “If you’re going to book for your festival an outspoken feminist band, you’re going to get an outspoken feminist band”. The crowd expanded far beyond the laid-out AstroTurf, and Camp Cope delivered one of the most important and powerful sets of the entire weekend, proving that they not only deserved to be on the main stage – but proving they’re one of Australia’s most important acts in recent years. Standout tracks were ‘Jet Fuel Can’t Melt Steel Beams’, ‘Lost (Season One)’ and a new one – the title track of their upcoming LP ‘How To Socialise and Make Friends’.
Camp Cope distributing anti-sexual harassment t-shirts, Falls Downtown.
Vince Staples has been on a roll since the release of his debut EP ‘Hell Can Wait’ in 2014.
I’ve been following him since this time and I genuinely don’t believe he’s put out a bad song since – so seeing this set was a dream come true. And man, he did not disappoint. During his massive set, Staples was demanding the crowd to jump up and down whenever possible, while he was making use of the barren stage (He didn’t even have a DJ up there!) by performing on all corners. The animated rapper was only animated for the first half of the set, however, when it became apparent there were some technical issues in the audio of the set. To the crowd, he sounded amazing but it seemed there was an issue with his monitor, and Staples finished the latter half stationary – and visually frustrated. Regardless, Vince Staples is one of the most versatile and creative rappers in the game right now, so hopefully this little setback doesn’t interfere with any future Australian tour. Standout tracks were ‘Norf Norf’, ‘Big Fish’ and ‘Ascension’ (AKA one of the only good songs from the Gorillaz latest).
Vince Staples, Falls Downtown.
Winston Surfshirt is the Sydney based 6-piece you need to look out for. Funky & soulful,
with a very Anderson .Paak-esque lead vocalist, this up-and-coming band played a smooth set as the sun began to fall. I sat far from the crowd and simply listened to the tunes to rejuvenate some energy before some of the larger acts grace the main-stage, and Winston Surfshirt’s laidback grooves matched my situation perfectly. Stand out tracks were ‘Hottest 100’ contender ‘Be About You’ and a cover of Travis Scott ft. Kendrick Lamar’s hit ‘Goosebumps’.
With the air finally noticeably cooler, D.D Dumbo took the Valley Stage and played a sleuth
of tracks from his 2016 album ‘Utopia Defeated’. While performers like Ben Marwe (of BAD//DREEMS) and Flint Eastwood have a wonderful and demanding stage presence, D.D Dumbo has a similar presence. It’s difficult to take your eyes off him even in-between tracks but not for the same reasons as Marwe and Eastwood – instead opting for a more ‘adorably awkward’ approach. Dumbo told a story of how he simply bored a creationist to get him to leave…then apologising profusely if he accidentally offended anybody in the crowd. But the music spoke for itself, ‘Utopia Defeated‘ is an excellent debut album and D.D Dumbo performed like his life depended on it, even at one point having a musical improvisation battle with the bass clarinetist (Who absolutely destroyed Dumbo tbh). Standout tracks were ‘Walrus’ and ‘Satan’.
D.D Dumbo at Falls Downtown.
It’s been a while since The Kooks has released new music, so I was initially surprised to see
them so far into the line-up at Falls. I wondered if this meant that Falls could see the premiere of some new tunes. The band has been vocal about a new album in the past, so I assigned the unrealistic expectation that surely, I was going to hear new Kooks to generate hype for a 2018 LP. Nope. In retrospect, while this was disappointing, I thoroughly enjoyed watching The Kooks. Fresh from celebrating their 10-year anniversary since their debut ‘Inside In/Inside Out’, The Kooks, particularly frontman Luke Pritchard, were energetic and extravagant. At one point Pritchard warned the security guards to be extra prepared as he was “DEFINITELY gettin’ down there!” into the mosh pit during the next song. It was a fun set that highlighted the best of The Kooks career. Standout tracks were ‘Always Where I Needed To Be’, ‘She Moves in Her Own Way’ and ‘Naïve’.
Run the Jewels.
I adore El-P and Killer Mike, so during The Kooks set I tried to get as close to the other Main
Stage as possible. I’ve seen some punters online say that during the RTJ set the crowd was quickly dwindling, making the overall crowd number very disappointing compared to other headliner Flume and even The Kooks only minutes before. I didn’t notice this, being so close to the front, but what I definitely took notice of was the high energy performance brought by not only El-P and Killer Mike, but the crowd as well. To sing along to an RTJ chorus is one thing, but to rap Mike’s complicated lyrics and flow at the top of your lungs is another! It was endearing to rap along with RTJ and a bunch of fellow hip-hop lovers, so this set could have very well been the #1 highlight of Falls Festival Downtown for me. After releasing 3 incredible albums (and now hinting very strongly at a fourth – get hype), El-P and Killer Mike had a massive bag of hits to play and they came out firing. From ‘Sea Legs’ to ‘Stay Gold’, the hits were plentiful covering all their albums – and even DJ Shadow’s track ‘Nobody Speak’ in which they feature. Between tracks, the two would banter about Australian customs, give thought-provoking speeches and read poems. After leaving the stage, RTJ were welcomed back through a powerful ‘ONE MORE SONG’ chant and the two obliged, finishing off Falls Festival Downtown with my personal favourite RTJ song ‘A Christmas F****** Miracle’. It was awesome. Stand out tracks were ‘Close Your Eyes (And Count to F***)’, ‘Thursday in the Danger Room’, ‘Legend Has It‘ and ‘A Christmas F****** Miracle’.
Run The Jewels, Falls Downtown.
Falls Festival Downtown was an amazing two-day experience with some festival-favourite headliners and a wonderful array of some of the most talented up-and-coming musicians. It was refreshing to see a number of musicians wearing the official t-shirt of Camp Cope’s #ItTakesOne movement, that reads “The person wearing this shirt stands against sexual assault and demands a change”. The acts were coming together (literally, sometimes) to preach their views on music festival’s long history with sexual assault, encouraging punters to actually talk about it as open as possible. Some of the artists wearing Camp Cope’s shirt was Alex Lahey, DZ Deathrays, BAD//DREEMS, Total Giovanni, Winston Surfshirt and heaps, heaps more. I loved the location of the Freo Oval and Parry St, as the sheer size of it allowed for a heap of toilet stalls, food/beverage choices and heaps of shade during those midday sets.
Photos by the wonderful Daniel James Grant