SPLENDOUR IN THE GRASS – REVIEW PART 2: THE THURSDAY THAT LEADS INTO FRIDAY
Photo credit: Bianca Holderness
Splendour in the Grass is arguably Australia’s biggest music festival, located just north of Byron Bay where the weather stays a little warmer during the winter months. It’s been held annually since 2001, growing each year with more acts and bigger names. This year saw the likes of Queens of the Stone Age, LCD Soundsystem, The XX, Dune Rats and Paul Kelly, among so much more.
The festival began Wednesday the 19th of July for the super keen, and ran right through until Sunday 23rd of July. Friday, Saturday and Sunday housed all the main acts. Over each of these days Splendour saw 35,000 attendees. Splendour is more than just a music festival; featuring things like arts and crafts workshops, comedy shows and even a Q&A session with Labor minister Anthony Albanese and Greens leader Richard Di Natale.
The morning heat cooks the van a few degrees north of comfortable. We’re still rugged up in beanies, jeans and sleeping bags from the night before. Not much can be done to avoid waking up into this. You see, when the sun marches down behind the trees and sinks into the horizon, it hauls the good weather with it. Thus marks the ritual of waltzing clumsily back to camp at twilight, piling on the clothes before your body cracks into a shiver. Only to wake up breaking a sweat come the dawn. We tolerate it a moment longer before someone cranks the van door. In rips the Thursday air as we gasp for something fresh.
It ain’t pretty, but you didn’t come to Splendour to get a good sleep now did you?
Thursday is where the festivities begin. Everything kicks off a few hours past noon, so the mood stays pretty leisurely. To start: Welcome to country, food stalls, comedy shows, arts and craft workshops, DJ sets and an act or two. It’s a good day to survey the geography and get a taste of walking to and fro.
Signposting landmarks and soaking up the layout is essential. You’ll need this knowledge to chime your internal compass toward your favourite stages, food stalls and what have you. During the busier moments, this will ensure you sail through the pandemonium of the crowd, avoid potential shipwreck, and be on time for the acts you can’t miss.
Luckily, Splendour being the weird and wonderful beast it is, punctuates the festival layout with plenty of memorable pieces. One, a giant, inflatable, rainbow subversion of the sad Kanye meme. His giant ten-meter-tall smile gleams facing a tent called the Forum; and this couldn’t be any more appropriate. The tent hosts a three-hour comedy special later that night, including guests like ex-Triple J breakfast host Matt Okine. Find yourself standing in just the right spot, Kanye in your peripheral, and you’ll see him join in on the round of laughs – the man just can’t get enough.
Turn right from there, along the dusty road, past the Splendid sign (see photo at the top) and you’ll arrive at the Tipi Forest. The evening sees this place erupt into an excited mix of laser lights and frolicking. Glowsticks twirl about and boots zealously hit the ground, everything in rhythm, converging on the incessant, high-tempo boom of Psychedelic-Trance.
Look for too long though, and heed this warning, you might just fall in.
Sampa The Great christens the Mix Up stage, bleeding her soulful, jazz-infused hip-hop out into the night air. The sound gets everyone up and moving, an inoculation against the cold you might say. We catch Melbourne DJ Sunshine at the Smirnoff Tent after that. Sunshine, a Chapel street staple, delivers her upbeat grooves direct to the dancefloor keeping the congregation buoyant. If you don’t have a wide grin in the midst of one of her mixes, give it fifteen, look about, you’ll soon do by osmosis.
When Friday comes around it catches you slightly askew. 35,000 is a number you’ll see get thrown around when talking about the festivals attendance each day. It’s a number you know to be huge but struggle to really grasp, the enormity of it lost on you as digits on a page. Sit atop the Amphitheatre though, Splendour’s main stage, and you’ll come close. A natural stadium, it sits right at the bottom of a semicircular range of hills that seem to fall inexorably down into it. Think Sidney Myer Music bowl, but the back stretches out a hundred meters more, and the edges become almost vertical. Steal yourself a perch up near the back, and watch the inundation of people mingle in and out of each other’s way. It almost vibrates the ground and verges on overwhelming.
Winston Surfshirt get Friday’s music started at the Mix Up stage. Their funk-soul take on hip-hop injects some life into the crowd. Because, as you know, time is relative, and inside a festival before one o’clock may as well be the crack of dawn. They give everyone the feeling they’ve been transported from the campsite on a velvet cloud. Winston’s dulcet tones reeling them past the showers, through the gates and into the block-party we now find ourselves. The trombone’s solos throughout have punters looking at each other smiling. The band keep the mood chilled until the last two songs. First, out flows ‘Be About You’ like a stream of Manuka honey. Each word getting a chorus from the crowd. The song is that good, that it deserves a listen here. They yell they’ve got another track, before milking the building silence. They pause a moment more. Then they drop Kendrick Lamar’s ‘Humble’ and watch the crowd detonate into an ecstasy of movement.
We jump into the deep end for Melbourne rockers Kingswood, up the front and to the right.
I’ve seen them a few times before, a fiery mixture of Alex Laska’s wailing guitar and Fergus Lincare’s huge, resounding pipes. They were always a band that seemed to wear their influences on their sleeve. A blend two parts QOTSA and one part Led Zeppelin. Though there was always something effervescing beneath, hinting at being something more than the sum of their heroes. This came to fruition in their new album, After Hours, Close To Dawn.
On stage those formative elements are still about, the grit especially, but the band gives more deference to the good of each song. They build each one deliberately, inserting pieces and allowing instruments to breath. Each layer adding a subtle shade of colour to the overall palate. What comes out the other end to the listener, is a complex sound with plenty of rich notes, that still retains the grit and snarl you’ve become accustomed to. Something that sounds truly their own. See their track ‘Looking for love’ below, for the best example of this.
The best thing about being this close at the mainstage, is that you never know if a band will explode the confetti cannons and throw all sorts of stuff up into the air. In this case, they do, bursting technicolor strips into the sky. It’s surreal to be in a shower of paper droplets, as a band roars through your favourite songs.
From there dear readers, Friday became sporadic. I moved about the stalls and caught acts from afar. Content to relax into the sun and talk to the people around me. A lazy day, with D.D Dumbo, HAIM and Peking Duk curating the rest my Splendour soundtrack. I’m not even ashamed.
Bring on Saturday.
Words by Matthew Toohey.