Splendour in the Grass 2023 Review
BY SARAH DAVENPORT AND MIA RANALLETTA
Sixteen hours into our road trip, we no longer had to guess which cars were also heading along to Splendour in the Grass. It was loud and clear; bright yellow ‘FESTIVAL’ signs guiding the way as the sun began to set, the air just starting to cool as we set up camp. Day 0 was just starting for us and our fellow campers, and our initial nerves were exchanged for excitement as we got amongst an eager crowd for the first time that weekend.
Through trial and tribulation, Splendour in the Grass had returned. We’d been holding our breath, with last minute artist changes and the weather app on lock, though as we took a quick lap of the festival grounds at arguably its quietest moment of the weekend, we felt as though we could exhale.
In a slightly unexpected move by us, our first official event of the festival was not a music set, but a forum on working in the music industry. A lot of the insight provided contextualised our feelings and personal habits thinking about music and concert-going experiences moving forward, but what stuck most was the notion that maybe people aren’t buying tickets as readily as they used to. This was evident in this years edition of the festival, and posed a question we would continue to ask throughout the rest of the festival: Could Splendour in the Grass adapt to these changed behaviours and reposition themselves for the future? The answer would continue to reveal itself over the course of the weekend.
Resident festival newcomers and Triple J Unearthed competition winners DICE were tasked with warming up the festival’s mainstage for the weekend. The WA surf-rockers made opening look effortless, melding all the smoothness and comfortability of festival favourites and fellow surf rockers Ocean Alley, with their own edgy yet charming spin.
With the two of us having arrived fashionably late to her set (courtesy of a state-altering 070 Shake performance), Sudan Archives presented such a diverse range of performance and array of talents that we didn’t feel we had missed much at all. The LA-Based multi-instrumentalist commanded the stage with punchy performance and the unorthodox inclusion of a violin in revolutionary ways that went beyond what we thought possible for the traditionalist instrument.
A lot of the weekend’s performers, from Sudan Archives to Del Water Gap, fall into the category of international performers that were not necessarily draw cards for the festival, but have accumulated a cult following far from home. It’s a testament to these types of artists and their range, that they can draw long-time, superfans and strangers alike to their stage with their pure starpower, raw talent and intense connection to the music they create.
In a return to our homegrown heroes, Cub Sport was up next! Not even a particularly rowdy crowd, nor tech issues, could spoil the live joy that was the Meanjin indie-turned-electro-pop sensation’s set. The band performed their incredibly moving cover of Billie Eilish’s ‘When The Party’s Over’, before returning to highly anticipated hits in a display of pure queer joy and pop-stardom.
Last minute co-headliners Ocean Alley also provided us with some locally sourced tunes to fuel the Friday evening. We arrived in time to catch crowd sing-a-longs and special guest appearances that included Meg Mac and frontman Baden Donegal’s infant, Foxy (proving it really is all about confidence, baby). Echoes of a song that wasn’t quite theirs reverberated through the amphitheatre as the band covered ‘Someone You Loved’ in a touching tribute to Lewis Capaldi, an artist of which the Sydney group were filling in for.
The choice to have a pop act headline the Friday night might have had a mixed reception, but it ultimately demonstrated Splendour’s need for change, and exceeded expectations, setting a joyous tone for the rest of the weekend. If there’s one thing we learnt by the end of Day 1, it was that Splendour was back in full swing.
Day 2 kicked off for us under the Mix Up tent nice and early for a duo that will definitely find themselves higher on the bill next time they play Splendour: Hellcat Speedracer. From jumping into the crowd to nailing the performance of latest track ‘Collide’, the Sydney electronic duo were beaming so much it was infectious. Being at their set felt like you were in on a secret about the next big thing, similarly to how we had felt just 24 hours ago when DICE graced the amphitheatre.
Slutpop took human form in Big Wett’s raunchy, high-octane show. Big Wett feels at home on this lineup, amongst fellow pop peers, but also stands out as an Aussie act that aligns with what we’re seeing of internationally recognised slutpop acts. Her explicit lyrics and risquè performance style are true to her carefully constructed slutpop persona, maintained through a hot and sweaty 45 minute act. Any doubts of such a set in a daytime spot vanished when her dramatic entrance gave way to a delightfully maximalist production in absolutely every aspect.
It’s important to note now that Splendour in the Grass is by no means just a music festival. From burlesque performers and comedy sessions, to morning yoga and life changing forums, there’s something for everyone. We quickly discovered that the brief pockets of time between sets were the perfect excuse to learn something new, and quickly became key moments of the festival.
Australian icon Dr. Karl took the stage to recap great moments in science, and did so with such storytelling ability that he had the audience wrapped around his finger. There’s a sense of nostalgia to his presentation, with punters asking our most inquisitive scientist question after question.
From makeovers with Rimmel to a hidden nightclub disguised as a Redbull airport, the brand activations brought life to North Byron Parklands and turned what is otherwise a festival into a tiny town of sorts. These spaces also broaden the festival’s lineup, with acts such as Go-Jo, RONA. and Ra Ra Viper getting to meet new audiences in a venue that suits them best.
BENEE’s set was singalong central – even more so than when we headed to the karaoke bar. She’s a festival favourite, and for good reason. Bringing out local fave Mallrat to sing their track DO IT AGAIN (the official song of the FIFA Women’s World Cup) brought further confirmation of both of their starpowers.
We made a bold choice to skip out on the Yeah Yeah Yeah’s to catch Arlo Parks’ set in full. Her voice is angelic, her dancing graceful and her crowd purposeful. It brought tears to our eyes the same way Sam Fender’s set did, for community was at the core of her performance. On the other end, Little Simz drew a crowd just as purposeful, and empowered as she pointed out that “Right now, you’re witnessing greatness. It’s not arrogance, it’s confidence”.
These intentional audiences were a juxtaposition to Saturday night’s headliner, Flume, who is always bound to draw one mighty crowd. From deep cuts to scissor lifts, it felt like every punter was rushing to the amphitheatre to catch the 10 year celebration.
Whilst you’d imagine that the festival goers would be on their last legs by Day 3, the foot traffic confirmed that Splendour was at its peak of the weekend. With nostalgic folk group Mumford and Sons to headline, Sunday feels like a family affair, with core memories to be made. The drizzle that comes in the late afternoon offered rainbows, and a beautiful reminder of how much difference a year can make.
Sunday’s start is truly a special one with the musical offerings of Forest Claudette. A now festival staple for the both of us after having caught his set at Groovin The Moo earlier in the year, Forest’s live presence gets better with every crowd he plays to. In this instance, we don’t mind the line-up recycling, as has been the case for a lot of local, and certain international artists at big festivals with the return to live music. While the oversaturation of local acts has long since been debated, Forest Claudette’s silky smooth tunes feel far removed from the conversation, switching between festival friendly songs with the ease of a professional. Like local acts to grace the stage before him that weekend, Forest is a marker of the local and international appeal we are beginning to see from Aussie exports. If this was his Splendour performance, we can’t wait to see what he does next.
Enough early day wandering around the site had led us back to the Mix Up stage where resident Naarm underground dance sensation Memphis LK was scratching up a storm on an aptly aquatic themed stage, complete with moving starfish. The set provided some great drift-dancing music as we floated on over to our next set of the day.
Over at the GW McLennan tent, up-and-coming coming-of-age king Del Water Gap had already captured the crowd in the palm of his hand. Sickly sweet lyrics contended with an openly honest stage presence to create an atmosphere of arrival at a new and exciting destination that no one could quite place, but that we were all happy to be experiencing. From 2000s Avril Lavigne covers that had even the staunchest of security guards singing along, to classic call-and-responses that couldn’t help but feel all-inclusive of the space and our connection with one another. Everything, and everyone, felt present.
Front mosh spots were a non-negotiable for Swedish pop sensation Tove Lo’s performance. From the opening moments of her set, all eyes were glued to the amphitheatre stage in unwavering awe and cult-like dedication to the queen of dance floor and disco pop.
As a last minute lineup replacement, Thelma Plum’s voice soars over an entranced and awestruck crowd at GW McLennan, who roar every word back to her. If all other acts that day had spilled out of the tent, Thelma had incited a flood in what was one of the largest crowd displays outside of the amphitheatre theatre we had witnessed all weekend. This seismic gathering became especially apparent in her cover of ‘These Days’, originally performed by Powderfinger. Those drawn to Thelma without having known her work and fans alike banded together in a moving chorus as the weekends everpresent dark clouds began to weep. We embraced the rain as fan-favourites ‘Homecoming Queen’ and ‘Better in Black’ soundtracked the remains of a truly special set from the Splendour veteran.
Local music keeps winning with the resident festival stand-ins, Hilltop Hoods, proving why they made the main bill this time around. The hype is well and truly to be believed, with the Adelaide MCs getting the whole crowd on their feet for their entire set, and their infectious energy and fun was felt and reciprocated by all.
While we thought that we’d seen crowds “spilling out of tents” at its peak when Royel Otis took on the G.W. McLennan stage earlier in the day, the end-of-festival celebrations had the Mix Up stage with PNAU. Tucked behind the mixing desk you’d find Splendour’s newest dance group in the form of a hundred person Macarena session. Human connection is at the core of their set, no matter how danceable, and the same can be said as the amphitheatre sang the festival out with Mumford and Sons’ “I Will Wait”.
Heading back to the campsite for the final time, overhead conversations had one common thread: no one was ready for Splendour in the Grass to be over. As we tucked into our sleeping bags, we knew that this successful return meant we’d be back next year, and so would everyone else.
Mia Ranalletta is one of the Executive Producers for The Hoist, SYN’s local music flagship, and presenter on Sunday Sweets. Sarah Davenport is one of SYN’s Music Directors and presenter on The Hoist, New and Approved and The Naughty Rude Show. Together, you can find them supporting their local music scene, heading along to gigs and championing their favourite artists.
Follow Mia and Sarah on Instagram @1talyonfilm @ssarahdavenport.
ID: Mia and Sarah stand posed in front of a mirror for a photo. Mia has brown hair and is wearing red pants and a black crop top with a matching red robe, and red star sunglasses. Sarah has blonde hair and is wearing black pants, a black top and a grey shirt.