Thousands came to celebrate Auckland’s anniversary at Laneway Festival in a sun soaked Albert Park. Simon Day shares his favourite memories of a very good (and very hot) day.
There are times when Auckland feels quaint, backwards even, far from its “world class” aspirations. It’s usually when you’re sitting in traffic, in the rain. Then there are days when it feels like the greatest city in the world, a place you feel lucky to live in, a city you’re proud to call home. Yesterday, at Laneway Festival in Albert Park, was one of those days. The venue is an urban wonderland with stages set beneath the canopy of the park’s trees, probably the best inner city venue I’ve been to. The music was vast and fantastic, and local musicians held their own with the world’s best artists. The vibe and the crowd was full of love.
It was a perfect day. But fuck it was hot.
The access the public has to the prime minister in New Zealand is the essence of our country – I’ve talked to John Key about cricket as we walked around La Cigale market, for example. Jacinda Ardern is more at home at music festival, having famously DJed Laneway in 2014, so I shouldn’t have been surprised that she was the first person I bumped into after heading through the gates. The crowd was initially stunned to see the PM, her partner Clarke Gayford, and her three suited security guards strolling through Albert Park, but people were soon excited to learn they were allowed to take selfies and talk to her about both policy and pregnancy.
It must be tough being one of those first acts in the early afternoon when the crowd’s sparse and everyone’s still getting a feel for the day. But it always helps when the prime minister is your opening act. Not officially listed on the programme this year, a crowd of a few when Jacinda Ardern started her speech quickly became a crowd of hundreds as people realised what was going on.
“My name is Jacinda, and usually I am here as a ticket holder. Once I was here as a DJ. That was indeed the pinnacle of my career, it was all downhill from there. But eventually I will return to do weddings and bar mitzvahs,” the prime minister said as she opened the festival.
“To all of you for continuing to come and show support for live music, please never give up on the importance of supporting creatives and artists live. It is so so important that we don’t just revert to hearing everything on the internet or the radio. This is the fuel for the creative machine to get that live feedback from all of you. So keep supporting music live.”
And with that, the prime minister introduced D. D Dumbo, Australian Silver Scroll winner and singer, featuring his band full of bass clarinets, trumpets and flutes, and Laneway 2018 had begun.
Hip-hop can be such a hard act to pull off live if you’re not a megastar with that Drake money to put together a gargantuan stage show, but West Auckland rapper Melodownz and his band were full of energy and soul to start the day. I’m always struck with gratitude when someone tells me they’ve read one of my stories – and it must be an amazing feeling to have a crowd rap your lyrics back to you.
The intricate chess match of festival stage maneuvering always involves sacrifice. There was such a deep line up of talent yesterday, I inevitably missed acts I was desperate to see (and I still haven’t seen Aldous Harding live!). But when you commit to an artist you’ve got to stay to the end. With such short sets it’s all about building to the finale. If I’d left Billie Eilish when my friends gathered across the park I would have missed her delicately cover ‘Hotline Bling’, then demand a mosh pit, and close with ‘Ocean Eyes’, the track that smashed down the door for the endlessly talented 16-year-old when she uploaded it to SoundCloud in 2015. It’s still swimming around in my brain today.
You know you’re having sound troubles when your keyboard falls off its stand onto the stage and you have to use duct tape to hold it down. There were some major technical issues for The Internet, but the band shelved their frustration as they lead us on a funked up trip through the late afternoon. While Matt Martian’s keyboard was put back in place with some Kiwi ingenuity, he took the chance to be front of stage and party with the crowd. The hidden heroes of the festival are the roadies (are they even called that?) and sound technicians who suddenly appear to put instruments back together, reattach microphone receivers, set one band up then pull it all down again with a tiny window of time.
I haven’t been at the very front of a big gig for a long time. But Anderson .Paak and the Free Nationals were worth investing 45 minutes of waiting to get some prime real estate. It was a rollercoaster of RnB, punk mosh pits, jazz, and hip-hop. He’s an incredible front man, though why he was wearing a long-sleeved jumper I will never know. The crowd was in the palm of his hand as he bounced around the stage, onto the drums, and back to gyrate with the microphone. We walked away drenched in sweat, smiling at strangers who had shared in that moment. Where we were going we didn’t quite know.
TOKiMONSTA (Photo: David Watson).
As the sun went down, the final two hours became a bit blurry. I had my notepad but no pen. A phone with no battery. The music seemed louder in the dark. We drifted around the four stages, each a unique end to the day. TOKiMONSTA’s journey from classical pianist to dark and stormy beat maker is one of my favourite artist stories. Surgery to treat a potentially fatal brain disease left her unable to speak or hear music. She got both abilities back. We waited for Anderson .Paak to appear to perform his guest verses. He never did, but it didn’t matter as her psychedelic beats pounded down the tunnel of trees.
The density of Bonobo’s electronic dance music becomes so clear when played with a live band. Its layers are intricate and at the centre of the stage Bonobo himself – moving between a drum machine and computer and keyboard – is like a chef pulling together all the final elements of a dish.
It was about now that people were starting to dance with their eyes closed.
The moon hung huge right above the stage for the day’s rock finale of The War on Drugs, and the university’s beautiful clock tower glowed blue under lights. We were in the back row and the view down to the Princes Street stage was perfect. The band sounded so crisp and clear. Earlier in the day, their album A Deeper Understanding won a Grammy for Best Rock Album. They deserved to close out the festival on the main stage.
Suddenly, far too quickly, it was over. The music finished. Sunburnt and exhausted but glowing, Auckland floated out into the streets of the city and into a 3.2x Uber surge.
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The Spinoff Weekly compiles the best stories of the week – an essential guide to modern life in New Zealand, emailed out on Monday evenings.