The Phoenix Foundation’s Samuel Flynn Scott checks out the food, music and wacky shirts of Laneway Festival 2019 in a review for Radio NZ.
I’m pretty sure I used to be the target market for Laneway, but this year I barely know anyone on the lineup.
As a joke, my good friend Lukasz sent our group chat what we thought was the lineup, but was actually a list of food stalls. None of us even noticed. I’d happily watch Judge Bao live or get a glass of Rex Orange County. It’s all new to me.
But here I am, pink shorts, flamingo shirt, thin raincoat in my tote bag (I wasn’t born yesterday, I will not trust this Auckland weather), ready to open my heart to the new generation of artists kicking against the mainstream.
In full disclosure I’ve performed at Laneway twice; I’ve seen a few heroes play (The 3D’s, Daniel Johnston, Belle & Sebastian, Bailter Space); and been charmed by a few more recent discoveries (Future Islands, Mac DeMarco, Ariel Pink).
But even those ‘recent’ discoveries aren’t really that new and in general, it feels like the festival has shifted its focus away from heritage alternative rock dudes, toward younger more diverse artists.
It’s a shift that makes total sense. You may have noticed that all the artists I mentioned above were dudes or mostly dudes. This year’s bill feels like an almost even split of women and bros. Recent years have seen an embracing of LGBTQI artists too.
I could very easily post something to Facebook like, “Don’t know who’s playing Laneway, don’t care,” and just be that grump. I don’t think there is necessarily anything hugely wrong with that ‘tude. Ad Rock (Beastie Boys) recently went on a lengthy rant about how modern rap means nothing to him and at his age, it shouldn’t. There is a certain dignity in recognising that your era has been superseded.
New music should slightly baffle those that have come before it.
Some people seem very adept at enjoying new sounds year after year. I think I stopped soaking up new stuff around 2012. But for the past week, I’ve been listening to Laneway 2019 artists and lo and behold, give anything a bit of time and you’ll find some great stuff in there.
I was excited to see a few of today’s acts regardless. Courtney Barnett made one of the best albums of 2018, I have never seen her live and I am very excited that I finally can. I’m always interested in what Lontalius is up to and his recent singles have been really great. The Dead C will mess with people’s heads and I want to see that.
Also, I haven’t been to Laneway since it shifted to Albert Park. Silo Park is a great place to visit, watch a movie, see a show on the grass. But an all-day music venue in the blazing sun, standing on concrete? I could never get comfortable in the crowd there.
There is no doubt that Albert Park is a much better venue. Shade and hills. Zones divided up by water fountains and stately homes.
The food seems better too. I immediately zorb to the Cazador stall, where they’re doing a mash-up of wild New Zealand game and the good ole dirty hot dog: rabbit and venison Cazadogs. Delicious.
Before I’ve even seen a band I’m blown away by the flair of young Kiwi dudes and their shirts. A far cry from the Australian ‘festival shirt’ bizzaro-thon, Laneway 2019 is a fantasy parade of some of the most devastatingly disgusting shirts I have ever seen.
Add in the terrifying gang of banana humans (who go banana-ballistic when Che Fu pops into High Beams‘ set) and there is a sense of the carnival to the day.
The first band I get a good look at is Bene. The Thunderdome stage is packed and her show is profesh and energetic, and as the day progresses it becomes clear that these are not qualities possessed by all Laneway ‘19 acts.
But Bene is good, really good. She’s gonna be big, right? I am always wrong about these things, but I sense her bigness looming.
Smino, I will give a B+. It’s pretty good but certainly far from exceptional. I’ve been enjoying his music for the last week, but his constant cries of “MAKE SOME FUCKING NOISE!” seem more desperate than vainglorious.
I feel very out of touch with the hip hop of today, but his music seems cut from the same cloth as Mac Miller, just burning a little less bright.
Dunedin noisy-bastard-legends The Dead C are wonderful. The crowd seem baffled. The band seem baffled. Robbie Yeat’s floor tom sounds like the tolling of Beelzebub’s bell of eternal doom, and the whole band screech and rumble like a broken steam train.
They seem an awfully odd act for this year’s festival and they are certainly the only thing approximating a heritage act. It’s unsettling and confusing and enjoyable on many levels.
I rush off to catch Mitski, one of the acts who‘s really caught my ears in the build-up to the festival. She’s really good, her band are darn good but the sound at the Princes Street stage isn’t great.
There’s a big screen on stage and cameras filming the band, but instead of showing Mitski, they just have other band’s names or random images (The Dead C had safety notices behind them their entire set, which was kind of awesome, as it seemed to imply the band might be too much for the audience to deal with).
When Mitski plays ‘Nobody’ I almost feeling like I’m at a festival where I know what’s going on and can soak it all in. It’s a good song. If I could properly hear her voice it would be even better.
After cueing up for Serial Griller burgers with my gang of old dorks, we manage to catch the last couple of tracks of Lontalius. I wish I had seen it all because it sounds fantastic. The crowd is frustratingly small for his show. I think he is on the precipice of people really catching on to his music.
The atmosphere is rather spoiled when a young punter asks me where Rex Orange County are playing. I’m not sure, I tell her, but will just check my phone which has the timetable “TOO FUCKING SLOW, FUCK YOU.” she interjects. OK, that was weird but I kinda feel like I need to see Rex Orange County now.
I shouldn’t have. It’s the limpest, most unimpressive live show I have seen in a long time. Like an un-ironic mash-up of Steely Dan and Alt-J. It seems Rex Orange County are huge right now but I do not dig it. I feel like I will never hear of them ever again.
The two songs I see of Parquet Courts slightly restore my faith in live music before Jorja Smith bores me back to earth. She gets a massive crowd and to my ears, does absolutely nothing of note. I just don’t understand how bands get to this point without knowing, at least vaguely, how to put on an exciting show.
In the past FKA Twigs, St Vincent or Future Islands may have torn the house down, but tonight it feels like there is a lack of the theatrical on stage. I feel like I am ready to be whipped into a frenzy if only a band could oblige me with some manic, raw power.
I finally get that with Courtney Barnett. She is 100% on a whole other plane of existence to everything that has come before her today.
She’s a complete barnstorming rock star. It’s good, very good. Again, I want more from the sound and lighting. As the second headliner (before Florence and the Machine), it doesn’t quite feel like the big slick stadium show it should, but jebus her songs are so good and she goes hard.
Thrashing away at her guitar and wrenching from it sounds as terrifying as they are beautiful. It’s wonderful to watch someone on a big stage and know that you are experiencing the real thing.
I should stick around for Florence and The Machine and Jon Hopkins but I am ashamed to say I do not. Instead, I go swim in a pool, because I’m old and in the immortal words of Tupac, just like his beloved California, I know how to party. And to me, that means lots of La Croix, a swim in the pool and in bed before midnight.
Without The Big Day Out or Auckland City Limits (is that coming back? I liked that festival) Laneway has a lot on its shoulders. It certainly delivers in terms of festival experience. I’d go back for the Hapunan Longanisa Lumpia (think very tasty sausage in a spring roll) alone.
But I think perhaps one or two little nods to the past in the lineup would enhance the experience, for me at least. Although the hordes of youths in their crazy print shirts seemed pretty happy and I can begrudgingly admit that that is what actually what matters.
And Courtney Barnett rules. As if you didn’t know that already.
This article first appeared at RNZ, and is republished with permission.