St. Jerome’s Laneway Festival 2012 by Jake Robinson

Posted on February 17, 2012

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Like the very genesis of human life, the St. Jerome’s Laneway Festival in Melbourne crawled out from the primordial laneway and evolved in the relative comfort of the Maribyrnong-side Footscray Arts Centre. While this move was forced by the destruction of its local habitat, St. Caledonian Lane, it has facilitated the remarkable growth of the festival which now includes dates in all national major centres and also Singapore.

St. Jerome’s Laneway Festival 2012

Now in its third year in the relative seclusion of Footscray, the Laneway Festival has continued make its mark in the Biggest-Loser-cast-in-an-elevator sized summer festival calendar (large, hot and sweaty, drawn out, some massive breakdowns and rapidly shrinking). While initially the setting in the heart of Melbourne’s laneways made this a unique festival experience, lately promotional deals have ensured that Laneway festival scoop the proverbial cream of the alternative music crop.

International promotional agencies Young Turks, The Windish Agency and Eat Your Own Ears have all come aboard the good ship St Jerome to charter the increasingly hazardous feat of booking festival bills.

A perfect festival afternoon, hot and slightly overcast, was kicked off by Triple J favourites and local lads Husky, further cementing their burgeoning cred. A good crowd was perched on the hillside Windish Stage to witness their intricate harmonies and delightful melodies, ‘History’s Door’ closing out their set to the delighted early arrivals. Fellow local lad Geoffrey O’Connor absconded from his musical day job, with the Crayon Fields, to serenade the few revellers with his mix of 80’s romantic pop songs such as ‘Clouds’ and ‘Whatever Leads Me to You’, which drew people up to dance.

Geoffrey O’Connor at St. Jerome’s Laneway Festival 2012

South Dakota’s EMA sprung forth showcasing her latest release Past Life Martyred Saints. Her entourage, particularly the electric viola, brought flesh to her swarms of dark haunting tones. The hauntingly poetic ‘California’ bringing the first ‘wow’ moment of the day.

Canadians Austra bedecked in 90’s-rave-on-a-spaceship outfits, roused the crowd into fits of dancing. Songs off their recent Feel It Break album, particularly ‘Lose It’ and the ‘Beat and the Pulse’, had the crowd in an enraptured trance. The only disappointment was the bottleneck created around the stage. Many people were forced to watch from obstructed views far from the stage, while in the centre there was plenty of dancing space still available.

Following them, Girls performed the most consistent act of the afternoon. Frontman Christopher Owens continued the odd dress theme with a pair of garish red jeans, while the stage had been beautified by the appearance of several bouquets of flowers. Drawing upon their entire canon, Girls’ mix of 60’s pop and rock and hits such as ‘Lust for Life’, ‘Laura’, ‘Heartbreaker’ and ‘Vomit’, showed how they are transcending over-hyped expectations and instead following on with consistently brilliant releases. They completed their seduction of the Melbourne crowd by gifting the bouquets to the crowd.

One of the best aspects of the move to Footscray is that the added space allows patrons to spread out and enjoy a beverage close to the two smaller stages. The Windish Agency stage, perched at the bottom of a small incline overlooking the Maribyrnong river, was the perfect place to enjoy the Melbourne summer afternoon while accompanied by the highly impressive American outfits Portugal. The Man and Cults.

British rockers Yuck, updating their retro tag to 90’s alternative rock, were a big evening highlight on the Windish Stage. Coming to prominence as the latest darling of the British rock press, they now seem to have moved into the backlash stage of this process. Alternating between brash distorted rockers and quiet chilled out twang, they provided a welcome destination for lovers of melodic rock. With the 90’s retro revival in its initial phases, expect to see more bands aping the alt rock pioneers of the 90’s like Pavement, Sonic Youth and Smashing Pumpkins, yet few will do it with as much honest sincerity as Yuck’s ‘Shook Down’ or ‘Get Away’.

Chairlift were unfortunately delayed by the seemingly annual idiocy of someone deciding that a tall tree is a great place to watch bands. This primate reveller may have perhaps been seeking to better hear the stage rather than see it. The car park stage was inflicted with sound seepage from the very nearby DJ stage. It made it nearly impossible to actually hear the bands properly beyond the sound stage due to the throb of electronic beats. This was compounded by this stage being the least accessible.

The Horrors, however, burst to life in demonic pleasure on the main Dean Turner Stage. Providing the strutting swagger of rock and roll heroes of bygone, frontman Faris Badwan lorded over his assembly, while Joshua Hayward’s buzzsaw guitar moans and Tom Cowan’s elegiac synth lines swarmed around. Having developed from their garage punk origins, The Horrors have now delved into hypnotic rhythms and shoegaze instrumentation. The 10 minute epics ‘Sea Within a Sea’ and ‘Ocean’s Burning’ were delightfully mixed with the almost pop hits ‘Still Life’, ‘I Can See Through You’ and ‘Who Can Say?’.

The Horrors on stage at St. Jerome’s Laneway Festival

Finally there was the impossible line-up clash choice of M83, Washed Out and SBTRKT. While all festivals fall victim to the necessities of timetable clashes (except of course Meredith), this Laneway edition seemed particularly brutal. This one example was by no means a lonely one.

M83 provided the perfect festival closing set, building the massive crowd into a giant pulsing mass. Anthony Gonzalez and his band lent heavily on his most recent album and hits ‘Intro’, ‘Steve McQueen’ and ‘Reunion’ to elicit communal joy. The only surprise was the relatively subdued ‘Midnight City’ which never really reached the peaks to which the crowd was willing it. Even the appearance of a saxophonist for the song outro failed to set the crowd into the expected delirium.

The festival also ran impressively smoothly becoming the first edition in my experience where the line-up actually performed at similar times to the printed program. The festival also showed welcome improvements in the decline of overt commercial advertising stalls as well as an impressive reduction in drunk bogans with their shirts off. The bar lines, while occasionally long, moved quite quickly. The dreaded, horrendous problems with toilets associated with previous editions was solved by a long line of port-a-loos stretching a good portion of the length of Maribyrnong Street. Unlike other installments, food was readily available for the entire duration of the festival. Whether these improvements were due to greater organisation or a slight drop in attendance wasn’t readily apparent, though more than readily welcomed.

While certainly St Jerome’s has cut itself a niche in the festival calendar, this niche seems predicated on overall consistency and solidity of the line-up rather than on moments of spectacular grandness, but it is one that has consistently been built upon and improved with each edition.

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Posted in: Events, Music