Splendour in the Grass 2013

Splendour in the Grass 2013 (North Byron Parklands, NSW)

Splendour in the Grass 2013 (North Byron Parklands, NSW)

Armed with a new, permanent site in the North Byron Parklands (and quite some distance from Byron Bay), Splendour in the Grass was back for another year. Enjoying its 3rd location in as many years after spending time at Woodfordia in 2011 and Belongil Fields in 2012, 2013’s incarnation of Australia’s best festival had all the old favourites and a few new surprises. No camera gear, so this was a trip very much for pleasure and not business.

Day 1:  Rats in the Valley and shambolic babies

With heavy rains greeting campers on Thursday night, the mud had arrived. In much the same way as it’s claimed Eskimo’s have 180 words for snow and ice, Splendour goers now require a similar vocabulary for describing mud. Last year’s wet, sloppy mud was this year’s thick, claggy mud. Still, boots and shorts would again defeat jeans and Chuck Taylors (yep, some would even choose to go barefoot than destroy their pair of Converse) in the fashion stakes.

Amish Barn, Splendour in the Grass 2013

Amish Barn, Splendour in the Grass 2013

Getting to know the new site was the order of the day. All the old favourites were back again – The Global Village, Teepee Life, Very Small Mall, Amish barn…hang on what?? An Amish Barn? This year’s bizarre performance art as statement was an Amish barn being built alongside the GW McLennan stage. Complete with goats, hay bales, Amish kids and songs about ‘the Lord delivering me’, this was intriguing until we spotted these same folks cramming into the Supertop to watch the National on Saturday night. I’m not sure they weren’t faux-mish. But more on The National later.

A pre-midday rum and coke in the Curiosity bar alongside the McLennan Stage was  followed by the first act of the festival, Songs. The Sydney quartet provide a slow burn soundtrack for the midday crowd, but it’s time to head over the Supertop and catch Dune Rats. The lads from Brisbane get festivals. Beach balls, inflatable dinghys, shithouse covers of Blister in the Sun… it’s all there. And it’s bloody great. The raucous garage punk is the perfect launching pad for a Supertop crowd who haven’t yet spent three days wading through mud or enduring uncomfortable sleeping arrangements or cold showers.

Deap Vally (Splendour in the Grass 2013)

Deap Vally (Splendour in the Grass 2013)

Califonian chicks Lindsay Troy and Julie Edwards follow the madness. Following the Black Keys model of ‘it’s not how many instruments you have, but what you do with them’, Deap Vally provide one of the early highlights with a commanding stage presence and the highest volume of on-stage hair flicks – a title they would hold until Kiwi songstress Lorde snatched the title on Day 3.

Back in Australia again after their last visit for Groovin The Moo in 2012, Wavves play loud and drink a lot. It’s noisy – loosely termed surf punk –  but it’s all a bit of a mess. It’s a calorie burning set though, a lot of jumping, a lot of bodies smashing into each other and certainly never dull. By the time singer Nathan Williams has polished off his bottle of Jameson, Splendour for 2013 is well and truly hitting its stride.

Haim (Splendour in the Grass 2013)

Haim (Splendour in the Grass 2013)

For a band who haven’t yet released an album, Haim had sure drawn a lot of press. The 3 20-something sisters and their drummer Dash Hutton have us thinking as their style changes from song to song, sometimes bloated rock, sometimes dancy pop, and at times the right mix of both. Bryan Adams meets the Corrs? Wilson Philips meets Suzi Quattro meets Rick Springfield? Predictably, it’s Forever that receives the best crowd response, and the packed out Supertop are happy hear that their first album was completed in Sydney only days earlier.

With the food at Splendour a constant highlight (everything from noodles to donuts to ‘japan’s answer to KFC’ and some bizarre items called ‘vegan’), it’s time for lunch before heading to the bar alongside the Mixup for some mid afternoon beers. Clairy Browne and the Bangin Rackettes have one of the longest names on the bill and a lineup to match. With the news filtering through the Frank Ocean has cancelled as Sunday night’s closer, Browne and friends prove that some hipgrinding bass and stinging brass can cheer up a crowd faster than anyone can say ‘Soul Diva’.

Babyshambles, Splendour in the Grass 2013

Babyshambles, Splendour in the Grass 2013

Pete Doherty’s first trip to these shores was, as you’d expect, never going to go smoothly. With all sideshows cancelled due to some inexplicable visa rejection (yet strangely still allowed in to play Splendour) the man unfortunately more famous for his drug addiction than his music cut a chubby sailor figure as he took to the Supertop stage with band Babyshambles. A mad cap set that involved falling over, stumbling over words and backing vocals delivered by guitarist Steve Whitnall without the cigarette in his mouth so much as dropping ash was probably the most memorable set of Day 1. Closing with Fuck Forever, drenched in beer that he’d earlier poured over his head, Doherty gave everyone what they wanted to see.

Klaxons, Splendour in the Grass 2013

Klaxons, Splendour in the Grass 2013

Moving further back in the crowd, TV On The Radio were solid as always without ever really achieving lift-off save for the tent-favourite Wolf Like Me, so after a bite to eat and a couple of drinks we found our way to the Mixup. It was there that Klaxons delivered their polished electronic rock set to those who weren’t really that interested in Mumford and Sons on the mainstage. Day 1 was done, hoodies and gumboots had sold well, and the new Splendour site was to these eyes and feet a success. Even if the absence of a Woodfordia-style amphitheatre was again discussed.

Day 2: Buggs, Violets, Clouds, Horror and The National.

The Amish barn hasn’t really made the progress it should have. That’s the first thing noticed as Day 2 begins, and it needs to be discussed over a breakfast rum in the sun again. Byron has, after Thursday’s downpour, turned on another spectacular day of blue skies and sunshine but the mud has gone from claggy to fresh cow-pat in consistency. For those that wondered…

Palma Violets, Splendour in the Grass 2013

Palma Violets, Splendour in the Grass 2013

Palma Violets are high on the must see list for a lineup that isn’t overrun with must-sees. It’s a long way from Lambeth but bass player Chilli Jesson is up to the challenge of a midday set – frankly they should have scored a late afternoon slot. Jesson is the star of the show, along with some great guitar work from Sam Fryer. Best of Friends and We Found Love see the crowd swell, with the former also seeing 3 shirts come off and 6 boobs come out courtesy of three lasses at the front. Jesson likes what he sees, and climbs in to the crowd at the conclusion of the set to, presumably, discuss Kafka and Dostoyevsky with his new friends.

It’s going to prove a tough act to follow. Connor Murray’s Villagers are worth checking out over at the McLennan Stage (by now simply a mud filled swamp), but on the back of the Palma Violets it’s a bit subdued and food takes precedence. With the kids making a beeline for the Supertop, it must be time for Jake Bugg, the mop-topped teenage singer songwriter. The songs are solid, but without much stagecraft it doesn’t seem to these eyes and ears to justify the manic response he receives…but it’s far from awful.

Cloud Control, Splendour in the Grass 2013

Cloud Control, Splendour in the Grass 2013

Having delivered a killer set at Woodfordia in 2011, Cloud Control are forced to wait 15 minutes to go on stage as all manner of audio issues are attended to – or not – by the confused sound team. The crowd fill in the time to singing along to Dido’s Thank You over the PA. Yeah. Explain that. Eventually taking the stage, vocalist Alister Wright is forced to use keyboardist Heidi Lenffer’s microphone as – after all that – his still isn’t working. It’s again a cracking set, with Wright the affable frontman having everyone in the crowd feel like they’re in his lounge room. Gold Canary is the set’s highlight, and the new songs which are woven through the old are promising.

With the temperature dropping, it’s back to the Curiosity Bar alongside the GW Mclennan to witness what – on paper at least – is the most inexplicable set of the festival. The 20+ strong Polyphonic Spree will tonight be performing, in full, The Rocky Horror Show. As mentioned on radio the following morning “was there actually demand for that?”. Perhaps there wasn’t but the packed tent enjoy the stuff they know – Sweet Transvestite and Time Warp sound great. Most other stuff… well, kinda unrehearsed and a tad ridiculous. But it is Rocky Horror. And it is The Polyphonic Spree.

Crowd during The National, Splendour in the Grass 2013

Crowd during Empire of the Sun, Splendour in the Grass 2013

When something can make the Polyphonic Spree performance of Rocky Horror seem understated, it’s probably going to be Luke Steele and his Empire of the Sun. It made Kanye West’s 2011 entry to the Splendour Rock Eisteddfod a distant memory as Steele and his ill fitting headpiece – accompanied by costumed dancers and a giant Iron Maiden-esque mascot shooting steam out of armholes – took Mr G The Musical to a whole new level. It worked though, even for someone who’s not  particularly a fan of Empire of the Sun with Walking on a Dream and We Are The People the uplifting standouts. Steele walks the pit at the end of the set and hands over his headpiece, hopefully to someone who it fits a bit better.

The National, Splendour in the Grass 2013

The National, Splendour in the Grass 2013

In front of the sound desk proves to be a brilliant spot from which to witness The National, who provide the perfect contrast to Empire of the Sun. The visuals are stunning, and opening with 2007’s Fake Empire from the album Boxer, The National are immediately into stride. Decried by some as not being headline material, Matt Berninger’s vocals cut through superbly over the lush brass and guitar instrumentation. Even the Amish folk have unbuttoned their waist coats and are getting stuck in. Current album Trouble Will Find Me is featured early, with I Should Live in Salt, Don’t Swallow the Cap and Demons all showing up in the first half of the 90 minute set. The set builds constantly, reaching fever pitch as Berninger delivers Mr November to the crowd from the pit. His manic and shambolic vocals give this song incredible life and it will remain stuck in my head for the weeks that follow. Without doubt, the highlight of the 3 day festival has arrived, and a summer return to Australia seems inevitable for the lads from Ohio.

 

Day 3: Birthdays, Blood and Bamboo

Always celebrating a birthday in Winter, a trip to the beach isn’t a common thing. So off to beautiful Byron Bay we headed through patchy rain. Plenty of surfers young and old did what surfers do, and before long it was time to head back to the parklands for the final day of Splendour 2013.

Byron Bay, 28th July 2013

Byron Bay, 28th July 2013

Hungarian Langos were the most hyped food of 2013, so it was time to give them a try. Underwhelming but edible, they at least provided slightly more nutritional value than the rum and coke had done on days 1 and 2.

Surfer Blood were up on the main stage, and the lads from Florida probably needn’t book return flights for next year. Dull and uninspiring, there wasn’t much surfer about them and the blood too was sadly lacking. Pulled the pin on this one and bought a couple of gifts for the young’uns back home instead.

Making a rare trip to the MixUp tent, DJ Tyler Touche’ was putting in his Day 3 nomination for ‘Best iMac Solo’. Still, plenty of energy left and loaded up on Langos why not jump around a bit before The Bamboos take the stage, right? Probably the weirdest item lobbed on stage over the 3 days  came during this set, half a French breadstick that was quickly broken up and thrown back to the crowd in what one can only assume was biblical?

Tim Rogers with The Bamboos, Splendour in the Grass 2013

Tim Rogers with The Bamboos, Splendour in the Grass 2013

The Bamboos led by guitarist Lance Ferguson and vocalist Kylie Auldist were next at the Mix Up, and the Melbourne funksters gave us the highlight of Day 3. Auldist’s vocals  were superb throughout, and with Frank Ocean’s withdrawal it was left to the Bamboos to deliver a brilliant cover of Ocean’s tune Lost. It didn’t take a genius to guess though that with You Am I’s Tim Rogers at the festival for two of his own band’s sets, the velvet panted rock-god was more likely than not to join the Bamboos on stage to close out their set with the brilliant I Got Burned. A triumph.

NZ teenager Lorde was one of the great beneficiaries of Mr Ocean’s absence. The 16 year old with the flowing locks was hastily added to the bill, and in front of a packed Supertop she defied her age to prove that she was worthy of addition in her own right. Flicking her hair 14 times a song, her voice cut through the near silent crowd and proved that, whilst overcome by the support at times, her career is only just beginning.

Watching The Drones from the balcony of the hut alongside the McLennan tent (which I’m certain was last year’s Jagermeister Hunting Shack – obviously the sponsorship dollars have dropped) was different to watching them at the Corner. Liddiard, his low slung guitar and friends still delivered a solid set but they’d seem more suited to the dark sticky-floored surrounds of Melbourne bars than a festival stage. Perhaps the same could be said for You Am I who followed, who although armed with their brilliant Hi Fi Way Album in full didn’t attract more than a half full McLennan tent. It was something frontman Rogers didn’t let slip. “We told security to only let the coolest fuckers to see You Am I and the Drones”.

Mud at the McLennan, Splendour in the Grass 2013

Mud at the McLennan, Splendour in the Grass 2013

Over at the Mix Up, 24 year old James Blake was facing challenges of his own. Technology just wouldn’t behave and eventually he dispensed with the loops and samples and just played the piano, giving us Limit to Your Love. It worked, and despite an absence at times of the layered electronic sound underpinning falsetto vocals, it’s a captivating set that  peaks with Retrograde, the equipment finally doing what it’s supposed to do.

Teepee life, Splendour in the Grass 2013

Teepee life, Splendour in the Grass 2013

Splendour 2013’s success was in its consistency – it didn’t have the wall to wall superstar pulling power of 2011, nor the raw headliners of 2012, but every moment of each day provided something worth watching. Perhaps not having to map out each day was a blessing, for the first time it was easy to drift from stage to stage without having to lock in a golden position for a headliner taking the stage in 3 hours.

See you next year.

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