Laneway Festival @ Sydney Showground, Sydney, Australia, 5th February, 2023 | Under the Radar Magazine Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
Wednesday, February 21st, 2024  

HAIM

HAIM, Phoebe Bridgers, Fontaines D.C., The Beths

Laneway Festival @ Sydney Showground, Sydney, Australia, 5th February, 2023,

Feb 15, 2023 Photography by Celine Teo-Blockey Web Exclusive
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Laneway Festival Sydney 2023: Festivals are back down under

“I can’t believe we’re in Sydney,” cried Alana Haim of Californian sister act, HAIM, headliners of St Jerome’s Laneway Festival, held at six cities across Australia over the last two weekends. “We’ve been waiting for four fucking years,” she added about the exciting time after their third album Women In Music Part II had been recorded and plans for international tours were in their sights. As the pandemic derailed lives and plans for tours and travel, in the early days, the sisters hardly saw each other apart from on Zoom. The album’s release was delayed, and when news came out that WIMPII had been nominated for a Grammy it was received separately via their parents. But now, they were spending two weeks on the other side of the globe, touring like a college football team with other international acts.

It is no mean feat that Laneway, a multi-city, travelling festival is back after a two year Covid hiatus, with top tier acts such as Haim, Phoebe Bridgers, Fontaines DC, Fred Again, Yard Act, The Beths, 100 Gecs and Girl in Red—with nary a mask or vaccination card in sight! Barely 12 months ago, only Australian citizens were allowed into the country and with strict quarantine procedures. Western Australia with its zero covid policy would not open its borders for another month. So are we finally living in a post-Covid world?

At the Showgrounds in Sydney Olympic Park on Sunday 5th February, it certainly felt like it! Young women dressed in bralette tops like their favourite band were quick to hop onto each other’s shoulders when Este Haim asked a show of who in the crowd were having a good time. The trio kick-started their eagerly-awaited 11pm set with a guitar solo from Danielle Haim who shreds with the best of them. She then moved to a single drum, centre stage and started pounding it, before a spotlight then lit up over Este beating on her on drum, followed quickly by Alana. They pounded in unison like a clarion call as more fans ran to take their places inside, which then led into the percussive opening of “Now I’m In It,” a song about Danielle’s depression from WIMPII.

HAIM
HAIM

On the next track, they were greeted them with rapturous cheers when the trio broke out the dance routine for “I Know Alone” that they’d taught fans over Instagram during lockdown. Este mentioned that they had finished their 2013 debut Days Are Gone right here in Sydney, and they played at Laneway in 2014, “It means so much to us to be back headlining this festival…so dreams can come true,” she beamed. “Gasoline” and “Summer Girl” hit high notes but old favourites, “Forever” and “The Wire” right at the end of their set, saw fans wanting to beat the rush, double back inside the doors, while others danced euphorically as they made their way to the nearby train station.

For the first time Laneway Sydney had moved from downtown to the purpose-built Olympics venue—a 40 min-train ride from the city center. This change gave some fans pause but many were also ready for the return of this late Summer festival, after rain washed out much of last year’s Splendour In The Grass. With three of the four stages indoors here, there is much needed respite from the blazing sun though being amongst a canopy of trees is my preferred festival setting like most of Laneways other locations. Only the dance stage was outdoors at the Showgrounds and there were volunteers on hand providing free sunscreen. There was also an abundance of water stations for free refills. Prior to each performance at the two bigger stages, volunteers were stationed in the pit, filling up fresh cups of water to hand out to those at the barricades.

Drawing the biggest set of the festival however, were not the headliners but British DJ/producer Fred again…, who played a much earlier 6pm slot that was packed to the rafters. Fans in the front rows were crushed and security had to turn fans away from the main doors upfront. I spotted at least one fan being taken away on a gurney.

Fred again… is the audio project of Fred Gibson, a producer at the helm of some of the biggest pop hits in the UK, having worked with Charlie XCX, Stormzy and George Ezra but his Actual Life series is not about high profile celebrity features. His emotionally charged dancefloor bangers are built around audio clips taken from Gibson’s phone like a friend singing a lullaby to their baby on “Marnie (Wish I Had You)”, or a Facetime conversation with DJ, The Blessed Madonna which is sampled for “Marea (We’ve Lost Dancing).”

The Beths
The Beths

The set kicked off with “Kyle (I Found You)” — a solitary voice, that of Kyle Tran Myhre, a poet Gibson came across on Instagram, is heard “In this smoking chaos our shoulder blades kiss, I found you”— the words “I found you” become an uplifting mantra as the hypnotic dance beat can’t help but get you swaying without losing the emotion in Kyle’s voice. Gibson sat the piano and sang quiet, auto-tuned verses as on the screen a camera slowly panned across a series of faces waiting at an Underground station platform. The crowd is ecstatic from the onset but as the slow house beat builds, then drops, they follow Gibson’s pace as he steers them into the next track, the wonderfully uplifting “Bleu (Better with Time)” with the comforting refrain “just know that, it gets better.”

By mid-set the whole joint is sweaty and heaving to the techno beats like a nineties rave in the field as dawn breaks—powered by human emotion as opposed to synthetic drugs. It ends with “Billie (Loving Arms)” sampling Billie Ray Martin’s 1995, house track, ”Your Loving Arms” spliced with another track similar in tone, “Delilah (Pull Me Out of This),” that Gibson took to a powerful final crescendo. There were more people there than at any other point in the festival and most made their way back to the dance stage where 100 Gecs would later closed out the night. The vibe shift was palpable going from Fred again’s high octane energy then to Phoebe Bridgers’ downtempo, indie rock.

An update from her pandemic favorite skeleton pjs, Bridgers wore a black pants-suit with a sparkly skeleton top. She may be best known for her sad girl persona from Stranger In The Alps and Punisher, but here, her wrath was on full display. “Stupid ass fucking bitch of a country,” she quipped, after expressing she loved abortion and lamenting the state of US politics and the Supreme Court. Bridgers led with her biggest hit so far, “Motion Sickness,” which her teary fans sang every word in unison with her. Before “Kyoto” her Grammy nominated single about the fraught relationship she had with her father, she mentioned that he’d passed away recently and dedicated the song to him. In a set that leant heavily on songs off Punisher, she did include “Emily I’m Sorry,” a new Boygenius song from the trio’s forthcoming album The Record, that she’d debuted the day before at Laneway Adelaide.

Phoebe Bridgers
Phoebe Bridgers

Away from the main stages, Fontaines D.C., delivered the festival’s best performance. If ever there was a band poised to be the saviours of guitar rock, then these Dubliners who bonded at music college over their love for poetry, James Joyce and the Pogues are surely made of the right mettle. Taking their moniker from Johnny Fontane—the singer character in The Godfather, believed to be based on Frank Sinatra—the two suffix letters in their name, stand for Dublin City, distinguishing them from the LA band of the same name. It is also hints at that sense of place and home foundational to their identity and the way they write music. For example, “Jackie Down The Line” from their excellent third album Skinty Fia, is about the drug problem in Dublin and the apathy of authorities. You might need to do some digging and be versed in some North Dublin dialect to understand fully the lyrics but it’s such a well crafted song, it’s poetry is felt before meaning is made.

They started their set with “A Lucid Dream.” Frontman, Grian Chatten wore shades and sung in a lilting Irish brogue. Its followed quickly by the Clash’s “London Calling”-like intro of “Sha Sha Sha,” then the dream-pop strains of “Roman Holiday” which centres around the band’s move from Dublin to London and the xenophobia they experienced—”I don’t wanna see the Queen, I already sing her song.”

Their performance of “Televised Mind” from their Grammy-nominated sophomore A Hero’s Death really drove home the point that they should have won the 2021 Best Rock Album instead of The Strokes—this coming from a Strokes fan. The latter’s New Abnormal would seem middling compared to the tautness of A Hero’s Death—with songwriting that is urgent, potent and poetic.

Chatten was armed with his tambourine for the big percussive opening, that is soon layered with chunky guitars to build an expansive wall of sound. When Chatten set the tambourine down, he hunched over the mic and speaksang “it’s a televised mind,” several times, each more forceful than the next. Hunched over the mic and sometimes pacing, he cuts a figure that’s a cross between Noel Gallagher and Joy Division’s Ian Curtis as he warns of the dangers of our addiction to screens and the sway of the wrong type of media.

Fontaines D.C.
Fontaines D.C.

It was a faultless set — Chatten’s vocal range was expansive from the nasal yells on the Brit-poppy “Nabokov”, to the deeper Ian Curtis-like baritone on “Big Shot,” measured sonorousness on “Roman Holiday” and the sprechgesang of “The Boys In The Better Land.” They finish with a one-two of “The Boys In The Better Land” where the audience gayly sang back “La la la” to Chatten’s “do do do” in the chorus, and “I Love You” — which one may think is a love song for its beautifully sung chorus, except the verses talk of genocide and Chatten had revealed in an NME interview that “it’s their most overtly-political song yet.”

Earlier in the day, Auckland indie rockers, The Beths played that stage and included favorites like “Experts in a Dying Field” and “Jump Rope Gazer,” though their genteel delivery was somewhat lacklustre. Northampton rapper, Slowthai did better with his brand of UK grime and rap on “Cancelled,” “45 Smoke” and his Gorillaz collab “Momentary Bliss.” And Julia Jacklin, a late addition to the line-up, in a blood red dress with her slow, indie-inflected-experimental-folk, was spellbinding.

While the international acts took up top billing—with FINNEAS and Girl In Red’s Sapphic Gen Z fans proving some of the most passionate, turning out in full force for their sets— Aboriginal-Australian Sycco, indie-electronic Mallrat and rapper Tasman Keith showed the most promise among the homegrown acts.

Sycco
Sycco

After three Grammy nominations, Baltimore hardcore band Turnstile, decided to side-step their festival slots in Brisbane and Sydney to instead attend the February 5th awards ceremony in Los Angeles, which seemed the furthest thing away from hardcore to many of their Aussie fans. A mother attending the festival with her daughters on seeing their album at the festival record store said to me, “Are we not supposed to talk about this—that they’re not actually here!” visibly peeved as she expressed they were the band she was paying the festival ticket to see. Turnstile went home empty handed from the Grammys but made it out to Australia for the Laneway instalments in Adelaide, Melbourne and Perth.




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