Australia is spoiled for choice when it comes to festivals to attend over the summer period, but Falls Festival holds a special place in our hearts. Each year the festival outdoes itself, bringing more to the festival experience than any punter could hope for. This year (15/16) was no different. With a lineup boasting the likes of Disclosure, Bloc Party, Foals, Courtney Barnett, Hiatus Kaiyote, Mac DeMarco, Paul Kelly and more, it was a pretty fantastic way to bring in the new year.
Three Howlers went along this year (two for Byron Bay, one for Mt Duneed Estate) and although our experiences definitely differed, the overall consensus was that it was an unreal time all round, regardless of location. Here are our highlights below!
Sometimes, it pays to listen to your friends. There I was, all ready to go to finally catch Courtney Barnett live in action, when my friends persuaded me to leave half way through to catch Hiatus Kaiyote. We’d already seen half of Courtney, and it was pretty sunny where we were standing, so I heeded the word of my pals (who, might I add have never failed me before with music suggestions) and followed them to the other stage for Hiatus Kaiyote. A few of them had long been singing their praises, and I don’t know why I convinced myself I knew anything about this band, because from the moment they took to the stage I was spellbound. Utterly transfixed, lead singer Nai Palm and her band blew my fucking mind apart time and time again with their impossibly intricate songs. Sounding like about 7 songs in each one, they traversed styles and genres with calmed expressions but furiously moving limbs and extremities as they laid it down. If there is one band you have to listen to if you haven’t already, its this one.
Bloc Party and Flux
I’ve seen Bloc Party twice before, and both of those times my inner 14-year-old has been left a little disappointed that her favourite song had been missing from the set list. Flux is one of those songs that encapsulates a lifetime of memories and emotions for me, and given their past track record with leaving it off their set list, it didn’t even enter my mind that Bloc Party would play it at Falls this year. However, when I heard those opening few notes, my heart skipped a beat. I couldn’t believe it. I couldn’t take my eyes off frontman Kele Okereke as he screamed the lyrics and I screamed them right back at him. As a loyal Bloc Party fan, their most recent single was a bit disappointing to say the least, and maybe it’s all in my head but I couldn’t help but feel Kele looked slightly uncomfortable performing the band’s new stuff. But, when he launched into the “greatest hits” part of the set, he couldn’t have looked more at home and it was this moment that made the entire festival what it was.
Paul fucking Kelly
If you weren’t brought up with Paul Kelly playing throughout your childhood, sit your parents down and ask them what they’ve got against you, because you have severely missed out. There was no other set quite like Paul Kelly. Sure, the numbers had thinned for old Paul, but for those smart enough to hang around, they were treated to an absolutely unreal set. This eas more than just a nostalgia act, this was a true living legend showing us how it’s done. Dumb Things and How To Make Gravy proved particular highlights with the crowd, with the latter bringing more than a few tears to this writer’s eyes. The highlight of the entire set was when the sound cut out completely and the band did not miss a beat whilst waiting for it to come back on. When it finally did (after some seriously impressive dad moves from Kelly that even the Wiggles would be jealous of), it was right back into it like nothing had happened. Legendary.
Having my faith in humanity restored
We arrived around midday on New Year’s Eve, and it seemed as soon as I stepped foot out of the car, things were going wrong. Security and staff were “unhelpful” to say the least in regards to where I could get my ticket, and I found myself having to go on an hour long journey on foot just to be let into the place. Then simple things like cards not working at the bar, our carefully designed totem pole for our friends to find each other in the masses not being let in and losing a very important friend just before midnight each would have been tolerable in isolated circumstances, but given the afternoon I had just had, it was all getting a little too much. So naturally I decided to lose my coin purse, with $50, a few drinks tickets and my ID, just to really bring it home for myself. I put off checking the lost & found for two days after that because I had accepted my fate that it was all gone forever, but was physically shocked when I was told that my ID and purse had indeed been handed in. The drink tickets and cash were gone, but I am happy to pay that as tax for the other stuff being returned. A small act like someone picking this up and handing it in made all the difference, and gave me some serious faith in humanity. The chances of an ID being handed in anywhere are pretty slim, but when you add 16,000 revellers into the mix, they’re almost nonexistent. Thank you to whoever defied those chances!
Foals, Foals, Foals
There was one band I was there to see this year, and that was Foals. One of my favourite bands ever and quickly becoming one of the best live acts in the world, last year saw the band release their “rockiest” album yet, and I couldn’t wait to see it live in action, and they did not disappoint. Full throttle from start to finish, the boys ripped through their material, new and old, in an absolutely blistering set. Snake Oil, Mountain At My Gate and What Went Down were particular highlights from the new stuff, whilst Inhaler, Spanish Sahara and Two Steps Twice were reminders of their past and why they are in the position they are in today. Absolutely phenomenal, the could have easily taken out the headline spot for the final night at Byron, and I don’t think anyone would have minded.
People helping people
The absolute plethora of ‘legend squads’ ™ running around trying to live their own unnecessarily loud and dickheaded version of the Jagermeister animal ads aside, the vast majority of people at Falls this year were decent ladies and gentleman simply in attendance to enjoy the music and the excellent times. I witnessed no incidents of violence whatsoever either, something really encouraging given the tragedy that happened in my usual backyard of Fortitude Valley in Brisbane this weekend gone. The most malicious thing I saw all festival were the campers who attached a $5 note to a fishing line near their tents and managed to fool everyone (except me though, I stay woke).
Not only that, I got to experience the friendliness and helpfulness of the wider Falls community firsthand when I woke to find my car battery dead-er than Elvis on the final day of the festival. From people offering to traverse all the way to the other side of the festival to get me a battery charger, to the two dudes who lent me their jumper leads without even blinking and flatly refusing any recompense, to the guy camping behind me who, even locked in a deathmatch with what looked like the hangover you get when you wake up on Judgement Day, still offered to help me out with his car to jump mine. Pat yourselves on the back, Falls.
Mac DeMarco: a true showman
What a pleasure that set was. Most of the acts I watched had some form of banter going with the audience, but Mac took it to another level entirely. Not content just to whisk us all away to a hazy tropical paradise with crackers like Salad Days, Freaking Out The Neighborhood and Let Her Go, he encouraged us all to call his Argentinian housemate by posting his number on the Jumbotron, tossed his new keyboardist into the raucous mosh pit for a trial by fire (and also urine apparently) before jumping right in there himself and riding the crowd surf waves all over the place. And I still have the absolutely majestic set-closing Still Together stuck in my head right now.
Weird Al Yankovic brings my childhood full circle
I’m not the biggest fan of parody. It often ends in terrible Wayans brothers movies. I’m also not that big a fan of Weird Al for the same reason, though I do concede he is possibly the Grandmaster of cringingly bad dad jokes. That said, one point in his set floored me completely and it wasn’t any of his songs where he simply changes the lyrics to inoffensively ridiculous things that rhyme, but Dare To Be Stupid, his stylistic send-up of Devo for which he wrote all the lyrics from scratch. The reason is that this is a song I heard probably three times a week for countless years as a child as part of the legendary 80s soundtrack to the Transformers movie (not the Michael Bay monstrosity but the 1986 cartoon feature film). Hearing him play that live out of the blue was just so surreal and rushed back so many feelings of nostalgia. It may not rank as high in almost everyone else’s list of their own personal highlights, but as far as raw emotions go this one went straight to the feels for me.
Foals straight crushing it
My third time seeing them live and they somehow get larger and larger and more intense every damn time. Right from the down and dirty opener Snake Oil kicked off the set with a thunderclap, the ferocity was sky-high. My Number had the entire crowd absolutely seething with kinetic energy, the breakdowns in Inhaler utterly monolithic. Spanish Sahara was an emotional rollercoaster ride and, most importantly, the new songs the majority of us had never had the privilege of seeing live like London Thunder, Mountain At My Gates and the absolutely explosive penultimate song What Went Down were all near-perfect.
My only qualm was that it all only lasted a meagre one hour and they weren’t headlining, if I had my druthers they’d have gotten a two hour headlining set over Disclosure and it’d be renamed Foals Festival forthwith. Can’t win them all though.
Cooking with Paul Kelly and the Merri Soul Sessions
Sorry Peking Duk, better luck next time Disclosure, the important thing is that you tried, Rüfüs, but none you or any of the other acts on the 2015 Falls Festival bill will ever come close to touching the sheer grandiosity that was Paul motherfucking Kelly singing How To Make Gravy to that amphitheatre stage on Friday night. One of the first songs I ever learned how to play in full on guitar, I cried like a small child hearing it done live. That was my Falls festival right there, and it came not from one of the many chart-topping upstart young acts they had booked across three days, but from a 60-year-old dude (who happens to be one of the biggest legends in the entire music industry). That his supporting cast, including Linda and Vika Bull, Dan Sultan and Clairy Browne were all absolutely phenomenal vocally and in their supporting roles (goddamn, those harmonies) was an added bonus. They were so good the power cut out for a good five minutes mid-gig and they kept the crowd entertained throughout (Paul Kelly’s Elvis dad dance moves a particular highlight).
At a festival showcasing some of the best new musicians from Australia, it felt right having these living legends who blazed the trail for them in the first place ply their craft on the same stage in such amazing fashion.
Mt Duneed Estate
That it even went ahead at all
Honestly, this could probably be numbers one through five. With a fire making its way along The Great Ocean Road and taking with it over 100 houses, safety outweighed the desire to attend a festival and my friends and I were bracing ourselves for a cancellation announcement. Instead, the legends at Falls (with the assistance of A Day On The Green organisers) found a new venue in the beautiful Mt Duneed Estate winery and went about relocating an entire festival for over 15,000 people un under 48 hours. On New Year’s Eve, photos of the empty site a mere 24 hours before the festival took place were up on the big screen and festival organisers and staff received the roaring accolades of an appreciative audience –many of whom were people who had lost their houses or been evacuated from their towns just days before Falls– they deserved.
If there was one sentence I heard repeated over the entire four day event, it was something like this: “I can’t believe we’re actually here for this.” I didn’t come across one single person who wasn’t impressed, excited and eternally grateful all at once.
The local talent
Kicking off the festival on Monday with Art Vs Science. Getting wrecked on a Tuesday with The Bennies. Getting into the festival spirit with the legend is Paul Kelly. Waking up on a sleepy, warm Wednesday to Banoffee. Jumping around like a maniac for Seth Sentry in the afternoon because his broken foot meant he couldn’t himself. Watching Courtney Barnett own that fucking stage like it was hers alone. Braving the highest temperatures of the entire week just for Gang Of Youths….You see where I’m going with this. I’m not a particularly patriotic person, but the sheer level of local talent on display was incredible and they provided some of the best sets of the entire festival. Also, I don’t think I heard a better description for how hot it was on Thursday afternoon than: “Holy Christ on a dildo seated bicycle, it’s hot.” – courtesy of Gang Of Youths’ Dave Le’aupepe.
The community vibe
Okay, so maybe it’s corny, but Falls Lorne/Duneed had a really great sense of community about it. Maybe it was linked to the fact that everyone was walking around astounded for four days that the festival happened. Maybe it was the heat stroke. I couldn’t really say for certain. But what I do know is that everyone – from the bands to the staff, the police present to the punters – was looking out for one another. Yes, I included police in there. This was the first event I’ve attended where I didn’t feel like someone was trying to intimidate me while I was trying to have fun. I saw officers singing along to bands, making sure people stayed hydrated, getting into water fights and dancing along to Hey Ya! during band change overs.
That sense of community extended far beyond a positive police presence. There was the person who went around an entire marquee set up near the main stage spraying people with chilled water because it would have been rude not to share on a 40+ degree day. There were the volunteers talking around collecting donations for the Red Cross appeal for the bushfires – not to mention that every single person they asked donated what they could, too. The New Year’s Eve ticker generated over $100,000 to go towards helping those affected by the fire, but the donation drive began well before December 31st. Then, there were the artists. Putting on killer sets aside, artists including Courtney Barnett and Dune Rats donated all proceeds from their merch sales to the Red Cross Bushfire Appeal. They also seemed to take on a second role of being event caretakers, often stopping sets to make sure people weren’t being crushed in the pit or passing out due to dehydration and heatstroke. Quite a few acts paused their sets to check on the crowd, asked security if certain people who had been pulled out of the crowd were okay.
None, however, were as memorable as festival veterans Hilltop Hoods. Suffa stopped a song almost as quickly as he started it when the few dickheads who had managed to worm their way in started throwing their weight around (literally) in a way that was less “being involved in the pit” and more “being a violent prick of a person” (why it was during a Hilltop set is something we may never have the answer to) to remind the crowd that everyone was there to enjoy music and to treat one another with respect and all that happy stuff.
The cooling options
Okay, so Byron Bay might have had a water park, but Duneed had misters and sprinklers. It might not sound like much, but over the last two days of Falls Lorne/Duneed, the only thing that stopped many a festival goer from succumbing to heat stroke (though there were some who did) was standing under the misters for an impromptu shower of sorts at the top of the hill. It was muddy and messy by night fall, but damn, the relief was sweet and you got to watch the bands at the same time.
Obvious stuff? Yeah, probably, but that doesn’t meant it isn’t true. I was surprised to find myself actually loving the Disclosure set on Wednesday night. I dig a few of their songs, but other than that they don’t really float my boat. Still there was something pretty impressive about seeing Disclosure doing their thing live up on stage and the audio elements that went with it made it even better. Bloc Party in their refreshed incarnation bought the goods, with new tracks like The Love Within setting the crowd off just as much as straight up classics like Banquet and they threw in certified bangers like One More Chance and Flux just for good measure.
There was, however, no band more fitting to ring in the New Year after a pretty emotional speech from the festival organisers than Foals. They played a shattering, thundering, roaring set which hit its stride with My Number and only continued to build on itself from there. The entire thing lead into the most perfect, Yannis Philippakis lead, countdown to midnight and left everyone buzzing as the party continued on with Django Django into the New Year. Fucken A++.