We all know how 2016 was. The year of Brexit, Drumpf and all things in between. We’ve all seen the countless memes proclaiming 2016 the year we were forsaken. Or the endless thinkpieces that tried to offer some sort of explanation for the 366 days of chaos that’s just ended. The Internet was quick to latch onto the idea that 2016 was one big downward spiral. But those in the music industry would be hard-pressed to agree.
We saw releases from so many amazing artists that it was hard to keep up. In this regard, the year was less a free-fall and more a rollercoaster. The peaks were amazing, with releases from elusive legends like Radiohead, Frank Ocean and A Tribe Called Quest. But the lows were devastating, with the world losing David Bowie, Prince and Phife Dawg, just to name a few.
So while it’s wrong to say 2016 was all bad, it was turbulent at best. And that’s why Falls Festival, the Marion Bay leg at least, was the perfect way to end such a year; in a way, it was itself a little microcosm of 2016.
To say that Falls Marion Bay has ups and downs is perhaps a simplification of the weekend, but it’s also not inaccurate. In this way too does it mirror the year it closed; there’s more to it than first appears, but it can ultimately be boiled down to a set of ups and downs. So instead of simply stating my thoughts on each gig and slapping an arbitrary number on the end of the article in an effort to convey a sense of objective order to what is an inherently personal and widely variable experience, I thought that a more useful way of reviewing the festival would be to chart the ups and downs of the weekend as a whole.
Up: The Lineup
So to start with perhaps the most obvious virtue the festival has going for it may be a little trite, but it’s worth discussing nonetheless. The lineup was stellar. No two ways about it, the mix of big name artists and more niche offerings is something that Falls knows how to get just right. It’s fantastic to see massive international acts like Childish Gambino and London Grammar play shows down in little ol’ Tassie, but what’s arguably nicer is to see smaller bands – Aussie or not – get to play to the same audience, and to catch the ear of a wider, more mainstream audience. I’ll go into detail about individual standout sets later, but it was honestly refreshing to see an aspect of musical discovery at Falls.
Down: The Weather
Perhaps another obvious beginning, but one of the biggest blights on 2016’s Marion Bay Falls was the poor weather. And yes, I know that the festival organisers have no control over such a thing, but this isn’t meant to blame them. The weather was unavoidably bad for the course of the first two days. Many were setting tents up in the midst of a downpour, and even when the rain eased up punters were left to the mercy of the wind.
Such is the nature of Tasmania, and it was a relief to see clear plastic ponchos in vogue. And it was good to see that the weather had a good sense of timing, at least. Client Liason’s set was given a rousing hand of applause by Mother Nature as she drenched the audience immediately after the gig was over. Other times were not as opportune, however, with comedy group Aunty Donna conjuring forth torrential rain halfway through their act. Hardcore fans braved the weather, while many others scattered for the limited cover they could find under the barrage of water. But while the actual rain wasn’t consistent, it did have lasting effects on the enjoyment of the festival.
Up: The Food
Pretty much the base layer on Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, food seems to be fairly important to, like, survival (let alone a music festival). So when it comes to enjoyment of any experience, what you eat matters. Thankfully, what I ate at Falls was incredible. Staggering in the variety, you were never really left wanting for something to eat. They had it all.
Whether you wanted a breakfast burrito, a burger with all organic and Tasmanian-produced ingredients or just plain old hot chips, you were covered. The classic egg & bacon rolls were selling like hotcakes, but if you wanted a shorter line all you had to do was broaden your palette. Hats off to the many different stalls that were there to keep us all fed, you did a fantastic job.
Down: The Mud
It’s kind of telling that the signature sound of 2016 Marion Bay Falls Festival wasn’t the sounds of Childish Gambino’s rapping, nor was it the frequent cry of “NICE GARY” that rang out across campsites like an Australian mating call. No, the signature sound of the festival was a consistent and penetrating squelch. Perhaps worse than its cause, the mush that the ground turned into halfway through the first day was just ridiculous. Both stages were utterly annihilated by the morning of the second day, and it didn’t get better.
While the rain may have been annoying for the short time that it was drenching patrons, the mud was a persistent problem that was simply unavoidable. You could dodge the rain by staying undercover. You couldn’t stay out of the mud, because it was everywhere. Whether you wanted to watch a concert at one of the stages or you simply wanted to walk back to your tent, there was mud in your way. The main road that connected the two main stages was quickly rendered a trail walked only by those in boots and pitted with the tracks of punters.
The real trial though was at the stages, specifically the Field Stage (which was the smaller of the two main stages). They were quagmires. The audience at the Field Stage was often split into two main groups; the diehards who braved the shallow mud to be up the front, and those up the back of the stage area who stood on the more solid ground that hadn’t been churned up by the mosh. In between the two groups was what can only be described as a Marion Bay re-enactment of WW1 no-man’s land. There were mementos of people who had strayed into the mud and lost boots or thongs to the all-devouring ground. The organisers tried to fix the issue by dumping loads after loads of pine-bark on the mud to solidify it, but it was mostly in vain. The mud was simply impossible to control.
Up: The Day Gigs
There’s a standard amongst the festival schedules: The bigger the act, the closer to midnight they perform. As a result, the smaller and more niche acts tend to play when the sun is still up and the atmosphere is still pretty loose. Many of these acts aren’t tagged as essential in the minds of everyone, and thus they pull smaller crowds and can be way more chill to go to. The day is when many people are just catching up with friends, shopping, or getting food, so there are naturally less people at the smaller name artists than at the huge AAA acts, which is hardly a bad thing.
Sometimes it’s nice to actually watch an artist perform without the unpleasantness of being surrounded by sweaty teenage boys jostling to get behind the hottest girl. Yeah, who knew? And there’s some real treasure hiding in the middle of the day. Artists like British-Russian dream-pop singer Shura and New Zealand country/folk artist Marlon Williams were both fantastic surprise hits, with Shura bringing a level of energy usually reserved for late night performances.
Williams, on the other hand, gave the crowd a mix of leisurely tunes and stunningly realised rock songs. The pure chemistry between him and his band members was clear for all to see, as they sprung forth with long improvisations that rebounded off each other to form a cacophony of phenomenal folk-rock. It was a set that would have been impossible to enjoy as much later in the night, so his position at 12:45 was just perfect.
Another set that shone in the earlier parts of the day was that of Lemaitre, who was just pure fun. Despite being mixed uncomfortably loud, they were an absolute blast, with their blend of electro and rock forming the perfect soundtrack of wild dancing and wide smiles. A larger audience likely would have killed the vibe that their set thrived on due to the lack of space to actually dance. Special mention also needs to go to RY X, whose extremely laid back set meshed well with the heat and humidity that the final day mustered in. A personal highlight of the festival was hearing him play Howling, one of the best chilled out electronic songs you’re ever going to hear.
Down: The Pit
This may make me sound like an 80 year old man, but the pit just isn’t as good as it used to be. Maybe this is more nostalgia talking than actual fact, but I remember the pit being full of people who actually wanted to see the band up close. Now it just seems like the only people who venture into the sardine can that is the pit are people who go to Falls for the specific reasons of getting fucked up and trying to hook up with people.
It’s next to impossible to have a good time in the pit if your goal is to watch the band. Instead, you’re going to be seeing a lot of sweaty guys shove their way behind a girl in an attempt to “dance” with her. It’s worse during the DJ sets, where the constant beat lulls people into an alcohol-fuelled haze, where all they care about is forcing themselves onto people who might just want to watch the band. I lost count of the amount of times a shirtless guy barrelled his way bleary-eyed towards the front and parked himself in the middle of a group of friends. “I belong here” he seemed to say to himself, with no regard for anyone around him.
The pit may be a place that’s infamously lawless, but just because you’re in the pit doesn’t mean you have to be a cunt. The night gigs were infinitely worse, largely because of the increased popularity that brings more people to the stages. The Avalanches played an incredible set, but I missed the opening ten minutes due to being pushed and shoved all over the place as punishment for actually wanting to see the band.
Up: The Family Area
On the opposite end of the spectrum to the shitshow that was the pit, the family area at the 2016 Falls was incredible. While I personally didn’t stay there, a number of my friends did, all of whom have said it was a remarkable step up from previous years. It’s always a marvel that there are areas at Falls where it can be quiet by 10. Maybe it’s the collective struggle of parents who just want some well-needed (and well-deserved) sleep, or maybe it’s that people with access to hot showers are naturally more respectful to those around them.
Down: The Sexual Assaults
Easily the worst aspect of the festival, the fact that this is going on at all is horrendous, if unsurprising. In the aftermath of the weekend, five women reported that they had been sexually assaulted, including one who reported they had been raped. While the media made a big deal about how the festival has a responsibility to keep its patrons safe (and it does), the blame does not lie at the feet of the organisers. It lies with the scum who think that touching anyone in a sexual manner without their consent is okay because they’re in a mosh pit.
It’s fantastic that the reports garnered such huge coverage in the wider media sphere, because we as a society need to be talking more about sexual assault. Because it does happen, and it’s not going to just go away by ignoring it, especially at music festivals, where it seems to have gotten worse. While five women were brave enough to come forth, there is zero doubt that they were the only ones who were victims of such a crime over the weekend. The prevalent culture at large scale festivals or concerts like Falls seems to be that it’s okay to stick your hand on someone because they’re in the pit and wearing something exposing.
Discussions around festival sexual assaults tend to invariably drift towards victim blaming and away from the idea that sexually assaulting someone is wrong. It’s easy to see how being raped or assaulted at a festival would ruin your experience, and it’s hardly the best way to end or start a year.
And so came to a close another Falls Festival in Marion Bay, we’ll see you next year!