In a haze of mud, sweat, and ecstasy-induced tears of euphoria, Splendour in the Grass was upon us for another year. With big-name acts like Bloc Party, Jack White, and a freshly resurrected At The Drive-In, the Splendour organisers delivered another standout addition to the Australian festival circuit. Tempering international megastars with homegrown talent, the festival was organised with the kind of aplomb that saw tickets sell out in a record 43 minutes. Tickets in hand, cars packed, and alcohol stashed away from prying eyes, the annual expedition began.
2012 saw Splendour return to its spiritual home, Belongil Fields, on the outskirts of Byron Bay. In an unheard of moment of meteorological providence this year’s festival saw more sunshine than not. Admittedly, when it did rain, it hailed, turning the grounds into waterlogged mire only the bravest (read: drunkest) non-gumboot wearer would dare to traverse.
Hilarious muddy hipsters aside, the move from Woodford back to Belongil is regrettable. While there’s no denying the natural beauty of Byron Bay, or the four hours it takes off the road-trip, the reality is that this year’s festival site pales in comparison to last’s. ‘On-site’ camping was a half-hour stumble from the stages with over-crowded buses valiantly attempting to redress the inconvenience. A militant local council and adverse weather conditions means that all performances are staged in large, gloomy tents, a far cry from the bucolic grandeur of the Woodford amphitheatre. The cramped confines of the site meant that the two largest stages, the Supertop and the Mix Up, were right next to each other resulting in a sonic clusterfuck that even grunge gods The Smashing Pumpkins could not overcome.
Despite this year’s shortcomings, Splendour still delivered big time. Friday, Day One (of worthy music at least), saw Melbourne-based Chet Faker wowing festivalgoers with his much-hyped cover of Blackstreet’s ‘No Diggity’.
While Sydney up-and-comer Flume sent the audience soaring with his laid-back indie disco beats. Big Scary, neither big nor scary, got heads nodding and toes tapping with their piano-led pop ballads. Newly reformed rockers At The Drive-In delivered a blistering set that more than justified Splendour being their only gig in Australia. True to form, Jack White cemented his status as the pre-eminent rock star of our generation. White Stripes hits like ‘Hotel Yorba’ saw thousands singing along at full roar, while his ‘Seven Nation Army’ finale left the crowd screaming for minutes after he left the stage.
Music festivals require a certain level of party resilience. This is even truer of faraway, three-day camping epics such as this – they call it a ‘Splendour bender’ for a reason. The delicate balance of alcohol and illicit substances must be navigated with caution: insufficient indulgence could see your night end in a weary slump, while overindulgence can have catastrophic repercussions. With this in mind, I approached Day Two with care.
I settled in early, around 2p.m. and proceeded to stake out a prime position for the evening’s performances. Since I already had the best seat in the house, I figured I’d get stuck into the spirits. Much to my surprise, all the band’s I’d been itching to see were a no-show! No Last Dinosaurs, no Band of Skulls, no Seekae, no Mudhoney, no Lana Del Rey, no Miike Snow and most crushingly of all, no Bloc Party! Turns out the best place to see all the headliners wasn’t the Jack Gow tent at the North Beach Camping Grounds. I was spewing. Literally.
Unlike Jack ‘the loneliest alcoholic’ Gow, Bebe and Paul stayed sober long enough to get into Day 2 of the festival. Band of Skulls delivered an impressive set of unadulterated Rock n’ Roll, before Lana Del Rey hit the stage. After she bombed her first two songs we decided we were wasting our time and moved on. It turned out to be a wise decision, with Miike Snow backing up his excellent 2010 Splendour set with one of the standout performances of the festival.
‘Animal’ gratified the hundreds that had brought stupidly overpriced animal costumes, as well as everyone with an ear for a well-delivered indie anthem. Then Bloc Party happened. Only act to legitimately overcome the shitty acoustics of Splendour 2012. 10/10.
Day Three saw a definite upturn in my musical attendance. Electric Guest’s refreshing brand of indie pop was a pleasant discovery. Perth hipsters San Cisco were lacklustre to say the least, with the crowd’s tepid reaction only lifting for their hit single ‘Awkward’. Canadian New Wave rockers Metric were in fine form until an electric malfunction derailed their set for more than 10 minutes. It seemed to be a night of technical difficulties, at least if you believe Azaelia Banks. Perhaps the most-hyped of all the acts at this year’s festival, Ms Banks only performed a brief, 27 minute set, that will be remembered as a let-down for years to come. It seems we’ll never know if it was the fault of the festival equipment or simply a calculated move to compensate for an inconsistent body of work. That said, for those 27 minutes, Azaelia’s showed impressive stage-presence and musical expertise well beyond her relative inexperience. As ‘212’ came on and the crowd surged forward demonically screaming “Imma ruin you cunt” at the top of their lungs, Splendour reached its zenith for both Azealia and myself.
For all the burgundy felt hats, stupid animal onesies and general pretence, once again, Splendour did not disappoint. With the summer festival season looming before us like a hot, sweaty, drug-addled music monster, Splendour in the Grass comes as a welcome reminder of how festivals should be done.