Reviews //

Laneway: One Festival, Two Experiences

Though it was overpoliced and boiling hot in those tin sheds, we loved St. Jerome’s Laneway Festival.

Photography by Bipasha Chakraborty

Eamonn’s Experience: The Common Attendee 

Most of us know Sydney Showground as the home of the Royal Easter Show. We watch wood logs chopped in two, cuddle golden alpacas, ruminate over which show bag to pick, and try the yummy CWA scones and tea. It was thus a little jarring to see the Showground transformed for the seventeenth iteration of St. Jerome’s Laneway Festival.

After a few drinks on the T1 to Strathfield, and a tight squeeze on the bus to Olympic Park, we arrived to find a fairly efficient queue. Staff doled out sunscreen to combat the afternoon sun, and there were portaloos for those of us who had already broken the seal. Sniffer dogs and police officers prowled the festival’s entrance: I was asked to lift my shirt all the way up, and the usual bag and pocket checks were carried out. The police did pull patrons aside for invasive strip searches at the venue, and over the course of the event, they issued 28 cannabis cautions, 27 drug infringement notices and 14 court attendance notices. This extent of police presence is excessive, and not only does it kill the festival’s vibe, but it deters attendees from actually seeking medical assistance.

At the stages, the police presence was thankfully reduced. My crew began at Mallrat’s set, whose electropop energised the entire crowd. We sang along to “Groceries” and “Charlie”, bopped to the deep beat of “Teeth”, and there was none of the sort of crowd-crushing that emerged later in the evening. Grace Shaw’s vocals soared over us, and all I could see were smiles all around. A successful start!!

After Mallrat, we refused to give up our good spots and head elsewhere: we craned our necks over to see Finneas on the neighbouring stage, whose “Let’s Fall in Love for the Night” got us all swaying. Next up was my personal favourite: girl in red. Marie Ulven is renowned for her stage presence — at Laneway’s Brisbane event, she performed a shoey, crowd surfed, and then ran into the audience to dance with her adoring fans. In Sydney, she did all of these things too! We screamed along to “You Stupid Bitch”, and Ulven pointed the microphone towards us to sing the chorus of one of her legendary anthems: “they’re so pretty, it hurts, I’m not talking ‘bout boys, I’m talking ‘bout girls.” Throughout “bad idea!”, we all jumped in unison, and by the time she played “dead girl in the pool” and “Did You Come?”, we had sore throats and soaking foreheads. When Ulven finally orchestrated a (gentle) wall of death for “i wanna be your girlfriend”, the crowd thrashed together in feral joy. This set was incredible, and my entire group agreed.

Because of the physical and emotional effort we put into girl in red’s set, we needed fresh air. The Showground’s exhibition halls were boiling and packed, and I honestly missed the outdoor breeze of Laneway’s former home, The Domain. The heat could have been alleviated by massive ceiling fans, or a slightly better aircon — it was only a 27° day, and it shouldn’t have been that uncomfortable inside. 

For the next hour, we sat cross-legged in front of the Greek Street truck, with The Jungle Giants as our soundtrack. Despite the similarity of their names, Greek Street’s fare did not compare to that of Zeus Street Greek, but my souvlaki was surprisingly tasty. From here, we migrated to DanceWize’s Chill Out zone — we needed to charge our phones. This was actually a highlight of the evening. The DanceWize staff were up for a good chat, and dished out free water, condoms and cut-up fruit as we relaxed on their beanbags. This was a place with no police presence, instead decorated with helpful guides to safe drug combinations and staffed by kind, non-judgmental volunteers. I was really impressed — kudos to DanceWize for a great program.

Our final stop was impeded by possibly the event’s largest crowd, all crazy for Fred Again (we were not). Either this was a scheduling error on Laneway’s part, or the British DJ has spiralled in popularity since the set times were organised  — nonetheless, he should have been last. When we attempted to enter the stage an hour early to wait for our beloved Phoebe Bridgers, the sheer mass of people prevented any chance of getting in. The Fred Again fanbase’s departure from the stage created an even denser bloc, and the barricades separating the stage’s floor into two only made this worse. 

However, as the first guitar strum of “Motion Sickness” came through, we jumped over those barricades and into the audience — an unforgettable moment. From a slow singalong in “Scott Street”, to our outright wailing in “I Know The End”, Bridgers’ set was amazing. So many people were in tears. I got to sit on my friend’s shoulders (many thanks to him). We got to hear some boygenius! I love Phoebe Bridgers so much.

On the train home, we all talked about how fun Laneway was. Although the event was yet another demonstration of festival overpolicing, and although it was so hot and I wish it were completely outdoor, I loved seeing two of my absolute favourite artists. A wonderful experience!

Bip’s Experience: The Media Passholder

With an old camera bag in one hand and Google Maps in the other, I made my way to the front desk, nervously asking for my assigned media pass. This was my first time ever being a “media representative” for any event. It was nerve wracking but exhilarating receiving the email with the media approval, just a day before the festival was set to land in Sydney.

Despite the police presence at the entrance, I was somehow let through with my metal bottle, where festivals usually only allow plastic water bottles for safety. The security guard barely glanced through my bag, making me wish I’d snuck more in.

I had made it just in time for Sycco, a First Nations artist from Brisbane. Before her set, a Welcome to Country was performed, depicting the stories and dances of the river and animals living on Wangal land. The audience was encouraged to guess which animals were being depicted, reviving the energy in a very dead crowd. Sasha McLeod’s stage presence and vocals were captivating, yet I wished that the audience would have grooved a bit more to her tunes and reciprocate the call and responses initiated by McLeod.

It felt very strange as a representative of a student publication to be next to photographers with years of experience, who were representing mainstream media publications like Triple J. I was fortunate enough to chat with a few professional photographers, asking me who I was representing and how my shots had been so far, as well as bestowing tips for the future and sharing my excitement of this opportunity. 

Mallrat’s performance made me realise that I should have brought earplugs. Grace Shaw’s music often included loud and deep bass lines that reverberated through you, especially when you are standing so close to the speakers. Despite my exposure to the front of the speakers the whole night, it remains a mystery how my hearing seemed fine the next day. 

As a photographer, you are only allowed to capture the first three songs an artist performs, and then you are asked to vacate the front pit. At first I had attempted to stay for each artists’ entire set, but eventually gave up after FINNEAS, as you would have to leave from the front and re-enter the crowded pit. I enjoyed the benefits of an emptier front too much.

The crowd’s energy was gradually picking up during Finneas O’Connell’s set. Having seen O’Connell’ headlining show just a week earlier, I was lucky knowing his moves for the first few songs to get the best shot. In contrast, Girl in Red felt the hardest to capture. Marie Ulven’s energy radiated into the crowd, but not into my camera lens. My highschool camera was unable to keep up with the speed at which Ulven utilised each corner of the stage, but shot my energy back up after the heat was starting to get to me. This was the moment when I felt the audience finally reciprocating the artist’s energy.

I was transported back to middle school when The Backstage Lovers and The Jungle Giants came on to stage. Playing tunes I religiously looped when I was younger, made taking their photos feel more sentimental and nostalgic. Laneway made me fall in love with Julia Jacklin. I had only heard a few of her songs in passing before, but hearing them in person made me loop her discography on the train ride home.

My complicated relationship with Phoebe Bridgers’ music made me more possessive of the images I was able to capture. This was the one time I wasn’t afraid to move forward slightly to get a better shot, or hold my ground against other photographers trying to nab my spot in the centre. To have had the opportunity to take my own photos of Phoebe Bridgers is something I will prize for the rest of my life.

Despite the emotional attachment to Phoebe Bridgers, the best pictures taken from the night were of Haim. Este, Danielle, and Alana Haim each had an instrument to themselves making for some very cool shots as they fully immersed themselves in their music. Fred Again and Slowthai were probably the only mainstream artists I missed out on photographing. Despite my physical distance from these sets, you could clearly hear the excitement in the audience’s chanting and thumping. The intensity of both these artists’ fanbases made me keep my distance in fear of getting pushed around, even with the barrier.

Despite the awe and glamour of back-to-back sets, one of the biggest issues that stood out to me was the intense amount of littering. By the end of the night you had to wade and trip through can littered floors and half-eaten snacks. Despite the plentiful presence of both recycling and garbage bins— remaining half full — surrounded by trash at its base, left for someone else to clean up after the last 12am set.

My biggest regret from laneway was spending eight dollars for deep fried cheese on a stick, but having the chance to take pictures of mainstream artists, sort of makes up for it.