The final day of Splendour In The Grass dawned, and it wasn't hard to see the festival living up to its name -- glorious, warm winter sun shone down on the grounds, heating the previously mild venue to the point where perfectly quiffed/waxed/moulded hairstyles (like those donned by Client Liaison) seemed almost in jeopardy of wilting or melting.
Over on the main stage however, Melbourne crew The Smith Street Band weren't going to let a little sun get in the way of their biggest show ever. Warming up (get it?) with a clutch of songs off their latest LP 'More Scared of You than You Are of Me', the previously all-male group showed off their latest membership additions in Lucy Wilson and Jess Locke, contributing a wider set of sounds to the band's sonic palette with keyboards and more guitar.
Upbeat, heartfelt folk-punk songs were the order of the day, lurching from cathartic shout-along lyrics and ripping guitar riffs into crooned emotional missives and delicate, fragile instrumentation. It was a simple stage setup, no bells or whistles, bar a big burst of pink confetti during the shredding guitar solo of hit single 'Death To The Lads'.
A spontaneous crowd sitdown and leap up during set closing epic 'Throw Me In The River' capped off a true coming-of-age set for this band, who have put in the hard yards in dive bars and dingy pubs for more than half a decade.
A huge outdoor crowd in the mid-afternoon is an odd setting for a band whose modus operandi is heartbreaking songs of lost love, the sort of teary and angry anthems written in bedrooms late on lonely nights; for these songs to be sung back by a massive crowd at times feels almost like a violation of privacy, having those vulnerabilities and intimate moments not only known but beloved by strangers. But it's this intimacy, this heart-on-sleeve stuff, which has made The Smith Street Band one of Australia's most beloved, endearing and vital bands. On Sunday, they lived up to the promise they set themselves, winning over the masses.
Speaking of vital and important -- A.B. Original turned out for the most emotion-charged, powerful and gripping set of the entire weekend, the Indigenous rappers leaving their predominantly white middle-class crowd wide-eyed and reeling after dedicating their set to Kalgoorlie teenager Elijah Doughty.
Doughty, 14, was run down by a driver while riding an allegedly stolen motorbike last year. His death sparked national outcry, and days after a court acquitted the driver of manslaughter but instead guilty of the lesser charge of dangerous driving occasioning death, rappers Briggs and Trials had lots to say in their highly-anticipated Splendour debut. While other acts went heavy on confetti, smoke cannons and eye-popping light shows, A.B. Original went for a very simple stage backdrop: a picture of Elijah Doughty, blown up large on the big screen, the boy wide-eyed and smiling.
Through the set, the rappers repeatedly paused to talk about Doughty and the court system which they claimed had "failed" the Indigenous community, as well as leading the crowd in chants of "no justice, no peace", widely used by the Black Lives Matter movement in the United States. Briggs and Trials also repeatedly changed lyrics in their songs to reference Doughty, including during a cover of Paul Kelly's iconic 'Dumb Things' -- with a guest appearance from Kelly himself -- as Trials rapped "this is going out to my brother Elijah that was failed".
(Read our full story and interview with A.B Original here.)
A.B. Original would not have missed the irony of preaching their message to an almost exclusively middle-upper class crowd of white city kids. They seemed to revel in it, blasting through their high-octane set of hard-hitting rap and hip-hop as they continually criticised the sentence against the driver and called for "justice". On pure musical grounds, their set was jaw-dropping -- bringing out guests including Dan Sultan and Paul Kelly for the 'Dumb Things' cover was easily our festival highlight -- but this is a set that will go down in Splendour folklore for its raw, unbridled passion and emotion
It was a night filled with hip-hop and rap from across the globe, as first American rapper Schoolboy Q then U.K. grime star Stormzy pulled some of the biggest crowds of the weekend to their sets. On the main stage, 'Groovy Q' was preceded by his DJ and hypeman revving up the crowd with a short set of dancefloor fillers before the main act arrived for a heavy-hitting set of gangster rap.
Schoolboy Q rapped his set over a DJ setup, with no live instrumentation, but the venue's energy didn't wane on account of the glorified karaoke set as the Los Angeles star got the crowd dancing and grooving.
A clutch of moshpits and circle pits broke out under the rapper's insistence, as he complemented pretty girls in the crowd and bounced around the stage, clearly enjoying his time in Byron Bay (even after he accidentally referred to the crowd as 'Gold Coast').
Stormzy, one of a knot of black London rappers/singers reigniting the grime phenomenon for a global audience, attracted what many said was one of the biggest crowds ever seen on the Mix Up stage, people spilling out of the tent and filling every spot and vantage point with even a tiny glimpse of the man.
The young rapper seemed genuinely blown away at the reaction on his first tour of Australia, responding with a blistering high-energy set of grime bangers. Under frenetic strobes and dark blue lights, Stormzy and his crew spat machine gun-like lyrics as they bounded about, bouncing off one another, to truly start the party on the festival's final night. Fans were left to clamber up tent ropes and poles like insects to get a better view of the 23-year-old star, who we surely haven't heard the last of.
Then, finally, it was up to recently-revived dance-pop icons LCD Soundsystem to give Splendour its official send-off. On a huge cluttered stage -- brimming with old vintage keyboards and synths, amps, drum kits and countless players -- bathed in blue and red light, under a giant hovering disco ball, band leadrer James Murphy wandered the stage, retro microphone in hand, weaving between his menagerie of instrumentalists and gear.
Propulsive, driving, powerful, groovy, rhythmic, hypnotic -- these are all words I wrote in the notes app of my phone as I tried to keep up with this live exhibition of LCD's astonishing, genre-defining work. Jamming out on extended live versions of their already epic tracks, it was a truly celebratory, joyful vibe washing over the amphitheatre as people danced out the last of their energy leftover from the big weekend.
'Dance Yrself Clean', 'New York I Love You But You're Bringing Me Down', 'Daft Punk Is Playing At My House' -- it was a set filled with both dancefloor fillers and sombre heartfelt tunes, mixing up tunes from their long career, and giving fans a taste of why they missed LCD when they took several years off on what was supposed to be a proper disbanding. Perhaps fittingly for a weekend of roadtrips and memories, it was left for the epic 'All My Friends' to finish things off.
Splashy, vibrant and urgent, it got the entire venue jumping and bouncing, trying to dance themselves clean.
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