For the most part, ‘happiness’ is an emotion dependent on entirely individual factors.
Individual meaning ‘solo’: your job, your home, your ticket to Splendour In The Grass – if you were fortunate enough to score one.
I was one of 35,000 revellers filled with fresh or familiar excitement, driving down the dirt road to North Byron Parklands and into the heart of the festival (20-22 July).
Campers rose bright and early Friday morning, shower lines peaked at 8-8.30am, bread was lathered in spread, cereal poured in bowls.
Seven-piece (five guitars!) West Thebarton fleshed out the Amphitheatre stage nicely, bashing through ‘Moving Out’, ‘Bible Camp’ and ‘Stuck On You’.
The set turned political when frontman Reverend Ray paused to announce: “Boys will 'not' be f...ing boys – hold them accountable.” He showcased his unexpectedly melodic vocals during a cover of The Source's ‘You Got The Love’, which Florence & The Machine have also covered previously.
Arguably the underdogs of the Splendour In The Grass line-up, Riton & Kahlo proved a musical match made in heaven. While ‘Fake ID’ was a predictable standout, the pair’s new single ‘Ginger’ became my indisputable track of the weekend, its recent release date apparently void – ears either already familiar or instantly approving.
DZ Deathrays - image © Stephen Sloggett
Dance-punk duo DZ Deathrays landed a late afternoon show at the Amphitheatre and they earned it, putting on a spectacular performance jam-packed with consistently strong releases: ‘Shred For Summer’, ‘Pollyanna’ and ‘Total Meltdown’.
The set even had shock value, stemming from their surprise guest. “We’d like to welcome our very special friend, Murray Cook,” the red skivvy-wearing Wiggle joining the band on guitar for an exceptionally cool cover of AC/DC’s ‘Highway To Hell’.
Having caught DMA’s on tour only months prior, I was hesitant to re-watch; fortunately, the Brit-pop revivalists translated far better in a festival format (less repetitive) than during a full, two-hour set. Standing arm-in-arm with friends on the hill during their cover of ‘Believe’ then ‘Delete’, was perhaps the warmest moment of the festival – even despite the low temperatures.
It was colder again during Angus & Julia Stone, the siblings performed at the Amphitheatre in front of thousands. The show was peaceful, soothing, though lacked emotional pull; even so, ‘Snow’ was beautiful, white flakes falling on the projector, while ‘Chateau’ asserted itself as an excellent closer.
DMA'S - image © Stephen Sloggett
The Presets were ring-ins, introduced to replace Chromeo, though the latter felt practically forgotten by the end of their set at the Mix-Up Tent.
Who would have thought the duo fell off the radar for five years, album four clearly coming back swinging, its singles (‘Do What You Want’, ‘14U+14ME’, ‘Downtown Shutdown’) just as well received as well-known classics (‘My People’, ‘This Boy’s In Love’).
A little later out of bed for campers on Saturday, heads lolling from the toll of the previous evening. Showers were busiest at 10-10.30am, campers opted for hot food, hot coffee.
Recently the second-most played artist on Triple J, Superorganism swiftly earned the title of ‘not to miss’ after releasing their debut album. Disappointing if you did, the seven-piece were as eclectic as their music – three back-up vocalists performing a synchronised dance routine throughout, frontwoman Orono Noguchi’s personality ten times her height.
Angus & Julia Stone - image © Stephen Sloggett
The crowd even tossed her a boot: “Shoey, shoey!”, she placed a bottle inside and sipped it: “You can’t expect me to actually drink out of this?”
Methyl Ethel’s 2017 record propelled them into the spotlight, though the indie rock group’s earlier releases proved just as worthy of recognition at the Amphitheatre. While ‘Ubu’ was the obvious favourite, ‘Twilight Driving’ was no stranger, nor was the lovely ‘Idee Fixe’, neither ‘Drink Wine’, the closing track, the soundtrack of Saturday’s sunset.
Splendour’s token act for older audiences, Franz Ferdinand were certainly no veterans on stage; formed in 2002 yet the Scottish group have successfully remained relevant, newbie ‘Always Ascending’ standing tall beside their tokens ‘Take Me Out’, ‘No You Girls’ and ‘Do You Want To’.
Despite having seen The Jungle Giants live on several occasions, I couldn’t resist stopping by their set at the GW McLennan tent. Sure enough, other punters were thinking similarly. It was packed, manic; punters leaked from the tent and extended far beyond its shelter.
The Presets - image © Stephen Sloggett
The Brisbane four-piece successfully threw lesser-known tracks into a deserved spotlight (‘Blinded’, ‘In The Garage’), rewarded fans with hit singles (‘Feel The Way I Do’, ‘Used To Be In Love’), and, as always, communicated with the crowd incredibly.
Eight years ago, I fainted during Vampire Weekend’s performance at Groovin The Moo. This year, I was eager to make amends. Eager, though not expectant, but looking back, I should have been, their headlining set at the Amphitheatre was perhaps my pick of the festival.
The American rock band played wonderfully, stringing together a well-thought-out set list (‘A-Punk’, ‘Step’, ‘Oxford Comma’) that kept crowds captivated; they even included a standout cover of SBTRKT’s ‘NEW DORP. NEW YORK’.
Sunday arrived, campsites were silent until mid-morning, many didn’t seem to make a move until well after 11am. Though movement had to be made, the day was a doozy, timetable boasting back-to-back, must-see acts.
A surprising number gathered for Angie McMahon’s opening set, despite the Melbourne singer-songwriter having only released three singles.
Superorganism - image © Stephen Sloggett
She instantly asserted why Triple J worships her music, each track on high rotation – her voice is a marvel, sweet demeanour just as intriguing: “I wrote this song after eating a lot of pasta. It’s called, ‘Pasta’,” (and was an absolute beauty).
Skegss are another whose shows I’ve frequented, but it was hard to miss their slot at the Amphitheatre. Hard to miss indeed, another set completely inundated, people poured in from all angles, filling the massive space within minutes.
A few fresh songs were included (‘Smogged Out’, ‘Up In The Clouds’) among the better-known classics (‘Got On My Skateboard’, ‘Spring Has Sprung’); Alex The Astronaut even joined the trio briefly. “This is a new one, it’s called ‘Road Trip’. That’s pretty much how the chorus goes, if you wanted to try to sing-along.”
I originally planned to stay only briefly for Middle Kids, but vocalist Hannah Joy’s awe-inspiring pipes kept me grounded from almost start to finish. Although before the festival, I dubbed their debut album ‘Lost Friends’ as ‘strong’, I dare say now after listening to ‘Edge Of Town’, ‘Mistake’ and ‘Brought It’ live, it could be one of my favourite records of 2018.
Mallrat was as sweet as her sugary music, the shy teen even admitting: “I’ve never been this nervous.” ‘Groceries’, ‘Better’ and ‘UFO’ (featuring a guest appearance from Tkay Mzaida) were recited by fans, the set finished on a high note with ‘Uninvited’.
The GW McLennan tent hosted Hockey Dad Sunday night, the duo performing off the back of an enormous world tour. Drummer Billy Flemming’s iconic grin was intact over the hour, Zach Stevenson’s vocals unwavering, as always.
They invited rock legend Tim Rogers to the stage, though unfortunately, the You Am I track covered fell flat. The lyrics of ‘Join The Club’ and ‘I Wanna Be Everybody’ were screamed by listeners, however, as were the words of album one
releases ‘I Need A Woman’ and ‘A Night Out With’.
Methyl Ethel - image © Stephen Sloggett
My number one Splendour In The Grass priority, MGMT’s show was surprisingly too whacky at times. Imagine the stage in utter darkness – you can hardly see the band members – area illuminated only by a colourful moving background projected behind them.
As expected, ‘Electric Feel’ was welcomed with open arms (though the volume could have been louder), plus ‘Time To Pretend’ was a magical way to begin.
It was quite the spectacle, glancing around the Amphitheatre, tens of thousands of people patiently waiting for Kendrick Lamar. He entered 15-minutes late off the back of a ‘Kung Fu Kenny’ video clip, the stage was shrouded in smoke, a single spotlight shining onto him.
The set started with ‘DNA.’, later fleshed out with plenty from ‘DAMN.’, though earlier releases weren’t snubbed: ‘Bitch, Don’t Kill My Vibe’, ‘Money Trees’ and ‘Swimming Pools (Drank)’ were each included. ‘Humble’ was performed acoustically (before finishing in full) – no music, and hardly rapped, instead chanted by the audience while Kendrick prompted lyrics now and then.
He finished at midnight. “I have four words to say, Australia. I. Will. Be. Back.”
My post-festival thoughts may be muddled by elation, but even still, it is interesting – ‘happiness’ truly is, usually, dependent on individual factors, SOLO factors. But despite this, happiness at Splendour In The Grass doesn’t seem to stem from what YOU’RE feeling. The catalyst is very much instead the feeling that everyone around you is just as ecstatic.
I wish I could have read the minds of revellers, driving down the dirt road from North Byron Parklands away from the heart of the festival. I’ve got a hunch most people would have been subconsciously quoting Kendrick: “I. Will. Be. Back.”
It’s the festival that brings everyone together. Nestled in the sunny North Byron Parklands, the 2018 Splendour In The Grass line-up brought all your Triple J favourites and stellar headline acts together.
Friday at Splendour was packed-full of goodies. Starting with Kwamé the American rapper energetically drew in the crowd shouting: “Australia is the best country in the world! Make some noise if you’re trying to get high!” The 20-year-old rapper opened Splendour in the spectacular Amphitheatre, bouncing around the stage with enough enthusiasm and excitement for everyone.
Covering Nirvana’s ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit,’ the Unearthed winner got the crowd to their feet as he bounced around the stage. The production was playful and unique, timeless yet fresh.
Next came Didirri, the Melbourne singer-songwriter with his latest single ‘Formaldehyde’. The relaxed atmosphere in the GW McLennan tent was a nice break from the previously charged Amphitheatre, offering relaxing vibes and enough soul for the entire audience.
Franz Ferdinand - image © Stephen Sloggett
“I wrote a letter to my ex-girlfriend one,” Didirri said. “I hope you find someone who loves you. It turned into the first song I released. It’s pretty easy to hate your ex. It’s better to say ‘this isn’t working anymore'. It’s better to find someone else.”
With his captivating and personal lyrics, the audience lapped up his every word singing along with his intimate single ‘I Can’t Get Last Night Out Of My Head’.
After the chill sesh came Bully, the US rockers with their early 2000s grunge sound. “We’re from Nashville,” singer Alicia Bognanno opened, “which is super close. Our last show in Australia is our first time at this festival. This weekend is gonna be cray!”
The band went headfirst into their set, with Alicia’s guttural voice piercing the crowd. The energy immediately went through the roof as festival-goers leapt to their feet and began to cheer. Soon, the entire tent came to life with Bully cheering everyone on.
The Jungle Giants - image © Stephen Sloggett
If anyone said grunge was dead, Bully would beg to differ. Alicia's sandpaper scream pierced the audience, the band’s do-or-die mentality sending the crowd roaring and back to their teenage angst.
Later that afternoon came Baker Boy, one of the best shows of the day. If reggae and hip hop had a kid, that kid would be Baker Boy. The rapper pulled a massive crowd, turning the Mix Up Stage into an outdoors nightclub. “Young or old, it’s never too late!” he shouted.
Red and orange lights shot across the stage as the crowd went wild and he jumped in time with the up-tempo beat. The unlikely fusion of Indigenous roots and something akin to Fred Astaire makes a spectacularly original sound unlike anything else at Splendour.
After the high-energy Baker Boy came Tay Oskee, the 2017 Bluesfest winner who brought the tone down by setting a wonderful acoustic atmosphere at The World Stage. Playing a variety of different instruments – guitars, banjo, harmonica and percussion – Tay wowed audiences with his dynamic ability to reach out and tug at everyone’s heartstrings.
Tay’s lyrics soared as he sang about nature, hope, love and personal journeys, connecting with audiences as they sang along with him.
Following Tay was Cheap Fakes, the weird funk cousin you didn’t know Cat Empire had. The blast of saxophone was a nice relief from some of the earlier techno beats, the energy high enough to lead a marching band. ‘Dust And Bones’ was a stellar hit, the funk so good it could have brought Howard Moon to his knees.
Their new song ‘I Got Nothing’ is a hypnotic groove that slinks into jazz with its rush of guitar and cymbals. If you’ve never seen two guys playing drums at the same times, you’re missing out.
Bring on day two. While not as chaotic as Friday, Splendour Saturday was jam-packed with activities to keep everyone on their toes.
The morning began with a casual chat with Mason Taylor – health educator, speaker and podcast host – in the Bohemian Lounge about natural remedies and ways to maintain a healthy body and soul. The cosy corner in the Global Village offered plenty of comfy chairs and pillows to relax and huddle around for a more intimate experience.
Next came a dip in the Science Tent to learn about fluorescent dye, then an insightful Morning Book Club in the Splendour Forum. The panel, hosted by Marieke Hardy, brought several artists together to nominate ‘The Book That Brought Me Back To Life’.
Vampire Weekend - image © Stephen Sloggett
Artists included Alex Lahey, comedian Broden Kelly, Opera Queensland Artistic Director Patrick Nolan, rock & roll graphic artist Paul McNeil and ABC journalist and 7.30 host Sarah Ferguson. Peter Pan and Andy Warhol’s diaries were just two topics discussed, though the main questions focused on the artists themselves. How do their minds work? Why can’t artists stop creating?
The first musical act of the day was Seaside. The four-piece indie band was dreamy and groovy in all the right ways. ‘Down To The Water’, the first song the band wrote, was a real treat, offering waves of sultry dream-pop and layers of hypnotic soul.
‘Little Spaces’ was a crowd favourite, touching on the issue of social anxiety. Their covers of ‘Hey’ by The Pixies and their funky version of ‘I Wanna Be Adored’ by The Stone Roses were highlights of Splendour. But it was their song ‘Sucked In To You’ that really shone.
“Being at Splendour is a ten-year dream for us!” shouted vocalist Darcy Dexter, launching into the song. The cheeky little tune was sexy and slick, and got everyone on their feet.
Baker Boy - image © Stephen Sloggett
Next came G Flip in the GW McLennan tent, drawing a massive crowd of fans. The drummer turned solo singer has a powerful set of pipes, showcasing her incredible talent on the ethereal hits ‘Killing My Time’ and ‘About You’. The entire crowd cheered as she launched into an awesome drum solo, encouraging fans to sing-along.
Later came The Babe Rainbow, with their funky '60s vibe that seemed completely out of this era, and yet still somehow exactly what the crowd wanted to hear. The multi-coloured act had enough 'doo ahh doops' to fill a stadium, their funky, psychedelic sound almost like alternative lounge music you just can’t help but groove along to.
No other band at Splendour had quite the same effect; none could replicate the cosmic swirls and retro sound like The Babe Rainbow.
After a quick break came WAAX, the highlight of the day. The GW McLennan tent quickly filled as the band setup and ‘Africa’ by Toto played in the background. A massive roar filled the tent as the band took the stage, wasting no time to blast their '90s grunge, high-energy concert.
The angsty, edgy and eccentric band had a bit of Siouxsie and The Banshees, Garbage and YYY’s within them, their sound an elixir of acerbic attitude and a big FU to the world. “We’re never getting outta here,” screamed ferocious vocalist Marie DeVita on ‘Wisdom Teeth’.
Marie is one hell of a performer, her absorbing, intimidating, passionate presence a force to be reckoned with. A segue into Alex The Astronaut proved to be a good idea.
The young soccer and science prodigy musician was sunny and effervescent as she greeted the crowd with a joke. “Why did the scarecrow get an award?” she asked the crowd. “Because he was outstanding in his field.”
Drawing quite a large crowd, the singer had a storytelling quality to her songs that was refreshing. Her layered lyrics were contemporary and fresh; her song ‘Not Worth Hiding’ is the LGBTIQ anthem of the year, an autobiographical song that intelligently speaks about transgender issues.
‘So, tell me anyone, if you loved them as a daughter could you love them as a son?’ Alex sings. The impact of the message was powerful, as the percussion and then the acoustic guitar fell away as she sang the lines.
After a few more songs, including the personal ‘Wasting My Time,’ Alex once again displayed her humour with another joke. “Why don’t dinosaurs clap?” she asked. “Because they’re dead.”
The Babe Rainbow - image © Stephen Sloggett
A stopover at the Science Tent proved interesting, with a talk from astrophysicist Tamara Davis on dark matter and dark energy drawing a surprisingly youthful crowd.
Turns out we don’t know what 95 per cent of the universe is, but we can now go far enough back in time that we can see the afterglow of The Big Bang. Who knew a hypothetical form of matter was so interesting?
Jumping straight back into music with Methyl Ethel proved to be a good choice. The art-rock band had an amazing alternative sound that was charmingly strange, the ambient and textural guitar creating intricate blends of charming and mythical sound that captivated audiences and brought them to a standstill.
Sunday morning began with a midday, high-energy grunge sesh from Amyl & The Sniffers. If you thought mullets were out of style, think again. “Sunday morning church sessions with Amyl & The Sniffers!” shouts lead singer Amy Taylor. “Wake the f... up, Splendour!”
Jumping right in with ‘I’m Not A Loser’, Amy leapt across the stage, bouncing around with the energy of a small child on a sugar rush. With their collection of mullets and shoes made for stomping, the band rocked out with their three-chord riffs like no one was watching.
Later at the packed-out GW McLennan tent was Angie McMahon, making her Splendour debut. Mix a bit of Florence with Tracy Chapman and you get the red overall-wearing red guitar-playing songstress.
After a bite to eat came Antony & Cleopatra, bringing the biggest crowd seen at Tiny Dancer all festival. Their short set was jam-packed with dancefloor-ready bangers, with stellar vocals shared between the pair. The weird mixture of '70s disco and '80s house combined with soul and electronica shouldn’t work, but here it does.
‘The Islands’ and ‘Twitch’ got people on their feet, dancing to the sensual and smooth dancefloor ready tunes.
WAAX - image © Stephen Sloggett
Next at the Mix Up Stage was Mallrat and her killer cover of OutKast’s ‘Hey Ya’, bringing back the noughties in style. The cover was a refreshing throwback to nostalgic hits, showcasing her talent to mix up existing tunes. Her Triple J Unearthed hit ‘Sunglasses’ was a pop song everyone got into. Her soft voice was funky and smooth, getting the sizable crowd dancing along.
Returning to the GW McLennan tent, Triple J favourite Dean Lewis unveiled his gut-wrenching new single ‘Be Alright’, a candid take on moving past romantic betrayal. The folky vibes were easy-listening after a long weekend, the stripped-back instrumentation sparse and intimate, culminating in a poetic and moving performance.
Back at the Tiny Dancer Stage was Elderbrook. The talented musician/ producer seemed a little out of place, perhaps better suited for the Amphitheatre.
Opening with ‘Woman’, it seemed almost like magic the way he was able to rock out to the synths, pads and drum machines so effortlessly and still maintain a killer stage presence. Definitely the highlight of the day, though one thing was for certain – he needed to be on a bigger stage.
And that’s a wrap. Splendour In The Grass 2018 was probably the musical highlight of the year, proving why hordes of people flock to Byron Bay annually.
The 2018 version dressed to impress and it delivered. With such a range of things to do (science and books at a music festival? Umm… yes!), Splendour was simply awesome, showcasing an array of talented acts, proving Australia puts on some kick-ass music festivals.
10/10. I would recommend to anyone looking for a few days of stellar music.