We enter through the festival gates and can’t help but stop by the garden of inflatable Snoop Dogg hot dogs for a quick selfie to document our arrival. As we trek up the massive hill to the amphitheatre, DZ Deathrays are thrashing out a cover of AC/DC’s ‘Highway To Hell’ joined by the former red Wiggle. The bar is set very high from the get-go.
Jack River draws a huge crowd to the GW McLennan stage in the late afternoon and it’s no surprise considering she just released her spectacular debut album ‘Sugar Mountain’ a few weeks ago. ‘Confess’ is one song in particular that River tells us has been getting a lot of love from listeners. ‘Fault Line’ is a standout crowd favourite and was one of the first songs ever written for the album, she reveals. “This is fucking magical! Thanks for making this my dreams come true,” she exclaims. A cover of Tal Bachman’s ‘She’s So High’ is the perfect track to get our weekend off to a good start.
Touch Sensitive (aka Michael Di Francesco) is accompanied by some friends in his live band including WILLS, who provides soulful vocals to accompany the groovy beats. We soak up the irresistible ‘80s disco electronica as Di Francesco slaps the bass and busts out his ultra funky synth-heavy instrumentals on ‘Pizza Guy’ and ‘Lay Down’ to ignite a continuous dance party.
Angus and Julia Stone slow things down for the crowds migrating to the ampitheatre to unwind. They take us back to where it all began for them in their dad’s living room with ‘Private Lawns’ and they charm the masses with their beautiful acoustic folk sounds. ‘Chateau’ and ‘Big Jet Plane’ brings everyone together and warms us up as the night suddenly begins to feel chilly.
It was disappointing that Chromeo couldn’t make it but The Presets are the perfect replacement for this time slot to amp us up again and get the place vibing in no time. Their new songs including ‘Downtown Shutdown’ is really exciting to hear live and old favorites’ ‘Talk Like That’ and ‘My People’ are sure-fire winners to work everyone into a frenzy.
It seems like Khalid is on everyone’s list to see and there’s a lot of hype for this breakout artist. His set tonight however, takes a while to make an impact. He’s got a great energy with choreographed dancing to keep us entertained, but it seems as if his vocals aren’t loud enough to fill the space. It takes a while for him to reach his most well-known songs like ‘Silence’ and ‘Young Dumb And Broke’ to get the audience’s attention but when he finally plays them it makes it all worth the wait.
“I’m representing all the weirdos tonight,” says Miguel who brings loads of vibes and energy to his powerhouse performance at the Mix-Up stage. The crowd bounces around, takes their tops off and get down to his alternative R&B. He proves just how underrated he is and makes a lasting impression.
It’s ambitious to fit in three headline acts situated on opposite ends of the festival but we commit to our planner and race back to the amphitheatre to catch Lorde. “Splendour was the very first festival I played in 2013 when I replaced Frank Ocean,” she tells us. Things have come full-circle for her to now be headlining the Friday night five years later. It’s her moment and she shines on stage in a metallic outfit. She takes a quick break to readjust after a slight wardrobe malfunction and returns to laugh it off and continue with ‘Homemade Dynamite.’ We’re left hoping that Khalid would join her on stage for a guest vocal feature that never eventuates. “Tonight Splendour, you’re in my house!” She shouts, as her dancers lift her high above in the air during ‘The Louvre.’ For a one-off special she performs an acoustic cover of Powder Finger’s ‘Happiness’ for a heartfelt moment that we share with arms around our mates. We channel her heartbreak for the final song ‘Green Light’ and hold up our hands as we shout out the words at the top of our lungs to let go of it all and catch the confetti paper stars that fall from the sky.
“Splendour In The Grass, we’ve come a very long way together,” says Amy Shark. I released my debut album a week ago, she adds excitedly, before playing a few fresh tracks from it including ‘Don’t Turn Around’ and ‘I Got You.’ A song that features punk rock legend Mark Hoppus is next but sadly he isn’t here tonight to sing it with her (despite Shark admitting she did try to get him here). A fun cover of ‘Teenage Dirtbag’ gets the crowd singing along to the nostalgic one hit wonder.
Two People perform as a trio for their performance today with a live drummer added to the band. Phoebe Lou and Joey Clough can be recognised as two members from indie-pop band Snakadaktal who broke up in 2014. This new project of theirs is an exhilarating electronic and atmospheric sound that builds layers of thumping beats alongside mesmerising vocals.
It’s Lewis Capaldi’s first time in Australia and despite only having three hours of sleep and a sinus infection, he gets on with it and we don’t notice his performance waver one bit. He confesses he’s got a lot of depressing songs and they are full of emotionally charged choruses delivered with incredible vocals. He includes a few lines from The Killers track ‘All These Things That I’ve Done’ to really bring it home. By the end if the set Capaldi ensures we’re ready to go tell everyone we’ve ever met about his performance.
Over at the Mix-Up tent Carmada keep the party alive and even bring out special guest G-Flip for a vocal feature on ‘Keeping Score.’ Meanwhile, The Jungle Giants have way too many fans wanting to see them than can pack into the GW McLennan tent, so the crowd spills out the sides and some eager punters even try to climb the tent poles to get a better view.
Chvrches seem to have colour coordinated with the festival palette, from their pink drum kit to frontwoman Lauren Mayberry’s fuchsia dress. She’s got her ‘Love Is Dead’ necklace on and face glitter perfect for the festival. Chvrches played right here on this stage in 2014 but now they’re back with their third album and they play their latest single ‘Miracle.’ Martin Doherty takes over on vocals to break things up with ‘Under The Tide’ to try and keep our bones warm. Mayberry jumps back on vocals for one final explosive track ‘Never Say Die’ and she stamps her platform shoes on the crowd with every last bit of energy for the final breakdown.
Tonight is Vampire Weekend’s first festival appearance in four years and five years since they last played a show in Australia. Despite not sharing any new music that we were hoping for, they do perform a cover of SBTRKT’s ‘New Dorp New York’ (which frontman Ezra Koenig features on) and a jazzy snippet of Chicago’s ‘Saturday In The Park’ to break the ice. They try their very best to warm us up and we dance around to their quirky indie rock anthems including ‘Cousins’ and ‘A-Punk.’ It’s very cold by this point and many punters retreat to the merch stand to stock up on a few extra layers for the journey back to camp.
The party doesn’t get started until Mallrat takes over the Mix-Up stage. It’s clear she’s got a strong following of devoted fans who have come to see her (apparently mostly from Brisbane). “I swear I’ve never been this nervous before, but the main thing is you’re having a good time,” she says, before sharing a few new songs from her latest EP ‘In The Sky.’ She encourages us to sing as loud as we want for an acoustic cover of OutKast’s ‘Hey Ya’ and Tkay Maidza joins in for the rap parts on ‘UFO.’
Pnau is one of the highlights on the final day and once again prove that they never put on a disappointing show. Kira Divine is the star of their explosive performance dazzling the audience in a colourful neon outfit. It’s all about love and they have so much of it to give. “Close your eyes and let us take you to another dimension,” says Nick Littlemore, as they make us feel like we’re in a rave cave of entrancing visuals, dancing and production. Pnau debut a brand new song for the very first time and it’s sure to be another chart topping hit when it gets released in a few months. We dance until there’s no dance left in us.
MGMT start off strong with ‘Time To Pretend’ and although everyone is hanging to hear some of their older songs they play a good mix with their biggest hits earlier on in the set. The trippy visuals enhance their psychedelic vibe and we groove along to their funky synth-heavy tunes. After a quick rave in tee-pee forest we head to see The Wombats. It’s seems like they never leave Australia and that’s because they’re loyal to their devoted marsupial fans who never get sick of seeing them play live because they always give one hundred percent.
With most of the festival punters packing into the amphitheatre to secure their positions for the festival closing act, it’s a delight for any James Bay fan to be able to get up close to the stage for at least half of his set. He’s got a new look with shorter hair and he’s even ditched his signature fedora hat as he plays some new material that’s upbeat enough to dance around to. We all join in to belt out some of his heartbreaking choruses and continue singing all the way back up the hill to Kendrick Lamar. Luckily he’s fifteen minutes late so we don’t miss anything. ‘Kung Fu Kenny’ finally takes to the stage and he promises to take us to the next level as he packs a punch with samurai ninjas moving around him. He rounds out the festival and his ‘DAMN’ tour as he serves up his powerhouse raps with masterful flow to attest his undefeated status as a hip-hop king.
Words by Michael Prebeg