Lessons learned at Falls Festival

Falls Festival. A flurry of christmas coloured p-platers, sensational acts and late nights. A four day bender featuring the end of one year and the start of another. A portal into the New Year, if you will. This year’s Falls hosted some globally renowned acts from Vince Staples to Foster the People and some great local ones including Methyl Ethyl, Confidence Man and Ecca Vandal. It proved to be a congregation of some of the finest crowds and the finest musicians.

Looking back now and as the New Years celebrations come to an end, resolutions are made and broken, and hung-over festival goers now lie comfortably in beds less-infested by sweat, mud and grass, it’s time to revisit the moments that made this Falls Festival so special. Here I go with rose-coloured glasses.

DAY ONE: CAMPSITE PREPARATION, UP-AND-COMERS AND THE CLASSICS

The location for Falls Lorne is not flat. I repeat, not flat. There are hills everywhere. This makes camping perilous. Though we were on a bit of a slope, it compared nothing to those on the edges of the hills, constantly falling backwards off flimsy camp chairs, their tents being picked up by the wind. We were lucky. But we were also prepared. Pegs are an essential, as are gazebos that have adjusting poles. Folding up chairs before leaving the campsite, zipping up tents, leaving esky’s/ heavy items on things that can fly away. It all helps. After this lesson was learned, it was time to enter the festival.

Going to see new artists is always a luxury. They seem to possess a refreshing lack of professionalism that translates into an energetic sincerity. And though they may have a few lights, a few choreographed dance moves, they haven’t succumbed to the fatigue in performance that sometimes comes with repetitiveness. Confidence Man is one such band. With the lead singer’s scream of ‘Where’s the dancing?’ towards the wind-up of their set, all were on their feet as the band ended with ‘Boyfriend (Repeat)’. With energetic choreography paired with each song, the band left the stage sweaty and puffing.  It was a set that my friends and I talked about for a couple of days after and one that magnified the importance of a good performance.

Darryl Brathwaite, an Australian icon, too, gave a good show. The chants of “DARYL” and “HORSES” rang through the air until finally ‘The Horses’, the finale piece, echoed over a crowd just old enough to remember every single word.  Jungle Giants, like always, gave it a stellar go too, with their performance more refined than it once was, but equally as impressive.

DAY TWO: JULIA JACKLIN CLEARS THE STORM, DUNE RATS LET LOOSE, BENSON SHINES BRIGHT AND MOSH-PIT ETIQUETTE IS KEY

The 29th of December was an easy day as only one stage, the Valley, was open. A magnificent natural amphitheatre, surrounded by food and clothing stalls, allowed artists to exert their talent out onto the hills.  There were no hard decisions or split off’s from the group and we started the day with Ocean Alley, a Sydney-based six piece, who delve into the depths of Psych-reggae. They gave a mellow and well-received set, a perfect start.

Julia Jacklin, however, was the definite highlight of the day. Before her set, Lorne Falls had been a microcosm of Melbourne weather, with mostly wind and rain. But I’m not exaggerating when I say that the blue sky and sun literally came out when she started playing. At one point she looked at the screen behind her and said charmingly, “My name’s on the big screen, I made it.” With blue eyes pointed to the sky she crooned the crowd into a type of hypnosis. The on-stage chemistry with fellow band mates evident, and ‘Leadlight’ proved to be her best song.

Dune Rats went all out with blow-up signs of stoned faces and had the rowdiest crowd of the festival. A couple of friends lost their drinks and ciggies when they entered the mosh, I lost a shoe but found it again and left it hanging slightly off one foot. ‘Scott Green’ went off and so did all of my belongings. Dune Rats are definitely the band to see if you want to let loose.

Flume was great, as always, playing a few new tracks but Benson was wild with deep and heavy techno/ house. His light show, too, was electrifying and I take pride in knowing that he is a Melbourne local. In regards to Benson, there has been a definite shift in electronic music in the past few years and artists like him are at the forefront. Everything is live, on the spot and that’s what makes it so exciting.

Throughout the various acts of the day, the notion of ‘mosh pit etiquette’ began to surface. After the catastrophic stampede of Falls 16/17, that left dozens injured, the awareness of this year’s Falls-goers was evident. In Dune Rats especially, when one would get thrown from side to side and often times the crowd would find themselves on the floor, it was relieving to see that those around would stop and help each other up. The key lessons learned, and that Falls goers thankfully demonstrated, was that keeping space between each other while watching acts, not pushing excessively and, if wanting to get closer to the front, not ramming through the small gaps between people, was a must in keeping everyone safe. And not being a douche.

DAY THREE: PASSION GIVES FOR A GOOD PERFORMANCE AS METHYL ETHEL GIVE IT THEIR ALL

This was the first day both stages were open and a plethora of great acts were due to perform: from Samsurah to Fleet Foxes, from Dave to The Kooks and Peking Duk. The day began with Slum Sociable who, after releasing their self-titled debut album in 2017, flit through the set with caressing vocals and cool stage-presence. The crowd hazily rocked back and forth as the duo (with their backing band) ended with ‘Castle’, and the soft purple lights created a mystic backdrop behind them. Methyl Ethyl was next. Their performance was wild and lively, they played similarly to Confidence Man, with a sincere passion. ‘Ubu’, off their 2017 album Everything is Forgotten, was their final song and went down as the perfect summer anthem for the festival. In fact, Methyl Ethyl take the title of the perfect summer band.

What followed next were a series of great performances. Jungle, disco magic. Dave, who pulled a fan up on stage for ‘Thiago Silva’ to rap the part of AJ Tracy. And Fleet Foxes, who’s atmospheric material sent everyone into the depths of the wilderness.

What was truly evident on this day, and what I’d noticed from Confidence Man on the very first day, was the difference in performance between bands as a result of the stage presence and overall attitude presented. It was pretty clear when an artist was not feeling the crowd or the crowd was not feeling the artist. And though time slot, weather or the demographic of the crowd are reasons for this, it ultimately came down to one thing: the artist’s passion. Methyl Ethyl, Confidence Man, Cosmo’s Midnight were A-grade examples of how artist vs crowd interaction can successfully play-out. They each possessed a kind of looseness or effortlessness; they were having fun and the audience could sense this.

DAY FOUR: DOOF STICKS SAVE LIVES, THE CREASES SET OUT TO IMPRESS, AND RUN THE JEWELS RING IN THE NEW YEAR

At a multiple-day festival it is imperative that energy levels stay constant, or better yet, are magnified. Though going hard each and every night seems like the obvious thing to do, knowing when to nap, when to sit instead of stand to watch a band or when to create the perfect doof stick, is needed. The doof stick allows one to save energy to enjoy bands instead of searching for friends. On the final day a crunchy nut box on top of an abandoned tent pole was ours.

The day began with a performance from The Creases. Having first seen The Creases at Valley Fiesta in 2012, watching the band work their way into the festival circuit made for a proud moment for me. Their pop-rock tunes attracted a sizeable crowd, and they expertly showcased the tracks from Tremolow, their album released in 2017.

As day turned to night, and 2018 grew closer and closer we congregated at the Grand Theatre. Basenji and Cosmo’s Midnight, two highly anticipated sets of DJs, created an army of yelling, screaming and dancing people. Cosmo’s Midnight, in particular, with their energetic approach and innovative producing techniques blew expectations out of the water. Perhaps, in part, it was due to the excitement for midnight, but it was also due to their dark, deep and easy-to-dance-to music. Cosmo’s Midnight are definitely ones to see. The doof stick played a big role here. Between the pushing of the crowd and the focus on one’s own dancing, the likeliness of getting lost was high.

As we made our way down to the Valley Stage, midnight half-an-hour away and Run the Jewels 20-minutes into their set, I remember looking around at the festival that was Falls; an assembly of like-minded, music loving but incredibly different people, here to make memories, enjoy time with their friends and listen to their favourite bands. It was a beautiful sight watching thousands of people streaming up the natural amphitheatre. As the clock hit midnight, however, and all my friends kissed each other, I was glad to be apart of it. Run the Jewels, boisterous and with the intent to keep the crowd partying into the early hours, owned the stage with the presence of Gods. Vince Staples, though, was what electrified everyone’s tired bodies and was truly the antidote for four days of bad eating, hours of dancing and general fatigue.

DAY FIVE. HELP THE ENVIRONMENT AND YOURSELF

Pack up day. Everything done and dusted.

The scene from American Beauty, the one where the plastic bag is poetically swept up in the wind, was recreated at least a hundred times on this last day. In fact, there was shit everywhere; broken tents left in heaps, soft-drink bottles, beer cans, chairs, plastic bags etc. I couldn’t help but feel sorry for whoever’s job it was to clean up. It was a festival after all, but that really wasn’t an excuse. The job should have been all of ours.

In the end though, looking back, Falls was an amazing experience. From the killer line-up, to the amenities that volunteers tirelessly worked on to keep clean, to the food stalls, artists and sound check guys. Everything ran smoothly, no hitches evident and an atmosphere like no other was created. The two stages worked together with no major clashes. The crowds kept safe and respectful, and the bands performed to a very high standard.

However, it needs to be said that there are a few lessons learned that weren’t as good as the others though. There are some great female artists around today, and a lot of them. Raking in the cash can no longer be a relevant argument for why more female acts aren’t booked for big festivals, neither can arguments of popularity. So, though this year’s Falls festival was amazing, gender diversity and line-up balance is even more so. Furthermore, safety should be a huge priority on any festivals list and though, sexual harassment and altercations regarding consent cannot be controlled easily, as they are an individual’s own decision, the culture can explicitly be approached. Falls took many measures to control the mosh and safety of its patrons, and that was really great.

Overall, you did good Falls. You did good.

WORDS BY JULIE FENWICK
PHOTOS COURTESY OF IAN LAIDLAW

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Just doing her best to survive in the Melbourne jungle