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By James Cerche
8th February 2015

St Jerome’s Laneway has been a festival in rapid growth since its single city debut in 2005. Famous for delivering up-and-coming buzz bands and critically achieved stalwarts right into the heart of a city environments by utilising laneways, parks and other urban community spaces.

Triple J Unearthed winners Milwaukee Banks opened up the festival with 30 minutes of simple, well-produced hip hop. Whilst the beats were nothing mind bending, there was a power in the simplicity that provided a smooth, danceable underscoring to the rapped and sung lyrics.

The fantastic grass amphitheatre surrounds of the Mistletone Stage were kicked off by eccentric Kiwi Connan Mockasin, and a group of friends that included Mac DeMarco. Mockasin and his crew lead punters through a strange journey of psychedelic soul numbers that recalled Isaac Hayes as much as they did Floyd. Connan smiled and warbled at us from beneath a mop of blonde hair and an outfit that wouldn't be out of place in The Mighty Boosh while engaging in a seductive handling of lead guitar duties. Finishing with the sprawling ‘Forever Dolphin Love’, the full stage was brimming with a positive, mischievous energy that was absolutely infectious. Highly recommended.

“We’re called Eagulls. We’re from England.” George Mitchell drawled in typical punk fashion before his band launched into their abrasive four chord set. It was ferociously hot at this point and the pale Leeds locals looked like they were feeling it, sweating onto their guitars and staring listlessly from behind the drum kit. Mitchell kept his tortured frontman routine going, powering on in a long sleeved black shirt while bellowing into the mic. These guys have the potential to be a much more exciting act with the addition of some pace shifts to break down the formulaic bashing. Although it wasn't all conventional, Mitchell teaming his clean-cut look with a plastic cup of red wine, and the use of a personal mini fan on guitar strings to keep the whirling feedback going was strange but effective choice by guitarist Mark Goldsworthy.

Sydney based ambient-come-electro superstars Seekae were immediately engaging with their late afternoon set. Amidst the shady foliage of Grimes Reserve, the trio’s production was sinuous and effortlessly smooth. Having previously only dealt with instrumentals, the introduction of Alex Cameron’s velvety vocals into the mix is a masterstroke, tracks from last year’s ‘The Worry’ going down a treat amongst older material. Seekae quickly recommended themselves as festival highlight. With an enormous sound and great command of atmosphere and groove, these guys were hard to tear away from, impressively keeping me from rushing off to Jungle until much later than planned.

Things were in full flight up at the Moreland Street stage when I did arrive to find Jungle and their full band getting people moving. Falsetto vocals, groovy bass lines and tight horn lines earned these guys a lot of respect in 2014, and the whole event translated well to a live setting. ‘Busy Earning’ made a strong play for biggest sing along of the festival with its infectious melody and triumphant brass.

Future Islands are a strange beast, the Baltimore quartet appearing somewhat mismatched, but together they make something rather extraordinary. Gerrit Whelmers and William Cashion, on keys and bass respectively, play things pretty straight when delivering their bouncy synthpop. Then there’s Samuel T. Herring. This guy has to be one of the most captivating frontmen in music right now. Sometimes he sounded like he could have been fronting The National, at other times he makes Parkway Drive vocals sound like a whimper. Coupled with those notorious dance moves (check out the Letterman performance if you haven’t seen them) and an intense, often harrowing commitment to the storytelling of his lyrics; he’s something else. Herring darted across the stage like a man possessed, beating his chest, drawing imaginary blood and even removing his own heart at one point. He went through some stuff up there, but he never lost his audience, keeping us firmly in the palm of his sweaty hand. ‘Seasons’ soared, threatening to usurp Jungle’s crowd participation. Future Islands meant business, and this set might have been a game changer. Frontmen take notice.

Flying Lotus’s headline slot utilised strong design aesthetic to back up his experimental electronica. From behind a transparent screen, dimly lit from an ominous red light on his keyboard, Fly-Lo looked frankly ghoulish. “You’re Dead!” he proclaimed before beginning his set with the opening jazz fusion freak out from last years record of the same name. Situated as a mid point between two sets of projections, he drifted in an out of view beneath a series of tripped-out visuals that have to be seen to be believed. The depth between screens made the images look effectively three dimensional. Blinding at times, it was like falling down a rabbit hole, the graphics swirling and pulsing with each beat. It was pretty crazy stuff that demonstrated the potential for audiovisual collaboration at live events. I imagine we can expect to see this pushed further in the future.

As always, thoughtful, diverse programming is the key to concocting a festival that is able to capture attention and expand imaginations. If you can manage that and place as much attention on crowd comfort, then you’re probably coming too close to Laneway, which is now the most dependable regular on the Australian single day festival calendar. Ten years old this year and now a confirmed classic.

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