Report: Splendour in the Grass, Byron Bay 2014

Day One – First Night Fever

*My friends have asked for their names to be changed, and so I have randomly generated pseudonyms for them.

Sky Ferreira*, Lily Allen* and I are waiting outside the Byron Bay Surf Club for a red double-decker bus to take us to the Spotify pre-Splendour party. Jan the bus driver – who I suspect moonlights as one half of the Mythbusters crew thanks to his carefully crafted ginger moustache – hails us on board and cranks the cheesy 80s tunes.

When we arrive at the Fig Tree restaurant – it’s v fancy. It has a spectacular view of vineyards overlooking the ocean, there are blow up swans in the pool, and Fishing are performing live. Instagram famous people are here, and one girl is wearing black lace pants with just black underwear underneath. We haven’t eaten, and two drinks in when the first canapés are served, I find myself wolfing down oysters for breakfast.

Jan picks us up from the party and drives us out to the festival in time to catch the final few songs from Kite String Tangle drifting across the site. Sky*, Lily*, and I instead make a beeline for the first Splendour bar of the weekend, the Hello Beer bar, and ease into the afternoon watching the Mix Up Stage via a screen in the bar. We had planned to head into Peking Duk, but the show looks a bit too intense so we hang back. Reports from our friends Kelis* and Andre3000* say the vibe was EDM extreme.

Instead the first act we make a concerted effort to catch is (the real) Kelis, and her set lays the groundwork for what is going to be a very good night. Her latest musical foray into a more jazz funk and soul style couldn’t be better received by the crowd, just like her body hugging magenta Body Con dress. She dishes out ‘Trick Me Once’, ‘Jerk Ribs’, and a funkified version of ‘Milkshake’, which though it sounds like a terrible idea written down actually pulls together the whole show. Kelis seems genuinely thrilled to be on stage, but we decide to leave early to avoid the crowds and I’ll never know if she was going to play ‘Bossy’.

From here we make our first party trek to the Amphitheatre, and climbing the hill feels like climbing the Wall in Game of Thrones – someone is definitely going to incur an SRI (Splendour Related Injury) on this incline.

The layout of the festival is working a lot better this year. Though we’re definitely getting our daily dose of exercise, there are few bottlenecks and everything is easy to find. The buses are a LOT closer to the entrance this year as well, and the brand new bowl of an Amphitheatre is the perfect size, allowing you to see the stage from all angles with great sound.

It’s time to have a sit and be blinded by the strobelights of Interpol. The strobes make their melancholy tunes quite uplifting and by we’re feeling prepped for Outkast. Lily* is losing it already.

Outkast were the major drawcard for me, and despite some not promising reports from other festival appearances internationally, they’re nailing it tonight. As the countdown in ‘B.O.B’ kicks in we’re already wiggling and jumping like salmon swimming upstream. I take a spectacular tumble from leaping around so much, and no one seems notice as they’re completely caught up in what’s happening on stage. Andre3000 is wearing a shirt that says “Thinking deeply about shallow shit”, and it’s the best. They charge through their hits, including ‘Ms Jackson’, ‘Hey Ya’, ‘Roses’, ‘The Way You Move’, ‘So Fresh So Clean’ and ‘Prototype’ (Lily* and I take moment to hug), and the energy of the crowd – which seems to be the entire festival – is wild.  At the end of the set I march back up the hill beaming.

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The night isn’t over yet – not nearly. Continuing on the festival bar pub crawl, it’s a visit to the Smirnoff tent, which is more like a boatshed/nightclub constructed from scaffolding. I don’t know who is playing but who cares? We spot Tim, the last winner from Big Brother, who is in his element with drunk people swarming about him. Still riding on a high from Outkast, I’m getting quite into the cocktails on offer – mostly the Outkastaways, but there’s also the Two Pour Cinema Club, and the Lip Tide on offer. We stay so late, we’re kicked out of the bar because it’s closing.

On one of the last buses back to Byron, I take a nap on Lily’s* shoulder. Sky* buys me one of the most delicious pasties ever when we’re back in town, but then I vanish into thin air in search of a toilet. Lily* and Sky* look for me to no avail, only to come back to the apartment to find me starfished on the couch.

Other notes: I finally got to meet the Skywhale!

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Day Two – Everyone has crazy eyes

Splendour is a unique festival. Rather than scorning the festival dickheads, it is an event that celebrates and embraces them, and by buying a ticket to Splendour you are entering into a contract to do the same, and even granting yourself permission to engage in dickheadery. For one weekend, everyone is that mate you’re a bit worried to introduce to your other friends because you know they’re going to say or do something controversial.

A group of guys are wearing t-shirts that say “this cunt”, “that cunt”, “another cunt”, and during Future Islands they hold up a sign saying “and this cunt” as their totem, alerting other “cuntz” to their position in the crowd. And… it’s funny.

Today, everyone has crazy eyes. It’s the Saturday of Splendour – everyone’s got a lot going on, they’re ready to get fucked up. I’m feeling rough from the night before and want to do the opposite of that.

During (the real) Sky Ferreira’s set there are guys pogo-ing, another dude dressed as a whoopee cushion, and someone is scaling the Mix Up Tent’s guy ropes. Ferreira’s looking a bit rough, but her voice is unbelievable.

Before returning to the Amphitheatre, we visit the Rumspringer barn. It is by far the most bizarre thing on site, with Amish people walking about hanging out clothes, hammering barn doors, and playing fiddles, while we get a cider. Huh?

Photo: Lachlan Johnston

Violent Soho are on at the Amphitheatre stage, and as they say themselves, the crowd is nothing like the size it was for them last year. The power of triple j airplay has seen their stock rise when it comes to pulling a crowd. During their set, a little boy of no more than 2 or 3 wanders on stage with his gigantic earphones on, and seems completely mesmerised by their performance. Bass player Luke Henery checks on him when there’s a pause in the song, and proceeds to head bang at a safe difference in front of him. That kid’s life has changed forever, he’s been anointed by rock. At the end of the song Henery leads the little boy off stage, returning him to his parents (?).

Photo: Stephen Booth

Via the rum bar, we check out Future Islands and immediately don’t regret it when we witness lead singer Samuel T. Herring’s dance moves. They are unlike anything I have ever seen a lead singer do before, it’s almost like seeing someone mime, or use sign language using their whole body. When they play ‘Seasons’, it feels like a very special Splendour moment.

As we move on to Foals, the first drops of rain begin to fall, and I finally feel less of an idiot for wearing a raincoat and gumboots the last two days. Scaling the Wall doesn’t get easier.

It’s pretty fantastic that Splendour were able to get Foals over to play the festival with less than a week’s notice, and it feels like everyone is pleased they’ll be catching them rather than Two Door Cinema Club. If anyone is beginning to flag from the day’s efforts, Foals’ Yannis Phillippakis is giving them a second wind.

RUFUS are another band that’s getting a lot of Splendour love, maxing out the Mix Up Tent. Owl Eyes joins them on stage, and RUFUS are feeling very grateful to be here, continually thanking all of their fans.

Very predictably, we end the night with Yacht Club DJs at the Smirnoff tent aka our second seedy home. Yacht Club have perfected their mash-up style DJing, moving between cheese, crowdpleasers and left-of-field additions, and it’s never more apparent than when they mash together Iggy Azalea’s ‘Fancy’ and Gesaffelstein’s ‘Pursuit’. By the end of their set it is definitely time for bed.

Day Three – Feeling blessed

There are a lot of Native American headdresses at the festival this year – a stall is selling them. It looks like with the fading popularity of flower garlands, the headdresses are making a firm comeback fashion-wise, and it’s a sad sight. Whenever I see one, I want to shake some sense into the person donning it and let them know how disrespectful it is – if it were part of Australian Aboriginal culture, they wouldn’t dare go near it – but it’s a pointless exercise stopping a guy with a beer in his hand (probably his seventh for the day) to discuss how, as Dazed Digital puts it, “it’s pretty shit when people on drugs wear Native American headdresses and mill about to DJs without a moment’s consideration for the cultural significance of the item that they’re wearing.”

It certainly feels like the third day of the festival, the exhaustion is setting into our bones – it’s like attending three Big Day Out festivals in a row. I’m late in for the day, having been finishing off my review of the last two days, and the sun begins to set as I take the bus in. The entire length of the trip a guy and a girl (who seem relatively off their chops) repeatedly say “hold up, hold up” without pause. The bus ride is a good 25 minutes.

I’m feeling down that I’m late to the party today. Scooting via Courtney Barnett, who is a much more confident presence on stage since her overseas success, I make my way to Grouplove in the Amphitheatre. As it happens, they are the antidote to feeling down and out. Their sound is as infectious live as it is over the radio, the hill is packed with bouncing bodies. Their four-song bracket of ‘Tongue-Tied’, a brilliant cover of Beyonce’s ‘Drunk In Love’ featuring the sassiest rap from vocalist Hannah Hooper, ‘Borderlines and Aliens’, and ‘Ways To Go’, is like drinking in a happiness potion. Danny Brown* checks in everyone he knows at the festival to Splendour in the Grass on Facebook, his status reading “feeling blessed”.

While waiting for (the real) Danny Brown to come on in the Mix Up Tent, Nina Las Vegas is pumping the crowd up. This being her job every Saturday night on triple j, she effortlessly hypes the crowd up without burning them out. Someone lights a flare in the middle of the tent. It’s a bit scary, and Nina Las Vegas yells at them for being a dick, while somebody else stamps it out before it does any damage.

The decks are wheeled under the stage curtain, and the crowd bellows as the curtain pulls to the side and heavier bass kicks in. Even though he’s white, quite a few people seem to think the Danny Brown’s DJ is actually Danny Brown, when finally the rapper bursts on stage flailing his trap arms, and the cheers peak. You can barely hear what Danny Brown is saying, but with the bass thumping it doesn’t even matter. He finishes off his set with his biggest song of last year, ‘Dip’.

We hang around for Darkside, along with all the other kids who feel drawn to dark and moody electronica over Lily Allen’s pop. Their silhouetted figures are the only visuals needed for their cinematic and dystopian sound that simultaneously manages to make bodies move.

Finishing off Splendour at what one of my new friend’s of the weekend Lauren Mayberry* drunkenly describes as her “spiritual home”, we’re back at the Smirnoff tent. Sky Ferreira* is stopping people asking if “they’ve got a bit on”, and Lily Allen* has scrounged a second wind out of nowhere, but it’s all a bit too much for me. I give away my drink tickets, and when I sit down for a rest, immediately start to nod off. The end to my Splendour is an anti-climax – for Lily*, Sky* and Danny* it doesn’t end until the Tipi Forest closes for another year.

I’m drained, and can’t imagine feeling energised for at least another 12 months. Just in time for Splendour.

Main Photo: Ian Laidlaw

Originally published on TheVine.com.au

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