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The Jezabels' Hayley Mary performs at Falls Downtown in Fremantle. Picture: Sara Hannagan. Full gallery

Review: Falls Downtown Fremantle, 7-8 January 2017

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This thing could work, guys.

Falls Festival’s first-ever trip to Fremantle was somewhat of an experiment.

Dubbed ‘Falls Downtown’, the two-day event took over the historically under-utilised Kings Square, with two main stages plus the Old Time Music Hall (Fremantle Town Hall), the Church of Heavenly Delights (St John’s Anglican Church) and the Danceteria (downstairs in the old Myer building).

Streets were blocked and some local businesses chose to stay open, including the Federal Hotel which did a roaring trade as one of the best vantage points for the Alley stage.

Melbourne’s City Calm Down pleased those who came down early on Saturday with their low-fi pop, while Pennsylvanian rockers Modern Baseball delivered short, sharp melodic punk for some early afternoon moshing.

English duo AlunaGeorge turned up the dance vibes at the Alley stage, and Illy was his typical fun-loving self.

Saturday also marked the day hip hop royalty came to Freo in the form of Grandmaster Flash – widely considered one of the fathers of hip hop DJing. His biggest hit The Message predictably went down a treat.

Perth’s own Ta-ku took us on an emotional journey with his moody beats, before the venue descended into a glorious pit of sweaty rock ‘n roll care of King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard and Violent Soho.

Day two had the best lineup by far, and it showed in the number of people streaming through the gates. Inevitably, with the influx of bodies came the challenge of navigating the obstacle-laden festival grounds. Not easy when there’s a Town Hall in your way.

Don’t get us wrong – the challenges of running a festival on a city block are complex compared to plonking a festival in the middle of an open field. You can’t put things wherever you want. There are buildings, roads and shops in the way. You have to consider road traffic control, local residents and noise curfews. However, the benefits to the local economy can be great and the City of Fremantle should be congratulated for their willingness to give it a go.

The challenges of running a festival on a city block are complex compared to plonking a festival in the middle of an open field. However, the benefits to the local economy can be great and the City of Fremantle should be congratulated for their willingness to give it a go.

Sunday kicked off with Music Insight’s own foster band The Hunting Birds, the local indie folk rockers gaining new fans with with their midday set as the mercury climbed. People crowded into any shady spot they could find to see Shura channel 80s pop icons with her chilled out synth pop and Ry X were the perfect hangover cure as people swayed and nodded to their dreamy electronic soundscapes.

Chill time was over, however, when Client Liaison hit the stage, flanked by two giant water coolers and video footage of parliament in session.

The Melbourne masters of synth pop absurdity opened with Canberra Won’t Be Calling Tonight – a winning mix of synth and didgeridoo – and didn’t stop until the entire crowd was grooving to their irresistible hooks. From their choreographed dance moves to their impressive mullets, you’d be forgiven for thinking Client Liaison were trying to be funny. Who else could cover Savage Garden’s I Want You with a straight face? But they take their music extremely seriously and as a result, they’re seriously entertaining.

With all those calories burned on the dance floor, thankfully there were plenty of interesting food options on offer – though peak time queues were long. Very long. But it didn’t matter, because – in an unusual move – festival-goers were given passouts so they could leave the festival, go and grab lunch at a local café and come back in again. Brilliant.

There was plenty of love for festival mainstays Ball Park Music and the Jezabels, whose charismatic frontwoman Hayley Mary appeared with a Joan Jett-esque red mullet, skin-tight leopard print pants and a rock ‘n roll attitude to match.

“Crowdsurfing was easier when people weren’t trying to film it for their fucking Facebook,” she yelled after a short-lived ‘surf’ across the front few rows. “Just hold the person up!”

The Jezabels’ cover of Bonnie Tyler’s The Best (later made famous by Tina Turner) was a guilty pleasure we could all enjoy.

Late 80s/early 90s covers appeared to be the order of the day with Matt Corby offering a chilled out version of Tina Arena’s 1994 hit Chains.

But it was The Avalanches that many had come to see. A packed house danced the night away to the Melbourne group’s spectacular performance of feel-good hits including tracks from their new album Wildflower.

Space was at a premium and those who could bear the squeeze at the Alley stage enjoyed some slick electro-pop from New Zealanders Broods.

Headliners London Grammar gave an impassioned performance of sparkling ballads, adding some upbeat touches to a few traditionally slow tracks like Wasting My Young Years. There was no dancing in the aisles but the crowd was moved all the same.

Falls Festival’s first visit to Fremantle was encouraging. Sure, there were ups and downs – but what are experiments for if not to learn something?

With a little refinement, Falls Festival could be one of Freo’s finest.




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