Gang of Youths at Splendour in the Grass 2018
Gang of Youths' Dave Le’aupepe tears up the stage at Splendour. Picture: Lucinda Goodwin

Review: Splendour in the Grass, Byron Bay, 20-22 July 2018

It’s Sunday afternoon and a man walks into Splendour’s first aid tent. His complaint? A nosebleed. The cause? He punched himself in the face during Hilltop Hoods’ set the previous night. He wanted a nosebleed during ‘Nosebleed Section’, and with one swift jab he delivered a poetic reminder of the power of music and its unique ability to quite literally drive a man to punch himself in the face. Damn.

Speaking of which, Kendrick Lamar delivered his own knockout blows as he closed out the festival with a set featuring hit after hit that stirred the 30,000-strong amphitheatre into a frenzy. Following energetic performances from The Wombats, who seem inextricably linked to the Aussie festival circuit, and PNAU, who had the crowd dancing – and falling – all over the hill, Kung Fu Kenny put on a lyrical master class that showcased why he’s the hottest artist in the world right now.

Boasting a line up that covered eight of 2017’s Hottest 100 top ten tracks, Splendour once again sold out absurdly quickly. Much has been made of the focus on fashion – and we use that term loosely – over music, but if you were there for the scene, and not just to be seen, then you wouldn’t have left disappointed.

Kendrick Lamar delivered his own knockout blows as he closed out the festival with a set featuring hit after hit that stirred the 30,000-strong amphitheatre into a frenzy.

Aside from Kendrick, the international heavy-hitters brought performances that did justice to their global reputations. CHVRCHES remained one of the most talked about acts throughout the festival thanks to the flawless, soaring vocals of Lauren Mayberry, while Miguel oozed sex appeal as he strutted around the Mix Up Stage. Khalid, Lorde, Vampire Weekend – the list goes on and on. A perhaps surprising highlight, at least for those who had not heard of him, was genre-defying Brit YUNGBLUD, whose charismatic performance and intensity earned him a stack of new fans on Saturday afternoon.

If there were any doubts over the strength of the Australian music scene, consider them disproven after this weekend. From Thursday through Sunday, both the established and newcomer Aussies stepped up and delivered some of the most engaging performances of the festival. Baker Boy ripped through Red Bull’s Mix Up Stage with an electric set on Thursday evening, while Didirri’s all-white outfit matched his angelic voice perfectly. Alex Lahey and Amy Shark, both playing the amphitheatre on Saturday afternoon, gave us memorable moments with their covers of ‘Complicated’ and ‘Teenage Dirtbag’, but crowd favourites like ‘I Haven’t Been Taking Care of Myself’ and ‘Weekends’ provided huge sing-alongs and the amount of stoke they had to be up on stage was tangible.

If there were any doubts over the strength of the Australian music scene, consider them disproven after this weekend.

Dune Rats stacked their stage with a who’s who of Triple J favourites, Byron locals Skegss showed how far they’ve come and G-Flip cemented her spot as one to watch despite having released just two songs. Ziggy Ramo, a young Aussie hip-hop artist, tied infectious enthusiasm with razor-sharp rhymes to tackle inequality and ‘dickhead men’, while Ball Park Music and Ocean Alley reputedly brought some of the best vibes of the festival.

Of all the local acts, however, the standout had to be Gang of Youths and honestly, there’s no compliment that hasn’t been paid to this Sydney band. They’ve broken hearts and mended them in a meteoric rise over the last few years and no other band in the country, arguably the world, captures the fine line between hope and pain so perfectly. The magnetism of frontman Dave Le’aupepe, as well as the relationship between bandmates Joji, Donnie, Jung and Max, lends their live performances a unique energy that builds and builds on the beauty of their albums, and their set contained tracks from both The Positions and Go Farther in Lightness that had an enormous crowd singing word-for-word.

Dedicating ‘The Heart is a Muscle’ to his hospitalised father, Le’aupepe commanded the audience from the stage at first and then from their shoulders as he crowd-surfed during ‘Magnolia’, before a stirring rendition of ‘The Deepest Sighs, the Frankest Shadows, which was first heard on that very same stage during Splendour 2016. “Not everything means something, honey,” sang Le’aupepe, but judging from the crowd’s reaction, it’s obvious these songs mean a hell of a lot to people.

As a festival, Splendour seems to have made a concerted effort to iron out previous issues regarding lines and facilities. Add to that their commitment to going plastic-free and you have an event that is not only consolidating its position as the country’s most hyped festival, but also spreading positive messages backed by an outstanding community of artists from Australia and abroad. If you were lucky enough to attend, it was a weekend that lived up to high expectations and though you may not have punched yourself in the face, odds are there were times you had to pinch yourself.

Consider us Humbled.

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