Reviewed Saturday December 31 – Monday January 2
Facing extreme heat – with a relentless downpour to come on its final night – Falls Festival at Byron Bay launched into festivities on New Year’s Eve by saying sayonara to the annus horriblius that was 2016 (at least in music, right?) with one of the best Boogie Nights lineups it’s seen since its inception. The heat was nothing an ice-cold bevvy or frosé couldn’t ease, though, as Northeast Party House appropriately sprung into the weekend’s tunes with their namesake party flair, throbbing bass and enough energy to prompt many to make the most of the afternoon and get dancing in the mind-melting sun.
Client Liaison and Grandmaster Flash masterfully kept up the party vibes in expert style into night – the former’s set a festival highlight. Among an epic Australiana-dense stage, Client Liaison strutted and posed across an entertaining hour made all the more better by Monte Morgan working his showmanship and losing his graphic-printed ensemble for gold leather hot pants and boots for their finale.
Blissed-out boogieing continued for the rest of 2016 thanks to (almost) birthday boy Grandmaster Flash treating Falls to a set of education in cutting and mixing, from iconic old- and new-school hip hop to the late George Michael and Flash’s own timeless ‘The Message’. The man himself was evidently just as stoked with the hour as the thousands of grinning faces heaping adoration on the legend.
Afterparty favourite Hot Dub Time Machine embarked on another clever chronological musical journey, before Donald Glover’s Childish Gambino met anticipation with his first performance of 2017. Rather than delivering a heavy dose of new album Awaken, My Love!, material from all three of his records was on the cards. The mix meant a solid combination of repertoire, and Glover gave Byron all of his inimitable electric energy, breathless rapping, stank face and captivating falsetto with enough conviction that it felt like all the tracks were freshly written. The result was a soulful and undeniably world-class performance that ended supremely with ‘3005.’
Dusting off hangovers and tired eyes galore, the day two crowd enjoyed the Aussie acts almost exclusively. The Jezabels returned to the big festival stage with finesse; lead singer Hayley Mary commanded the stage and stole the show as she swore, swung her hips and limbs and shook her Bowie cut to bad-arse effect. They took things to another level with their rendition of Tina Turner’s ‘Simply The Best’ (it was). Jamie T continued the stomping rock, running around the stage and spitting out old favourites like ‘Sheila’ and ‘Sticks ‘N’ Stones’, before Matt Corby kept hearts full by just being himself. Although it wasn’t a Corby original, it was a real pleasure to hear his cover of Tina Arena’s ‘Chains’ live, showing just how phenomenal his voice is. Violent Soho, The Rubens and Pond capped the night’s variations of Aussie rock and satisfied the adoring crowds with standard, uber strong performances, plus Pond playing a stellar new track ahead of their next album release.
LDRU lifted the roof off the shady Forest Stage to a heaving crowd he declared his “best ever,” before Ta-ku brought his chilled, heartbreaking and mending R&B to the tent. Sitting stage right, he wove originals and personal favourites as if he was playing for friends, with Wafia featuring on guest vocals.
There was no slowing down on day three, with revellers raring to go and settled into Falls life, made clear not only through the echoes of this summer’s meme “Nice Garry!” but little pockets of spontaneity. Fat Freddy’s Drop’s Joe Lindsay stole the show during their slot, running around in a singlet and tighty whities both onstage and in the crowd; his antics were a pure joy to watch as the group dubbed on behind him.
A mega can-can line spanned the amphitheatre during Ball Park Music’s ‘Coming Down’ and masses stood arm-in-arm during Bernard Fanning’s acoustic ‘These Days’ and ‘Purple Rain’ combo (right as the clouds begun to break serendipitously, too), signalling a reassurance as to why Falls is a mainstay on the festival calendar.
Back over at the Forest Stage, AlunaGeorge, or more specifically, Aluna Francis, bounced around with their bubblegum synthpop sung back equally as loud by the overflowing tent, not least for the Flume collab ‘I Remember’ and recent single ‘I’m In Control’. DMA’s later proved their worth with a set that went from strength to strength. From Matt Mason’s nonchalance smashing out his sharp guitar to Tommy O’Dell hyping up the hoards with genuine enthusiasm, you can only imagine how much more these guys will further grow their performances. It’s exciting, to say the least.
As the weekend drew to a soggy end, Catfish And The Bottlemen did, in fact, play after an hour’s rain delay to a substantial and adoring crowd soaked to the bone and dedicated to having a damn good time. The temptation to stay dry was strong, and the only shelter from the deluge at the top of the amphitheatre meant it was pretty tricky to hear much of what was going on at the bottom of the sprawling hill. After staunchly trying to make out Hannah Reid’s vocals as part of London Grammar’s set to little avail and despite plenty of music still on offer, it was time to call it and determine whether the campsite was actually underwater. Thanks, Mother Nature – and Falls.