I stepped off the plane and the wind nearly threw me off the top of the stairs as rain stung my face. It was my first visit to Tasmania and it was a severe welcome. I would quickly learn that summer is a relative term here.
A car full of mates met me outside and we wasted no time with pleasantries. The car was loaded with camping gear and we headed east, to Marion Bay. Falls Festival prides itself on its remote and leafy locales and this most Southern of the shows was tucked alongside Hobart with thick bush to the North and the ocean to the South. As we drove towards grey skies we all focused on the music that would keep us warm for the next three days.
Nothing’s far away in Tassie, the island’s tiny and so it didn’t take us long to find the queue of cars full of eager young faces (after stopping for a curried scallop pie – who would’ve thought this local delicacy would be so tasty?)
There were acres of camping space, we slid in next to some friendly folk and battled gale force winds to get our tents up; we counted ourselves lucky the rain had eased. The sky couldn’t have been greyer but all around us people were laughing and shouting, amid a shrill mix of car stereos and the faraway thump of the main-stage sound-check.
We poured ourselves a drink as we pulled on rain jackets. There were utes with tents set-up in the back, massive Winebagos, as well as tiny tents that had been hastily erected and had already been ripped apart by the wind. There were people throwing back beer bongs and there were families in Kombies – this was an all-ages festival, everyone was welcome.
At the Field Stage we first caught Client Liaison; grinding and groaning to their infections 80’s synth styles. The cold didn’t seem to worry the front-man’s pale, bare chest.
Salt n Pepa then took to the stage as the night turned dark and it seemed the Queens from Queens have fallen from grace. The DJ interludes were dominated by Beyonce, and that was the highlight.
Most festivals these days tend to increase the price of booze as the alcohol content decreases, but not in Tassie. There were schooners of local craft beer and tins of cider and in these conditions it was vital, one needed to stay warm.
The next day we rose slowly, we had the best of intentions to walk to the beach, but with incessant wind and sporadic rain we went for coffee and carbohydrates instead.
On this second morning the words on everyone’s lips seemed to hum “Kim Churchill”. The procession towards the stage moved slowly with heads lowered, but that was only until the kid from Merimbula came into earshot. His voice was like a smile, it pulled you in close and as the rain returned we took to stomping in the mud and singing along to his folk ballads of life on the Aussie coast.
There were kids everywhere, families. There were infants wrapped in blankets and there were toddlers splashing in the mud. Some wore earphones to shield them from the thumping music as their parents danced with them in their arms.
We caught a taste of Safia from Canberra. Their opening was mellow and ambient but it soon gave way to dub step bass lines that pushed away the clouds.
The sun peaked through as Glass Animals walked onto the stage. Their first notes were distinctive, their sound is unmistakable. With samples and guitars and synths and lilting voices they produce tunes that aren’t easily forgotten.
Vance Joy played his hits, girls swooned and when Riptide came on everyone nodded in appreciation.
Cold War Kids then screamed onto the stage in a mess of guitars and guttural voices. These were men singing loud and pounding their guitars and you’d not whinge about the rain. You’d stamp your feet and shout along with them, crying out for a bottle of rye and the love of a good woman.
Joey Bada$$ (Joey Badass) offered his own brand of machismo. His rhymes from Brooklyn seemed surreal with a backdrop of eucalypt trees and folks in ponchos.
In fact thick, woolen ponchos were the star of this festival, they’d thankfully stolen the mantel from indian head-dresses, of which there were only a handful this year.
We left weary but after donning another layer of clothes we arrived at Jamie XX with eyes wide and our skin sweaty. The stage was barren but the beats were complex with layers of sound that belied the man’s blank stare. It was deep and moody and it was an excellent warm-up to Alt J.
The stage was lit red and orange and everyone knew all the songs and while I couldn’t find my buddies it didn’t matter, I found new ones, Alt J brought everyone together. I screamed along to a mix of their old and new tracks that maintained all of their power done live, they lost none of the intricate nuance that comes from repeated doses through headphones. They’re a band of depth and after dropping a solid second album (minus founder Gwil Sainsbury) they’ve cemented their talent as both musicians and performers.
The appropriate way to end the evening was to then lose our shit to The Presets. It wasn’t the first time, and it probably won’t be the last. These guys delivered what was needed in tune and on time. There were bright lights and rousing builds and our hands reached high, high in the air.
We were all left floating and the party went back to the campsite and the rain had stopped and there were stars that looked unreal and I battled with the realization that I was further South than I’d ever been before.
Come morning I was woken by a bright, white light; it was sunshine and as I ripped open my tent and crawled out onto the grass I felt both like death and re-born.
The only choice was a walk to the beach and while it was long, the rewards were huge. The route snaked through a sea of tents and cars and people and everyone was smiling to the sun. The land grew flat and the tents stopped and the ground was boggy with low shrubs. There was an impressive procession of people with towels and thongs and stories from the night before.
Dashing up the dunes we were rewarded by the welcome site of sparkling blue water and very white sand. There were hundreds of people taking the opportunity to soak up some sun while washing away the grime of days past. Yes the water was cold, but we deserved it.
We returned with clear heads and sandy feet and after coffee and bacon we cruised into a set by DMA’s who were being compared to Oasis and the Arctic Monkeys and they brought bucket hats and speed-dealer sunnies to the stage.
The Black Lips followed; these potty-mouthed, rock-rap, story-tellers were bringing the life back to the Field Stage and while I love these guys, and I was singing along, I stayed seated in the shade, in the recovery position, with cider.
We rose to find Jagwar Ma playing the main stage and Gabriel Winterfield held his arms wide with a broad, boyish smile. This was the perfect flavour to get feet moving. This lot have been slowly building a following with their psychedelic/electro tunes that ebb between extremes of ambiance and rock.
As we swayed to the music there was a gang of about 20 kids, mostly boys, playing cricket by the fence. They dashed about sweaty and free and if I were their parents, I’d be very content that they were content.
Old favorites Cloud Control followed. They gave people what they wanted, everyone sang along. Their album Dream Cave had been a long time coming and it was well received, but now we wait again, for their next album. NB. It was just announced that bass player, Jeremy Kelshaw, is leaving the band.
I really dig Movement, I saw them play a tiny room on Oxford Street recently and they filled the space and everyone lost their minds. But alas on a big open stage their sound lacked punch. But do yourself a favour and catch these guys in a smokey underground dive bar somewhere.
Now… Empire of the Sun haven’t had any new hits for a while, and with the responsibility of the NYE countdown set everyone had high expectations – thankfully they delivered. It was an epic live show (apparently it’s been touring the globe for 12 months with only brief stops in Australia).
Dancers appeared in billowing costumes with wardrobe changes almost every track. Luke Steele rose into the middle of the stage in suitably dramatic fashion and the lights exploded along with the speakers. The tunes were classic and everybody remembered the good times past as well as the night we were celebrating. Everyone was screaming and dancing with the far-off ocean glinting under the moonlight.
We counted down midnight and there were hugs and beers thrown in the air. We turned to find another drink and we stepped carefully around little parcels of infants in sleeping bags held by their parents. Everyone smiled with misty breath and the lights were bright and the New Year was off to a good start.