Why Laneway is one of my favourite Australian festivals

I have referred to Aussie music festivals multiple times on this blog because music events come in all shapes, colours and sizes in Oz. Especially in the summer you can basically spend your time following the biggest events around the country and not have a break for one weekend. Pretty cool, hey?

PART 29 OF “AM I EVER GONNA SEE YOUR FACE AGAIN?” A RANDOM COLLECTION OF UNKNOWINGLY OBVIOUS FACTS ABOUT AUSTRALIAN MUSIC SCENE

There are Aussie festivals famous for their amazing location, like Bluesfest or Splendour In The Grass (SITG), both set in Byron Bay surrounds. There are some dedicated to a specific genre of music, i.e. Electric Gardens‘ mostly dance line-ups or Download‘s heavier sounds. There are also those that take place over a special period, for instance Falls (around New Year’s) or Snowtunes (in winter, obviously). Big Day Out and Soundwave no longer exist but made it to history books Down Under already. And let’s not forget about the festivals that are also music industry gatherings at the same time, like BIGSOUND or Changes. One of my fave ones, though, is a different one, taking place right now. It is called St Jerome’s Laneway Festival or just Laneway.

I need to be honest with you. Most of the reasons why Laneway is one of my faves are very subjective. And I’ve only been to the Melbourne leg but – since the whole thing started there – I reckon that qualifies me to express my opinion.

For starters, let’s clarify something: Laneway is not so “laneway” anymore. That’s how it was born, though, when two mates decided to make Melbourne’s summer a bit more fun back in 2005. They started staging weekly gigs in unique locations (i.e. CBD’s laneways) and that idea eventually turned into a proper small festival with bands like The Avalanches or The Presets as pioneer performers. Gradually, between 2005-2009, the concept was exported to some other Aussie cities. With the expansion came the fame and crowds, so keeping it in the laneway setting no longer made sense or was feasible. But the ethos of it somehow stayed.

Crooked Colours perform at Laneway 2019
Own video

Laneway is a touring festival; not the only one of its type, obviously. So is Groovin The Moo (GTM), too, for instance. But that’s what’s cool about it. When I’m writing this post, the Auckland, Brisbane and Sydney legs of the festival are already done and dusted. Yeah, you read that right. Apart from the biggest Aussie cities (Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane, Adelaide and Perth), Laneway has also been present in NZ since 2009 and the Kiwis are loving it. Additionally, between 2011 and 2018 the festival had a South-Asian leg in Singapore and was apparently very well received there.

It is a massive effort on the organisers’ part because the legs are scheduled on three following weekends, with the whole entourage moving from one city to another in one day sometimes (i.e. from Adelaide on 7 Feb to Melbourne on 8 Feb and then on to Perth/Fremantle on 9 Feb this year).

The touring part of the festival is actually pretty fun for punters. Not all acts perform in all cities but if you’ve missed an artist because their set collided with another must-see on your list, then chances are you can still catch them in the next city. Or if a band’s show was totally lit, you can check them out again pretty much the following day. Obviously, if you can afford it and are flexible with your travel plans.

I also find the idea of a one-day festival pretty refreshing. Yes, it’s amazing to just escape reality at Rainbow Serpent for a few days, but because that event, for instance, is staged in a pretty remote place, it stretches the whole adventure to 5 days (if you count in the travelling times). And not all of us have the luxury of taking leave days for every festival we want to be at. That’s why Laneway’s idea is practical. Even if you are going to a different city than your own, you can still make the whole trip in one weekend, without asking for a single day off at work. A win-win for everyone.

Another aspect of Laneway that I find attractive is that it really makes the effort to showcase the best in Aussie talent. Which doesn’t mean that there aren’t any international artists on the bill. And, to be honest, there have been some pretty big names gracing Laneway’s stages, i.e. Florence and the Machine, Sigur Rós or Vince Staples. But many times it has been primarily Aussie acts on the bill or headlining it that convinced music fans to flock to the event. Like in the case of the 2017 edition when Tame Impala closed out the whole event in their home town in WA (Western Australia, in Fremantle). Or in 2019 when the line-up looked like this:

There are also a few reasons why Laneway is special to me and they’re all very subjective. Firstly, because it is a Melbourne-born and -bred event and I truly adore this city, mostly for its vibrant music scene. Secondly, due to the festival’s location in Footscray – a slightly underestimated part of Melbourne that I, for a change, find pretty awesome. Also, I was fortunate enough to be a part of Laneway with an organisation that does an amazing work trying to marry music with social activism (Global Citizen/GC). And lastly, because of that cooperation with GC, during the 2018 edition we accidentally ended up backstage and I found myself dancing to Internet’s set next to… Tash Sultana (yeah, I was equally shocked, trust me).

Backstage at Laneway 2018
Own video

Lastly, I’ve actually got two minor complaints to Laneway organisers. Where are the NT (Northern Territory) and TAS (Tasmania) legs? In other words, whatever happened to Hobart and Darwin or Alice Springs. I can imagine organising the festival in the Far North might not be possible in the summer due to scorching heat up there. And maybe there isn’t enough demand for it in Darwin or Alice, either. But why not put together something on a smaller scale then? There’s so much talent coming from NT (i.e. Baker Boy or Caiti Baker) that I’m sure their fans would be thrilled to see them perform. And it would also open up the concept more to the Aboriginal community that inhabits a lot of the northern areas.

On the other hand, I find no logical explanation why Hobart is excluded. The Tassie capital does have a number of other epic festivals (i.e. Dark Mofo) but I feel that Laneway is missing out on not being present in TAS. After all, Hobart is one of the leading cultural cities of Australia, and – according to a survey conducted a few years back – one of the hipster capitals Down Under. So Laneway line-ups would really go down well there, I reckon.

The new home of Melbourne Laneway
since 2019: Footscray Park
Own video

And can we take the Melbs leg back to the Footscray Community Arts Centre, please? An article in the Herald Sun last year hailed Laneway Melbourne’s 2019 move to Footscray Park “a hit”, claiming that “while a sense of nostalgia remains for the old site, the reality is Laneway has expanded and evolved beyond the narrow and oft-gridlocked space at the Footscray Community Arts Centre.” I guess I’ll have to respectfully disagree. Whilst I’m stoked that the festival has been growing exponentially in recent years, that “narrow and gridlocked” area is exactly what made it feel different, special and like a proper “laneway” festival that it used to be once. And the wide open spaces at Footscray Park, even though more convenient and manageable, kind of take away from its original concept, at least to my liking. So soz, Laneway Folks, I liked the old “venue” better but I guess it’s just a personal choice.

I’m pretty gutted I can’t be at Laneway this year as it has, somehow, become a little tradition with my Melbs GC Fam. But hey, if not this year than maybe in 2021. And because there’s a huuuuuuge demand for live music Down Under and the music festival scene is flourishing everywhere in the world, it looks like St Jerome’s Laneway Festival organisers in particular don’t have anything to worry about in the coming years.


Other references:

Jones Around The World – 30 Music Festivals In Australia To Experience Before You Die

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