Note: This piece first appeared in Australian Guitar #129. Subscribe to our print edition here!
Its 18th edition selling out in a matter of mere seconds (par for the course at this point), Splendour In The Grass continues to be Australia’s biggest and most diverse music festival, with a lineup focusing equally on the youngins desperate to prove their might (see: Stella Donnelly, West Thebarton, No Mono, Soccer Mommy...) and the legacy acts we all know and love (Albert Hammond Jnr, Franz Ferdinand, Angus & Julia Stone – even Kendrick Lamar is worth pointing out if you happen to dabble in the rap world).
Perhaps moreso than ever, too, the festival’s 2018 incarnation was a whirlwind of six-string serendipity – even on the mainstage, rock and punk acts drew some of the wildest crowds of the weekend, many a mosh pit virgin deflowered. We could fill a whole issue with stories of all the first class acts we caught, but for now, let’s just riff on the cream of the crop…
Sans the part where she announced it was the last in her debut album’s touring cycle, it was hard not to crack a smile during the Melbourne slacker-pop queen’s daytime set. Lahey herself was in spirits as high as most of her crowd, every buzzing chord packed with ardour and every pseudo-sarcastic quip bursting with life. I Love You Like A Brother cuts were all met with rapturous fanfare, of course, but it was a cheeky Avril Lavigne cover that really cemented Lahey’s set as a highlight.
ALEX THE ASTRONAUT
The ever-cheerful indie plucker reaped the only standing ovation we caught at Splendour ’18 (gifted to the jaw-dropping rendition of her 2017 hit and unofficial marriage equality anthem, “Not Worth Hiding”). It was well deserved, too, with Alex Lin playing some of the most hypnotising – and immensely crucial, topically – tunes of the festival. Her debut album is expected to land in early 2019; we’re expecting to see her on much, much bigger stages once it does.
Words could not begin to do justice the transcendental chaos that Alice Ivy yields. Her imagination was bound by nothing – not even her instruments, it seemed, as she used a weatherworn Tele to bust out quirky electro hooks. The genre‑bending dynamo treated a crowd as polarised as it was absorbed to a spate of cuts from her debut LP, I’m Dreaming, which lasted 45 minutes but felt no longer than ten.
The mesmerising Melbournite is making 2018 her bitch, all three of her released tracks met with an onslaught of acclaim. Those – and plenty more – were all given their due spin in the spotlight, unreleased bop “Pasta” and the instant classic “Slow Mover” two particular standouts in a sea of top notch tunes. Her sound was driven by resonant strums slathered in reverb, vocals flourished with a soulful and sultry hum that cut inhumanly deep with every poetic line.
BEN HARPER & CHARLIE MUSSELWHITE
Water is wet, fire is hot, and the “Blood Side Out” duo made a tent full of punters swoon their hearts out on Saturday night – no surprises here, really. The blues legends played to each other’s strengths in spades, Harper rocking a familiar acoustic fuzz and Musselwhite downright tearing shit up on the harmonica. Most of the setlist was pulled from their collaborative Get Up! album, and we have to admit, we were impressed with how many Splendourgoers knew what they were in for.
Synonymous with LA hardcore, the riff-splitting fivesome brought every ounce of its signature gruff and gory charm to an atmosphere that, in all honesty, doesn’t suit it one bit. Joby Ford and Ken Horne were both downright destructive with their axes, but the real winner here was screamlord Matt Caughthran, whose shiny head spent a bulk of The Bronx’s hourlong showcase being knocked around in the pit. God help the security hired to wrangle their impending headline tour.
She’s a staple in the current league of Triple J stalwarts, and rightfully so: Georgia Flipo’s sharp and eccentric pop-rock slappers washed over an early-arvo crowd with an avalanche of good vibes, our heroine bouncing at will between keys, guitars and a live-animated drum kit (named Jeromeo) with not a lyric off-beat. When donning her guitar, Filipo was no mere heatseeker with a few banging beats: she was an icon in the making, more than deserving of a spot alongside the greats.
GANG OF YOUTHS
This was the kind of set that those of us lucky enough to witness it will take stories of it to the grave. The hourlong jaunt was defined by its theatricality, live strings and dynamic production bringing something worth staring at to every inch of the stage. Of course, most eyes were just locked on frontman Dave Le’aupepe, a true master of all three skills necessary in developing an icon: a riveting voice, a powerful strum and some slick, suave and goddamn sexy dance moves.
Blending tight math rock stylings with a venomous punk attitude, the UK hellions were hellbent on making first-day punters go mental in the pit. And despite their stage time being lopped in half by technical difficulties, they pulled it off with undeniable aplomb thanks to scorchers from this year’s Knowing What You Know Now LP.
For a band whose songs are so often steeped in melancholy, the indie-rock ravagers played with a powerful energy. Hannah Joy was a force to be reckoned with, the frontwoman laying remorselessly into her Tele as she tore through visceral and impassioned vocal harmonies. Her soul-numbing shreds were met with a creamy twang from co‑guitarist Tim Fitz (also her husband), the pair forming a rhythm section that was impossible not to shake your butt to.
Four years MIA, the worldbeat masters made their comeback one for the ages, an ultra‑varied setlist of hits spanning all three of their albums spurring Byron into a flurry of shaking hips. The chemistry between frontman Ezra Koenig and touring axeman Brian Robert Jones was all kinds of captivating, the pair trading noodles aplenty with the natural enthusiasm of schoolkids trading Pokémon cards.
New cuts like “No Apology” and “Labrador” (plus a classic Powderfinger jam with the one and only Bernard Fanning) proved that the Brisbane vibe-punk trailblazers have world domination on their sights, frontwoman Maz DeVita thrashing out theatrical dance moves and heart-bursting bellows over a battlefield of slick riffs from guitarists Chris Antolak and Ewan Birtwell. Though still relatively new to the scene, WAAX gelled with the virtuosity of stadium fillers. Mark our words: one day they’re gonna headline this goddamn festival.
Day 1 - Kwame / Alice Ivy / Didirri / West Thebarton / Wafia / Bully / Marmozets / Stella Donnelly / DZ Deathrays / Jack River / The Bronx / DMA'S / Lord Huron / Angus & Julia Stone / Henry Rollins / The Presets / Khalid / Dune Rats / Miguel / Lorde / crowd
Day 2 - Seaside / Haiku Hands / G Flip / The Babe Rainbow / WAAX / Alex Lahey / Superorganism / Alex The Astronaut / Amy Shark / Lewis Capaldi / Methyl Ethyl / All Our Exes Live in Texas / Gang of Youths / Ocean Alley / Franz Ferdinand / Lil Xan / Chvrches / Ben Harper & Charlie Musselwhite / Vampire Weekend / crowd
Day 3 - Amyl and The Sniffers / Ziggy Ramo / Angie McMahon / Yungblud / Eves Karydas / Soccer Mommy / Skeggs / Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever / Middle Kids / Albert Hammond Jr. / Ben Howard / Crooked Colours / Dean Lewis / PNAU / Hockey Dad / MGMT / The Wombats / James Bay / Kendrick Lamar / crowd