New Years has come and gone and so has another Falls Festival. Led by American psych-rockers The Flaming Lips and Swedish rockers The Hives, the 2012/13 Falls Festival featured an, as-always, eclectic lineup. From the incredibly popular electronic efforts of Sydney-based act Flume, to the blistering rock of DZ Deathrays, Lisa Mitchell’s charming pop or The Flaming Lips’ unerring energy, there was something here for every type of fan. Unfortunately though, you couldn’t help feeling that there wasn’t much more than that for anyone. Every punter could find a couple of acts to get pumped for but struggled to stay excited all day.
Falls has grown at a rate of knots since cracking the big-time, overcoming the barrier between quieter specialty festivals and those that pervade the public consciousness. With ticket sales clocking in at 20,000 this year this was a big show and it struggled under the weight of its own immensity. The warning signs were there upon entry when, from what everyone could gather, alcohol checks were few and far between, as were drug checks. This saw many group arrive with a vast array of drinks and other recreational consumables. One of the biggest problems with this was the resulting hit that gig attendances took. With the exception of a few acts, there were many shows with a pitiful attendance, largely because people stayed with their tents and drank. This ultimately led to a festival atmosphere more akin to Schoolies than a music festival.
The strength of numbers was again evident in the weakness of the staff organising parking and camping sites. Gate 1 was inundated with too many cars who were ultimately told to park under trees and pitch their tents 10-20m away. When the staff were ignored, cars were allowed to drive past and park wherever they chose. Close to the info tent at this entrance, this led to one van (owned by a young Sydney Swans player) being parked on such an angle that its handbrake failed and the van went careering through two gazebos and into four cars, some of which contained sleeping teenagers. Luckily the van missed the 10 tents it passed on either side of the cars and the gazebos. This incident, combined with many others across the three days demonstrated that Falls’ size has now reached a point where organisers are struggling to maintain a safe environment.
Despite the cluster-fuck that was the organisational side of Falls Festival, musically, there was a lot to love at this year’s festival. Most impressive of all were the hyper-energetic efforts of The Hives, led by their ever-endearing frontman Howlin’ Pelle Almqvist, they had the entire crowd on their feet, jumping and eating out of the palm of their hands in a way that we would only see for one other act at the festival. More commendable, he achieved this positivity despite his observation that this was the third time The Hives had been tricked into touring during Australian ‘Summer’ and yet still being ‘fuckin’ freezing.”
Prior to their enthusiastic efforts, the crowd had a quiet start to the day with the relatively mellow efforts of San Cisco, Husky and Lisa Mitchell making the crowd feel comfortable. This ended at 9:00 when Rodrigo Y Gabriela strolled out to blow the crowd’s minds with their intricate guitar virtuosity and inexplicable synchronicity. Django Django had the unfortunate job of following this and it showed in stark contrast the sameness of their music. Their performance was serviceable but ultimately would have been much more suited to an afternoon slot.
Sunday afternoon saw the best of the daytime acts, with a rip-roaring performance by Ash Grunwald, backed by The Living End’s Scott Owen on double bass and Midnight Oil’s Rob Hirst on drums. The Vaccines continued this injection of energy and were then followed up by the undeniably joyous Cosmo Jarvis. Beach House and Boy And Bear both performed sets remarkably close to their recorded output and as such kept the punters happy. The Flaming Lips then delivered their trademark show of excess, complete with costumed dancers, streamer cannons, a megaphone and Wayne Coyne in an inflatable bubble. Despite their best efforts, it seemed their act was lost on the crowd, as they only managed to engage a small portion of the crowd, with so many others leaving to see Flume that the Grand Theatre tent was packed to overflowing. Flume was the only other act that challenged The Hives for crowd participation and enjoyment, making the most of his capacity crowd and putting on a blistering live set that backed up the immense popularity of his debut album.
The Monday saw a winding down of festivities at Falls, with the excesses of Sunday’s shows catching up with many people and the realities of the festival’s mismanagement becoming increasingly apparent. First Aid Kit’s angelic voices were the perfect cure for hangovers, their harmonies soothing sore ears and tired bodies. Matt Corby continued in this relaxed vibe, delivering an excellent, consistent set that builds upon his growing reputation. The Hilltop Hoods returned again to Falls, doing what they do best and bringing a lot of the crowd along with them. Two Door Cinema Club also had a large portion of the crowd on their feet, though for this reviewer’s ears there wasn’t much to celebrate. Probably the greatest disappointment of all though was the atrocious efforts of Coolio who did not in any way engage the crowd and appeared pathetic in the scheme of all the other quality music seen throughout the weekend. This is the second time in three years that Falls has brought an ageing rap or hip hop group to the festival (Public Enemy in 2010) and both times it has fallen flat. Hopefully this will be the year they learn.
Overall, the Falls Festival this year had its ups and downs. There were some excellent musical performances, however, for a number of crowd members, systematic management failures tainted the experience and suggested the festival has become more focused on money than a positive festival experience. Not the first festival to do this, here’s hoping there is enough self-awareness within the organisation that they can regain their soul and deliver the family-friendly, music-focused festival that gave it the reputation it has today.