It’s well known that Falls Festival in Byron Bay is more than just an end of year summer festival: it’s a journey of epic proportions, a voyage of self discovery and, ultimately, an endurance test fuelled by some of the freshest tunes in the world today. Somehow, I managed to survive the wacky weather, a flooded tent, a case of dehydration peaking with an I.V. drip in the first aid tent, and multiple run-ins with munted punters just to bring you an extensive run down of one of the country’s finest music festivals.
Opening things up on the Valley Stage was the formidable rhythmic indie stylings of Melbourne band Northeast Party House. Despite ongoing tech issues and seemingly inaudible guitars for the majority of their one hour set, the boys managed to conquer the midday heat early with the one-two punch of ‘My Place’ and ‘Pascal Cavalier’ before busting out a sweaty rendition of Blur’s ‘Song 2.’ Finishing on a high with the Bloc Party-esque grooves of ‘The Haunted’ and ‘Dare,’ it’s fair to say Northeast Party House definitely set a high benchmark for the rest of the day.
Thankfully, Falls had lined up a trans-Pacific triple threat to keep up with Northeast Party House’s opening set and keep the sweaty crowd happy in the sweltering heat. The hip-hop thud of Spit Syndicate cascaded across the Valley, with the audience roaring in approval when the Sydney-siders brought out Thelma Plum and smashed out three cuts from their wider OneDay crew. Meanwhile, Client Liaison kept things cool by tossing out Fosters tinnies to the audience as frontman Monte Morgan and bassist/Triple J heartthrob Tom Tilley bounced around stage to their 80’s political power pop. New Zealand group Broods treated punters to their blissful brand of synth-pop, with set highlights ‘Free’ and ‘Bridges’ seemingly being a cue for everyone to clamber on a set of shoulders to soak up the vibes as the sun set on the horizon.
Animosity brewed in the crowd as a humongous pair of DJ turntables were wheeled out in the calm before Grandmaster Flash, one of hip-hop’s most prominent originators, blessed us all with his presence. Despite a painstakingly long and overly dramatic video being played as his introduction, the hip-hop OG soon redeemed himself by switching the crowd into party mode, playing an eclectic setlist spanning fifty years and scratching through tunes from The Jackson Five to The White Stripes to snapchat king DJ Khaled. By the time he dropped his classic hip-hop cut ‘The Message,’ Flash didn’t need the MC’s of the Furious Five, with the crowd screaming out the song’s signature refrain in between scratch-solos from the man himself. Finally, the audience returned the musical favour granted by the DJ by singing ‘Happy Birthday,’ who I can now saw is definitely the coolest 59 year old I’ve ever boogied down to on New Years Eve.
After Hot Dub Time Machine performed a self-confessed average party set in the wake of Grandmaster Flash’s incomparable presence, he and Tom Tilley counted the crowd into 2017 and introduced the hotly anticipated headline act. A wash of blue light engulfed the crowd as Childish Gambino graced the main stage to kick everyone’s 2017 into overdrive with two cuts from 2013’s Because the Internet – ‘Crawl’ and ‘The Worst Guys.’ However, after a few songs, it soon became apparent that Childish Gambino’s presence was a little underwhelming – but certainly not on his own account. Plagued by ongoing sound issues and restricted by a hard curfew set by the festival, Donald Glover’s set seemed rushed and disjointed as he bounded across stage trying to jam pack all of his many talents into a way-too-short one hour time slot.
Things did pick up at intervals throughout the set, particularly during the incredible performance of recent Funkadelic-tinged track ‘Redbone’ and the neo-soul jam-out of ‘Sober,’ with a heavy mosh breaking out for ‘Sweatpants’ before Bino departed stage. While he did treat the crowd to a brief encore, the moment was ultimately let down by the Valley Stage’s sound system, with the blaring sub-bass drowning out Childish Gambino and his band throughout the majority of ‘Retro’ and set closer ‘3005’ – plaguing what would have otherwise been an incredible headline set.
With the arrival of the second day of the festival, the North Byron Parklands were packed by hundreds of gacked, hungover punters who’d partied too hard the night before; desperate for a cure to their ailments – and finding it in the live prowess of the admirable City Calm Down. The Melbourne bunch proved to be a crowd favourite with their anthemic New Order inspired sound and the soothing baritone of Jack Bourke winning hearts on the title track of 2015’s In A Restless House and radio favourite ‘Rabbit Run.’ City Calm Down fully won the crowd over when the band’s guitarist busted into the riff for The Smiths ‘This Charming Man,’ producing a faithful rendition of the 80s classic before concluding on the fist pumping single ‘My Fix,’ with the encore chants proving this was a triumphant set to be remembered by many.
Day two of the festival also saw Falls open up another live stage, where Modern Baseball played an incredibly solid mid-afternoon set. While I did overhear one member of the crowd vaguely describe them to his mate as being a “sad Violent Soho” the Philadelphia punksters definitely proved him wrong as they blew the sweaty tent apart with their searingly honest brand of punk rock before the Wimbledon-bred Jamie T played the Valley Stage. Proving to a be a major drawcard to amongst punters, Jamie T oozed out Alex Turner cool as he and his formidably tight band busted out his critically acclaimed blend of indie rock and UK rap to an ever-increasing audience. Early singles ‘Sheila’ and ‘If You Got The Money’ hit hard, while ‘368’ and the era defining ‘Sticks and Stones’ sent the audience into nostalgic late-noughties ecstasy. Jamie T managed to bring it in home strong with cuts from 2016’s Trick, tearing through the riff heavy ‘Tinfoil Boy’ and peaking with the garage swagger of ‘Zombie’ to widespread approval from the crowd.
It would be a crime to not label Matt Corby one of the best contemporary voices in Australia right now. One of Sunday’s standout acts, Corby gave his vocal range an incredible workout throughout the night, showcasing his chops on Teluric’s ‘Sooth Lady Wine’ and his Like a Version of Tina Arena’s ‘I’m in Chains,’ leaping multiple scales and making the audience’s hearts soar simultaneously. Matt and his band ensured vibes were at a maximum level, giving almost every song an extended jam section (proving that the flute really needs to make a comeback in popular music), merging liquid grooves with Corby’s supremely underrated guitar chops on ‘Trick of the Light.’ ‘Resolution’ and ‘Brother’ resulted in one of Fall’s most endearing and emotional moments, with the latter seeing punters sprint across the massive hill above the Valley Stage to get a piece of the action and join in on the chorus of the now-classic Aussie track before he finished on the slow burning jam of ‘Souls A’fire,’ proving to be an incredible ending to one of the entire festival’s finest sets.
On that note, if you haven’t heard of Pond, then you’re certainly sleeping on one of the most fun live acts in Australia right now. The Tame Impala offshoot from Fremantle followed up Matt Corby’s set perfectly, spewing out 60’s era psychedelic goodness for the mosh on ‘Don’t Look at the Sun or You’ll Go Blind’ and ‘ Moth Wings’. Frontman Nick Albrook channelled his inner Ziggy Stardust, decked out in overalls as he pranced back and forth like he’d stepped in dog shit as he traded guitar solos with the incredible afro of guitarist Shiny Joe Ryan on ‘You Broke My Cool,’ while multi-instrumentalist Jay Watson anchored in with his melodic basslines and subtle synths on new cut ‘300,000 Megatons.’ The band even indulged in treating the audience to a fantastic brand new song from their anticipated seventh album, with the psychadelic groove ensuring that Pond once again proved why we fell in love with them in the first place.
As the evening had fully settled into full swing, it was clear that the nation conquering mosh monster of a band that is Violent Soho were here to get rowdy. Guitarist James Tiswell constantly bantered with the crowd between tunes – etc, “No, I’m not doing another fuckin’ shoey, I got food poisoning from some gross Tasmanian fuck when I did one there last night!” Amongst a reefer-heavy breeze, the Brisbane lads proved once again why they’re one of Australia’s favourite live acts, belting out Waco sing-alongs ‘Like Soda,’ ‘Viceroy’ and the back-to-back self-labelled smokers anthems of ‘Saramona Said’ and ‘Fur Eyes’ in quick succession to mass appeal. Bassist Luke Henry showed off his impressive head-banging abilities on the vintage Violent Soho gem ‘Jesus Stole My Girlfriend,’ before they thundered to a close with two standouts from 2013’s Hungry Ghost – an impassioned ‘In the Aisle’ and the melodic mosh-fest of ‘Covered in Chrome.’ For a minute, the only thing you could hear was a swarming sea of arms and legs flailing as punters screamed ‘HELL FUCK YEAH!’ into the night sky – it really doesn’t get much better than that.
For many, it was a long, long wait to see one of Australia’s most elusive and revered groups of the 21st century – and boy, did The Avalanches supply the goods. While some punters were disappointed with the influential electronic acts Splendour appearance in Byron the previous year, The Avalanches definitely returned in full effect when they came onstage at 11pm on the Valley Stage – in fact; it’s fair to say that as good as they are on record, the band sound every bit better live with rapper Spank Rock, a live drummer, and Robbie Chater’s guitar really putting the cherry on the cake. From the whacky swing of ‘Frankie Sinatra’ to the chilled out ‘Subways,’ the bands 2016 effort Wildflower was strongly represented, while crowd favourites ‘Flight Tonight’ and the (thankfully un-remixed!) ‘Frontier Psychiatrist’ brought about a huge response. As the night came to a close, the band thanked the crowd for their patience and sent New Years cheers as they closed out with the euphoric disco wave of ‘Since I Left You.’ The wait was definitely worth it.
Monday saw a cool breeze blow the crowd to the Forest Stage early in the day to catch electro-pop artist Shura, with the British/Russian songstress and her tight backing band opening up the final day of Falls with her lush, reverb heavy vocals and sublime electro pop beats. Soon after, Tired Lion caused an absolute ruckus on the Valley stage, with the Perth based grunge band tearing through a ridiculously final show before they bunker down to write their new record. With frontwoman Sophie Hopes bantering with the crowd on subjects as broad as sweaty gooches to hoax rumours of a secret Dune Rats gig, Tired Lion brought the crowd back to the gloriously plaid 90s with the festivals second (!) cover of ‘Song 2,’ while the gloriously fuzzy guitars on live favourite ‘I Don’t Think You Like Me’ further proved that it’s definitely worth keeping an eye on these guys.
Following on the Forest Stage came Parquet Courts who kicked things into interstellar overdrive. After their oddball intro speech, the New York quartet droned through their mongrel musical blend of garage, avant garde and psychadelia to an enthusiastic crowd before masses more swarmed to the tent in anticipation of British electronic wunderkind Aluna George’s performance. Producer George Reid’s minimalistic production flowed soothed the ears while singer Aluna Francis moved like liquid silver across the stage, puppeteering the crowds every dance move to Flume collaboration ‘I Remember’ and live burner ‘I’m In Control,’ proving to be a formidable midday set for the Forest Stage.
While Fat Freddy’s Drop brought some groovalicious brass-heavy Kiwi funk to the Valley stage on the Monday afternoon, the crowd again flocked to the Forest Stage to see one of the Australia’s best breakout acts in years. Hailing from Sydney’s South-West, DMA’s have spent much of the previous year conquering the globe in support of their debut LP Hills End, and as storm clouds brewed overhead they showed the packed out crowd just what all the fuss was about. As well as performing their incredibly well-written golden era Oasis-esque tunes to one of the biggest crowds, DMA’s also managed to play one of the festivals tightest sets to arguably the loosest crowd of the festival – so loose that in between the space of ‘Laced’ and ‘Step Up The Morphine,’ I counted four guys perched on shoulders atop of the crowd doing shoeys and one dude who somehow managed to pull a cone through an apple. Breakout gem ‘Delete’ was a singalong moment to remember forever, with lead singer Tommy O’Dell outstretching his hands as if Newtown’s messiah before finishing with ‘Lay Down,’ bringing to an end what would be one of the festivals most memorable sets.
Back over at the Valley Stage, Aussie legend Bernard Fanning cruised through both classic solo cuts ‘Songbird’ and ‘Wish You Well’ before finishing up with a mash up of Powderfinger anthem ‘These Days’ and a version of the late great Prince’s ‘Purple Rain’ – seemingly cursing Catfish and the Bottlemen as the grey sky rumbled and rain began to fall over the crowd. As the ponchos began to come out and punters fled to cover as the rain intensified, the crowd grew restless as the stage crew struggled to handle the wet conditions under the inadequately covered stage. For the next hour, towels were propped up on stage, and the crowd chanted in unison for the Welsh band’s hotly anticipated set despite the downpour turning the earth beneath their feet into a mudbath.
Finally, the breakout alternative titans graced the stage almost ninety minutes later than they were billed to a deafening roar of approval from the massive audience. Opening with thudding recent single ‘Twice,’ frontman Van McCann yowled into the microphone in between verses to the bouncing crowd, while ‘Soundcheck’ showcased guitarist Johnny Bond’s solo chops as he tore through the song’s jammy second half. As the mud levels grew deeper in the mosh, the crowd sung louder as Catfish and the Bottlemen tore through ‘Fallout’ before informing the audience the bands set had been cut to six songs in compensation of the delay. Despite being met by to minor uproar, the band managed to win the crowd back soon enough with fist pumping renditions of live favourites ‘7’ and ‘Cocoon.’ As they closed with the electric tumult of ‘Tyrants’, it was evident from the crowd that Catfish and the Bottlemen’s restricted set only just further proved why they’re one of the hottest festival acts in the world today.
While punters initially managed to stand the weather, it really took its toll later in the evening as London Grammar hit the stage to a scattered crowd fleeing the heavy rain and mud. While still pulling a formidable crowd, the British trio really did deserve to be seen by many more as their indie-pop and trip-hop flavours washed through the night. ‘Wasting My Young Years’ and ‘Strong’ proved to be live highlights, while vocalist Hannah Reid shined on brand new track ‘Rooting For You,’ giving a glimpse of their upcoming second album due this year.
Feet scrambled as London Grammar’s set ended before 11pm to catch a glimpse of Remi over on the Forest Stage and get some shelter under its enclosure, with many getting lit to the Aussie rappers live cuts of ‘Sangria’ and ‘Substance Therapy.’ The conscious lyrics and smooth production of recent single with Sample the Great ‘For Good’ stood out as a live highlight, showing why Kolawole and musical collaborator Sensible J are two of the most forward thinking artists in Australian hip-hop right now. As the rain poured and Alison Wonderland closed the Valley Stage for trap and bass hungry punters, many decided to take the safer option and head back to the shelter of their tents, bringing about a bizarre end to one of the Australia’s finest annual festivals. Kudos, Falls, you’ve done it again.
Rhiannon Hopley is a Sydney based, award winning photographer. Her diverse range of skills have found her working in live music, promotional, events, and fashion photography, while also working as freelance graphic designer and an accomplished artist. Rhiannon began professional shooting soon after graduating high school in 2004, with excellence in photography. Initially shooting gigsLearn more about Rhiannon Hopley