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The festival gods smiled upon Splendour In The Grass for a third consecutive day, delivering blue skies and warm weather for a pleasant morning. The opening group of bands delivered the tightest choice thus far – a toss up between PVT, The Growl and The Jungle Giants. Seasoned local experimental trio PVT felt like the right vibe for a day that was building towards genre-bending crooner James Blake.
Walking across the path of solidified mud, past rows and rows of food and clothes stalls, PVTs trademark sound floated on the breeze. Entering the Mix Up stage saw the band, during the intro of Light Up Bright Fires, lit eerily by blue light that shone through plumes of smoke. The drums exploded over a live looped beat, then ventured into the absurd with a ripping synth that took the song into another world. The band’s strongest point is creating soundscapes that challenge the way we normally perceive music. The sound in the tent was incredible, allowing for the simplest of techniques to become effective – a subtle synth pan across the speakers, or the echo of Richard’s voice out of the end of one song and into the intro of another. Window was a definite high point of the set, with Vertigo and set closer Homosapien also delivering the goods.
A 2-hour break between PVT and LA punk lunatics FIDLAR meant there was time to explore. There was some juicy deep house from Justin Martin pumping out of Smirnoff Bar – the two-storey venue had been taken over by Byron Bay club Lalaland for the day and was pumping out some serious bangers. The range of genres and styles in the bar was a bit of a vibe killer at times, though Red Bull Academy right idea, putting on established DJs who specialised in specific genres, giving punters that nice constant BPM to rely on for a good time.
Strolling past the Supertop, the sounds of Surfer Blood were too strong to resist. Whilst watching Swim, it felt special to be watching a world-class band in such a scarce crowd. FIDLAR needed no intro for the crowd to collectively lose it. Four consecutive Splendours have never seen such wild crowd surfing and moshing; the band’s party attitude was entirely embraced by the punters. FIDLAR ripped through their debut album at a terrifying pace while the mosh pit became a cesspool of hair and bodies. They kept the energy high with minimal breaks, stopping only to give the occasional banter.
A four-band clash was looming, but there was every reason to at least try and get a feel for all of them. Airbourne thrust their pelvises with synchronised cock rock guitar stances, then ran through the crowd playing guitar in real old-school rock ‘n’ roll fashion. Rolling over to Everything Everything saw them play their unique style of boundary pushing alternative rock. Cough Cough was really well executed. The amount of elements they combine in their sound is quite mind-blowing – the melodies, the percussion, speed and structure of that song are just out of this world. Kemosabe was also a highlight.
A walk over to G W McLennan was necessary to see Gurrumul absolutely melt the crowd. But most impressive was new girl to the scene Lorde, who had the Supertop so packed the crowd was bulging out the sides and back! Unreal to think that someone the age of 16 was performing to over 10000 people on her Australian festival debut. She took it in her stride, looking relaxed rolling through crowd favourites Bravado, Tennis Courts and break out track Royals.
Then it was time for the main event. James Blake has been pushing genre boundaries for years, and his latest album Retrograde was another testament to this. His voice is so soulful and rich, with the potential to be as widely respected and revered as Thom Yorke. There was a real anticipation in the Mix Up tent, and those lucky enough to catch his 2011 Splendour appearance know exactly how good he is. He has that quality to awe an audience of thousands, as he did then for Limit To Your Love, which flattened everyone to sheer silence.
Tonight, the new album was received with huge respect. Overgrown and Life Around Here had the audience writhing in rapturous dance at those massive dance breaks. There were also gut-wrenching moments when he was plagued with technical difficulties, but the crowd pulled him through. There was a beautiful moment in Retrograde, where he was visibly shaken and almost stuffed the vocal sample that loops through the song. He looked at his bandmates and for a moment it looked as if he was going to cut it, but the crowd came together in true festival spirit, clapping the beat and bringing the song back into line. To finish, Blake stated, “Since everything is ****ed up, I’m just going to play some piano now.” Nothing could possibly compare. It was a gorgeous end to Splendour In The Grass 2013.
(Photo by Zoltan Blazer)