Splendour In The Grass ’06
Today I’ve got another guest article to share with you all. It’s a write-up from this year’s Splendour In The Grass festival that went down a couple of weekends ago at Byron Bay. I wont babble on any longer as this is a pretty damn long write-up…
The Splendid Adventure – by Waz
A couple of weekends ago I had the pleasure, and I suppose the luck, of attending Splendour In The Grass 2006. I say ‘luck’ due to the fact that this year’s tickets sold out in a matter of days, with camping tickets selling out in just a couple of hours. Actually, in hindsight, I was lucky…very, very lucky in-fact. Due to there being extensive scalping of tickets in previous years, the organisers decided to employ a new ticketing system. Therefore the only place where you could purchase a ticket was the official Splendour website, and it was recorded that they had received over 2,800,000 hits for just a 17,500 capacity event! God bless being pro-active every now and then.
Before I get stuck into details and reviews of acts I managed to catch, I’ll give a brief overview of the festival. Situated in the sunny seaside town of Byron Bay Australia, (Northern NSW), Splendour In The Grass is one of the most prestigious music festivals on the Australian calendar. The previous figures speak for themselves. Quite a few of the Aussie festivals are “one day’ers”, like the infamous “Big Day Out” that’s toured all round Australia every summer, and also festivals such as ‘Parklife’, which is still yet to come this year. But anyway, back to Splendour. Splendour is what I see as being a ‘proper’ music festival. People travelling from all across the land to spend a weekend indulging themselves in decent live music, camping, drinking, smoking, and ultimately soaking up the true atmosphere of a music festival. Splendour is no doubt the epitome of this. Now for those of you who are not familiar with Splendour’s location; Byron Bay is renowned for being quite a chilled out and easygoing place, known for being pretty damn relaxed when it comes to the consumption and intoxication of illicit substances.
Although lucky to have a weekend ticket in hand, didn’t manage to pick up a camping ticket. So right up till the last week or so, me and the people I was going with (mate from work and a few of his mates), had nowhere to crash after the music and festivities had ceased for the night. Luckily, (yup even more luck… seems like much is needed for a successful festival), someone knew a someone from uni, whose parents friends, or some shit, lived not too far away from the festival in Byron. So in short; we got to set up camp in their back garden for the weekend. Right in the middle of the Byron countryside. The only way of actually getting to the festival from this house was about a mile walk through the Byron countryside. When we awoke on the second day, we found our path over the fields to be swarmed by a massive herd of cows. So after necking a few drinks and stocking up on a bit of the old “Dutch-courage”, we decided to just “fuck it”, and walk straight through them. It was either that, or adding an extra hour, on top of an already 1-hour walk. As we are getting closer I’m thinking “shit, these cows are huge… they eat punks like me for breakfast!” We’re currently being sized up by a male bull with horns the size of my penis. Yes, very large indeed, and from behind us sprints the residential dog of this person’s house we’re staying at. The dog then proceeds to round up the herd into two sections, creating a perfect pathway for us to walk right down the middle of! Man, it was marvellous.
Once on the road, we still had a fair few km’s ahead of us, so we thought we’d give the thumb a go and try’n hitchhike the rest of the way. Low and behold, not even 5 minutes after attempting to catch a ride, a big 4×4 pulls over and picks us up. Once again luck played a major part in its success, but no doubt, the coolness of people in Byron, did as well. There was a balance however in this equilibrium of luck and bad luck. As soon as we were dropped off outside the festival entrance, one of us realizes he has lost his ticket somewhere along the way, between the house and the half-a-mile worth of fields, swamps, ravines and barbed wire fences we had just missioned across. Luck feels a bit harsh about how much of a wanker, “bad-luck” had just been. Therefore it decides to make up for this and so a taxi pulls up out of nowhere seconds later. Me and my mate from work decide to enter the festival, whilst the others go back and look for the lost ticket. Once again, Luck and coolness prevail, and they manage to hitchhike a lift back to Splendour. However the ticket is not found. Finally after a bit of ingenious wristband swapping, we are all in, and just in time to catch the first performance. And what a performance it was; Mos Def.
I hadn’t heard too much of Mos Def’s stuff before I went to Splendour, a few tunes here and there, but I knew it couldn’t miss it. By the time we had waded through the packed crowd and got into a half-decent spot, Mos was about one tune into his set, and it was sounding wicked. The two DJ’s accompanying Mos, which I can’t seem to find out who they were, proceeded to drop classic break after classic break, of original classics that have been sampled within hip hop. Taking Kanye’s “Jesus Walks” and “Gold Digger” back to their soulful true forms, and giving due credit to the innovative tunes that still have a strong influence today. The performance had a continuing flow with Mos going between these classic breaks, building things up in his reggae style skits, emphasized by the heavy echo on the mic, and dropping his own classics such as “Hip Hop” and “Miss Fat Booty”. Which I have to say after listening to at home, are not done justice what so ever until you hear them on a decent sound system and PA in a club or festival context. His performance was tight in every aspect, went beyond my expectations and I’m sure many other peoples’. Had the whole crowd movin’ and boppin’ their heads through out. And yes, shit! I almost forgot, he opened the performance with none other than the infamous “Chappelle Freestyle”. Beginning on a good one, likewise he finished on a good one too. The chilled out reggae style vocals accompanied by the chilled out funky beats of “Umi Said”.
Mos Def – Miss Fat Booty
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Next up it was a battle between The Avalanches DJ set, and TV on the Radio. We ended up going with TV on the Radio. And what a damn good choice it was. Now, I knew of TV on the Radio, but was hardly familiar with albums and such. I had heard a few really catchy, indie type tunes of theirs played on Triple J over the year, but that was about it. I must say it was an excellent live performance. They went between indie sounding rock tunes that seemed to build up superbly, and hang on in suspense while the guitarists strummed away and the lead singer laid down some amazing vocals. Topped off by a wicked baseline throughout. Was definitely a sight to behold. Something that really stuck in my mind, was the track they finished up with. Being a bit of a beat-boxer myself, I really appreciated it when one of them started to lay down a nice hip hop style and tempo’d beat, then with the rest of the band building upon it and creating a nice down tempo’d number to finish on.
Not to long after the epic act of TV on the Radio, we headed over to the “mix up tent”, to catch the American hip-hop duo Atmosphere. When the line up was first publicized, this was no doubt an act we all wanted to catch. I have always dug Atmosphere’s sound, from when I first heard them on a mix-tape, with the funny yet, well produced tune; ‘Shoes’. Slug’s ability to communicate a detailed and vivid story within his lyrics and at the same time maintain a nice flow throughout – was a style I appreciated straight way. Along with the production of wicked beats by Ant off course, Atmosphere has always been a decent and genuine hip-hop act. We were very much looking forward to hearing them live. However from what I saw, which in fairness wasn’t the whole set, I wasn’t that all impressed with their performance. Just didn’t seem to be anything special. Maybe it was the sheer contrast of just how good the TV on the Radio performance was that I had just witnessed. I’m not sure. However it is only my opinion, and there was a lot of hardcore fans up front that were enjoying it a lot.
So it was long after the sun had gone down, no rain thank god (or luck), and the night time festival experience had begun. For me, festivals undergo quite a significant change between day and night. Everything seems to get a bit faster, more hectic, more of an atmosphere. Probably due to the fact that by now, levels of drugs and alcohol in the majority of people are at a high. But there was us. Not enough alcohol in us and therefore not enough energy. We had been there all day already, and decided to perch ourselves down by a tent thing, and rest up a bit for the main event. The one and only DJ Shadow.
Shadow was getting near, and in order for us to get an alright position, we needed to get headed over to where he was playing, a little earlier. Before I knew it, the immortal piano sample of “Building Steam With A Grain Of Salt”, begins to fill my ears. What a tune to start on. He’s a couple of Entroducing ‘classics’ into the set and I am loving it. Absolutely loving it. To hear these tunes live…on a decent sound system and speakers…being played by Shadow himself… I was in complete awe of it. To hear these masterful tunes being masterfully performed and mixed into each other by the master himself was wicked. But hold on… shit… can it be true?!… was that sudden stop in music on purpose? Right before what sounded like “Walkie Talkie” was about to be dropped? No way! It’s a fucking technical fault! Of all the moments for his to happen. So Shadow gets on the mic, and says the immortal words, “I knew summit was gonna go wrong”. He walks about the stage a little bit, looking a bit anxious, and then goes on to say, “so you wanna hear me beatbox?” Everyone goes mental, thinking we’re gonna hear Shadow of all people beatbox… but he doesn’t. I remember thinking, “what a fucking tease.” Ten, fifteen minutes pass, and after some guy runs about on stage for a while, Shadow gets back on the mic, and reassures us that the show is back on the road and he’s gonna make up for the hiccup by extending the set by 20 minutes or so. Sweet.
To pick things back up, he drops an absolute classic, definitely one of my all time favourite tunes; ‘Changeling’. As soon as I heard the ultra-chilled, and ultra-soulful sample, I was in pure heaven. After a few more classics, he then went into his new stuff. Which I have to say, did seem to once again, ‘kill’ the flow of the set. Not being a fan of “The Outsider” for obvious reasons, not worth getting into the ins and outs right now. Artists like, Chris James and Lateef actually joined Shadow on stage to perform their recent collaborations. Wasn’t too impressed at all. However it was live, and a well produced tune, no matter what genre, can have the ability to sound half-decent. And for David Banners “Seein’ Thangs”, this was no exception. Shadow once again picked things back up, by playing, “The Number Song”, and of course his live version of “Organ Donor”, where he teases the crowd for about half a century, playing a few keys, walking away from the mpc, and then finally dropping it. Although it wasn’t his brilliant “In Tune and On Time” set, it was after all… Shadow. And I know many people have lost a certain level of faith and respect for the direction he’s now heading in – and I know I have. However I can’t deny the sheer musical genius that the bloke has already produced.
Day two. Get to the event about mid-afternoon, just in time to catch the recently very popular, Jewish reggae artist, Matisyahu. True to his live release “Live At Stubbs”, he and his band were amazingly tight, performing an outstanding reggae set which was perfect for a relaxed afternoon. Complete with his awesome beatboxing, and of course “King Without A Crown”, (which they played twice, opening and finishing with it. Which was sweet, cos we missed the very beginning), it was another excellent live performance to catch. Even if the best spot we could get to wasn’t actually in the tent. The next artist we managed to catch a snippet of, was Jose Gonzalez. Being one of the headliners at the festival, it was suiting that they put him in the largest tent. But even so, it was absolutely packed. I had only heard a few tunes here and there of his before Splendour, but the one I managed to catch, which he ended on, was one of his legendary covers; “Tear Drop”, by Massive Attack. At first I didn’t even realise it was, until one of the guys I was with, pointed it out. For just one man and his acoustic guitar, that song had so much power to it. And although it was nothing like the original, he managed to reinvent it, and make something just as powerful.
Last up was Gerling. Another band I wasn’t truly into, hearing a few tunes once again on the J’s, but one I was willing to catch. This time it was a lot easier to wade our way fairly close to the front. Quite a weird set it ended up being. At first they started with distinct rocky/indie sounding tunes, but then managed to genre-blend into definite dance tunes. And I have to say they pulled it off perfectly. Their energy and sheer stage presence was noticeable, and made it something you could really get into. Went beyond any expectations I had prior to seeing them. Definitely worth seeing live if you have the chance.
In between all of the mayhem, I did also manage to catch a few things worth mentioning. Something, which ended up being a highlight, we came across when having a bit of a chill in between the main events. I remember hearing the unmistakable sounds of “Super Modified”, which in my eyes, is the best of the Amon Tobin albums. So we headed over to where it was coming from, and found the small “local stage”, where a chick draped merely in a white sheet, was performing expressive style dances to “Super Modified”, whilst a man in the background painted her movements with luminous paint on a massive canvas that covered the length of the stage. Oh yeah, and a neon light was shining down on the stage whilst this was happening, giving the already trippy performance, an extra dose of trip. We sat for quite a while on seats made of hay. It was a nice, relaxed, intimate change from the hectic-ness of the big performances. And to hear such a sweet album on decent speakers was quite superb.
Splendour ‘06 was no doubt money well spent, and if the line up is anything like it was this year, I’m definitely looking forward to going next year. Splendour is certainly a typical festival, where if rain is likely, which most the time it is, the entire site by the end of the first day, gets reduced to a giant bowl of mud. That has the maddest consistency. It’s like a superglue/mud-like substance. However, with enough intoxicants in your system, this wont be a problem. Unlike Big Day Out, it is quite a cramped festival, with not much open space to move about in, so when the rain and the mud come out to play, it can get a bit dingy. But fuck it; it’s a music festival. All in all, a splendid weekend indeed.
A big read there from Waz, but definitely worth reading. If you’re ever anywhere near the east coast of Australia during a July, make sure you check out Splendour In The Grass! If anyone else wants to share a write-up from a recent festival, just give me a shout.