The Falls Festival

Image Credit: Bonnie Anderson

With another New Year, there is another Falls. This is the one (and really the only) time of year when Tasmania is spoilt with all measures of international and local artists, playing in one of the most picturesque locations we have- Marion Bay. To celebrate the New Year in any other way seems wrong. Sure, the weather may not always be great, but during that first day of the festival the only thing the 32 kph winds ruined were the tents. Most punters took to the Village Market, bought themselves a colourful knitted poncho and got on with it.

The sheer spectrum of people this festival attracts makes it one of the greatest people watching experiences you can have. Every stereotype converges, and there is always something unexpected, even when you think you’ve seen and heard it all. Though hearing an announcement that a three year old is lost in the mosh pit and could people please keep an eye out might be stretching the family friendly festival reputation a bit far.

Even so, it’s never too early to experience and appreciate incredible music. For three days we were spoilt for choice, spread across the main Valley Stage area, to the folky Field stage a few paddocks over. In between there is The Village, infamous for all manner of art, acrobats, crafts and comedians. All in all, we were provided with an almost impossible choice of entertainment. The following is what I managed to squeeze in that was worth a mention.

Highlights: Day 1

Tom Thum:
The Brisbane Beatboxer can do things with his mouth, throat and nose that you have to see and hear to believe. Though more impressive for the ‘wow’ factor than for his songs, he is still worth a look. He mixes blues, jazz and hip hop samples live, using chaos pads and his vocals, with absolutely no effects whatsoever on the microphone. He’s pretty cheeky too.

Hot Dub Time Machine:
A DJ who moves through time, beginning in the 50’s until he reaches present day. Playing all the classics, with a video backdrop, helping get the crowd excited for the night ahead. Heaps of fun sure, but a concept that after a while you realise you could have just come up with yourself. A crowd pleaser nonetheless.

Younger Dryas:
These lads are definitely an act to keep an eye on. These incredible local boys can easily be mistaken for the John Butler Trio in sound, but have a stage presence all of their own. With a loyal local following and the ability to make any crowd move, this was easily one of the highlights of the festival. While suited to the vibe of the Village stage, they deserved to be on one of the bigger stages and will no doubt be in the years to come.

Highlights: Day 2

The Preatures:
The Preatures gained quite a bit of momentum this year, and after seeing them live I can attest to their greatness. Frontwoman Isabella Manfredi wooed the crowd with her rock chick attitude, crawling on stage and pouring water over her head. Their set finished before you wanted it to.

The Rubens:
Even though they haven’t released anything new since their debut album last year, the crowd swelled with their arrival on stage. The Rubens are so beloved that when the lead singer dived into the crowd, many young girls scrambled to reach for a kiss while the men were happy to try for a touch.

London Grammar:
This British trio was a personal highlight of mine, and incredibly subtle, making them one of the more powerful performances of the festival. Despite the noticeable nerves of lead singer Hannah Reid, her voice proved she is where she belongs. Happy to banter with the crowd, we learnt it was Hannah's birthday and obliged in singing to her, to her embarrassment. A roadie brought her a cake and it couldn't have been more sweet. Opening their set with ‘Hey Now’ and finishing with 'Metal and Dust', it's no surprise their side shows sold out.

The excitement of the crowd in anticipation for Solange is a testament to her growing popularity and the incredible talent that runs through the Knowles family. A true performer, she had fun on stage and with the crowd. Not one person stood still due to her pop/funk sound being so infectious.

The Cat Empire:
It’s not really Falls unless The Cat Empire are playing. Big call? Maybe. But there is something about the dark sky lit up by their stage lights and their sound that brings home the festival vibe. They are always fantastic to witness.

Vampire Weekend:
The line up on this first night could do no wrong, and American rock/pop band Vampire Weekend rounded out an already impressive evening with a killer set.

Highlights Day 3

Gossling’s potty mouth made her all the more endearing to her audience. Perhaps the only act I saw all festival who took the time to explain the story behind the songs, which is something I thought I would have heard a bit more. Gossling told the crowd, with a voice as innocent as a child's, that one song was about her trying not to be ‘such a pussy’ towards social media. Putting on a show is good, but to hear the reasons behind the music itself helped add a little extra.

Chet Faker:
This man drew an enormous crowd for his mid-afternoon timeslot. A hard man to explain musically, he plays electronica matched with his husky vocals, equaling an hypnotic combination. His live performance and the crowd's enraptured reaction can explain how he has attracted such a following in a relatively short amount of time.

Crystal Fighters:
It was almost an invasion of the British for this year's festival, with British alternative dance band Crystal Fighters another on the list. A highlight of the festival, Crystal Fighters would have been better suited to amp up the crowd later in the night, but the dusk timeslot didn’t stop the dancing.

Neil Finn:
It’s not quite Falls without some nostalgia and a sing-a-long, and Neil Finn is the man to do it, when it’s not otherwise Paul Kelly. The adopted local joked with the crowd, convincing those at front to throw their inflatable ball on stage so he could have a kick. When not acting out his soccer fantasies, he had the crowd crooning the lyrics to the songs that somehow, without realising beforehand, you knew all the words to. His set was the calm before the storm of the final acts for New Years.

MGMT: These Americans provided the perfect psychedelic video to partner their music, probably freaking out most of the crowd who'd indulged in a little more than the staple alcohol provided. At times the videos seems more impressive than their songs, but they rounded off a pretty tight and smooth set with their better known hits 'Electric Feel' and 'Kids'.

The Wombats:
After an anticlimatic countdown devoid of a band to bring in the New Year left the crowd stale and listless, The Wombats provided the perfect cure. These Liverpool lads did everything you could ask and more, playing all the favourites including 'Jumping through the Fog', 'Techno Fan' and '1996'. After pretending to leave only to return for an encore, it was sad to have it all end and realise you were left with only memories and aching feet.

Overall :
This is by no means comprehensive or in anyway a true representation of Falls for every perspective. If I could have split in two for those three days to see all the acts, I would have gladly. The international factor that Falls is known for was still here, but the actual excitement of discovering something abstract and new seems to have disappeared. Most acts are on high rotation on Triple J and this perhaps contributes to the mainstreaming of the festival and higher concentrations of campers who just stay and drink at their campsite, and never appear to leave in favour of listening to their own stereos. As Falls continues in the years to come, it is unlikely many of this year's acts will make return appearances as a new range of trendy bands come on the scene. True music connoisseurs will be disappointed, but if you ask for no more than a relaxing, hassle and shower free three days to hang out with mates and forget the real world, Falls is your oasis. It certainly makes it hard to return back to reality.
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