Whooshing through the country side of Byron Bay – destination Splendour in the Grass ’16 (SITG), a legacy festival to Aussies but slightly lesser known to outsiders – as cordially driven by a seasoned local, private shuttle service provided by our benefactor Smirnoff Ice, there was muted excitement to this Writer, whose festival gusto had yet to receive any liquid stimulus (like, you know, Smirnoff Ice). The group – comprising Influencers and Contest Winners (a couple happened to be Influencers in their own right themselves) – was a livelier lot; banters aplenty, plans made, scheduling conflicts resolved, predrinks snuck and finished on time. A road trip scene straight out of a college comedy flick, complete with pissing by the side of the road – well, had lecturers and tutors joined the trip.
Images Bianca Holderness + Justin Ma + Ian Laidlaw + Mitch Lowe + Jess Gleeson + Stills in Time + Bryce Gage + Stephen Booth
Self-effacing old jokes aside – *cough* we weren’t that much older than the Influencers and Winners *cough* – the natural rapport already developed on the first day of our SITG experience was emblematic of the overall trip. Really, the WhatSapp group created solely for this is still very much alive now, along with the banter. For a media figure like us, press trips are defined by the impersonal Touch’N’Go acquaintanceship amongst fellow press members, whose pleasantness oftentimes comes off as a front to put up with the unpleasantness of the unreality that tags along with a heavily programmed schedule. No such thing here; multihyphenate talent Mark O’Dea was as affable as his public persona, a man’s man; YouTuber and actor Sean Lee was genuinely funny and completely unafraid of indulging in silliness; couple Jon Liddell and Jenn Chia shared their chemistry with the rest of us, the latter of whom seemed as animated as her YouTube channel would suggest; and the two pairs of best friends who won the Smirnoff Ice x SITG competition? They were scene kids you’d see having the most fun at events around town. Naturally, besties Ashley Chan and Shannen Jade and siblings Kyren and Leela Thomas were the same here. With a #YouthSquad that had yet to feel jaded by adulthood and work life in tow as festival buddies and temporary housemates, our cold, unfeeling heart was reinvigorated; this is a Smirnoff Ice-sponsored trip after all, good times and camaraderie come naturally, especially with the aid of an epic festival like SITG.
But we digress, only arriving on festival grounds, meadow parklands within North Byron Bay’s woods, on the second day of the festival – we missed the opening night, sad to have not caught UV Boi and Wave Racer but it was called Tiny Party for a reason – SITG already looked considerably different than what festival-inexperienced Malaysians are used to back home. Aside from the sprawling parking space, there were campgrounds for punters who wanted an approximation of Woodstock. As relayed by our driver (and proven to be true once we were there), the demographics for this festival weren’t what one would expect from the stereotypical Australian festival either. More family-friendly, and away from major cities, you wouldn’t encounter aggressive drunk bogans here, nor the topless bro flexing his muscles to dance tunes, nor any fights and general debauchery, and nor were there any flag-waving tourists beyond… uh, us. Everyone was well-behaved, in the sense that they knew how to be safe that is – really, we found an empty packet of birth control pills in the grass at one point. Props.
With a first day (or second counting the opening night) lineup that included Aussie electronic legends The Avalanches (who only this year returned to the scene with a sophomore album after a 16-year-long absence), Brit-American indie band The Kills, Aussie’s own grunge revivalist Violent Soho (look at that crowd!), and everyone’s favourite noughties garage band, The Strokes, we were spoiled for choice – and this isn’t mentioning the niche acts we wanted to catch on that day. Obviously the wise choice here was to head to the Smirnoff House first, drink a few reds and blacks and the various Smirnoff Ice cocktails, only then with the foresight of lower inhibition that we made a decision. The Smirnoff House itself was more than worthy of a festival attraction on its own; two-storey high with the ground floor making up the club aspect of the House and the upper floor its more chilled space for drinking and people watching via the balcony, the venue was the perfect HQ for us to regroup after losing one another in a flurry of punters. Smirnoff House landlady Nana was a pretty chill grandma too, so that helped (watch the afterparty video above for proof). Plus, to a few of us who were cooking and popping to Travis Scott and Drake there, it made for a pretty ideal spot for clubbing amid the din that was SITG’s triple j-heavy lineup.
Having only gotten there by 4pm, it only made sense that The Kills’ 4.30pm slot was to pop our SITG cherry – Alison Mosshart and Jamie Hince’s bond was palpable on stage. Even after almost a decade of performing and making music together, there was no band fatigue and the audience could very obviously see that by returning their garage fervour with equal crowd response. The 1975 was next, and frontman Matthew Healy was considerably less douchy this time around as compared to his unbuttoned shirt and wine glass-in-hand routine early this year at Laneway Festival Singapore ’16. Crowd favourite Violent Soho must be stoked to be performing to their fellow countrymen after the same Singaporean festival mentioned; here, main stage Amphitheatre was brimming with punters and several packets of mosh pits, significantly higher than the sole one at Laneway. But the first truly awe-inspiring performance of SITG probably belonged to The Avalanches. Though they had returned to the festival circuit earlier in the same year, SITG was something of a homecoming for Robbie Chater and Tony Di Blasi and they spared no expenses with their full band plus Eliza Wolfgramm and Spank Rock-featuring setup. Nevermind that it got quite incoherent sonically, much like the multi-genre band’s records, by the time they got to ‘Avalanche Rock’ and recent single ‘Frankie Sinatra’, the Aussie audience never cheered louder than then that night. If only Danny Brown were there to rap his verse in lieu of Spank Rock though. Meanwhile at the Mix Up Stage, Hermitude delivered trap-friendly future bass tunes live for those of us who wanted something more dance-y. The night, in the end, belonged to Julian Casablancas and co. despite the somewhat just okay-ish performance, which we had to wait for considering the band took a while to begin the show. Still, judging by the cacophony of singalongs that was spurred by obvious hits like ‘Last Nite’, we wager it was The Strokes that the majority of first day punters would remember it for.
Wishing to catch more acts for the second day, we attempted to arrive earlier than the day before. Having seen a video of Lido’s amazing live setup convinced us that this needed to, nay, must happen. Alas, the Malaysian timing is an innate thing we were born into – we missed Lido. But okay, whatever, blindly walking toward the Tiny Dancer stage led us to one Martha Brown – otherwise known as Banoffee – we were pleasantly sated by her Pabst Blue Ribbon-r’n’b aesthetic, though not enough to make us want to miss Britons Snakehips, whose DJ set was the second most banging after Flume, we think. Surprisingly hip hop-oriented in their curation, due to our AZN-ness, we grew fonder of the duo after they dropped Rich Chigga’s ‘Dat Stick’, cut short as it was. More familiar with Cedric and Omar’s work as The Mars Volta, we came into At the Drive-In ignorant – somewhat, who hasn’t heard of ‘One Armed Scissor’ growing up in the early ‘00s? – and unfortunately that was the case with the other folks there as the Amphitheatre had considerably less people than the night before. But At The Drive-In delivered an energetic performance; frontman Cedric was a ball of energy – rotund in 2016 or not – jumping, running, and moving in manic twitches as he swung the mic chord around his general perimeter. Being a second reunion, their set was understandably fan-pandering with tracks mostly from Relationship of Command. The real highlight of their set, though, was Cedric declaring that they weren’t Spinal Tap after asking stage control to shut down the smoke machine – cantankery at its most humorous. Come 9pm, it was time for new wave legends The Cure’s epic three-hour set. For most of us in the group, even the oldest, it was a bit overwhelming of a task to endure through the band’s 180 minutes’ worth of back catalogue considering we only knew the expected tracks such as ‘Friday I’m in Love’ (which was played to the loudest roar, everyone knew the lyrics to this song) and ‘Boys Don’t Cry’ (which served as the perfect end song to their nostalgic set). Robert Smith seemed eternally grateful for the support given to him that night, and we felt just a teeny bit guilty for faking the fandom despite knowing, at most, only five to six of the songs played during the 30-something track strong set.
Come the last day of the SITG, with exhaustion finally setting in, we took a bit of a breather, choosing to explore more as opposed to sticking to a few stages. Turned out the Woodstock vibe wasn’t just our being glib; The Global Village had yoga and meditation, and the Tipi Forest seemed like one native headgear away from cultural appropriation – this was hippie paradise after all. As per tradition, there were food stalls, temp tattoo shops, henna, heck, even a few beauty-related shops. Most interesting though, was the Splendour Forum where talks relating to music and the industry were held. Alas, we didn’t manage to participate in any.
After getting refreshed at the HQ – Smirnoff House – and bantering with Nana, that actress was really dedicated to her role, the first act we stayed for on the third day was neo soul band The Internet at the Mix Up Stage. We had seen them before, unimpressed, but here, the young’uns were more enthusiastic. Syd tha Kyd in particular was more at home on Australian stage, communicating with the crowd with ease and delivering songs with more emotional heft. Then, at the Amphitheatre, Tegan & Sara impressed with impeccable comic timing and crowd interaction – ‘Boyfriend’ off their new record and ‘Closer’ from previous album closed their set, to which Sara exclaimed that sister Tegan was like the Biebz. In the interim from 6pm to 9pm, we chose to hang around the VIP area for some much needed rest, though the wine certainly didn’t help us from falling asleep. Thankfully the triumvirate of James Blake, Sigur Rós, and Flume playing in that direct sequence to close SITG – though not all on the same stage – stirred us back to life. James Blake, despite remaining sombre sonically on new album The Colour in Anything, delivered a surprisingly club-y coda. Then, Jónsi made us cry for the second time since Sigur Rós’ rain-drenched performance at Urbanscapes ’12; ‘Popplagið’, no matter the weather and context, carries the same weight regardless. Finally, Flume, who according to SITG’s official post-event release, first attended the festival as a punter, killed it at the Amphitheatre with a show that attracted the biggest crowd in attendance for the whole festival.
Walking back to our shuttle van, then driving back to our shared service apartment, later waking up the next day to a bus awaiting us, and at last flying back to Malaysia, every step, drive, flight, days, months brought us both farther and further from the Splendour in the Grass experience. But it would only take one look at the WhatSapp group, and the photos shared there, for us to be brought back.
Splendour in the Grass ’16 went down from Friday 22 to Sunday 24 July ’16.
JUICE’s trip to SITG was sponsored by the lovely folks at Smirnoff Ice.