St Jerome’s Laneway Festival @ Perth Cultural Centre, Perth (11/03/2012)

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There’s no doubt that Perth has got its fair share of iconic concert venues, with places such as Belvoir Ampitheatre, The Quarry and even Heirisson Island playing host to various gigs and festivals over the years. Of course, Perth being blessed with beautiful weather most of the year allows such venues to provide amazing music-going experiences. But for many Perth citizens, a major criticism of the city is its lack of inner-city vibrancy. That’s what makes St Jerome’s Laneway Festival such an important event on the Perth calendar.

Evolving out of Melbourne’s famed laneways; the festival gives Perth that sense of underground edginess that cities like Melbourne exude effortlessly. With the small bar and restaurant scene in Perth now growing significantly, thanks to the likes of Ezra Pound, Andaluz, and La Cholita, among others, there’s an emerging sense of excitement and optimism about the entertainment offerings now available in Perth.

And so to St Jerome’s Laneway Festival 2012. Over the years, the organisers of the festival have shown a savvy knack for selecting eclectic mixes of artists, deftly blending popular local acts (such as Cut Copy and The Panics) with relatively big international names (such as Girl Talk) and up-and-coming alternative groups who have gone on to big things (names such as Florence & The Machine and The xx immediately come to mind).

This year’s line-up at the Perth Cultural Centre in Northbridge was unsurprisingly diverse, featuring lush female folk vocals in the form of Laura Marling and Feist, a dose of Brooklyn culture by way of The Drums and Chairlift, a taste of the genre-of-the-moment, chillwave, in the form of Toro Y Moi and Washed Out, and riding the momentum of the ever-strong electro movement through SBTRKT.

As with any festival, there were clashes between popular acts on different stages – although it must be said that the stage line-ups on the whole were well thought out, resulting in far fewer clashes than your average festival.

On the Museum Stage, Laura Marling was the first act to take our breath away, with her unique voice guiding a sing-along audience through an assortment of her best-known tracks. The addition of live bass and banjo underscored Marling’s folk-country style, which proved to be a smooth transition into Feist’s later set.

Always a favourite among Perth crowds, Feist did not disappoint, despite being hindered by some technical sound issues. Backed by the deceptively-named Mountain Man (an accapella backing group consisting of 3 females), Feist proved the consummate professional onstage, with My Moon, My Man from 2007’s The Reminder being one of the major highlights of her set.

Over on the PICA Stage, fans of the chillwave sound were treated to the sounds of Toro Y Moi and Washed Out. Known to his mother as Chaz Bundwick, Toro Y Moi delivered the perfect set for those looking to relax and recharge their festival batteries before the night’s final acts. Utilising 2011’s breakout album Underneath The Pine for the most part, Bundwick captured the imagination of those who eschewed The Horrors to watch the American produce his lush sonic landscapes.

Somewhat ironically, there was a spot of rain during Washed Out’s set, which somehow made Ernest Greene’s performance of his dreamy, almost psychedelic tunes that little bit more captivating. In a similar vein to Toro Y Moi, it was Greene’s 2011 album, Within and Without that garnered him the attention of a world-wide audience, and naturally Greene leaned heavily on that album for his set in front of an observant audience.

M83’s performance on the Museum Stage polarised our team of reviewers and, it seems, much of the audience. One reviewer branded the performance as nothing more than “organised, high-level karaoke”, whilst fans were entranced by Anthony Gonzalez’s dynamic display. Midnight City attracted a large crowd, but many disappeared straight after that song ended, in most cases headed back to the PICA Stage to witness the performance from LA’s Active Child.

SBTRKT has emerged as somewhat of a poster boy for new funk and dubstep infused electro. Hitting the stage with vocalist and percussionist Sampha, opening track Hold On was a portent of the high-quality set to come. By general agreement, Pharaohs was the apex of the masked men’s near-50 minute set, which finished the festival on a distinct high note.

Once again, it was an extremely polished performance from the organisers of St Jerome’s Laneway Festival, with fabulous performances and terrific organisation. As noted above, to our minds the festival remains one of catalysts behind the renaissance (or perhaps more correctly, the birth) of inner-city Perth as a true cultural and artistic hub. Let’s hope the organisers continue to provide such a first-class festival for many years to come.

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