Falls Festival @ Marion Bay, Tasmania (30-31/12/2012)

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Of all the New Year’s options, it’s hard to rival the appeal of the interstate camping festival. Rally a group of friends together. Secure your tickets months in advance. Plan the roadtrip. Practice the art of removing the three centremost bottles of water in a Woolworths case, replacing them with vodka and reinserting into the pack without any evidence of any tampering. Then kick back, enjoy the music and welcome in the New Year without the crush of big city crowds. A winning formula, right? The ongoing success of Falls Festival certainly suggests as much. Back for its milestone 20th year (or 10th in Marion Bay), Falls has long had a legendary reputation on its side: picturesque setting in both locations, well crafted lineups, mostly dickhead free atmosphere, relatively affordable drinks and basically, an easy good time. Unsurprisingly then, the 2012 edition of one of the country’s longest-running festivals was no exception.

As is the way with any sold out camping festival, getting into the Marion Bay site was always going to be a bitch. For drivers, long waits were exacerbated by exhaustive car checks and those taking advantage of the shuttle service from Hobart were met with lengthy queues to get into the site and then an unsignposted, hard-to-navigate trek to the campsites. Thankfully, the wait was worth it. With multiday festivals like Falls, the facilities and organisation of the event is just as important as the music itself to the whole ‘experience’. From the general store that sold essential items like sleeping bags and mats for those too airheaded to think to pack them (guilty), through to the market stalls selling warm clothes who didn’t realise that Tasmania’s actually pretty nippy at this time of year (also guilty) and the composting loos doing away with the need to grit and bear a trip to an overflowing, perpetually toilet paper-free port-a-loo, Falls hit the set-up out of the park.

The festival even managed a doubly-remarkable feat on the alcohol front, offering both – in the ridiculously overinflated world of festival drink prices, that is – relatively reasonably priced booze and (shock!) short drink lines. The food, too, rates a mention – standard festival fare like chips on a stick (ingenious) and pizza cones (pizza cones!) were as tasty as the more nutritious tofu roti wraps and veggie burgers. But most importantly, the layout ticked all the boxes: no sound bleeding between the two stages, no bottlenecks trying to get in and out and plenty of space to lie back on the grass and relax without feeling swamped. No mean feat, that.

For the most part, the music was similarly as hard to fault. Admittedly for the dance fan, the biggest drawcards were restricted to the wee hours – but there was still plenty worth a look while the sun was up. Swedish 60s throwback act First Aid Kit kicked things off early afternoon on the 30th, before Best Coast’s Bethany Cosentino ended her set with Boyfriend and the well-wish that “I hope you all take ecstasy and have the best day of your life!” Matt Corby saw a max exodus from the Valley Stage after playing Brother midway through his set, while San Cisco played their cards a little better and reserved their biggest hit Awkward until last at the packed Field Stage. But the Field Stage’s biggest star of the day was always going to be Coolio – cornrows in, posse by his side and the majority of the festival there to catch him, Falls’ nostalgia-meets-novelty act did was he was there to: deliver a floor-shaking rendition of Gangster’s Paradise.

Falls advised punters to “pack for four seasons”, but we only really needed to prepare for two: warm and sunny or blistering, biting cold. So after a necessary trip back to the campsite to add some layers once the sun went down, it was back to the Valley Stage for a monotonous but enjoyable enough set from Scotsmen Two Door Cinema Club, who eventually ceded to The Hives for the penultimate set of the day. Musically, the sharply-dressed Swedes did a fine job. But frontman Pelle Almqvist’s 20-minute spiel – presumably rehearsed for the group’s NYE set at Lorne the next day – about the Mayan’s being half-right and the world actually maybe ending tonight? Not so much. Carrying on for a painfully long time, Almqvist’s repeated (unrequited) pleas for us to make more noise, then inexplicable commands for us all to sit down (yes, that includes those of you in the piled-up moshpit) before launching into arrogant, long-winded introductions to each member of the band – last but not least, himself! – succeeded in killing the vibe of everyone just trying to dance. With everything now running half an hour late, it was 2.30am before Totally Enormous Extinct Dinosaurs finally took the stage, flanked by two backup dancers and ready to make the wait worth it.

Come December 31st, there was plenty to nurse a hangover with in the daylight hours: Django Django, The Vaccines, Oh Mercy, Beach House and Boy & Bear all taking the stage. But things didn’t really kick-off until The Flaming Lips stepped up with shortly over an hour til Midnight. Despite the show being kind of old news now (am I the only one who saw them at both Splendour ’09 and Harvest ’11?), when Do You Realize?? was belted out at the midnight mark, eyes bugged right out of heads festival-wide. Then it was over to Hot Chip to run through cuts from In Our Heads and the brilliant back-catalogue before the closing act of the festival, SBTRKT in full live form, joined by his chief vocalist Sampha. For those whose recollection of the first hours of 2013 emerged better intact than my own, the consensus was clear: it was the perfect closer to a festival that delivered on all fronts. If only I could remember it.

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