Laneway Festival @ Sydney College of the Arts, Sydney (02/02/2013)

Image for Laneway Festival @ Sydney College of the Arts, Sydney (02/02/2013)

Sydney’s Laneway Festival hasn’t been near a laneway for many years, and in 2013 it grew again, spilling outside the walls of the Sydney College of the Arts in Rozelle. The result was a festival of two halves – niche acts for the chinstroking critics, and larger draws for the masses.

With last week’s Hottest 100 still echoing in the crowd’s ears, there were plenty of triple j’s bigger songs of last year to be chanted along to. The hillside teemed with pretty young things, and watching the crowd blissing out in unison to songs like Of Monsters And Men’s Little Talks was breathtaking.

The big new stages at the bottom of that large hill at least doubled the festival’s size, and allowed acts like Flume to slay a huge crowd with blistering sets of mosh pit mayhem. Even crazier than his set at Harbourlife, the crowd was going so mental that once you raised your arms you literally had trouble getting them down again.

However, although the festival has outgrown its original remit – an intimate day out with an eclectic lineup of bands much more suited to intimate venues – for every Flume, there was a Nicolas Jaar.

The crowd was packed into the Future Classic courtyard, perched on windowsills and hanging off any available vantage point. Jaar’s set was restrained and atmospheric, pulsating slowly with live sax very reminiscent of Laurent Garnier’s live setup. Unlike Garnier, this was more ‘electronic’ than ‘dance’, so when the uptempo kick-drum finally came it was an amazing, euphoric release after an hour of measured build-up.

Yes, this latest Laneway was bigger and more varied. But with size – and any event sold out in advance – comes the obligation to provide for the masses. Many will remember Laneway not for the music but for the queues. The drink and food queue strategy was simple – pick which band you want to miss and join the line. Queue rage at some of the toilets led to a bit of biffo over the portaloos, which is just pathetic.

It’s important to note that not everyone had that experience. I hear there was an actual urinal somewhere – why not at every toilet? Why wasn’t it on the map? And away from the beleaguered food trucks were impressive setups like a Toko pop-up restaurant and a Bulmers ‘Brick Lane’. People just didn’t seem to realise they had options other than waiting an hour for a jaffle.

Moving between the two areas of the festival, the hillside and the college grounds proper, was only possible through a couple of narrow sandstone gates. At best, it was a sad indictment on the crowd that they couldn’t obey the simple sign to keep left, or the simpler instruction a weary staffer was futilely repeating. At its worst, when a popular act was beginning on the other side, the crush was dangerous, a heritage-listed crowd control clusterfuck.

To its credit, the setting was both stunning and stood up reasonably well to the downpours before and during the festival. The crowd were largely a cut above other festivals and there was much hilarity to be had. Laneway still holds a unique place in the Sydney festival landscape. It’s catered so well for a certain crowd to this point, but it needs to grow up gracefully if it’s to keep its fans – and particularly its first-timers – coming back.

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