You may have heard rumours of how muddy Splendour In The Grass was this year, but I don’t think you can really comprehend. I alone carried half of Byron Bay’s topsoil home in my toenails. ‘I don’t think I need gumboots’ is perhaps one of the most mistaken ideas to have ever occurred to anyone packing for a music festival. Worse yet, ‘I only really need this one pair of boots with a large hole in them’, a little closer to home for me, proved a much more disastrous thought. It doesn’t matter if every other festival you’ve ever been to was bone dry, it’s always a risk. One can only assume that the festival organisers were in cahoots with the gumboot-sellers extorting $90 a pair from poor, desperate people with lost and destroyed shoes. Despite predominantly clement weather, with the notable exception of the short rain and hailstorm that caused the tent over the main stage to leak on to DZ Deathrays’ amp, mud persisted ‘til the very end.
Even so, mud wasn’t the only substance inflicted upon Splendour punters. Highlights included the bassist of Howler emptying half a bottle of Jack Daniels over the front row. Some excitedly licked it off their arms, while others wrinkled their nose in disgust at the whiskey smell, but combined with the sweat of moshers and the mud from the boots of crowdsurfers which coated the festival-goers. all agreed it was a waste of good alcohol.
Speaking of substances and extortion, the change of location and resulting separation of the camping and festival areas made it harder yet to avoid outrageous drink prices. Cars were searched by the most adorable sniffer dog, and the other usual security measures applied. As a result, the liquor store on the road out of the campgrounds must have done a roaring trade. It was there that we purchased the obligatory goon bag and some bottles of soft drink, and a new drink “goke” (goon and vanilla Coke) was born. I swear it doesn’t taste as bad as it sounds.
Of course, the most important part was, or should have been, the music. 12 hours at the barrier of the Supertop stage on the Friday yielded some amazing experiences, from Lindsay ‘The Doctor’ McDougall making an appearance on stage in a tie-dyed shirt to play with Kingswood, to Kram’s halting and somewhat apologetic cover of Nirvana’s ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’. The set from Pond, a West Australian psychedelic band that shares two members with Tame Impala, was a highlight. Front man Nick Allbrook drinking “cough syrup” on stage, and most certainly tripping balls, was in part responsible for a mesmerising performance. The lowlight was definitely being crushed against the barrier during At The Drive-In’s set, as desperately over-excited fans tried to get close to their first Australian appearance in more than ten years. However, the reward at the end of the night was a brilliant set from Jack White, and for me, was worth the food, water and toilet deprivation of the preceding 12 hours.
The second day featured some of the most highly anticipated performances, Lana Del Ray and Bloc Party, both of which, I am proud to say, I succeeded in avoiding. Instead, I joined the small but devoted crowd watching Australian folky-post-rock legends The Dirty Three. Front man Warren Ellis, also known for his roles in Grinderman and Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds, is truly entertaining when granted the spotlight. He’s clearly learnt a few dance moves off Nick Cave, but one of the biggest highlights of his sets are his rambling introductions to each song. It’s hard to remember exactly, but varicose veins, skinless bears, ketamine and Gina Rineheart’s rectum are references that come to mind. Perhaps the biggest cheer from the crowd was elicited when Warren suggested Justin Bieber was the result of an orgy between Bono, Gina Rineheart and Paul McCartney. Warren Ellis is truly amazing.
The last day of the festival was a little bit more low-key. Smashing Pumpkins played, if you were willing to watch Billy Corgan vainly attempt to recapture his relevance. An enjoyable performance from Wolfmother, with a good crowd and a slightly pretentious cover of Pink Floyd’s ‘Another Brick In The Wall’ was only partially marred by lead man Andrew Stockdale’s general wankery. Examples included constantly stopping before guitar solos to demand more appreciation from the crowd, or asking everyone if they were ‘in tune with the elements’, but despite looking like hippie gurus from another century they played what the punters wanted to hear and were generally well received.
Overall, Splendour’s return to Byron Bay, after years of exile in Queensland, was a triumphant one. Even better, Splendour now has a permanent home at Yelgun in the North of Byron Bay, for at least five years, and a slightly larger capacity with upwards mobility. Exciting times abound for the future of Splendour In The Grass!