A party was in full-swing by 9am on the final day, Friday January 3, of Byron Bay’s inaugural The Falls Music and Arts Festival. It had started at dawn, and ended about noon when a long line of cars began rolling over baking grass and frypan gravel roads through the venue’s single exit to the outside world. A thousand or two triple j broadcasts and Bluetooth playlists mingled with revving engines to, finally, and for many, reluctantly, depart North Byron Parklands’ rear car park. So ended six days of music masochism, mini-dust tornadoes, widespread heatstroke and rain only on the previous Sunday and Thursday nights – culminating in US rockers MGMT headlining with a performance many murmured as disappointing. It’s a set I fail to remember, aside from vague drunken recollections of psychedelic wizadry. Oh, and an at least 200-strong flash mob two-stepping and clapping along to Electric Feel, up the back of the amphitheatre, as the rain began to fall.
For me, at least, the whole thing began on the second day of 2014. Dismissive of hour-or-more-long and very depressing looking waits for showers, I picked up two female French-Canadian Falls attendees on my way out of the festival toward Brunswick Heads – where I aimed for a dip in the Pacific Ocean surrounded by the most beautiful women in the world: music festival women. Not to mention holiday makers from all over this fucked up lonely piece of space debris. They were aiming for Byron, but settled on Brunswick where after some small talk about travel I dropped them at the beach. We agreed to meet again for an 11.30am pickup and return but, after they wandered off, I was forced to weigh up their worthiness versus making Asta’s grossly too early 11.50am set. (When you take into account the drive, passing through security from the car park, drinking some water and then walking what seemed like at least a kilometre to the Amphitheatre Stage, I would need at least 45 minutes to make her show.) I chose the latter – leaving them behind in a spectacular yet very alien little coastal town, with little but earlier advice to “look for a dust-coated car” for the return journey. Time was an ever-scarce resource. And I had little to spare them.
The Tasmanian singer-songstress emerged on-stage in all her high-cheekboned Saxon splendour, clad in white leggings, hotpants of the same achromatic colour and shimmering shoulder-pads with yellow, red and blue tassels descending from them. Her first “oooooooo” of I Need Answers sent a shiver between my spine and soul that no other act of the week had managed; except perhaps The Wombats, but in an entirely different way. One or two hundred punters there at first, to see what was that stage’s second act of the day, turned into one or two thousand by the third song, after they flooded over the hill from catching the Kite String Tangle at the Forest Stage; or finally recovering enough from flowering hangovers seeded on New Year’s Day to actually move from the campgrounds. She said it was her best gig to date. Her gratitude was as sincere and as loudly expressed as the admiration that inspired it. Then in a flurry of phosphorescent tassels, she disappeared backstage.
It was a pity, mid-afternoon two days previously on New Year’s Eve: that Clairy Browne and the Bangin’ Rackettes’ poor crowd-management skills were equal only to their impeccable live performance. “There’s always gotta be 10 fuck-wits in the crowd,” Clairy admonished. “If you keep throwing those fucking glow-sticks, I’m going to fuck your shit up,” she said, with right-middle finger not subtly extended toward the stage-front crowd. Needless to say, a shock-and-awe-style hail of glow-sticks followed this tirade. The Roots’ amphitheatre set was planned to ring in my own quite solitary new year, but a vague recollection that I enjoyed their music (other than The Seed (2.0), feat. Cody Chestnutt) proved unfounded. It just wasn’t Auld Lang Syne sorta music. Even techno would have worked better, and I haven’t liked that shit since I was 25. So instead, the countdown was spent at Falls’ The Village adjacent small-stage, lounging with two Carlton Drys, a cigarette and listening to Rapskallion’s cabaret-style Spanish beats and genuine confusion as to exactly what time it was. Minutes into 2014, I was accosted by a lesbian gumboot saleswoman and her male and female fellow-stall attendants.
They were searching for The Party, but I could not help them. (This was because I had, ahem, “work” to do the next day, beginning with enjoying Chet Faker at noon, and wished not to sleep in.) After witnessing a cowboy version of Iggy Pop who’d – deliberately, of course – forgotten to button his fly, in The Village, my notes I’d planned on diligently keeping throughout the week ended quite prematurely with a scribble on the Friday morning of The Traffic Jam: “No NYE kiss.” Luckily, I did not completely drown my memory in lady liquor. From the first day, Monday, rarely did I not see someone enjoying one of the many swings scattered below the grounds’ many larger trees. In The Village earlier that first evening a strange shadow-animation film played, in which a Chinese prince was trying to save his lover from the Emperor. And earlier that day, a girl fell from her chair and started having a seizure while I waited a step away for my lunch burger at the food court. Her friends quickly rallied to her assistance, which left me standing there all in an awkward mild shock, thinking: “Holy shit.”
At some unidentifiable time and day I had a chance encounter with my best mate’s brother in law, who was gloriously decked out in an orange hi-vis vest and rubbish collection tongs. His colleague said they’d be on-site until the following Friday, not only collecting piles of wind-blown waste but also taking down tents many festival goers simply “walked away” from come Friday. Mid-afternoon on NYE, a good looking blonde girl with adult braces confused me no end by loudly calling my name then embracing me in a hug as I wandered deliriously back to my tent for a nap. I not terribly quickly realised she was the girlfriend of a good mate – who would arrive New Year’s Day in the trailer park area, with another mate, his girlfriend and her friend. I woke during that eventual nap, on my back, spread eagled and with my hands behind me, to a girl saying: “That looks like some kind of an invitation.”
My startled-awake response was, regrettably: “Shit!” which she and her friend responded to by walking away, laughing. Later again that afternoon I was interrupted, from reading, by who I thought was the same woman. She asked what I was doing, and I responded with “What do you think?” She said she’d walked past before and I was doing “something similar”. Confused, I said: “Oh yeah, um, you’re that girl who said something like, um, ‘That looks like a good invitation’.”
“That’s a bit forward, mate,” she said, curtly, and walked away. I spent the next half-hour silently bemoaning my awkwardness.
The music itself really started on the first day of 2014, with Violent Soho’s heavy grunge and punk rock. That’s without being dismissive of Chet Faker, The Paper Kites and The Preatures, who played earlier but were largely missed. After drunken trailer park conversation ranging from pornography to spirituality, Bonobo – or was it Bombino on Thursday? – played in all their kaftan-clothed rock splendour. I shook The Ruben’s Sam Margin’s hand and congratulated him on his epic set, after I’d successfully taken a photo of him with a member of Falls’ staff. One hell of a down-to-earth dude, that guy. The Cat Empire really got thousands of feet vibrating the ground with their high-energy brass instrumented good-vibes. Chk Chk Chk, Vampire Weekend and Flight Facilities all played late that night while most punters were in the final stages of drowning in too-expensive, mid-strength liquor. The first had lots of people on-stage. Vampire Weekend played that Diane Young song. And I can’t even find a Flight Facilities song on YouTube I recognise, let alone remember from their set. Actually, they clashed with Vampire Weekend. Loathsome things, music festival set clashes.
Then the final day began. I still don’t know who the hell Oliver Tank is, though triple j will likely remind me during the coming months. I mean I could do some research (read: Googling), but that shit smacks of effort. Although I do enjoy a little Kite String Tangle, while I walked past their Forest Stage set on my way to Asta they played a song I’d, not for the first time, heard on the radio on my way from abandoning the French-Canadian girls in Brunswick Heads, anyway. Then there was Gossling. Hers has gotta be one of the cutest voices in music (even though you may argue it’s a carbon copy of Julia Stone’s). The John Steel Singers threw their bricks from their overpasses, as they like to do, at the Ampitheatre Stage from about 2pm. Then between the Singers and the Violent Femmes – missed Pond, damnit – there was more drunkenness and scoping out incidental bogan and hipster nudity at the Trailer Park. It wasn’t quite Woodstock 1969, you understand; but considering our age of social media, mobile phone cameras and misguidedly deepening conservative values inspired by barely deserved wealth, it was pretty damn groovy.
After dark, London Grammar’s Hannah Reid appeared quite unceremoniously at her stage-front keyboard. At one point and in her delicious voice she wondered aloud just how many Forest Stage punters were witnessing her performance. As if on cue, and it probably was, floodlights illuminated her thousands of admirers and she gasped. I have it on good authority that Neil Finn performed well. During his set, I was drinking a couple of Jack Daniel’s Honeys in the VIP bar’s uncomfortable wooden outdoor chairs amid developing rain, which would ultimately kill my camera. “It’s amazing just how many excellent lyrics he’s responsible for,” sagely said my photographer friend, who had a professional interest in some of the photos he took on my doomed camera whose memory card thankfully survived. The Wombats. Ridiculous name for a British band. But, they were awesome. Possibly the best act of the whole fest. Crystal Fighters’ headlining of the Forest Stage defines my experience of music festivals: I was too drunk to remember. But their LA Calling song is pretty ace, so I would have been psyched to hear it played live, if in fact I did. God, and perhaps one day a skilful psychiatrist, only knows.
Come 9am Friday, the sound of apparently every single set-up in the campground being disassembled seemed right outside my tent. It was as if everyone had turned Evangelical Christian and gone to bed early the night before, instead of cramming into the Jack Daniel’s Barrel House by jumping its fence and listening and shuffling to bad house music until 2am-ish. Like I may or may not have done. Of course they were wasting their time, unless they were planning on walking out and hitchhiking. In fact when confronted by the horrendous car queue, many people almost re-set-up their tents in the parking lot, while waiting for the fuzz to stop breath-testing drivers either side of the only automobile exit from the festival grounds. (I actually have no idea if or where the cops were doing breath testing, but these things are entirely predictable.) It was pleasant in many ways: sitting in my car’s open hatch, reading, smoking, drinking water which almost evaporated before reaching my lips and listening to many songs that had actually been played at the festival, on triple j – who were aware of just how bad the queue was and were playing tunes deliberately designed to soothe our frustration. The only unpleasant aspect was some drivers who bigotedly thought their time was more precious than others stuck in the same situation, and would periodically beep their horns. I guess Clairy Browne was right, after all: there are always 10 fuck wits in any crowd.