Falls Downtown 2017: Could this be the start of something great?
Day one of Falls Festival Downtown and I’m sitting by the sound tent (because that’s where you get the best sound, duh) when a thought slowly unfurls in my mind. As I watch each person stroll past in their festival finery, I realise; I have no idea what is ‘cool’ anymore. I’ve never been an arbiter or what’s ‘in’ but gazing over a smog of claustrophobic tobacco and dilated pupils brought this point crashing home. Saturday at Falls felt full of entertainers rather than musicians. People, quite unlike me, who are in touch with the ‘cool’. They know what a crowd wants to hear and are gifted at touching the correct buttons in the right order.
There were some real musos to be seen on Saturday though. Parquet Courts bought boundless energy and their own brand of Dad-chic, sporting outfits that would be at home on the back of a middle-aged father. Tracks like Dust and Berlin Got Blurry inspired adoration from the audience. I was mildly bummed that I didn’t get to hear that delicious driving riff from Stoned and Starving but their set was far from disappointing, bringing into sharp focus why they are constant compared to The Modern Lovers.
Walking back from the Alley Stage graced by Parquet Courts leads you to the old Myer building which was packed with pop-up stalls selling upcycled op-shop gear and vintage furniture. I’m not sure how many armchairs festival-goers are likely to purchase but it certainly had a cool novelty value. The circle of kitsch stalls also served as a dry, raised moat to the basement stage (Dubbed the Danceteria) which was bound to become a raucous sweat-fest as the day turned to night.
Meandering to the main Downtown Stage, set up right next to the church with an aspect facing Fremantle’s beloved ‘Christmas tree’ I gave Illy 2 songs worth of my attention before sagely wandering off to get a good spot for Grandmaster Flash. What a harsh juxtaposition of crowd engagement, GMF certainly knew what the crowd wanted (which included and was not limited to bulk shoeys). Although his set did begin with a semi-documentary about hip-hop and his life in The Bronx which kind of dragged and became gimmicky. I mentally justified this as a way to cut down an hour long set to make it more manageable for a 59 year old. Not trying to throw shade at the Grand Master’s age, I was certainly exhausted by the end. But maybe my exhaustion was reasonable, there’s only so many times a sane person can tolerate being told to “PUT YOUR HANDS UP” and hearing “PEERTHHH” blasted at them in the space of 60 minutes.
Other ‘entertainers’ of the day included Hot Dub Time Machine who proved to be a crowd favourite with his musical journey through the ages (Read: knowing the top countdowns of the past 30 years, playing into our love of nostalgia and pressing the right buttons). Taku was surprisingly sensitive for a nationally acclaimed male producer. His sweetly intimate introductions to songs was refreshing and served as the necessary context for the audience to connect with the songs’ intended meaning.
Rounding out day one and delivering in place of Childish Gambino were tried and tested live act King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard. I think the Gizzy boys were a good replacement for Donald Glover (who made the right decision to attend the Golden Globes) but punters were pretty pissed off at the last minute line-up change. Weekend tickets actually sold for less than the asking price even after the festival had sold out. That speaks volumes as to how bitter people were. And rightly so, it was a lot of money to be spending especially if it was only to be seeing Steezy Gambeezy. Nevertheless I think KGATLW did a great job of rinsing our mouths of the bad tasting withdrawal.
Sunday was much more about music than DJs which may have contributed to the slightly more affable crowd and pleasant atmosphere. Local guys Mt Mountain kicked things off at the Alley Stage with an almost Protomatyr-like intersection between the bass and drum lines. Although Mt Mountain’s set sounds like it would best fit the depths of a dingy bar, the midday sunshine provided a clarity and illumination to the sound. Everything felt particularly clean making the 30 minute set fly by. Don’t be mistaken, Mt Mountain are more than Perth-core psych rockers.
On the other end of the spectrum Client Liason took to the main stage with exuberance. Their presence at the festival felt like the meeting of entertainment and music, and perhaps a glimpse into the future (or the past, I haven’t quite sussed that out). With set pieces including fronds and watercoolers and coordinated outfits they really nailed the 80s Australiana aesthetic. I actually found myself really enjoying the costume changes and celebration of weird facets of Australian culture (i.e. drinking Foster’s ironically). Also taking to the main stage were The Jezabels who know how to work a summer festival crowd. Their cover of Simply the Best was a clear highlight. Their set was backed by down-to-earth youngsters, Ball Park Music who have carved themselves as tireless tourers who can perform with consistency. I even heard murmurs of considerable upset that BPM have yet to been given the coveted time-slot of festival closers in their almost decade-long stint as a band.
Matt Corby took to the stage against the sickly sweet backdrop of a slowly dipping sun. As he crooned to the audience to floor sighed against the weight of hundreds of panties collectively dropping to the floor, proving that you don’t need shoes to win hearts. Meanwhile, down the alleyway, Pond were impressive crowd-pleasers in their own right. Led by a screaming blonde-haired Nick Allbrook (always one for the effeminate and avant-garde), I have mad respect for these guys who are just being themselves in their purest and most unadulterated forms. Kevin Parker’s presence at the back of the mosh pit highlighted that, clearly, this was the place to be. Back to the main stage and the The Avalanches bought the crowd to a dance-fueled climax with classics like Frontier Psychiatrist and new tracks like Because I’m Me before London Grammar took charge of the come down with the most impressive vocal acrobatics of the festival.
The first Falls in Western Australia was a bit of a mixed bag. There were some good acts, and some not so good acts. But perhaps what I take the most issue with is the set up and lack of foresight on the part of the organisers. I love challenging my liver to process copious amounts of alcohol as much as the next person but 7 bars seems a bit excessive. Not only did it result in a fairly drunk crowd but the copious amount of drinking facilities added to the cash grabby feel. Full weekend tickets retailed at nearly $300 a pop and it seemed that the Falls organisers sold too many tickets for the space. I can understand the need for such a high price point, it would have been a logistical and financial nightmare coordinating the barriers weaving in and out of buildings in the heart of Freo. With the added necessity of a lot of security things were always going to be pricey. Whilst we’re on the topic, big props to the gruff security guards who really stayed on top of the unruly patrons, we were lucky enough to witness the come up-ance of a couple of kids hiding atop the Gyspey Kitchen for a good view.
Unlike Laneway, Falls festival had some prime indoor venues. But unfortunately, they were not utilised well at all. The Old Town Hall could have easily housed bigger acts (Case in point The Drones who played the Town Hall on their last tour). Heck, the organisers could have taken a leaf out of Faribridge’s book and schedule in some local acoustic talent at the Church to make use of the acoustics. Instead we got some very underwhelming comedy that felt jarring in that environment. I think it’s clear what the people want. Cheaper tickets, bigger acts, better scheduling and perhaps some grass underfoot.
Falls in Freo could be the start of something great, but only if the organisers listen to what the people want. Which should be easy enough, I mean, it’s not like we have a problem with representing the masses in Australia, right?