Falls Festival 2018/2019 was a crystal ball look into the future of Australian music

Falls Festival 2018/2019 was a crystal ball look into the future of Australian music

While last year's edition used international heavyweights to offer the nostalgia of yesterday, this year's event felt like a gaze into tomorrow.

Header Photo: Golden Features, by Pilerats' Liam Oz.

Falls Festival is undergoing an evolution. Last year's event, which included a wealth of long-time favourites in Foster The People, Liam Gallagher and The Kooks alongside the more forward-thinking names of Flume and Vince Staples, felt like the marrying of the past and present, uniting the nostalgia of mass sing-alongs to Pumped Up Kicks and Wonderwall with a collection of artists that were making serious waves at the time - Alex Lahey, Winston Surfshirt and Confidence Man amongst the most recognizable. It was confusing and clashing at times, such as moving between Methyl Ethel - one of the biggest acts at the time thanks to the success of Ubu - to Daryl Braithwaite's meme-riding afternoon victory lap, but ultimately it paid off, giving a time-mashing experience that you'd expect from a festival like Big Day Out but in a more modern and up-to-date face-lift.

This year, however, was all about the future. Those long-time festival favourites were still present in the form of Catfish & The Bottlemen, CHVRCHES and Interpol, but they all came off the back of stand-out new releases (or in the case of Catfish, a new single to drop the following week after the festival's wrap). Toto was the only act that felt like a misplaced legacy act in the same, meme-fuelled way as Braithwaite before, but arguably unlike the year prior, Toto has the expanded, well-known-among-the-young'ens back catalogue that made it a confusing but somewhat suitable choice. Additionally, while the long-time favourites did impress, they were swallowed by the triumph of Australia's next-generation, who over both days managed to out-class and out-perform acts well beyond their years.

It began with the opening act of day one - 2018 one-to-watch and PileTV #LiveSessions alumni Carla Geneve - whose unrestrained and blistering indie-pop matched the harsh summer sun through tracks including 2018 highlight Listening and the set-closing Greg's Discount Chemist, the latter being the song that pushed the talented Fremantle artist from a Perth live circuit highlight to a cherished act nationally with a similar trajectory to Stella Donnelly. Pop rising star and late-add Eves Karydas was another early highlight, matching the soaring synth-pop of her exceptional debut album summerskin with a larger-than-life stage presence you wouldn't particularly expect from the otherwise reserved and quiet name. Nashville songwriter Soccer Mommy flew the flag for the international side of tomorrow's stars, while Tkay Maidza, returning to the live circuit following a supreme and career-defining run of sold-out headline shows earlier in the year, brought the party through high-octane features, old favourites, and cuts from her recent Last Year Was Weird release alike.

The afternoon met a similar fate in the hands of the names of the future. Mallrat, filling a large, early-evening slot against Amy Shark - a position no artist would want to be in considering the runaway international success of the ARIA Award-winner over the last 18 months - captivated and charmed; her typically quaint and relaxed stature blossoming into a stage presence you'd expect from the industry's majors as she runs and jumps across the stage joined by Tyne-James Organ and Ninajirachi on DJ duties. Jack River, playing two sets later on the same stage, was able to do the same without the energetic stage presence, letting her impactful and empowering vocal cries drift through the tent as she and her band race through Sugar Mountain highlights and past favourites like Fool's Gold. There's been a lot of chatter about the rising strength of Australian pop across 2018 and although they come from two very different sides of the genre - Mallrat more traditional and commercial, Jack River more guitar-backed and indie-leaning - it's hard to imagine these conversations happening without these two different forces pushing the boundaries locally.

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Mallrat. Photo by Tashi Hall.

If anything, it was the day one trio of headliners - Dizzee Rascal, CHVRCHES and Anderson .Paak & The Free Nationals - who came out to disrupt the glory of Australia's next generation. Although Dizzee's standard hip-hop antics ("everyone on this side of the crowd yell 'DIZZEEEEEEE', everyone on this side of the crowd yell 'RASSSCAAALLLLLLL'") grew tiring at times, it was a fun and lively showcase of what's made the rapper such as an Australian festival staple over the last few years. CHVRCHES, on the other side, strived through the confidence and glow of front-woman Lauren Mayberry, while Anderson .Paak - an Australian festival favourite at this point - returned with a refined and polished edge, mixing singles from his exceptional latest album Oxnard - named after his Californian home town - with classics (Come Down), features (Glowed Up, with Kaytranada) and the one-off stand-alone singles that paved Oxnard's path early on ('Til It's Over, Bubblin').

The early happenings of day two continued the onslaught from Australia's next favourites. Kota Banks' early set, kicking off as gates open on day two, combined her invigorating club-pop with dance routines and anecdotes of self-confidence and empowerment, bringing a pop edge that in Hatchie immediately after, remained through hazy shoegaze-pop in an incredible early-afternoon set that capped off a transformative year for the quickly-rising Brisbane name. She was unknown at the start of 2017, but now, just 18 months later, she's proving to be an international force in the making, scoring Pitchfork features and international festival slots with only a single EP under her belt. Odette continued the run of powerful women in pop leading day two, with cuts from her remarkable debut album To A Stranger - one of 2018's best local albums - only being amplified in a live setting thanks to her soaring, unmatched vocal and the delicate instrumentals that fluttered underneath.

Moving away from pop music momentarily, WA ex-pats and another PileTV #LiveSessions alumni Tired Lion brought the impactful indie-rock from their debut album Dumb Days into a festival setting, with frontwoman Sophie Hopes leading the chants of cult favourites such as the album's title-track and Fresh, while their latest single With Or Without ("this is a song called With Or Without," yelled Hopes before charging into the song. "It's not the U2 song though.") suggested that they're more than a one-album pony. Touch Sensitive's funk-fuelled dance party proved a great sunset soundtrack and a fantastic into the dance proceedings over the evening - international force Cashmere Cat and a victorious closing set from Golden Features following - but the two star sets of the day came in the hours between Tired Lion and Touch Sensitive.

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Tim Nelson (Cub Sport). Photo by Anthony Smith.

Across the whole Falls Festival lineup, it was hard to find an act that could match Cub Sport. The almost god-like acapella opening, which saw frontman Tim Nelson lead the way on the already-moving O Lord without the aid of his bandmates, was just the start. The twisted, warped cries of Good Guys Go proved another set-highlight, along with cuts from their forthcoming self-titled album - the Hottest 100 hopeful Sometimes and yet-to-be-released Party Pills - winning over basically everyone. It was effectively a set that defined what and who Cub Sport are, from the overlooked but essential rhythms of drummer Dan Puusaari and the soft, supporting sways of keyboardist/guitarist Zoe and keyboardist Sam (Bolan) to, of course, the confident and unashamedly proud presence of Tim who, going back to their early live shows, has grown beyond ten-fold in self-confidence. 

Ruel, immediately after, was another highlight, but somewhat of a surprising one. His lightning-quick rise from hopeful newcomer to ARIA Award-winning almost gave us whip-lash and didn't give us the time - or the accessibility - to see whether his soulful, R&B-pop cries carried into a live setting and spoiler alert: they do. Backed by a dynamic band, Ruel proved his worth at Falls Festival - flexing a live maturity and presence well beyond his years as he grew and strengthened throughout the set, which included a collection of EP highlights in Younger and Dazed & Confused.

While it's easy to pinpoint Falls' obvious evolution, particularly in Fremantle, where the festival has gone from non-existent to somewhat of a powerhouse within three years, Falls remains a festival that seems to put the music first, and that's something I want to put first. It was admittedly a safe, triple j-friendly lineup but it showcased a collection of artists among Australia's most exciting - some already blossoming into leaders internationally (Cub Sport, Ruel, Hatchie) and some well on the path to doing so (Kota Banks, Carla Geneve) - and that's something the festival should hold close to them and continue to boast and allow flourish into the future years ahead.

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