The Best Sets of the First Falls Festival Downtown
After 21 years, Falls Festival has finally arrived in Western Australia and the wait was so, so worth it.
It’s been a difficult year for Australia’s music festival circuit, and one festival brand that has been hit worse than any other is Falls Festival. Yet, despite setbacks and controversy, the Falls team managed to pull things together to bring the multi-day touring juggernaut west for the first time ever, launching Falls Downtown in the bustling heart of Fremantle.
Whilst the Lorne, Marion Bay and Byron Bay editions of the festival are all about taking people away from the capital cities in favour of regional centres, Falls Downtown had a far different setting. Placed smack-bang in the middle of Fremantle – a picturesque region of Perth not shy of the old festival – Falls Downtown was all about showcasing an already thriving city, whether it be the surrounding landmarks and local businesses, or the local food and beer.
On the music side of things, the cancellations of international acts Childish Gambino, MØ and Grouplove allowed lesser-known performers including Modern Baseball, Booka Shade and Vallis Alps to shine instead. Then, of course, came the back-to-back run of legendary Australian group The Avalanches and act-of-the-moment London Grammar, whose front-woman Hannah Reid struck a chord among the festival’s tired and weary crowd for the festival’s final set on day two. Main stage aside, the sweaty, underground basement of the now abandoned Myer building raved until late as the Danceteria, and the then there was the majestic Fremantle Town Hall, which paired old-fashioned music with craft beer and chilled-out vibes. There was also the Church of Heavenly Delights, home to some of Australia’s best comedy acts, as well as a whole heap of other specialities littered throughout the festival’s crammed, yet cosy grounds. But, as per every festival, the music is where it mattered, so here are our favourite sets across the two days of festivities.
In theory, Modern Baseball were an act destined to pull a small crowd at this year’s event. They played early in the first day, when much of the ticket-holders were knee-deep in pre-drinking or relaxing in the shade away from the main stage. They lack the overwhelming triple j support of Ball Park Music and Illy, who both pulled monstrous crowds later in the weekend, and, on top of this all, they were out-of-place on a day loaded with electronic talent, from Golden Features to Ta-Ku. Yet, despite everything against them, Modern Baseball killed it. Emphasising on cuts from their highly-acclaimed third record Holy Ghost, the American rock four-piece sweltered with a fiery set, loaded with an unbeatable punk-rock energy that was mirrored from a surprisingly active crowd, despite the heat. It was their first ever show in the west, but considering the strong reception they received, it wouldn’t surprise me if they’re back again soon.
He created the backspin technique, brought DJ scratching into mainstream and was a part of the first ever hip-hop group to be introduced into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame - Grandmaster Flash is royalty. So naturally, his set at Falls Festival was one of the most anticipated. Entwining his genre-varying set with excerpts from his Netflix production The Get Down, the Grandmaster executed one of the more enjoyable electronic sets, seamlessly mixing vintage disco cuts with trap and hip-hop bangers from the likes of TNGHT and Kanye West like no-one else I’ve ever seen. He didn't draw the biggest crowd of the festival, probably due to being squeezed in-between Australian heavyweights Illy and Golden Features, but I can guarantee that everyone who witnessed the Grandmaster’s set left in an amazing mood, and a whole lot more knowledgeable on the history of DJing and dance music.
Back in July last year, Australia’s literal golden boy Golden Features announced he was taking an extended break from touring to record his debut album. Falls Festival saw him break this hiatus to preview a couple of tracks from the forthcoming album as a last-minute addition (replacing MØ) and bloody hell, it is sounding huge. Mixing already well-loved originals and remixes (Tell Me, Wolfie and No One were particularly well-received) with some of his more infamous unreleased material (his edit of Green Velvet and Harvard Bass’ Laser Beams, for example) and some very Justice-esque cuts from his forthcoming debut, Golden Features’ set was one of the heaviest of the weekend. The only gripes I have, is that his spectacular light show proved not to have the same punch in the bright early afternoon, and that I don’t have my hands on those bloody unreleased tracks he was dropping left, right and centre.
Anyone who has caught a Ta-Ku live show knows how impressive they are, and his set at Falls Festival was no different. Opening with the 2013 I Miss You, Ta-Ku and his accompanying live band (which includes the soothing voice of Wafia for all their collaborations) charmed a swaying crowd with down-tempo tracks from a variety of his releases, going way back to 2012’s Higher after a nod to late hip-hop producer J Dilla. The biggest moments of the set were all thanks to Wafia, however, with their remix of American Boy and the set-closing Love Somebody drawing the biggest reactions of the Perth beat-maker's hour-long set.
AlunaGeorge were personally one of my most anticipated sets of the weekend, and they definitely lived up to the hype. Joined by a touring drummer, Aluna Francis and George Reid dazzled with tracks taken across their five years in the limelight, with the Disclosure-featuring White Noise spawning a mass singalong early on. The ZHU-written Automatic and 2012 single You Know You Like It were other obvious highlights, with the duo safely choosing to showcase their previous, popular work more-so than their 2016-released record I Remember. Yet, the album’s two leading singles – I’m In Control and the Flume-produced title-track – both made the packed-out side-stage bounce. Who’s in control? AlunaGeorge is, obviously.
With dense foliage and two office water coolers strategically placed on stage, you just know Client Liaison’s Falls Downtown set was going to be a retro throwback for the ages. The political visuals accompanying the set-opening Diplomatic Immunity proved a strong start, with the energy not falling until the end of the set’s final track – World Of Our Love. Whether it be odes to limousines (which eventually led into Off White Limousine) or cans of Fosters flying into the crowd, Client Liaison’s set on the second day had something for everybody, and was one of the more interesting sets of the festival once they sorted out their technical difficulties early on.
Ball Park Music
Since 2011’s Happiness And Surrounding Suburbs, Brisbane five-piece Ball Park Music have become one of Australia’s most adored indie bands. Backing this claim up was their highly-anticipated Sunday afternoon set at Falls Downtown, with the group drawing the biggest crowd of the weekend, aside from the two headliners later on in the evening. Including cheerful campfire-esque singalongs to It’s Nice To Be Alive and Coming Down, Ball Park Music’s set at Falls Downtown balanced crowd favourites and recently-released perfectly, wedging tracks including Fence Sitter and Surrender in-between cuts from their 2016 record Every Night The Same Dream.
Vallis Alps are one of my personal picks of bands to explode both nationally and internationally in 2017, with the Canberra duo making quite a name for themselves with break-out tracks such as Young and Thru, as well as November’s more recent single Fading. Their set at Falls Downtown was the cherry on top of a massive two years for the duo, drawing a large crowd that were left nothing but impressed after their Sunday afternoon set on the Alley Stage. They matched the energy of Sunday’s side-stage headliner Broods – an act renowned for their live performances – boasting a commanding stage presence with high-powering tunes to match.
The last time The Avalanches played in Perth, John Howard was still Prime Minister and Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone was the highest-grossing movie of the year. The Avalanches had to give their west-coast return everything they had and oh boy, did they do exactly that. Easily taking the cake as the best set of the festival, The Avalanches completely dispelled rumours that they were a bit rusty after their extended hiatus, with guest vocals from Baltimore rapper Spank Rock and locals Oscar Key Sung and Eliza Wolfgramm shining on both old favourites (Radio) and recent hits, (Because I’m Me, Subways and the Danny Brown-featuring Frankie Sinatra, which opened the band’s festival slot after an extended intro). If anything, the shortened, live version of Frontier Psychiatrist was the only low-point of the show (largely because it removed a great portion of the song), but that low-point was quickly forgotten about as soon as the opening melody of the set-closing Since I Left You rung through the picturesque setting. Here’s hoping we don’t have to wait another 16 years to experience the pure magic of an Avalanches set once again.