Falls Downtown 2018: A Celebration of the Past and Future
Falls' second year in the west was heavy on nostalgia, while most highlights came in the early arvo.
If last year's inaugural Falls Downtown proved that the east-coast festival juggernaut may find success in the west, this year's edition confirmed it. In 2018, the Laneway-esque setting of Kings Square was pushed aside in favour of the more open Fremantle Oval district, and although this move may have been forced due to renovations at their previous location, it allowed the multi-day event to increase their capacity and really experiment whether a multi-day festival like Falls Festival could exist in West Australia after the loss of events like Big Day Out and Future Music.
Falls Downtown 2018 felt particularly reminiscent of the abovementioned BDO, whether it be the two side-by-side main stages or the general, large-scale feel that the event grew into in 2018. Furthermore, the festival's surprisingly nostalgia-triggering, indie-focused line-up could've easily been a replicate of a 2012-era Big Day Out – Fleet Foxes, The Kooks, Angus & Julia Stone, Foster The People and Liam Gallagher have all either played a Big Day Out previously or wouldn't feel out-of-place on a past Big Day Out line-up, and if the festival still operated present-day, it wouldn't surprise me to see acts like The Smith Street Band or Alex Lahey on its main stage. This, however, is Falls Festival in 2018, and can acts like these still impress years – or decades, in the case of Braithwaite and Gallagher – later?
The answer is mostly yes, but Falls Festival got lucky here. With new material under their belt, Foster The People proved to be a highlight of Sunday's indie-rock-soaked proceedings, with singles from their most record such as Pay The Man and Doing It For The Money proving just as energetic and crowd-friendly as Torches-era throwbacks like Pumped Up Kicks, Helena Beat and Call It What You Want. Likewise, Manchester indie-rock group Everything Everything managed to somehow stir the crowd despite their early-afternoon, full-sun set tempting many to sit in the shade to relax. Can't Do and Desire – two highlights from their 2017 record A Fever Dream – proved set highlights amongst early career highlights in Cough Cough and Kemosabe, plus singles like set-closer Distant Past and the ever-building No Reptiles from their 2015 album Get To Heaven.
Touring Australia with a special 'greatest hits show', English rock group The Kooks were slow starters after Peking Duk's over-the-top bordering on excessive main-stage parade (living up to their Spinal Tap promises from a few weeks ago), but when they got going, they got going. Naive and She Moves In Her Own Way were two obvious highlights, with frontman Luke Pritchard – no stranger to big, festival stages like this – using his experience as the leader of a festival-favourite band to win where other, less experienced acts could not. Liam Gallagher was also a surprising late-afternoon peak, with Oasis classics Morning Glory and the singalong-inducing classic Wonderwall spread across singles from his own solo album As You Were. His reminders of rock'n'roll's glory days and his status as a 'rock'n'roll star' (the focus of his set-opening single of the same name) grew tiresome by the end of his set – like a grandad reminding his grandchildren about the "good ol' days" – but overall, the Oasis founder embraced his set-time and showed the festival what a true legacy act looks like.
On the other end of the scale, Fleet Foxes failed to match the energy either side of their set-time in Glass Animals and Flume, with the Seattle indie-rock outfit's most celebrated single Mykonos being the only moment to draw any reception from the crowd despite the acclaim of their 2017 record Crack-Up. Similarly, while I understand Falls Festival's reasoning in booking Daryl Braithwaite for a festival slot in 2017/2018 (#memes), his set at Falls Festival felt just as out-of-place as it did on paper, with the somewhat legendary Australian songwriter choosing to leave Horses until the end of his set to keep the far younger crowd enthused while he dotted between other singles from the late-80s. When it did eventually play, Horses did manage to conjure up the biggest singalong of the festival. However, I can't help but feel that this timeslot would've been better used by a more recent artist, or elevating another act from the much smaller Valley Stage to a main-stage slot (like Camp Cope, Alex Lahey and Julia Jacklin, for example).
All these large-scale bookings aimed to trigger nostalgia within the Falls Downtown grounds and bring back what a true, 'authentic' large-scale festival should feel and sound like after the death of our great music events, and for the most part, they succeeded. However, while these bookings brought in the big crowds to the main stage, it was those early afternoon acts of the future which won us over the most. Launching into their set before the gates even opened on day one, Confidence Man brought their energetic and ravey flavour to the west for what was the most explosive festival start yet, bouncing between unreleased teases and released highlights such as Better Sit Down Boy and Boyfriend while Janet Planet and co. leapt across the stage with energy. Alex Lahey, fresh from releasing her internationally acclaimed debut I Love You Like A Brother last year, also proved to be one of the best sets of the two-day affair, jumping straight into things with a hat-trick of favourites including I Love You Like A Brother, Perth Traumatic Stress Disorder, and Lotto In Reverse. Her live presence was commanding and unbeatable, matching the energy she brought on her much-loved debut album which has us begging for a follow-up in 2018.
Methyl Ethel's homecoming show was a celebration of all things Perth, with Fremantle songwriter and national favourite Stella Donnelly stepping up on guitar duties as they blitzed through tracks largely taken from their 2017 success Everything Is Forgotten – set closer Ubu perhaps most notably. Glass Animals also proved unbeatable towards the end of the night, with the English four-piece giving Falls Downtown their everything for an energetic and lively hour slot which was unmatched across the two days, while Slumberjack had a homecoming return of their own sorts down at the distant Valley Stage.
On day two, Detroit musician Flint Eastwood was similarly energetic, confidently powering through her set which was full of authentic flavour and self-empowering messages (which peaked with the anthemic set closer Queen), while Vince Staples charged through his late-afternoon main-stage set which affirmed the Californian rapper as one of the genre's most animated and inventive. The biggest talking point of day two, however, came from Melbourne rock three-piece Camp Cope. After altering one of the lines of their empowering single The Opener to read "It's another man saying we cant fill up a tent, it's another fucking festival booking only nine women" (referencing Falls Festival's failure in only booking nine women on its initial first announcement), the passionate trio was the centre of an at-times hateful discussion on gender representation, sexual assault and festival culture which seemed to swallow all mentions of Falls Festival in their week break before Falls Downtown. "We're Camp Cope and we've made a lot of people mad this week," is how lead singer Georgia Maq opened Camp Cope's sensational hour-of-power at Falls Downtown, which only grew and grew as the group continued to showcase why they are one of the most important acts in Australia. They were powerful and confident on stage and considering their talents and the crowd size they drew (which was a feat for a stage with no shade in a hot afternoon), you can't deny they didn't deserve the main stage.
On the headliners front, Falls Festival surprisingly delivered two acts which stepped away from the line-up's overwhelmingly indie-rock feel – Run The Jewels and Flume. Flume, an incredibly safe yet smart booking for an Australian festival headliner, stripped back his Skin live show to its rawest format to celebrate his final show of the lengthy, international tour. With no special guests in tow (Vince Staples and KUČKA were both playing sideshows in the eastern states), Flume proved that he didn't need big names for his live show to stand-out (a stark contrast to his headline shows at Laneway Festival, in which he was joined by Vince Staples, KUČKA and Kai), walking us through his already quite deep discography while also teasing his experimental forthcoming material. Run The Jewels, on the other hand, were a much riskier booking, ultimately lacking the Australian support that Flume has managed to achieve. While the hip-hop pairing of Killer Mike and El-P were not short on energy, the combination of their lack of familiarity and being the final set at the end of a very long two days meant that Run The Jewels just failed to capture the crowd's attention like many acts earlier in the day. Singles including Close Your Eyes (And Count To Fuck) did little to amp up that crowd involvement, which makes me think that perhaps an earlier slot (say, swapping them with Peking Duk) or giving them a headline show instead of a festival is a better move to make for Run The Jewels in Australia.
In what's only their second year in WA, Falls Festival have proved that they have the potential to move into that 'mega-festival' gap currently missing from the west's festival market (which festivals like Splendour make up over east) – something which hasn't been filled since the tumbling fall of Big Day Out, Stereosonic, Future Music and friends a few years back. We're excited to see what the festival heavyweights have on their hands for us in 2019 and beyond – and we very much look forward to some positive steps forward in the diversity department as well.
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