Splendour in the Grass Featuring: Queens of the Stone Age + Interpol + Bloc Party + Moby + Har Mar S

Splendour in the Grass Featuring: Queens of the Stone Age + Interpol + Bloc Party + Moby + Har Mar Superstar + Caribou + Doves + More

Queens of the Stone Age

Day 1 It’s been nine hours since we left Sydney and the only thing keeping me awake is the hot cigarette butt burning between my fingers. As we race over a crest, the glaring sweep of the Byron Bay lighthouse stings our bleary eyes and we know we’ve arrived. Byron Bay is (in)famous for many reasons. Celebrity sightings, a thriving drug culture, multi-million dollar properties, and hippies boarding in shacks are all common. The bush and rainforest in the hinterland offer an unparalleled experience, each turn revealing a scene lifted straight from the pages of National Geographic. The moonlight on the beach at night, though a dreadful cliché, is impossible to explain in words, and the lighthouse that bathes the town with light offers gothic romanticism in spades. So the most dirty/glamorous town in Australia plays host to the most hyped music festival in the country. Splendour tickets sold out in just under 24 hours, driving prices up on Ebay and provoking a war of the scalpers. Fake million-dollar bids were entered, the media got dragged in; in short, it was a shit-fight. We bunk down in a $10-a-night boarding house that is very possibly the last empty room in town. The seat isn’t actually attached to the toilet and the shower creaks every time you step inside. A cast of thousands make random appearances at all hours of the day and night, but everyone is genuine and extremely friendly, and that counts for a lot.

The Living End

Day 2 Still exhausted from the expedition to get here, we stumble dazed into the festival. Shuffling into the main tent, the crowd is slowly building steam as Athlete strut their stuff. Despite rave reviews from the English music press and though everything seems to be in the right place, they don’t do much for me. The melodies and the emotive choruses are there, but perhaps because everything is in the right place, I don’t feel any connection. We next make our way over to the Mix-Up Tent to see Perth outfit Downsyde. The hip-hop scene in Perth is thriving, and Downsyde is one of its prime champions, with a single getting a fair bit of airplay on Triple J, the national youth broadcaster. It’s this track, “Anyone Can Do It”, that causes the biggest ruckus and gets the floor shaking. Still in the Mix-Up tent, we watch as Katalyst delivers a blistering hip-hop and party-tunes DJ set. It’s no easy task to get people on their feet and dancing this early in the proceedings, but Katalyst do an admirable job. Katalyst yield the floor to the Melbourne-based Cut Copy, who have been making (new) waves with their update on a fluoro-’80s sound. Cut Copy almost live up to their reputation, but we amble over to the main tent to see another band of Melburnians. Let me start by saying that the Living End is generally not my bag. I’m just not into the whole Oi-punk-ska thing that the band does so well. But they put on an awesome live show that remains tight and exudes massive energy, an especially difficult task for the dude wielding a double bass. Their performance is so good that someone goes into labor in the midst of it — seriously. But then, maybe she was just pogoing too hard… Few people here know about Har Mar Superstar, so we’re surprised when a tubby guy, over-abundant in confidence, gets on stage and starts throwing out comments like, “Come out to my show. I’ll fuck your girlfriends.” Har Mar impresses many with his live act cum strip-show, and by the time he makes it to “DUI” he has the whole audience grooving along with his peculiar blend of disco, funk, and soul. Dexter from the Avalanches takes over with a DJ set that is criticised by at least one of our travelling party as “too cut-up”. This leads to a huge argument about the relative merits of seamless mixing and whether or not beat-mixing is a concept that should apply to hip-hop sets as well as dance. This far into the day the argument proves too hard for the brain to process, so we stumble over to… …Queens of the Stone Age on the main stage. Opening with the memorable line “Are you ready to fuck?” Josh Homme and Co. belt out their meaty fare. It seems the move from stoner-rock to rock-for-motivated-stoners has served Homme well, and it’s not hard to tell that this is what many of the punters have come to see. Queens rock, and rock hard, the girl on keyboards pulling many a memorable “rock pose.” The whole day can be summed up in her swivelling ponytail.


Day 3 Caribou’s set proves to be one of the standouts of the festival, moving from psychedelic shakedown to hard-rocking riff madness in graceful swoops. Ethereal vocals emerge from nowhere; the musicians are far too busy torturing their instruments and making ever more fantastic sounds to be bothered with something so mundane. But the samples work and the finished product is something well worth writing home to Canada about. Back in the main tent, and next up is Manchester’s Doves. This is one of the sets I’ve been waiting for, but even I grow impatient during the filler, eagerly waiting for a “There Goes the Fear” or “The Man Who Told Everything” to lighten (or gloom) up proceedings. My patience is rewarded, and the latter song performed live is well worth waiting for. Bloc Party turn out to be one of the definitive highlights of the weekend as well, but I guess I’m just a whore for chiming, looping guitars and half-moaned/half-shouted vocals. “This is a song about forgetting, and remembering. And getting wasted.” and they launch into “So Here We Are” remaining as tight as anyone could while letting go of so much.


The build-up during the wait for Interpol is almost unbearable. The main tent fills way beyond capacity and you can see the first evidence of the collective breath of the crowd condensing on the roof of the marquee, dripping down the sides. The guy next to me screams, “It’s the suits!” and we’re on. I wonder for a while what they’ve done with Ian Curtis, as the guy on stage sounds more like Billy Corgan. But then I think about how much post-processing Paul Banks’s vocals must have gone through to sound so hollow on record and I relax into it. Interpol deliver a blistering set that feels incomplete at the end of their allotted hour, but I guess that’s just the nature of festival sets. Back at the Mix-Up tent Pnau spin some heavy dance sounds, rapidly followed by the less tech sound of Gerling on the decks. After doing my best to shake it like a… (you know the rest) in a dark corner of the dance floor, I crawl back around to the main stage to catch the Finn Brothers mid-set. I am just in time to hear them reliving their formative years as Split Enz — they tear through a spirited version of “I See Red”. In stark contrast to this is “Four Seasons”, which they dedicate to Paul Hester, a former Crowded House band-mate who recently committed suicide in a Melbourne park. The sincerity of the performance leaves no room for cynicism: the brothers’ sense of loss for the fallen is impossible to deny. It was a wise move to put Hilltop Hoods in one of the closing slots, as the popularity of their live performances has been snowballing since they took out the number one spot in the annual Triple J Hottest 100. Their reputation is well deserved, especially on the strength of the Melanie Safka-sampling “Nosebleed Section”, which tears the roof off the joint. To me Moby seemed like an odd choice to close the main tent, and by this stage I am so tired that I skip out and take a seat on a bale of hay in the Dance Inc Tipi and chill to some trancey sounds. After a bit of a yarn with some guys from Brisbane I’m beginning to wonder what I’m missing, so I traipse back to hear Moby churning out a pumping cover of “You Shook Me All Night Long”. He may be intentionally brown-nosing to the natives, but he’s got the crowd going in a big way, and rapidly follows this up with “Bodyrock”. It’s good but I’m about to collapse, and so I stagger back through the now-freezing night to crash. Day 4 I drive the first four hours of the nine-hour trip back to Sydney without stopping, caught deep in a strangely focused daze. It’s been a fucking brilliant weekend, and the nagging thought of the working day I’ll have to face tomorrow doesn’t faze me one bit. The lush countryside rolls past my window and by the time we hit the urban fringes of Sydney it’s pitch dark. But I hardly notice.