In a state of nostalgia, we're looking back on what Splendour In The Grass has meant for our Editor over the last 13 years and what it has done for Australians and Australian music.
It's that time of the year where I'd normally be preparing for 4 days of Splendour In The Grass … heart-stopping music, THAT hill, frosty nights, waking up sweating in a tent, step counts through the roof, the smell of compost toilets, minimal sleep... And while I don't buy into superstitions, I'm feeling a little nostalgic right about now as my 13th Splendour has been put on hold.
There's no doubt 2020 has impacted all our lives, from work to home life, relationships and finances - it's been a 6 month journey of unrest and surprises. The ripple effect we've seen from COVID has been like nothing else in our time. Industries that were striving have been disrupted, others less resilient have been almost wiped out. It's shown vulnerabilities in what was the 'normal' while also making us all reflect on what our lives are, where we were going, what we were doing and how we want to live moving forward.
This isn't another piece on COVID don't worry. While I say that, I also understand for many this has been an incredibly tough time and that shouldn't be underestimated. It's been a mental battle for many and if you're feeling overwhelmed and anxious now, I hope you feel that you can reach out to people and talk about it. There are a number of platforms and services for people in Australia to talk to someone and I've put some links below if you feel they may be relevant to you.
The music, arts and culture industries both in Australia and globally have been hit hard. We've seen venues close, tours and festivals cancelled and various artists across many mediums struggling. At the same time we've seen a lot of camaraderie and innovative, creative digital media outlets pop up from Isol-aid Festival to virtual gallery experiences.
While I've had trips postponed, gigs cancelled and adjustments to the new normal in my working life, what really hit home recently for me was the 12 month reassignment of Splendour In the Grass. Over the last 13 years, this winter festival has become a core component to my year. I understand the privilege I've had in being able to go to such a festival for so many years - this isn't a 'woe is me' piece. What I've felt though is a bit lost in the lead up to July where instead of packing my tent, gumboots and a heavy coat for 4 days of absolute joy, instead I'm distanced from friends, family and normality. Splendour for me has been a yearly celebration with friends, family, old faces. It’s music, art, fashion and one big love fest - cliché but true.
Splendour was due to celebrate its 20th anniversary next week, a huge achievement in an industry that has seen drastic changes over the last two decades. While Splendour wasn't the first major festival player in Australia, its unique structure and format as a multi-day festival made it stand out in the Australian music scene. It's always offered audiences an access to music and arts like no other, and through this, it has stood the test of time to become the most successful and long standing local festival - a rite of passage for many Australians young, old and the like.
In the last 13 years, I’ve seen the festival grow, evolve and be tested. I've been in the crowd as bands and artists break. I've seen other acts disband and call it a day. I’ve seen festival fashion evolve (not always for the best). I've seen social media change the game. I’ve seen 16 year olds who seem to get younger (feeling old now... ) and 40 years olds who behave like peter pan. I've seen children of Splendour grow up. I’ve seen enough mud to last me a lifetime and I'm still finding glitter on clothes 10 years later (that shit just doesn't wash out). I've perfected the fastest routes between stages so as to not miss a second of an act. I've broken in pairs of cons and had them fall apart years later. I've worked on the festival programme, interviewing bands, doing write ups, creating those crosswords and horoscopes for you all (yes afraid to say your astrological guide wasn't entirely true...). I've seen bands with my parents, siblings and friends. I've also seen the trials, the change of venues, the layout adjustments, the unrelenting rain, the increase of crowds, gridlocked cars and the change of music scene. I've graduated high school, I've finished 2 degrees, I've lived overseas but the one constant in my life is that that Splendour was there every July.
My first Splendour was a week after my 16th birthday. It was 2007, 7 years into the production and I was right in the thick of my high school years with a thirst for music. At that stage I don't think you'd say it was quite yet a rite of passage for kids - not like today. What made it incredibly special was that I was a kid with a backstage pass to the biggest rising indie rock festival in Australia and it opened my eyes to the world beyond school and behind the scene. A young Bloc Party and Arctic Monkeys headlined the stage that year as Brit indie was THE hottest thing. Powderfinger were still together and Hilltop Hoods were just some youngish lads who were carving out a name for themselves in Australian Hip Hop. Belongil Fields was home, and for 2 days 17,500 punters were screaming for music. While I had no official role for a backstage pass it became my key over the years to see it all and soak it all up. My 16 year old heart skipped a beat when Alex Turner and I watched Bloc Party together backstage, my gumboots and I became one with each other and I fell in love with the atmosphere and the buzz of the production backstage.
What most punters don't see is the beautiful annual show behind the scenes - a well rehearsed production with fewer key roles than you'd probably expect. The truth is, while it takes a village to pull it off, it's held together by a handful of amazing people. It's all 'calm before the storm' and action station in the week leading up - there's last minute urgent requests, traffic control nightmares and incoming artists. There's this magic seeing the fields empty, untouched and un-littered, the last minute stage touches, the sound checks, the vendor set ups and art installations being erected in the night, the freedom of movement before the punters storm through the gates. Fast forward to Day 1 and backstage is filled with the bands, schmoozes, the hanger-oners, the plus ones and the ever growing media tents. If you look close enough though, the true magic really lies between all that, it's how a small team operate to keep it all afloat and running smoothly. There's always fires to be put out, replacement bands every couple of years, media issues and crowd control - but at the end of day it's all about making sure everyone 'out there' is having a good time.
And then there's the music which absolutely has always been numero uno for me. 12 years, a hell of a lot of bands, too many to list thoroughly. Countless moments where my heart was in my throat with complete excitement, lost in a set. I saw all those Australian bands you thought you’d forgotten (Van She, Operator Please, British India, Yves Klein Blue, The Grates, The Panics, The Vines, The Presets, Empire Of the Sun, Architecture in Helsinki, Little Birdy, Dappled Cities, The Middle East (R.I.P), Miami Horror, Lost Valentinos, Cut Copy, Wolfmother (1st iteration), Ernest Ellis, Oh Mercy, Whitley, Cloud Control, The Jezabels, Sparkadia, Gotye, Seekae, and those still thriving (Tame Impala, Violent Soho, Flight Facilities, Flume... the list goes on). I’ve also seen incredible sets from international bands … performing exclusively to Splendour crowds.
Splendour has done amazing things for Australian artists, given a platform to many emerging talents on stage, others behind the lens in the photography pit and writers for their magazine and newspapers. They've given visual and physical artists space to create amazing installations and provided platforms for new voices on stage in the forum through programmed debates, discussion and comedy acts. They've got something for everyone, whether it's art, music, fashion, wine bars or chicken schnitty wraps that float your boat.
So yeah, here I am on the cusp of my 30s, reflecting back on how this annual event always brought so much joy to myself and others over the past 20 years. I don't take that opportunity for granted. I've appreciated every moment, I've loved every second of it. I've been thankful to see the countless artists over the years. Thankful for the safe space to be a free music lover. Thankful for the art. Forget the celebrities and wannabees, I'm not there for the gram backstage (although a snap here or two is always warranted), it's always been the music, the Splendour Family and the grace of how it all runs that makes this festival magical. And while there have been countless musical moments, there have also been some personal memorable moments (in no particular order):
Kirin J Callinan - butt naked, swinging from the rafters ... if you know, you know.
Sipping green tea with Albert Hammond Jnr at Woodford
The Palace Toilets - that's right, there is nothing more satisfying than running halfway across the festival just to use toilets with silver taps and flowers in the bathroom!
Sharing cheese boards with Dr Karl + Son
Father John Misty serenades
Strummers with Tony Jones (Q&A love)
Vitamin B Shots, pampering and massages
Friends undercover as Kanye's ballet dancers to the after party...
The boogies - all the boogies.
So thank you Splendour and can't wait to celebrate next year!
Splendour In The Grass 2021 line up is here for the postponed 20th anniversary