Falls—a two-day teleportation from the current reality of the world to a place of frivolity, escape, love and whole lot of music. Despite the conflict arising in me and many crowd members about attending the beloved Aussie festival while much of this beautiful nation was in flames, the swirling energies and emotions were more potent and crucial to bringing community together—this year more than ever. But it wasn’t a complete disappearance from the world and the devastation with many of the acts travelling from the east coast to deliver us their voices, musical talent, share in precious memories and voice strong messages of solidarity for the victims of the ashen land.
For years, music has given artists a platform to activate change, and audiences a space to feel the words resonate. Sparking emotion, local sweethearts Jack Davies and The Bush Chooks were no exception to this. Despite the band’s ocker tendencies (evident in the name), lyrics of protest and heartache struck deep into the core of fans. With crowd favourites like Vegemite Sandwich, Rosemary Mushrooms and Morning Coffee, everyone felt the power created by the coming together of humble harmonica riffs, breezy acoustic guitar melodies and spitfire words vocalising the unjust state of this world. But rather than quote one of the band’s more volatile hits, Prime Minister, I am drawn to share a musing passage that entered my field while formulating this article. For generations of the future, this is how the people of Australia and the world are feeling as a collective during the decimation brought by the 2019-2020 bushfires, and on a smaller scale the feeling shadowing Falls 2020.
“I am washing my face before bed while a country is on fire.
It feels dumb to wash my face, and dumb not to.
It has never been this way, and it has always been this way.
Someone has always clinked a cocktail glass in one hemisphere as someone loses a home in
another while someone falls in love in the same apartment where someone grieves.
The fact that mundanity, and beauty coincide is unbearable and remarkable.”
– Mari Andrew
Though there’s a place for sobering conversations and moments of reflection, Mari Andrew surmises the duality of humanity. It’s easy to feel guilt and shame for indulging at a time of heartache and loss, but the world also needs play, gratitude, and love —so the party kicked off when Baker Boy graced the stage. An assortment of 23-year-old Danzal Baker’s discography got crowds bouncing, eventually losing themselves in the swag of Cool As Hell and In Control.
Australian goddess Vera Blue brought her own flare to the stage—her inferno dress a subtle reminder of the emerging tragedies, matching not only her infamous lioness mane, but also her fiery nature. Although climate change and associated protests were headlining the news in 2019, this singer-songwriter had other messages to share. Steering away from her earlier heartbreak ballads, she drew material mostly from her 2017 release Perennial. She shared some unreleased treasures that had the crowd in an empowered state, raring to go for the moment the synth riff bled into the a muted Celtic-esque rap, before exploding into a war cry for women as Regular Touch took the show out.
From one Australian gem to another, the crowd was hyped for the moment the man from their grandparent’s cassette tapes would materialise in his iconic pin stripe suit jacket, waistcoat and salmon button-up. But more legendary than belting out You’re the Voice among a sea of festival-goers perched on shoulders, the occasional crowd surfer, and many drunkards was Farnham’s commentary. As hecklers howled for this alternate national (rock) anthem, he responded by saying, “If I do it now you’re just going to piss off and leave me with the crickets and frogs.” Though crass, this banter had nothing on the minor temper tantrum that landed the 70 year old rock icon in hot water when he called out punters for not being up to snuff for his rendition of AC/DC’s It’s A Long Way to the Top (If You Wanna Rock ‘N’ Roll) in Lorne a week earlier.
Rightly so, after his major hit was done, crowds thinned and made their respective ways to German duo Milky Chance and Aussie indie rockers Holy Holy. Catching the tail end of the Aussie lads, people were in awe when front men Timothy Carroll and Oscar Dawson welcomed songstress Montaigne to the stage for their Like A Version collab on Lorde’s hit Greenlight. The boys finished on a high, closing with Teach Me About Dying from their 2019 record My Own Pool of Light.
Also gracing the stages with some new material, Milky Chance from Kassel, Germany made their return to Australia off the back of their latest album Mind The Moon. Having released teaser tracks from the new record throughout the year, songs like Fado, Rush and The Game as well as the band’s daydreamy collab with Tash Sultana tantalised fans who went mad for the nostalgia of Sadnecessary, Flashed Junk Mind, Down by the River and of course the title track of the album that started it all Stolen Dance. The summery swing of the guitar and husky vocals of 2016 single Cocoon was also a favourite from the pair.
Heading across the North Sea, all the way from Iceland, the big sound of Of Monsters and Men played to the backdrop of the Fremantle sunset. It’s been almost half a decade between releases and near on a decade since the ensemble topped global charts with Little Talks when they burst onto the music scene in 2012. The 2019 record Fever Dream is heavier than their earlier ethereal sound, with a subtle play between light and dark. The latest from the group is beautifully crafted and speaks to the evolution of the band, though I think many will agree when I say nothing will surpass the hit filled album My Head Is an Animal, evident in the rise of energy when original tracks including Dirty Paws, King And Lionheart, Mountain Sound and Sloom took people back to their high school years, losing themselves in the shiver-inducing harmonies of Nanna Bryndís Hilmarsdóttir, and singer and guitarist Ragnar “Raggi” Þórhallsson.
Opting to preserve the mellow vibe created with a trip to the forest with OMAM, Lime Cordiale’s Oli and Louis left Freo Falls-goers in a state of Permanent Vacation—the perfect summer mood—while others amped themselves up for a rave with PNAU. One chilled Australian band to the next, the poppy beat of Temper Temper handed over to the European influenced sound and aesthetic of long-time high school band members from Byron, the people of Parcels. Having since moved from the postcard-perfect east coast destination, the now Berlin-based, French-signed group melded one electropop tune into the next alongside a backdrop of Baroque-era still life paintings that amplified the hypnosis of Tieduprightnow, Bemyself and Lightenup.
With a small gap following Parcels’ electropop transcendence, Peking Duck closed the rave with High, before the quirky poetry of New York’s, Vampire Weekend, Ezra Koenig and the crew didn’t miss a beat playing a balanced set list of new and old to a fault. The Kids Don’t Stand A Chance, Step and Oxford Comma warmed the souls of long-time fans, whilst the groove sound of their 2019 release Father Of The Bride showcased the tempo changes of This Life, guitar mastery of Harmony Hall, My Mistake’s melancholia and playful vocals of Sunflower to close the first day of Fremantle’s Falls 2020.
Usually at a two-day festival, you can expect some level of carnage from day one to be evident the following day. But there’s something to be said about the Fremantle Falls Festival goers—they had respect and good vibes in abundance. Kicking off day two, local alt-indie rockers Great Gable played fans a mix of their discography. Since making their way into the music scene just four short years ago, the guys spent last year touring the country as well as taking their distinct psychedelic surf rock sound overseas. Their impressive performance was followed by Triple J Unearthed High favourites Teen Jesus and the Jean Teasers, who brought a whole lot of ‘90s grunge and attitude, claiming their spot as Unearthed High winners for this year’s Falls Festival.
Last year was a big year for The Japanese House with the release of the Good At Falling record gaining traction for the English indie act. Solo artist Amber Bain brought along a small ensemble to give life to her dreamy electro-pop sound at Falls with songs like Saw You In a Dream and Maybe You’re The Reason popular among the floating crowd. A slightly different sound rang from the Psychedelic Porn Crumpets and their enmeshment of tracks from And Now Time For The Whatchamacallit, but still on theme to enter Dope Lemon’s lucid soundscape. From start to finish, Angus Stone lifted and mellowed the energy, dancing between the Honey Bones and Smooth Big Cat (complete with a Big Cat mascot), taking it out with Uptown Folks.
As with all great festival line-ups, favourite artists are bound to clash and compromises with mates or even yourself need to be made. Dead set on catching at least some of the allusive #1 Dads, crowds hightailed it from the main stage just in time for So Soldier and Camberwell, making it back to the main area to be pulled in by the Gemini Queen’s drama. BANKS, her dancers, the melodramatic choreography and sultry presence had the crowd enraptured as if with each note, tilt of her torso, and brooding gaze she were a witch casting a spell over her followers.
It would be remiss not to mention rising sensation Lewis Capaldi, though even the man himself admitted his one-hit-wonder status. I will say that during his performance, something I thought would be difficult to beat was the sea of bodies on shoulders during John Farnham’s anthem the day prior. But when the first bars of Someone You Loved rang out, it seemed there was not one square metre where there wasn’t someone lifted to a higher vantage point. I decided to save the one shoulder ride allowance I’d graced my mate with for the moment Matt Corby stole the show. As the sun made its descent, I experienced what many male festival-goers endure—the simultaneous weight and elevation of hoisting someone to great heights. Corby, looking more dad-like than ever in his Hawaiian shirt treated the audience to his rendition of Roy Ayer’s Everybody Loves the Sunshine, before completing his set with Rainbow Valley’s title track as a myriad of colours glinted on stage.
In the final hours of Freo Falls 2020, nostalgia hung in the air. If you hadn’t been transported back to your teenage years, falling into the softness of the Australian sweetheart’s eyes, then the dance mix Disclosure had prepared would surely do the trick.
The boys didn’t mess around with building hype, exploding into dance with When A Fire Starts To Burn. Possessed bodies danced manically, non-stop for the next hour. The only pause came with the taunting of the opening bars of Sam Smith’s iconic beat Latch which ticked over in slo-mo five or six times before releasing the inner high schooler in all of us.
This year the Falls line-up was packed with Australian snacks, but one international act crowds were hankering for was New Jersey-born artist Halsey. The blazing woman in multicoloured clothes belted out Graveyard, an unreleased track and her award winning hit Without Me. Off the back of her AMA win, the swelling crowd was a testament to the sentiment of her acceptance speech just months earlier. Something that resonates for all artists at all career levels is that trophies masquerading as “ultimate validation” for bringing song to life is a fairy tale, and the real magic happens when making music for fans and indulging in moments of interaction with those people.