Falls Festival Downtown review: two days of musical and glittery excess a triumph in Fremantle

Picture: Rachel Fenner
Picture: Rachel Fenner

AN optimist and a pessimist (try and guess which is which), but both music lovers, were each sent along to a day of Falls Festival Downtown in Fremantle over the weekend. Here’s how they saw it.

Day one, Saturday – Rachel Fenner

The first time I went to a festival was when I was 15 in the year 2000 (I’m ageing myself here) and the more things have changed, the more they have stayed the same.

At Falls Festival on Saturday the bands were there, the moshpit was there and there were the usual intoxicated crowds – the lines to get in snaked down the street and this led to multiple complaints.

However, the style at Falls Festival is more Coachella than Soundwave.

Since my first festival there has been a subtle shift from people attending because they love live music, to people attending to show off the latest fashion and their arse cheeks.

My concert buddy offered to glitter my face before we got on the train on Saturday. I politely declined her request, however after a drink or two, I was happy to fork out $20 to have my cheekbones glittered.

It wasn’t just the women morphing into human disco balls – men were also getting their beards and faces glittered.

Apparently, we were there to listen to music though.

Methyl Ethyl are the band everyone is talking about – their song Ubu is a favourite to come in high in the Triple J hottest 100 countdown and it was their energetic performance of this song that got the crowd pumping.

Next up, Daryl Braithwaite put that lacklustre Arias performance behind him and sounded amazing belting out “the cricket song” Howzat from his Sherbet days.

However, the crowds were there to hear Horses.

Patrons enjoy Falls Festival and await Horses by Daryl Braithwaite. Picture: Matt Jelonek/Getty Images

“Play Horses, Daryl,” people kept shouting.

Thankfully Daryl did just that and a satisfied crowd performed a rousing sing-a-long.

His decades-long career was recognised at the end of his set and a throng of thousands sang Happy Birthday.

We joined the masses and visited the Valley Stage to jump along to the Thundamentals. Their performance of Sally was a highlight.

Back at stage one, we were in time to watch The Smith Street band perform an amazing cover of The Killers song When You Were Young.

Rapper Allday, aka Tom Gaynor, proved that Australian rap can be good.

Angus and Julia Stone’s valium smooth sounds provided a lovely break from a hectic day.

Highlights from their set included – The Motels-esque Snow, Nothing Else and the classic Big Jet Plane – which resulted in another massive crowd led sing-a-long.

I assumed Flume would open with mega hit Holding On, but this song was ignored in favour of audience favourites Say It and Never Be Like You.

Flume. Picture: Getty Images

Beforehand, I’d wondered how Flume, aka Harley Edward Streten, could be a headline act. However, a sharply produced lightshow and his sheer enthusiasm for performing dispelled my doubts.

Falls day one ended with an explosion of streamers and a satisfied crowd.

Day two, Sunday – Stuart Horton

Messages of unity, congratulations for surviving 2017 and putting an end to sexual assault were as prevalent as the music, excess glitter, bad facial hair and charity shop threads at Falls Downtown on Sunday.

Every member of Adelaide rock band Bad//Dreems wore T-shirts adorned with anti-sexual assault messages, as did Dune Rats singer Danny Beausa, while Killer Mike of American hip-hop act Run the Jewels told the crowd he would have security “kick your punk a** out and drop you on your f****** face” if he saw anyone inappropriately touch another crowd member; it was a serious and sobering message for an otherwise fun and light event, prompted by the alleged sexual assault of a female punter at Falls Festival in Lorne, Tasmania.

A high of 32C did nothing to temper the enthusiasm of the thousands through the gate early on Sunday, with a healthy crowd moshing its way through Bad//Dreems as they smashed out their 40-minute set of self-described ‘outsider rock’.

The 1.30pm time slot seemed harsh on English indie rock/pop quartet Everything Everything, given their last three albums have all reached the top 10 in the UK and the last two have charted well in Australia. The sparse crowd didn’t stop the Manchester-based lads from running through an excellent and tight set that dipped into all four of their albums, kicking off with Night of the Long Knives and Desire from latest release A Fever Dream.

Cough Cough was well received by those in attendance, and the crowd grew in size through Regret Regret, Get to Heaven, Big Game, Spring/ Sun/ Winter/ Dread and Kemosabe. Punters reacted favourably to lead single from A Fever Dream, Can’t Do, before closing with the brilliant No Reptiles and Distant Past.

Brisbane trio Dune Rats won’t be changing the world anytime soon with their energetic two-minute post-grunge tunes about drugs, drinking and partying, but they make listening to the same three chords over and over bloody fun. A giant inflatable beer can bobbed over the mosh pit like a piece of driftwood caught in the breakers as they ran through sing-a-longs Red Light Green Light, Superman, Scott Green, Dalai Lama Big Banana Marijuana, Braindead and Bulls***. They even sprung a surprise by introducing Perth rapper Drapht for Mexico, a song featuring the trio from his 2016 album Seven Mirrors.

UK soul collective Jungle brought the tempo down somewhat, dropping in a couple of new tracks as well as running through their 2014 eponymous debut, the biggest cheers reserved for Busy Earnin’ and Time.

American rapper Vince Staples had the crowd in the palm of his hand as he bounced energetically through a set that drew heavily from 2017’s highly acclaimed Big Fish Theory before former Oasis frontman Liam Gallagher took the willing masses back to the halcyon days of Britpop.

Vince Staples. Picture: Matt Jelonek/Getty Images

Gallagher, dressed in trademark duffel coat despite the heat, and his band took to the stage to F*****’ in the Bushes from Oasis’ 2000 album Standing on the Shoulder of Giants before launching into Rock ‘n’ Roll Star and Morning Glory. With his voice sounding as if it was 1996 again, and the audience immediately onside, he dipped into Greedy Soul, Wall of Glass, Bold and Paper Crown from his 2017 solo release As You Were. If Gallagher’s set proved anything it’s that he and brother Noel stand to make a lot of money should they decide to reform Oasis for a reunion tour as there is clearly still an audience for them.

This point was rammed home as he closed with Cigarettes and Alcohol and the group’s ubiquitous smash hit Wonderwall, which he needn’t have bothered singing as barely a voice in the crowd was silent throughout.

Liam Gallagher. Picture: Matt Jelonek/Getty Images

From Gallagher’s tried and tested sound the tempo shifted to the we’re-not-quite-sure-what-we-want-to-do of Foster the People, a band who gained prominence with 2011 debut Torches thanks to the bouncy but deceptively dark hit Pumped Up Kicks. The band has some wonderfully crafted indie pop songs – Helena Beat, Houdini, Call it What You Want, and the excellent Coming of Age – but they seemed lost in a set that for some reason included a cover of the Ramones’ Blitzkreig Pop and closed with the high energy pseudo-dubstep number Loyal Like Sid and Nancy.

Frontman Mark Foster also took a few minutes to preach unity to the crowd, calling on individuals to set the tone for change in the world caught in seemingly endless narrative of divisive politics and tension in 2017. It was a noble sentiment that could have come off as self indulgent, but it was put in the shade by Peking Duk’s intro, which re-wrote the rules for self indulgence. Apparently the Canberra party starters needed three intro videos, including a pre-recorded message from Richard Wilkins, before taking the stage, which seemed massively over the top for a couple of blokes who spent the majority of their set behind some decks playing other peoples’ songs.

Despite working the crowd into a frenzy with their energy, the biggest cheers of their set were reserved for mixes of White Stripes’ Seven Nation Army and Run DMC’s It’s Tricky. The pair switched to instruments to run through their own radio favourites, Say My Name, Take Me Over, Stranger, Fake Magic and Feels Like.

British rock band the Kooks seemed an odd choice to headline and close one of the main stages, given they’ve had middling success in Australia and haven’t released an album in three-and-a-half years (not counting last year’s Best Of… So Far). It was a feeling perhaps many in the crowd also harboured as it took about 20 minutes for the masses to warm up to them, but they got there thanks in part to the energy of frontman Luke Pritchard. The crowd was fully involved and in full voice by the time the band reached favourites Naive, She Moves in Her Own Way, Always Where I Need to Be and Seaside.

The Kooks. Picture: Matt Jelonek/Getty Images

The night, and the festival, ended on a high note (pun intended) with Run the Jewels, arguably the most relevant and edgy hip-hop act in the world today. Killer Mike and El-P slayed as they launched immediately into Talk to Me, Legend Has It and Call Ticketron from Run the Jewels 3. The duo also dipped into Run the Jewels and Run the Jewels 2Sea Legs, Oh My Darling (Don’t Cry) and Close Your Eyes (And Count to F***) – but mostly drew from their latest release as jewel runners threw up their pistols and fists. Stay GoldDon’t Get Captured and Panther Like a Panther kept the intensity high, while things were brought down a notch for the more mellow A Report to the Shareholders/Kill Your Masters and Thursday in the War Room, arguably the highlight of the night. They even slipped in Nobody Speak, the pair’s 2016 collaboration with DJ Shadow.

Down looked set to close out the evening before the baying crowd chanted for “one more song” and the duo, accompanied by DJ Trackstar, happily returned for an encore of A Christmas F***** Miracle.

Falls promoters deserve praise for their choice of Fremantle Oval as venue, with the historic Morton Bay fig trees providing respite from the searing heat and the terraces offering punters a place to rest their feet between sets. The central location was easy to get to and from, and traffic was barely an issue despite the thousands leaving en masse at the same time.