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Live Review: Laneway Festival 2019 was a beautifully essential mix of party & politics

7 February 2019 | 4:18 pm | Jackson Langford

St. Jerome’s Laneway Festival has always set itself apart from the pack. It’s one of, if not the only, major Australian festival that truly feels different – year in and year out. Whether it’s the unexpected, interesting venues or the equally unexpected, interesting lineups, Laneway has always garnered the attention of music lovers far and wide – and not just those who want to go to a festival for the fun of it. 2019's Laneway was no different.

With a wonderfully diverse lineup headlined by two of modern Aussie music’s greatest success stories – the euphoric Gang Of Youths and the fearless Courtney BarnettLaneway 2019 was a place for art to truly flourish. Whether it was Mitski’s enigmatic albeit confusing performance which featured strange and endearing choreography meticulously done, or Daniel Johns wearing pink shoulderpads, emerging from a coffin to help out What So Not during his set – Laneway was a strictly ‘anything goes’ policy on stage.

Laneway still had elements that are still very typical for festivals. The relentless energy What So Not fashioned into his set would be right at home at any dance tent. The en-masse sing-a-longs Rex Orange County started were a beautiful, humbling reminder of how music can ~bring ppl together~. The raucous, sweaty crowds of Smith Street Band and Denzel Curry contrasted perfectly with the still, entranced crowds of Jorja Smith and Ravyn Lenae. It was a gorgeous event with something for everyone.

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But Laneway 2019’s shining moments came in its most brave and fearless performers. As a wonderful Indigenous elder of the Gadigal people delivered an empowered Welcome To Country, some singlet-wearing flog had the audacity to yell something to the effect of “shut up and get to the music” much to the dismay of the crowd, who booed him immediately until he walked away, and to the elder delivering the Welcome To Country. In fact, she was not going to take that lying down. She called him out directly, relaying the important of respect of all people before closing with the powerful “always was, always will be Aboriginal land.”

Following that debacle, Baker Boy took to the stage completely unfazed and absolutely tore it down. The Australian Aboriginal flag could be seen held up in the crowd multiple times, as Baker Boy set a completely new standard for what Australian rappers need to deliver to their crowds at festivals. His raps – in both English and traditional Yolngu Matha – were flawless, and his dance moves were unparalleled. Off the back of such blatant disrespect from one foul audience member, it was truly beautiful and inspiring to see a young, black man – who just won Young Australian of the Year FYI – take to the stage with such charisma, talent and effortlessness that would silence all haters.

An act who will never be silenced, however, is Camp Cope, who used their stage time to not only give us a stunning performance in the sweltering heat but to also deliver strong, essential messages for our society right now. Upon finishing their opening number, they took the time – as all acts should – to thank the past, present and emerging traditional owners of the land, before lead vocalist/guitarist Georgia Maq delivered a powerful “Sovereignty was never ceded. Fuck White Australia” to a round of applause. On top of that, she prefaced the band’s heartwrenching ‘The Face Of God’ with an eye-opening and honest speech about how sexual assault is rife at festivals – “there were four rapes at Woodstock in the ‘90s and no one talked about it.” She ended that with “believe women, listen to women.” And as women and queer people made their way to the front of the crowd – a safe space for them to share – it became very clear that Camp Cope weren’t here for games.

When it comes to respecting minorities in such volatile, public places like festivals, game time is well and truly over. The dude-bro behaviour of those white men that routinely disregard the space around them, and disregard those just trying to have a good time, is no longer acceptable and people aren’t going to stand for it.

It shouldn’t be up to Indigenous Elders to call out people disrespecting the Welcome To Country, and it shouldn’t be up to women to tell men not to assault them, but if the majority of Laneway’s crowd is anything to go by, we’re headed in the right direction to a destination where everyone feels safe, loved and able to party.

Photo by Dan Lynch for Purple Sneakers