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Written by on 3 February 2016

As soon as they gates opened, Laneway 2016 started with Groeni in the main stage. Clad in modern medieval robes, they were pumping out their nuanced dance-folk, but it is a sound that sits better at 6am with the sun coming up than at midday with the sun blazing down. Instead, I headed off to the Cactus Cat stage to see Christchurch ex-pat Nadia Reid, with full band in tow. Her record has been getting rave reviews overseas, and she is definitely set for Big Things. Her strong voice and somewhat detached take on love songs reminded me of Martha Wainwright. That’s a good thing.
Then it was back to the main stage for Leisure’s first ever set. Think Tame Impala playing bbq reggae. That’s not a slight, more a prediction that these guys will be the sound of summer festivals for years to come. But they won’t be playing first up, probably in the headline slots.

Lontalius was on the Cactus Cat stage next, with his swoon-worthy Eno dance. A great Anika Moa cover was a set highlight. With one song to go, I went round the corner to the All Seeing Hand, who had started to drown out Eddie anyway. The Thunderdome was the perfect spot for them, a low ceiling concrete silo that held in all the bass and all the weed smoke. It was one of those total body experiences. I caught a bit of the end of DIIV, which was a nice sound track for talking to friends from far away places. HEALTH then took to the main stage in an appropriately loud and offensive way. They pumped out their gristle-core electro, but it was hard to reconcile the three guys on stage (guitar, bass, drums) with the sound that they were producing.

I had a bit of a break before running across the site upon hearing the opening bars of Shamir’s “Vegas”. Alongside a full band, he tore into the hits from his 2015 album “Ratchet”, including “On the Regular” and “In For The Kill” and “Make A Scene”. The mid-afternoon heat was an odd time for music that looks back to dark disco clubs, but Shamir managed to pull it off. After that, The Internet brought their very funky hip-hop to the main stage. A crowd favourite, Syd the Kid had the audience singing back large chunks of the songs to her. I then had my second run of the day, bolting across site to the Cactus Cat stage to catch Vince Staples. His DJ started well, with Drake’s “Energy” getting the ample crowd pumped. A couple of tracks later, Staples came out like a rapping wacky waving inflatable arm man, bouncing around the stage, limbs in every direction, all the while managing to stick to his flow. The sound was a little disappointing – Vince’s mic seemed to be quieter than that of his DJ, meaning it was difficult for those who didn’t know the words by heart to follow what he was saying. But his between song chats were fantastic, giving shout outs to all the Anglo-Saxons, and starting a rousing round of “fuck the police”. I got back to Battles in time to see their last couple of songs, including “Tonto”. They were good, much the same as when I last saw them at a Big Day Out many moons ago.

Hudson Mohawke, performing as a three-piece, were the first taste of the EDM that was creeping in over the evening’s program. I then got into the Thunderdome for the start of Silicon. Kody started with “Personal Computer”, jumped straight into the crowd with a wireless mic, pushed his way through the masses and out the back. He didn’t come back for the next song, “Cellphone”, or the one after. At that point I left – but it turns out he was busy scaling the silo, climbing an ambulance, that sort of thing.

Back to the main stage for Grimes. The biggest crowd of the day thus far, as was to be expected. After opening with the first track from Art Angels, “laughing and not being normal”, Grimes came out to join her two dancers and one back up singer and launched into “Flesh Without Blood”. “Genesis” and “Oblivion”, the two biggest tracks from her previous album Visions, and the dubstep-heavy “Go”, were the only songs that didn’t come from Art Angels. Without Taiwanese rapper Aristophanes, Grimes rapped her parts from “Scream” in Russian, before “Butterfly” and “Realiti” got the crowd bouncing. At one point, she stopped singing mid-sentence with a “fuck”, then ran back up to tinker with her Gaia Workstation. The song continued, but it was a brief reminder that none of this was pre-programmed. It was the vision of a very talented, determined musician who is at the top of her game at the moment.

The biggest scheduling conflict was putting Beach House on at pretty much exactly the same time as Grimes. As soon as she was done, I sprinted across to the Cactus Cat stage, where I was able to see the last 3 songs from the Baltimore band. They were all excellent, and made me curse the scheduling computer once again for having to put one artist against another. Back to the main stage for most of the rest of CHVRCHES. They’re kind of similar to Grimes, in that they are female-fronted electronic dance music. But while the former looks to the future, CHVRCHES are rooted firmly in the past. While it translates well to a big festival crowd, and the luminescent visuals were very good, it just doesn’t work for me. The kids loved it, but maybe they should go home and listen to some Erasure.

The final act, and a surprise highlight, was Purity Ring, closing out the Cactus Cat stage. In the centre of the stage was a plinth with Corin Roddick, and in front of him, 8 polygons raised up on stands. These were the 8 keys of what looked like a xylophone from Tron, which not only played notes, but lit up when hit. On each of the two sides of this was a huge tangle of lights hanging from the roof of the stage. These went on and off, in a variety of colours, and in a dazzling array of patterns. The singer, Megan James, wearing a drapery cape that floated in the gentle breeze, worked the stage with the bands unique slow-core cold-wave sound. Big builds, euphoric synth stabs, but often without the easy out of an EDM-drop. Their set was phenomenal, and I can’t recommend seeing them highly enough. It was a fantastic way to finish off what was a great day of music, in what was a very well-organised festival environment.

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