I really like Silo Park. I'm a fan of urban design that embraces the character of an area's industry and history rather than knocking it down and building a generic plaza on top of it. The whole "revived British port town" flavour actually reminds me of a big, awesome European music festival - and it feels like, circa Round Three, that's what Auckland Laneway is becoming. The crowd is almost at capacity, almost everyone is there to see, you know, bands - and as a punter you get put in the unusual position of having too many acts you want to see, rather than too few.
If anything the fest's biggest challenge was going to be the boxy electronic sound of indie circa 2011 - the likes of Washed Out, Austra, Cults and Twin Shadow all released debut albums that sound like they've been recorded in a bedroom - finicky drum programming and loops and the sort of layers that make for headphone listening. Virtually all of them pull through with aplomb - there's a mannered quirk to Austra's visual aesthetic (the blonde flanked by twin brunettes, standing with a dispassionate Christian rock album-cover distance) that could be pretty make-or-break, but their classically-influenced choral sounds come off really well.
Cults have a dreadful start - single Go Outside sounds rough as guts. But their dogged improvement in the course of a half-hour set is really admirable, and by You Know What I Mean, which sounds fantastic, I feel like I've developed a fresh appreciation for a band I was initially leery about. Meanwhile, Twin Shadow are just ridiculously good - George Lewis's one-man project has been equipped with a band with the chops to give his Prince-meets-Morrissey pastiche the verve it needs - songs like Shooting Holes and Slow find new bridges and crescendos, developing beyond the studio versions without descending into jams. This is how it's done - hopefully he becomes the discovery of the day for a few people.
As for the big guns at the end of the night - Feist sounds technically excellent, but it's not really my bag, so I sneak along to SBTRKT. It's an set that shows you how lazy and self-serious a lot of other dubstep/electronic artists are live, with both Aaron Jerome and his MC messing with their own music in a surprisingly kinetic way, dropping Drake verses over Wildfire as a crowdpleasing gesture and looking genuinely stoked to discover they have Australasian fans.
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I return to the main stages to mistake the Horrors for M83 having a bad soundcheck, which is naturally a bit disappointing, but only an abject miser could hate the French group's subsequent performance, all cartoon neon shoegaze writ impossibly large and crystal clear. After this, Gotye can't help being more a punchliner than a headliner (the name even sounds a bit like some sort of Dutch version of Candid Camera) - sure, the band set-up and sound is super professional, but this is such rootsy Triple J slow-jam afternoon music and everyone only knows the Kimbra song. Just an odd choice, I guess.
Still, a pretty remarkable day. Feedback for next year would be a bit more work on the scheduling and a lot more shade (I had to go to bed wearing lots of damp cloths, the sort of horrible vision that must surely move a promoter with a soul to take action). Otherwise, man this is good. The sort of festival I wanted when I was 18, here for real.
What: St Jerome's Laneway Festival
Where: Silo Park, Auckland
When: 30 January 2012