Words: Ken Magno
Photography: Josh Ma
Somewhere between humidity and anticipation, the sweat and nerves started kicking in as we made our way to the Sydney’s 17th Edition Laneway Festival. Discussions leading up to the big day revolved around one question: “Will this be able to hold up a torch to the previous year?” – 2023’s Laneway Festival hosted many great names such as Finneas, Phoebe Bridgers, Joji and the overnight EDM sensation Fred Again, the bar seemed impossibly high to meet, though much to our delight, the atmosphere we walked into was the perfect blend of high-octane energy and on stage theatrics that made even the 34 degree heat bearable.
Walking through the entrance, we were welcomed by a cooling mist spread over the whole outdoor area; hordes of young people clad in their jorts, vintage button up tops and doc martens dancing under the sun showers while the music from the four main halls thundered around the venue. We made our way to the first stop of our schedule, the Everything Ecstatic stag featuring Western Sydney’s very own FRIDAY*, one of Sydney’s hidden gems in the local music industry and soon to be superstar. FRIDAY* has made his way through the ranks of Sydney’s underground scene and proven himself time and time again that he is here to stay. Songs like ‘Beaming’ that were reminiscent of a teenage summer and a surprise guest spot from Dylan Atlantis, another local hero, on ‘Concern’, to a spell binding performance of ‘Radiohead’, the audience screaming “I can’t forget about you – I don’t know if you want me to” as if we had all hit the climax of a 2010’s coming-of-age film. FRIDAY* provided the perfect start to what we knew was going to be an unforgettable day.
We then proceeded to the main stages, Good Better Best & Never Let It Rest, where Aussie Rock legends Vacations & Teenage Dads played back-to-back on the joint stages, filling out the main hall where the two stages were located. Laneway had perfected the art of making sure that there were minimal gaps between sets, and the two bands made sure to keep the crowd up and their feet with Vacations closing out with crowd favourite ‘Midwest’ and Teenage Dads electrifying the stage with ‘Sunburnt’.
Back on the parallel side of the showgrounds, Los Angeles hip hop duo Paris Texas earned the Everything Ecstatic stage name with a bass pounding set. The crowd went – in the most respectful and polite way to say – absolutely feral. Mosh pits were opening up left right and centre, the duo even pushing for more despite the ‘No Moshing or Crowd Surfing’ signs. Even Laneway staff turned a cheeky blind eye at the sight of beautiful musical mayhem that was unfolding to the distortion heavy Californian act.
We then went back into the main hall to catch a glimpse of Cordae, who was bouncing around the stage in his stylish fit, being as humble as ever as he led the crowd through his anthemic rap hits such as ‘RNP,’ ‘Chronicles’, and even a tribute to the late Juice WRLD with their Lyrical Lemonade directed track ‘DOOMSDAY’. He then proceeded to spend some time walking through the crowd after his set, aiming to meet as many of his fans and spend some time getting to know everyone, a rare sight to see with names as big as his.
Over on the Hope Springs stage, the fresh faced D4vd graced the stage. D4vd had grown into his own as an artist with a collection of his songs becoming viral on TikTok, among them being ‘Romantic Homicide’ and ‘Here With Me’, a song that he had enlisted some help performing on stage from his younger sister Emily. The crowd swayed in awe of his energy and talent towards his songs, singing his lyrics at the top of their lungs in unison above the melodic instrumental atmosphere provided by his backing band. Following was a passion filled back-to-back performance from two of the UK’s most notable acts, Raye & AJ Tracey back on the main stages. Raye’s mesmerising vocal runs and energetic pop style was put on full display, with the help from her equally powerful band providing a huge sound that helped match her energy through hits ‘Prada’ and ‘Escapism’. AJ Tracey had sparked the crowd with his dynamic performance, heavy hitting track ‘Seoul’ running through the subwoofers giving the crowd a well needed energy hit as we headed towards the headliners. “Thiago Silver is coming” repeated AJ to the crowd throughout his set, a promise that he delivered with the help of an eager fan from the crowd to deliver an explosive ending.
The sun was setting, and the moment many audience members had been waiting for was finally here. The triple headline had begun, with Dominic Fike taking the Never Let It rest stage with a gigantic display of LIFE Magazine covers filling the screen behind him. Since his last trip to Australia in 2019, coming off his newsworthy Columbia signing and EP Release ‘Don’t Forget About Me Demos’, Fike has released 2 albums that have come to a great reception, whilst also having made appearances of HBO’s Euphoria (Elliot’s Song is a guilty favourite, despite some other fans thoughts) and featuring on the soundtrack of two of 2023’s biggest feature films, Barbie & Spider-man: Across the Spider-verse. With his effortless charm, Dominic Fike made up for the time he had been away, even joking about buying a condo in Sydney. He played his top hits, having the crowd jumping with ‘Antpile’ and his rendition of Paul McCartney’s ‘The Kiss of Venus’, even jumping into the crowds and having a softer moment with his fans during ‘Three Nights’. Though by the end of his set, he proved everyone glued to the barricade from the start of the day in their ‘I Love Dominic Fike’ shirts that the wait was all worth it, closing out with a performance of ‘Why’ that mirrored his Coachella set and set his place as one of the greatest acts that Laneway has seen.
Then as the lights dimmed, a curtain was drawn as Steve Lacy’s familiar drone to his intro song ‘Static’ began to hum through the stage. Lacy then quite abruptly burst into a cover of ‘Killing in the Name Of’, a move that was a welcome surprise to everyone as Steve pranced around on stage in his hoodie and oversized sunnies combo, against all the “take it off” chants happening around him. He then joked around with the audience saying, “I’m so sorry for last night” (in relation to his poorly received Brisbane Laneway performance) and “I’ll never leave you again Sydney”, sounding like a character from his 2022 album Gemini Rights apologising to a loved one that he had wronged, before fittingly heading into his song ‘Helmet’. The rest of Lacy’s set was like a cool breeze through his discography, and to answer the question on everyone’s mind after a certain chart topper was excluded from his previous set, ‘Bad Habit’ finished his performance followed by the song that made its way onto everyone’s 2017 playlist ‘Dark Red’, pleasing both long-time fans and newcomers to his music.
Then the night came to its climax. Everyone’s doubts had been dismissed as UK Grime sensation Stormzy made his triumphant return to Sydney’s stages, accompanied by a symphonic band and backing singers that gave his set just a hint of gospel seeping through the grime beats. As if his performances of crowd favourites ‘Clash’ and ‘Toxic Trait’ weren’t fiery enough, throughout his set he had an astounding display of fireworks, smoke machines and pyrotechnics that gave us an amazing ‘you had to be there moment’, coming to a soft close with his more personal song ‘Blinded by Your Grace Pt. 2’ acting as a false ending, even setting off confetti covering the crowds as they acted as a backing choir to one of his most sentimental songs in his catalogue. The crowd began to slowly disperse, thinking the night had come to an end, until his familiar chuckle could be heard through the speakers along with his infamous tagline. He uttered the word ‘Merky’ with a grin and the goosebumps came, along with the crowd running back like a pack of lions. The instrumental to ‘Vossi Bop’ began and everyone knew they we’re in for a had to be there moment. Sweat dripping off his skin, shirt off and proving to be the larger-than-life persona that he is, Stormzy gave us all the perfect ending to what an amazing festival was already, and through his on-stage presence and theatrics, gave us a moment that is hardly forgettable.