Postcards / Travel

Our Music Editor Alys Hale’s Splendour in the Grass diary

splendour in the grass 2023

Having been blessed by the weather gods this year, the atmosphere at Splendour in the Grass 2023 was joyous, with palpable excitement. Set against the backdrop of the North Byron Parklands, a myriad of local and international artists graced the stages throughout the three-day celebration of music, and some even graced the RUSSH tent. For those who didn’t make it this year, here is our festival diary, celebrating the best in new music.


Day one

Having found our tent on site and set up with our essentials (a mulberry bag, Aesop sunscreen, a festival map and reusable water bottles) we got our head in the game for the weekend ahead. First through the door was Cub Sport, who were wearing catholic guilt, Prada, and a belt made of cock rings, ‘just in case’. We spoke to the band about their new record and a festival set.

Cub Sport: “The same heart and soul has gone into the new record that has always been there, but it’s come together with dance music. It’s more uplifting than a lot of what we have done before.”

Cub Sport tell us that they were listening to lots of Fred Again, The Blaze and Lana Del Ray when writing Jesus at the Gay Bar which, when we see it live later, makes perfect sense. They prophetically assure us that Come on Mess Me Up will be one of the set highlights, “it always gets the best crowd response.”

We then ran over to watch a beautiful 'Welcome to Country' and get the lay of the land. After a quick pit stop to see Chela DJing, we raced back to our tent to speak to up-and-coming ‘artist for the people’, Gold Fang. Originally from Trinidad and now based in Sydney, Gold Fang tells us that he was humbled by watching the crowd sing his own songs back at him, which, given how lyrically dense some of his songs are, is no mean feat. Gold Fang explains his love of reggae, which comes from the downtime post-festival, as Trinidad is usually Soca-centric – another of his favourite genres “cos I come from it.” Gold Fang explains that “I feel like Damian Marley has steered me into the artist that I have become today.” However, the most charming take away from our chat, aside from his record selections from a road trip (Elton John I’m Still Standing, Damian Marley Welcome to Jamrock and Bob Marley One Love) is his infectious positivity. Gold Fang wants to be a positive influence on his audience, “there are so many problems in the world and I want my music to make people feel good”.

There were a few artists that were non-negotiable that day, Maya and RVG, who both gave incredible and very different performances. Day one also gave us 070Shake, who is universally loved by the RUSSH team. Her performance was incredible, as was her double denim onstage look, complete with leather utility pouch.

We then spoke to RVG – Romy, Ruben and Mark, their self-proclaimed ‘sloppy’ drummer. Romy didn’t know what to expect from a Splendour set, so they are looking forward to seeing Lizzo, Yeah Yeah Yeahs and Danny Brown. According to RVG, a lot more rehearsal went into their latest record, Brain Worms, and the song still feels a lot more fresh to play. RVG have an incredible lyrical style that manages to walk the line between cerebral and emotional, we ask about the lyrical references and they tell us that it was a lot more 90s this time around, with Nirvana’s Insecticide being one influence and Phoebe Bridgers being another. On their lyrical style, Romy explains that “If I did anything too direct, I think I would be bored by it. It’s good to have a bit of playfulness, showmanship and a bit of mystery.” Their new bassist, Izzy, has changed the dynamic and added new vitality. RVG recorded their most recent record overseas and out of their comfort zone, but their temporary discomfort was clearly worth it for the listener. The night then descended into dancing, apparently a small unknown artist called Lizzo ended the evening.


Day two

We woke feeling pretty fresh on day two and even managed to sneak in a ridiculously photogenic swim at Elements of Byron before heading back to work. I use ‘work’ in the most liberal form because talking to artists about their art is nothing if not a joy. Our first band of the day was Automatic, whose synth-driven performance attracted a very committed dance troupe at the front of the GW McLennan stage. We spoke to Izzy, Halle and Lola afterwards about their performance. Automatic hadn’t played a festival before in Australia and enjoyed it as much as Primavera, saying it was intimidating but fun, and it was humbling. “We have a minimal sound, so without guitars we need the audience to give their energy. We feed off of each other.” Automatic relayed that they have no desire to add a guitar to their minimal sound, inspired by the music that they like and a desire to set themselves apart. “We didn’t want to be like the bands that were immediately surrounding us, we wanted to carve our own way. Our tastes are really minimal and we didn’t see any bands with this exact set up.” Automatic want to be the band you go to if you like Kraftwerk, Devo and Gina X. Based on their performance, they achieved that goal.

We then spoke to the self proclaimed ‘Maudlin Man’, Marlon Williams. Repping Christ Church United trackies and Dr Martens, we spoke about the new record and his love of the Bee Gees. “I’ve been getting a bit depressed in Christchurch because it’s winter. But Byron is just perpetually chill.” When asked if he has been getting into the full Byron experience, complete with crystals and downward dogs, Williams reveals that “that’s never going to happen. I just try and sleep as much as I can.” My Boy came out at the end of last year and is a much more upbeat and disco-centric record than what William’s fans may have expected. “I have to alternate between maudlin and not. You make these albums and then you have to wear the funk of them one way or another, so I wanted to wear the funk in a positive way.” Williams explains that he had to not think of what others were expecting of him and be guided by what he was listening too at the time, which was Donna Summer and "a lot of the Bee Gees". We wonder aloud if he can dance and cry at the same time to fuse all aspects of his music, and Williams suggests that there might be a new genre coming…. as well as a new record in New Zealand Māori.

Having been charmed off our feet, we were spoke with the beautiful Arlo Parks, whose gentle presence, holistic approach and Balenciaga trousers were divine. She tells us that “I think that my festival sets are much more free. People go to festivals to be wild and loose, and I think I mirror that energy.” Parks tells us that she never made a conscious decision to find her voice, but that writing and singing just came naturally to her and that music was a big part of her home. “My Mum is an enormous fan of Prince, she has seen him 12 times live and my Dad was more jazz – Aretha Franklin, Miles Davis and Charles Mingus.” Parks explains that when she was a teenager choosing her own music, she loved White Pony by Deftones, My Bloody Valentine, Odd Future and MF Doom. “I was really drawn to a lot of indie music like Broadcast and Yo La Tengo, which suits being a teenager.” Parks tells us that after Splendour she will be releasing a book of photography and poetry which will be out in September.

The evening’s highlights were the musicianship of King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard, the raw punk sexuality of Pussy Riot, and one member of the RUSSH crew (me) crying to Maps in the Yeah Yeah Yeahs set. Little Simz was vivacious and dynamic and we rounded off the evening with some sad-boy-disco and acapella Māori from Marlon Williams.


Day three

Who would have thought Sunday would be the biggest day for conversation? We started the day with Royel Otis, who have ruined their Manchester linen with pink hair dye. Royel Otis were honest – like old friends – revealing that they were tired and “nervous as all hell” due to festival crowds and lack of soundcheck, but they are going to roll with the punches. Royel Otis have a new album coming out, about which they can’t say too much, although if it was a lover, Royel jokes that it would be a toxic one. There are rumours that it was recorded in the UK with Dan Carey, who wrote Slow by Kylie Minogue. If so, we expect it to be as good.

We then headed over to see Full Flower Moon Band and were completely blown away by their front woman, Babyshakes, who is the epitome of sexiness through an ironic lens of male heavy rock. I felt like Wayne when he saw Cassandra. The whole band were exceptional, and it would be remiss of me to not compliment the way the drummer’s curls rhythmically bounced. You will understand when you see them. Babyshakes dominates the stage with some moves that need to be seen to be believed, but she reveals she’s still surprising herself, “I’m on my knees, it’s happening!” Full Flower Moon Band are doing something quite unusual compared to their contemporaries, and Babyshakes immediately addresses the elephant in the room by saying she listens to a lot of male rock but doesn’t consider herself a ‘female’ front woman. She’s doing a surrealist sarcastic rock take on what she has to say. “There is totally a scene in Brisbane, one that leans into the psychedelic, which is where I started” says Babyshakes on where her band came from. And whilst she’d be flattered by a King Gizzard comparison, she’s doing a little bit of Queens of The Stone Age – Songs for the Deaf only. This is important to Babyshakes, as is Led Zeppelin, albums two and three. The band was formed in a big Brisbane share house, which sadly no longer exists, but did birth some quite large Australian bands. We expect Full Flower Moon Band to be large.

From audacious gyrating we then got a little more introspective with Del Water Gap who has been looking forward to being in Byron for months. Based in New York, Gap woke up to a life-changing email that made him feel truly inspired. Gap finds the Australian audience to be more receptive, curious, and “definitely more open to talking to strangers here.” Gap nearly packed it all in at the end of the pandemic, and as soon as he thought that, “the universe had other plans” and he had an online breakthrough in 2020, despite making music for about 10 years. Initially he wanted to write books, but settled for making music instead, “music seemed like a good way to get my writing out into the world.” If you don’t know Del Water Gap, he perfectly described his sound: “it’s like if you like The 1975, but you’re more Gryffindor than Slytherin.” Gap cites early U2, Eno, and The Cure as fellow Gryffindor artists.

We then speak to Harvey Sutherland, who lets us know, most importantly, that the tiki torch is back. Sutherland reassures us that he had a great crowd, and that those who were lucky enough to see him were exposed to a medley where stopping was not an option. "The vibes were high.” Melbourne-based dance artist Sutherland likes to fuck with his hometown crowd by giving them unusual covers and going deep. If you wanted to get into Sutherland and didn’t know where to start, he tells us you need to listen to Patrick Adams, Can, Cat Steven’s Izitso (a weird funk record that you don’t expect), Yellow Magic Orchestra and a lot of pop UK Garage. Fortunately, Sutherland will be over in the UK experiencing the scene first-hand in the new year, with a Roland Juno 60.

Just when we thought we had escaped the rain of last year, the heavens open so I sit down in a fluorescent-lit tent with Joe from IDLES who is “delirious”.  Jet lagged, he has no idea when he got in, although he has “the easiest job in the world.” IDLES were initially surprised that they had such a strong Australian audience, “it was a bit of an anomaly to be honest.” IDLES compare the way The Office was ‘Americanised’ as a parallel to their success, but is still unsure as to why their popularity exists in the Australian market. Joe tells me that he thinks that the Americans invented punk; Billie Holiday was the source and everything comes from New York, “it got turned into a cabaret very quickly, died a beautiful death, and now we are here talking about it.” Joe sees himself as a cheerleader (with his nipples being his pom poms), “as an artist you can play with any genre, you can wear any hat. I think that when it becomes restrictive, it’s pointless.” He continues, “I think I’m more of a soul singer than a punk musician. I shout so people think I’m punk.”

Joe continues to explain his personal politic, which you can hear in IDLES music: loathing right-wing politics, hating capitalism, accepting all humans as fluid. But what gets me is when he asserts that “language should not be stifled by fear or oppressive action.” However, he knows he must play the game, and this level of realism in the face of systemic doubt, is admirable. “Musically, I’m whatever the fuck I want to be, although I’m restricted by my greedy little mind”. When asked what he is greedy for, Joe responds with, “Love.” What unfolds is a sensitive and cerebral explanation of the male psyche, that performers want affection and safety, and that perhaps, down the track, it was fear masking as bravado. “I think my insecurities got me here, and I think my emotional maturity comes from losing a lot of people along the way and the music, and the band and the fans kept me alive.”

It was a real gear shift to go from something so cerebral back to something so intuitive and dance-centric as PNAU. Having arrived fresh from Radelaide, the band had only just got in to the festival and were very excited to play, saying “this is what we live for”. Looking to Ollie Olsen, Box Car and Severed Heads, PNAU feel like they are on the tails of a dance institution and pay their respects. When asked what it is that PNAU do differently, I’m assured it’s DMT, which perhaps is the best metaphor for what they do. Being the strongest psychedelic on the planet, much like an early PNAU set, you’ll leave your body in 10 seconds.

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