An inherent trait that adds to the bohemian charm of Melbourne is the way in which you find yourself suddenly tucked into one of its many cozy laneways, usually thick with the aroma of freshly-ground coffee beans.
It was this very essence of Melbourne that was adapted into a music festival back in 2004, perfectly encapsulating the block party vibe.
The St Jerome’s Laneway Festival – adapting the namesake of its original host – soon became a highly-anticipated favourite amongst a multitude of summer music festivals.
Fast forward to 2010, and St Jerome’s is now lending its name to numerous cloistered thoroughfares. The festival now tours to all state capitals and even across the Tasman, with the recent addition of Auckland.
“It fits well as a national festival,” says Alex Gow, one half of Melbourne band, Oh Mercy, who join the 2010 lineup alongside the likes of Sarah Blasko, Bridezilla and Philadelphia Grand Jury.
The Laneway Festival has a reputation for giving talented local acts, including worldwide sensations The Temper Trap, their big break at a music festival, and Oh Mercy follows in that tradition. The 2009 release of their album, ‘Privileged Woes’, was met with widespread public and critical acclaim. It earnt them the Qantas, Spirit of Youth Award and iTunes Artist of the Year, as well as a nomination for the Triple J Album of the Year. Their whirlwind success has secured them spots across the extensive summer festival lineups, including Laneway for the second year in a row.
“We just accidentally made an album, Thomas, Miles and I,” say Gow humbly, referring to his “best mate”, Thomas Savage, and member of The Panics, Miles Wootton, who produced Privileged Woes in his spare bedroom, pushing the mattress against the wall to make room.
Of such a massive response, Gow says simply: “Putting your heart and soul into it never goes out of fashion, people will always respond. I suppose the thing about Oh Mercy is that we’re not living off the back of some genre revival, or being a trendy band as such, we depend on a solid songwriting approach.”
This year sees the Sydney Laneway Festival relocate from The Rocks to Rozelle’s Sydney College of the Arts at Callan Park, a considerably shift from the original notion of a random street jam. Isn’t there a worry it will dilute the distinctive feel of the festival?
Festival creator and promoter Danny Rogers believes Rozelle will put its own distinctive stamp on the event. “We’re taking people to a very beautiful, heritage-listed place, and I think that once they get inside, they’ll quickly forget about the fact there aren’t any laneways there.”
“It was pretty simple – we just absolutely loved the site that was there, and when the opportunity presented itself to consider moving it, we felt like it was a really great opportunity for the festival to move to a space that we felt was just more manageable,” he says. “Circular Quay just had its limitations – it served a wonderful purpose, giving us the opportunity to set the festival up, but it just wasn’t quite a long-term reality.”
Rogers admits the idea of the Festival stemmed, at least in part, from a somewhat selfish motivation. ““I manage a bunch of bands, and one of the big motivations for starting the Festival was that I was sick of not being able to get my own bands on the bill, and not seeing bands I really liked on bills!” he laughs. “We never started with lofty ambitions – we started by just wanting to put on a bit of a street party in Melbourne, and it’s just grown into this little national festival.”
As for Gow, he has enjoyed the Laneway Festival over the years¬ both as punter and performer, ¬ and is eagerly anticipating the upcoming tour, enjoying the hectic nature that comes with it.
“It’s great to be part of the festival that you grew up with, there’s not as much pressure as with the album tour when it all rests on your own shoulders,” he says. “I think it’s more about the calibre of these amazing underground independent cutting-edge bands from all over the world playing alongside local greats than being in a smelly, wet Melbourne laneway. The Laneway Festival continues to be about that wonderful nature.”
The St Jerome’s Laneway Festival will take place at Sydney College of the Arts in Rozelle, on Sunday, January 31.
by Mig Caldwell