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St. Jerome's Laneway Festival Detroit 2013

St. Jerome's Laneway Festival Detroit 2013

20 September 2013, 17:02 | Written by Shea Corrigan

“I think what happens is, it’s very subconscious,” says Aluna Francis, of the childhood Motown influence on her musical partner, George Reid, the second half of their eponymous breakout act AlunaGeorge. Curled up on a couch in the artist area sipping tea after their high-energy afternoon set at St. Jerome’s Laneway Festival Detroit, Francis elaborates: “We’ll be working with some weird noises – a bleepy-beep kind of beat that’s so wonky you can hardly find its centre – and then sort of, instinctively, he’ll bring back the soul because it’s so ingrained, I think, from an early age for him.”

Ingrained is a good way to describe the relationship between Detroit, the Australian traveling festival, and its inaugural U.S. presentation. St. Jerome’s Laneway Festival – so named for the bar (St. Jerome’s) where founders Jerome Borazio and Danny Rogers booked bands and the Australian word for alley (Laneway), in which they held their first festival – made its third departure from Oz this year when the creators, somewhat reluctantly, curated an American show. Originally a Melbourne event, Laneway quickly gained popularity after its 2004 debut, adding a city a year and traveling to Sydney in 2006, Brisbane in 2007, Adelaide in 2008 and Perth in 2009. Highly praised for the lineup and the small, “boutique” size – they have admittedly had to expand to spaces larger than urban sidestreets – 2010 saw the addition of Auckland, New Zealand, followed a year later by Singapore.

With little ambition to bring the festival to the United States, particularly to the fest-saturated sites on either American coast, they were ultimately won over by their would-be collaborators. Speaking to Consequence of Sound, Rogers explained how he was encouraged by the extensive university student market and the success of so many “Laneway-style” artists selling out the relatively minimal southeast Michigan options.

Historically speaking, that’s not surprising. Detroit has quite the prolific music history, most famously in the form of Motown Records in the 1960s and ’70s. An RnB and soul hotbed even before an auto plant worker began recording the likes of Marvin Gaye and Diana Ross, the city dates its prolific blues output to the Jazz Age. The 80s saw the rise of techno – a bold few call the city its birthplace – with distinguishing traits of the Detroit school being analog synthesisers and the early drum machine. Bring up ’60s rock (Iggy and the Stooges, MC5), hip-hop and rap (Danny Brown, Eminem) and pop (Madonna, Aaliyah) and you get quite the eclectic musical collage from Michigan.

For Laneway’s Detroit debut, Rogers worked with two of the community’s biggest champions of the local music scene: the curators of Movement Electronic Festival and the Michigan-founded label Ghostly International. Their passion for electronic music and a chance at fostering a scene in the city was one of Roger’s biggest draws and their curated stage, tucked away by the eastern entrance, featured (with a few exceptions) largely metro-Detroit producers and bands. Started in 1998, in the neighbouring college town of Ann Arbor, founder Sam Valenti IV’s affection for Detroit techno and electronic music in general has led to a prolific roster led by Valenti’s uni friend and first signee, Matthew Dear. Stylish and substantial, the label is as selective and intelligently curated as the festival they joined forces with.

Bring all that into 2013 – with rampant R’n’B-heavy production and the preponderance of “glitchy Motown” – and Detroit begins to feel like a fitting site for a festival boasting a lineup that included our interview subjects AlunaGeorge and Flume, among others of beat-based expertise. So onwards we delve, into St. Jerome’s Laneway Festival’s Detroit based offering…

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Detroit Laneway

Logistically an appropriately urban, alley-like space was not to be found in Detroit-proper, and the grounds settled on for the festival are an amphitheater called Meadowbrook, located 35-40 minutes outside the city in the suburb of Rochester Hills. As the name suggests, Meadowbrook boasts a few stages in across a rolling hill or two, amidst trees and greenery galore.

The hills provided a geographic division across the ground that was matched by Laneway’s genre lines. At the Derrick and Roscoe stages – set flush alongside each other and alternating acts – indie-rockers and real-live-instrument enthusiasts like Phosphorescent, Frightened Rabbit and Savages played to crowds and the surrounding festival accoutrements: beer gardens, VIP section, a Mini giveaway, craft centers, food trucks, hay barrels, etc.

Later in the evening, Washed Out played the Roscoe Stage, overcoming some persistent technical difficulties to play from their latest – less bedroom-pop, more full-band – album, decorating the stage in additional foliage and fully utilised guitars. Speaking in advance of the festival, Washed Out’s Ernest Greene praised the Laneway runners and mentioned looking forward to experiencing the Detroit sound, as well as catching Deerhunter’s set after continually missing their compatriots due to conflicting tour schedules.

On the other side of main entrance, sound was skewed in the electro-pop direction. New York-based My Brightest Diamond kicked off the Pavilion stage, located at the base of the main amphitheater with staggered pit levels, seats, and additional hill space for lounging. Recruiting the Detroit Party Marching Band – who learnt the music earlier that day – their set made use of local musicians to fill out and enhance the one-woman-act’s live sound.

CHVRCHES played from the soon-to-be-released The Bones Of What You Believe, with Martin Doherty winning the crowd over with his incredibly enthusiastic, borderline epileptic dancing as he took the lead vocals on ‘Under the Tide’, before the trio brought it all home with ‘The Mother We Share’.

Just over the top of the hill at the Meadow Stage, Chet Faker played the perfect mid-day set of downtempo electronic jams with a particularly warm reception to his ‘No Diggity’ cover, preceding the dance-heavy AlunaGeorge performance, during with Aluna was a flurry of motion, directing the crowd physically and vocally as George worked his magic and the duo were backed with live drums and bass. Flume would later close out the stage, as the festival downshifted into final performances from Sigur Rós and The National.

For the most part, Laneway Detroit was a very relaxed affair. Set conflicts rarely arose, perhaps due to the separation of synth and rock with crowds spaced out nicely across the fields. Attendance (as well as the average age) noticeably increased as the headline sets approached, with more than a few admitting to buying tickets for Sigur Rós and The National tour stops alone.

Detroit may have been a misnomer for the festival; little about the day showed any signs of the news-baiting bankrupt city 40 minutes away, but its Motown and house history, and the ensuing DIY ethos, was reflected in the music performed. As technology – and its use in music – grows, the literal locality of music diminishes, increasing the genre-crossing collaboration of electronic musicians. “It doesn’t matter really where in the world you’re from now,” says Flume, “It can be anywhere. I guess that’s what was so good, I had such easy access to all that stuff, the blog world, HypeMachine, all that.” Aluna Francis thinks of it all more as a tool: “That’s just what the internet is, and file sharing is… It’s how you use them that really always stays the most important thing. Whether or not you’ve got some loops that someone sent over to you or you’ve created them in your basement with a real drum kit, it’s what you do with them, and that’s a skill that’s either learnt through study or is just innate.”

Through study or innate ability, the Laneway festival throwers have perfected their skill, and the American installation was no exception as an interesting and diverse lineup played out across beautiful grounds with the almost ideal festival weather, hindered only by the icy temperature drop after sunset.

“It’s like a little haven,” Aluna aptly stated, “I don’t know what the rest of Detroit’s like, but it’s pretty good here.” We couldn’t agree more.

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