It’s just a shame Luke Steele leaves the passion behind at Australia’s travelling dance circus. Moore Park, Sydney, Sunday, October 4
Almost inevitably, as if it’s a fate-tempting picnic on a grand scale, the sky hangs heavy with clouds over Parklife 2009, the world’s only travelling electro fair. That doesn’t stop the hordes of ticket holders from trudging across damp grass to get through the gates and get on down. The cream of the Sydney DJ crop warms up each stage.
By the time The Cool Kids swagger onstage the barrier is already crammed with punters eager to hear their bass-heavy raps. On their second visit to Australia, Mikey Rocks and Chuck English come armed with a slew of new tracks, hopefully indicating their debut album (apparently the 10 tracks of ‘The Bake Sale’ constitute a mere EP) will be along soon.
Synth-pop darling Little Boots seems somewhat adrift in the middle of the sizeable Water Stage. Dancing her way back and forth across the barren expanse in front of the audience, she does her best, but her normally stellar voice is thin and flat, and hits such as ‘Stuck On Repeat’ elicit nothing more than polite interest from a relatively small crowd.
Thankfully, Crystal Castles are the complete opposite. Alice Glass never stays still for a second as she and Ethan Kath whip through a blistering set. Jagged electronic beats and icy disco synths stir the crowd into a frenzy, with Glass screaming like a banshee over the top. The only banter between songs is a hushed “thanks” before the last number, which ends in a snarl of feedback as the mic is dropped and the duo leave the stage like proper rock stars.
Evening has fallen by the time Erol Alkan gets behind the decks, which just makes it easier to see the lasers. Bent over a laptop, he cranks up his grinding electro-house tunes for the dancefloor, and eager howls erupt every time he toys with the crowd through well-placed breakdowns and bass drops.
By the time Empire Of The Sun make their long-awaited live debut, the largest crowd of the day has gathered to see what all the fuss is about. Dancers fill the front of the stage as Luke Steele strides on in a massive headdress and signature ‘crazy ruler of outer space’ robe. Alternating between synths and guitar, Steele works hard in the absence of collaborator Nick Littlemore, who hasn’t been in touch with Steele for five months. The set looks fantastic, a Neverending Story-style fantasia of light, costume and spectacle. Unfortunately this results in an imbalance in the style/substance ratio. While numerous costume changes for the dancers and trippy visuals exploding like digital fireworks create a scene you can’t tear your eyes from, the music is merely adequate, and Steele’s unwillingness to connect with the audience (the only mid-set banter is handled by a gruff, sci-fi-esque pre-recorded narrator) leaves the whole thing feeling passionless.
Some leeway can be given for a first performance, especially when your bandmate’s vanished. When you make your debut at Parklife, though, you have to bring the goods, and Empire Of The Sun fall short. Even though everyone’s flagging from the cold, The Rapture still manage to coax an enthusiastic audience into mobbing the barrier as they tear through their closing set. Despite coming back from hiatus the group are stunningly tight, leaping around energetically to favourites such as ‘House Of Jealous Lovers’ and ‘Whoo! Alright – Yeah… Uh Huh’. And they’re only wearing