The annual Falls Festival was born in regional Victoria – the southwest coastal haven of Lorne, to be exact – but in 2022 it underwent a scenic shake-up for the first time in nearly three decades. Secret Sounds had the festival booked in at the Pennyroyal Plains in Birregurra (roughly 40 minutes south from Lorne), but last September, an issue with site permissions forced the festival in a different direction: to the big city.
Any fears that a central Naarm setting would dull the Falls experience were quickly squashed – the Sidney Myer Music Bowl is simply idyllic, lined with botanical beauty (by virtue of its setting in the Kings Domain Gardens) and, thanks to the award-winning architecture of the titular bandshell, the best acoustics physically possible at an outdoor music festival. Add pretty much perfect weather, the buzz of New Year’s Eve and one hell of a line-up, and Falls had a foolproof recipe for three days of success.
Each day of programming felt tailored to specific tastes – the first day (Thursday December 29) was heavy on hip-hop, the second on rock and pop and the third on indie – with the occasional curveball thrown in to keep things interesting. Take for example Thursday’s mid-arvo set from the OG Wiggles, whose jaunty ’90s pre-school bangers (plus an adorably cheesy cover of Lil Nas X’s ‘Old Town Road’) was sandwiched between an explosive showcase of Rico Nasty’s gritty and visceral hyper-rap and a set from Genesis Owusu that proved he’s currently the most important voice in Australian hip-hop.
Fast rising to a similar stature are 1300. They played early on Thursday afternoon, delivering adrenalised pop-rap à la Brockhampton with a tasteful twinge of Western Sydney cheek and K-hip hop swagger. The raucous energy they fostered was mellowed by MAY-A, whose prickly emo-pop tunes roared to life with the aid of her backing band, amplifying the jagged angst of her otherwise low-key recordings. DMA’S served the same role at dusk, offering breezy and saccharine respite after Owusu’s mind-rattling wallops of intensity.
Aminé did a stellar job cranking the energy back up to 100, bounding around the stage with rapturous stamina as he spat some of his sharpest and most compelling bars (‘TwoPointFive’ cuts ‘Charmander’ and ‘NEO’ being highlights). Riding that high, Lil Nas X closed the first night out with a set that “spectacle” wouldn’t come close to describing: a three-act epic, grandiose and camp and extremely horny, replete with no less than five costume changes (between lore-heavy interludes) and an octet of backup dancers.
Friday’s itinerary kicked off with a pair of local up-and-comers, Bec Stevens and Floodlights. Both revelled in their rich and colourful soundscapes – grounded in gut-punching emo scorchers and spirited, ‘70s new wave-inspired Australiana respectively – which duly amped the crowd up for Beddy Rays’ rip-roaring punk. They spurred the festival’s first mosh pits, but it was Peach PRC that truly brought the afternoon’s energy to a peak, eliciting deafening screams with bubblegum belters like ‘God Is A Freak’ and ‘Forever Drunk’.
The rising star herself beamed with youthful exuberance – a mood King Stingray were more than happy to buoy as they playfully breezed through cuts from their stellar debut album. Positive energy likewise anchored G Flip’s set but theirs was gripping more for their artistic virtuosity; whether singing, drumming or laying waste to their fretboard, Georgia Flipo kept the crowd riveted. The same could be said for Spacey Jane, who eased us into the evening with a bevy of airy, sun-kissed bops all primed for sing-alongs in settings like this.
Though CHVRCHES’ set was marred slightly by dragging interludes and ‘Screen Violence’ cuts that felt shoehorned in, the Scottish pop juggernauts still managed to bash out one of the best sets of the day, lively and lustrous in their raw excitement. They deserved the headline spot, as Jamie xx showed that while his deck-manning talents are crucial to The xx, he flounders when left to his own devices. His 90-minute set of tepid house and jungle meandered, like Jamie himself wasn’t just going through the motions, but actively trying to bore his crowd.
Arctic Monkeys fared much better as Saturday’s (and technically Sunday’s) headliner, ringing in the new year with a belting rendition of ‘R U Mine?’. Prior to it, they reeled through hits like ‘Do I Wanna Know?’ and ‘Brianstorm’ with the kind of captivating swagger that’s made them such festival favourites for the past two decades. Songs from ‘Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino’ and ‘The Car’ fell shockingly flat (even evoking some boos from the hill), but Alex Turner and co. came in clutch with plenty of classic material to send 2022 out on a high note.
The rest of Saturday’s bill lacked the fortitude of their predecessors; Ocean Alley and The Vanns both played their songs with conviction but no amount of tightness could hide their stylistic vapidity. Sets from Lastlings and PinkPantheress offered an inverse experience – though both have formidable catalogues, their performances felt bland and uninspired. But it wasn’t all drab: Magdalena Bay shone in their first-ever Australian show with lashings of colour and infectious buoyancy, while Telenova’s own set of cinematic indie-pop showed that after a year of playing the country’s biggest festivals (like Spilt Milk), they’ve honed a hypnotic stage presence. Ditto, on that front, for Amyl And The Sniffers’ delightfully unhinged showcase of pit-ready pub-punk.
Capping off a whirlwind year of live music – arguably the biggest Australia’s seen since the onset of the pandemic – Falls 2022 left us feeling hopeful for another stacked year of gig-hopping ahead. We have high hopes, too, that this central relocation might be a permanent one: though the coastal setting and camping were missed, the perfect sound and backdrop of Melbourne’s heart more than made up for it.