Laneway: smallish is beautiful
They’re the trio who bring Laneway, the city’s day-long boutique festival of new and emerging music, to life: ebullient Mark Kneebone (the marketing guy), the more diffident Ben Howe (the music programmer) and Manolo Echave, a 30 year live music veteran and the team’s voice of reason. “Ben and I spend a lot of February to June [after the festival, but before artist booking for the next year starts in earnest] sitting around, drinking beer and saying ‘what if we…’”, says Kneebone. “And Manolo will be like ‘So how exactly are you planning on putting a dodgem track in the middle of the site?’” No, there won’t be dodgems this year.
And that’s probably for the best. Despite expanding capacity by around a third for 2014, the team are adamant that less is usually more. “You try to fit too much other stuff in and Laneway stops being Laneway,” says Kneebone. “This year we’re starting to bump against that, in terms of how the larger size affects how we operate the festival. And we don’t want that, because we’re really proud of the fact that it’s a small show, easy to get to and easy to get around. We don’t want to get into a situation where we have to book bigger acts in order to sell a certain amount of tickets.”
One other problem with booking huge, or about to be huge, acts: you take the risk that they might be invited to the Grammys on the same day as your festival. This year the Laneway team found themselves in the odd position of planning a show – Lorde’s make-up performance two days after the main festival – that they knew might never happen. “People assumed she was always going to be nominated,” says Kneebone. “When in fact there are no guarantees when it comes to Grammy nominations.” The new show “wouldn’t have worked if Ella herself wasn’t so enthusiastic. And we’re really lucky that Waterfront Auckland and the Council got on board. If they hadn’t supported the idea, it’d be dead in the water.”
Even without Lorde there, the festival promises to be possibly the most exciting and eclectic yet. Howe says he’s “really happy” with this year’s line-up. “I like working to a rule of threes,” says Howe. “Three great female-fronted acts, three hip hop acts… and I think that if people look at a line up and see three bands they want to see, they think ‘yes, I definitely want to go this festival.”
No matter how perfectly the day itself goes, it’ll likely be a bittersweet experience for both organisers and audience. After three years at Silo Park, the festival is on the lookout for a new home. A major rebuild of the wharf area at the western end of the site scheduled for autumn 2014 means there’ll be nowhere for the third stage to go. And no third stage, no festival.
For now, the plan is to make the most of Silo Park while they have it. New for 2014 is a bar area, including a “grown-up” wine bar, inside Silo Six; the DJ-led Red Bull Thunderdome, meanwhile, returns to the silo next door. “It’s my favourite stage,” says Kneebone. “Seeing Phelps & Munro in there last year was one of my all-time favourite Laneway moments. Here’s an idea that we kicked around for a year, we built it, and now one of my favourite acts is playing, it’s completely rammed and everyone’s enjoying it. I was like, ‘High five, Ben. It worked.’”
Laneway Festival 2014, Silo Park, January 27 and Lorde show, January 29.