24 February, Centennial Park

Although the inaugural Sydney City Limits was not sold out, Centennial Park was awash with activity on Saturday. The line-up was heaving with astonishingly quality acts including a huge number of exclusive and impressive international artists; it’s not hard to understand why the site was buzzing with anticipation.

The first thing I noticed when walking into the Sydney City Limits festival site, was “Wow this is just like Splendour.” From the big top marquee to the giant white lettering signs at the entranceway, Secret Sounds showed everyone that branding works and the larger than life, bombastic aesthetic of this event was very much on target for the venerable festival promoters. Even before I saw the grounds I had a feeling I was going to love City Limits.

Their line-up was structured in a very similar way to that of Bluesfest; almost as if there were two distinct audiences they were gunning for and the timing of each set was placed accordingly. For the older crowd, seeing The Libertines, Thundercat, Beck and Grace Jones was very doable and would have been without the manic stress of sprinting from stage to stage, as is often the case at major music festivals. On the other hand, if Mallrat, Dune Rats, Allday and Gang of Youths was more your thing, then, by all means, stop off for a Mary’s burger and a Young Henry’s pale ale on your way through. 

The day’s line-up was truly Aussie-heavy, and it was great to see that each stage was as impressive as the other; no one was being shoved in a corner or forgotten about. 

A highlight was sitting on a bench watching Dune Rats belt out their much-loved song Fuck It, while a three-year-old sucked on a lollipop in the crowd atop her father’s shoulders, and a couple led their elderly grandmother towards the craft beer tent for a well-earned schooner. Ahhh Australia, you did me proud.

Ziggy Ramo opened the festival and to see him dominating such a huge stage was something else. Showcasing his well-loved track Same Script, even to less than massive early crowd, Ramo’s enthusiasm refused to wane. Stella Donnelly and Mallrat waved at each other from opposite stages, complimenting each other’s music and bringing the crowds together – the celebration and recognition of female artists was thick in the air.

Mallrat’s Better got the dust flying in the air while Donnelly’s achingly honest Boys Will Be Boys had the crowd solemn and respectful amongst the lively fervor. Tkay Maidza blitzed it during her midday set and left plenty of room for Allday to follow shortly after, at one point inviting Mallrat back up onstage for a duet. Dune Rats were as rambunctious as ever, with the cops having to creep up on stage for a second or two, their loudmouthed and no bullshit on-stage banter was a hit with the fans and not do much with the authorities. A spatter of rain acted as an interlude before the latter half of the festival crept in.

To bring in the evening, Gang of Youths levelled everyone. Although the world has been clamouring for Davo in recent years, I’m not quite sure how necessary falling halfway to your knees and beating your own chest is… it could be cynicism, but toning it down a little would probably help ease the overbearing God complex that seems to be hanging around Le’aupepe. Vance Joy was ever the stellar performer; sweet and unassuming, his track Coming Home spoke volumes for the now hugely successful international star.

The day was run so smoothly that the start and finish of each set was to the minute. But in saying this, defensive infrastructure was definitely at play. Now I don’t know about everyone, but I feel slightly put off when the first thing I see walking into a beautiful, sunny, family-friendly, daytime music festival, is a sniffer dog and a riot squad. While no one can deny, and as evidenced by the debris left in the toilets, that drugs were always going to be present on the day, I ask whether a five-man squadron is truly necessary?

You may remember my gripe about the less-than-impressive hotdog I ate at Laneway earlier in the year? Well let me tell you I was deeply triggered to see the same stall there at City Limits, I gave it a very wide berth. But patrons were hardly wanting for food: there was Mexican, burgers, bratwurst, gozleme and numerable other options for all. This came with a massive beer tent and a huge array of crafts and wares, vintage clothing and sunglasses to peruse on your travels.

Overall Sydney City Limits is, without sounding negative, a poor man’s Splendour or Falls Fest. If you have kids, don’t want to drive 12 hours to Byron Bay or just can’t hack a three-day camping bender anymore, then an all-ages, Sydney-centric, one-day affair like Sydney City Limits is definitely for you. The timing could have been better and I feel that having the event on the same weekend as Secret Garden and a few weeks out from Laneway may have deterred some people, but given a few tweaks in that direction and I feel like Sydney City Limits is here to stay.