This year, Splendour In The Grass would be celebrating the 20th edition of the festival. Instead, 2020 marks the first time Splendour has been cancelled in its entire history. While we’d rather be watching Flume, The Strokes and Tyler, The Creator in the amphitheatre it’s a good opportunity to reflect on the highlights of the festival. Here are our favourite headliners from the last 10 years.
Tame Impala (2019)
When Tame Impala landed the headline set at Coachella in 2019, it was shocking. Tame Impala had become the biggest band in the world overnight and with each performance, they proved exactly why. With just a handful of new single out from an album that was still almost a year off, Tame came home to show off their newfound stardom.
Tame are no strangers to Splendour but this was a band that had found complete comfort on the stage. Kevin Parker was as lucid and relaxed as ever but a lazer-show evolved around them as their fuzz, pop-drenched melodies lowered over the amphitheatre. Trevor was put on blast that night as The Less I Know The Better proved to be one of the biggest singalongs in Splendour history.
Kendrick Lamar (2018)
Australia has often been unable to compete with overseas festivals like Coachella and Glastonbury when it comes to headliners but in the last few years they have levelled-up. The biggest get was Lamar who had headlined Coachella just months before. His album DAMN. had given him some of the biggest hits of his career and he was easily the biggest rapper in the world.
His Splendour set was a combination of potent lyricism and transcendent visuals. There were moments where you stood and watched in awe at his talent (DNA) while other songs caused all-out pandemonium (Humble). It was so powerful that it’s hard to imagine this not going down in history as one of the best Splendour sets of all time.
The xx (2017)
The xx went from shy teenagers to accomplished headliners over the decade. They arrived at Splendour as headliners in 2017 just as they were the most seasoned. Their third album I See You was their most confident and upbeat to date while Jamie xx had also unleashed a mighty debut album just years before.
Their set gave us everything. There were singalongs (Islands), heartbreaking moments (Brave For You) and spikes of happiness (I Dare You). It all led to an all-out rave at the tail-end of the set that included Jamie’s ever heartwarming Loud Places. Hearts were full after this set.
Mark Ronson (2015)
Following on from Flume, Mark Ronson was just the second DJ to ever headline Splendour. Some wondered how he would do it given that his records featured some of music’s biggest stars from Bruno Mars to Lily Allen. He collected a sterling cast, however, including Kevin Parker, Theophilus London, Miike Snow, Daniel Merriweather and more.
A storm loomed over Splendour on the day and the heaven’s opened during Ronson’s set. Uptown Funk, a song that has progressively annoyed just about everyone over the past decade, played as the rain bucketed down. Any gripes we had with that song were momentarily gone. It just felt right.
Florence & The Machine (2015)
By 2015, Florence & The Machine was the greatest festival headliner in the world. She’d destroyed Coachella earlier in the year and stepped up as headliner of Glastonbury in place of Foo Fighters who had to cancel last minute. There was a sense that year that you were watching one of the greatest performers on the planet as she raced across the stage flailing her arms in the air.
If you’ve ever seen her in any capacity, you’ll know that even to this day Dog Days Are Over is a goosebump-raising moment but there was something special about it at Splendour. That amphitheatre can be a magical place particularly when it’s being commanded by music’s most whimsical.
Outkast’s 2014 reunion didn’t go as smooth as most had hoped. On the first show at Coachella, Andre 3000 faced the back of the stage while singing Hey Ya, while the chemistry between him and Big Boi wasn’t exactly what it used to be. By the time they hit Splendour, however, they were on a roll.
With no new music to promote, it was a greatest hits set in the truest sense. From So Fresh, So Clean to older cuts like ATLiens, the pair showed exactly why we all fell in love with them in the first place, swapping bars like they were born to do it. Few moments can top the greatest rap duo to ever do it on the Splendour stage.
Lorde (2013 & 2018)
“We played our very first festival here in 2013...It was very nerve-racking for all of us,” Lorde said when she headlined the festival in 2018. Back in 2013, she was starting to blow up with Royals when headliner Frank Ocean dropped out of the festival. With just two days notice, Lorde stepped in and showed that there was something very special about her.
When she returned as the billed headliner in 2018, she had released her brilliant second album Melodrama. From the heartbreak euphoria of Green Light to the slinky, oddities of Sober, it was a set that got everybody in the best of their feelings. Let’s not even get started on that beautiful cover of Powderfinger’s My Happiness.
Kanye West (2011)
Kanye was the first US rapper to headline Splendour and his appearance was met with the usual scepticism. He’d just released the greatest record of his career My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy but his usual antics had drawn criticism from those who were at Splendour to watch bands who still made up most of the bill. The Woodford Amphitheatre was so packed that night, however, that they had to start turning people away.
It was magical watching that stage setup as a steely, black setup became a crystalline, white vision. What West put on was like nothing Splendour had ever seen. It was part-Opera, part-theatre production and part-rap show. An insanely good looking show that matched it with sound from the resounding choir to West’s poignant raps. At the end of the set, he fell to his knees and sung Hey Mama as a dedication to his late mother Donda West. The whole thing was incredibly special.
The Strokes (2010)
If we had to pick Splendour organisers’ favourite headliners we’d have to go with The Strokes. The New York band has headlined the festival twice and they are due to return for a third go next year. There’s a reason for it though, they’re reliable. This list has had plenty of flashy, high budget performers but The Strokes always bring a no-frills approach to their sets.
2010 was the special one though. The band had been on hiatus for about four years but they broke their dry spell in spectacular fashion. They began with New York City Cops and delivered hit-after-hit. Their long-awaited fourth album Angles was a year off but they didn’t debut any new material. Instead, this was a celebration of the career they had already laid-out.
The Cure (2016)
The young-gun festivalgoers may have looked at The Cure’s inclusion on the 2016 lineup with confusion but the band’s booking is legendary for Splendour. They are one of the most influential band’s of our time and it felt like we were watching something important when they took to the stage in 2016.
We’re going to go out on a limb and say, at nearly three hours long, it was the longest headline set in the amphitheatre. It was a hypnotising display that saw the band move through huge hits like Friday I’m In Love and adored deep cuts. And yep, they played four encores.