Lorde and Amyl & the Sniffers at Flow: 2 very different routes to absolute hysteria

From an offstage entrance to an automatic circle pit, both acts get the responses they deserve

Day of two of Flow festival was when the screaming started. I thought it might be for the brilliantly absurd Devo, when they drop ‘Whip It’, but even that received only a modest cheer. The crowd here simply enjoy things quietly, it seems, which is all part of the positive Flow experience: no wreckheads; no trouble; no litter, even.

It’s not like it turns into a brawl for Lorde, but her headline set draws every single person to the main stage, and is the first time this weekend when you can clearly hear the crowd singing the songs back to the person singing them. People scream between the tracks too – a loud spray of devoted cheers whenever Lorde wildly jerks an arm in a dance break, or says how much she loves us.

Maybe this is it now for Flow, because immediately after ‘Green Light’ is as euphoric an ending as you’d imagine at midnight, 500 of us are in the Black Tent screaming at Amyl and the Sniffers. A different scream. A different everything, really.

Lorde started with the ginormous ‘Royals’, from the wings of the stage for extra hype points. The screens showed a close up only of her hands looping the beat on a mini sampler, then panned up to Lorde’s face as she started to sing, and cut before she walked onto the stage halfway through the song. By which time there’d already been more cheering than throughout the rest of Flow combined.

Amyl & The Sniffers walk out, pick up, and wind up ‘Mole (Sniff Sniff)’ ­– a typically bratty Amyl song that opens with the lyric: “Sniff Sniff, Sniff Sniff, Sniff Sniff / Rack off Mole, Sniff Sniff / I want to see some fighting want to some biff”. No mention of Grey Goose at all. The crowd are instantly in, punching the air with a sense of relief that a horrible punk band have turned up on a dark, enclosed stage that’s been crying out for it. The woman next to me even thinks about throwing her beer, before remembering how much it cost.

In terms of between song conversation, Lorde is the soft aunty to Amy Taylor’s tough-love mother. The former introduces ‘Mood Ring’ as a song about wellness, and sits on the edge of the stage to intro ‘Liability’ in an extended monologue that’s become tradition at this point in her show. It’s a little cloying for the cynics, but her moment of true connection with her fans, all the same. The speech (which is longer than 3 Amyl & The Sniffer songs), boils down to “be yourself/you’ve got this”. Amy Taylor’s equivalent is to shout: “Nobody’s good, you can only be good enough. We’re all trying. Stop thinking about the shit that’s happened and move on.” Potato, potato. Everything Taylor says sounds like a threat, even when it’s a message of comfort, which is hilarious and agreeable, and deserves another hundred fists in the air. At one point, just before ‘Choices’, she yells: “Let’s hear it for abortion! I ain’t no mother!”. Lorde decides to give that subject a swerve this evening.

This is real apples and oranges stuff, but the truth is that both shows are perfect within their worlds. Lorde encourages us to “sweat and dance”; a giant circle pit opens up by itself at Amyl, because we knew that was what they wanted. Lorde the pop star is brave enough to hide her anonymous band behind a hazy curtain at the back of the stage and pretty much perform completely alone (even if that does mean that the show feels completely void of spontaneity, not that anybody cares); Amyl are joyfully the ratty punk unit they’ve always been, just a better, shreddier one, where absolutely everything is spontaneous.  The wildly different ‘Team’ and ‘Maggot’ elicit the same manic joy, not just in us but the artists performing them too. Because it’s authenticity that these two do have in common, with Lorde wildly dancing without choreography, with ribbons tied to her wrists, almost smiling too much to be able to sing, and Bryce Wilson playing a solo behind his head while Amy Taylor calls us all cunts, but then helps the overwhelmed security catch crowd surfers as they come over the top.

Photography by Konstantin Kondrukhov (Lorde) and Sam Walton (Amyl and the Sniffers)