20 Oct An Essential Celebration – Sad Grrrls Fest 2016

Words by James McNiece // Photos by Elizabeth Burns

It was an exciting time to be in Footscray a couple of weeks ago, and it wasn’t just to see the Bulldogs win the flag in this year’s grand final. Taking over The Reverence Hotel was Sad Grrrls Fest, a festival to celebrate and create a safe space for local female and LGBTIQA+ artists. The kickass lineup displayed the talents from some of the most exciting Melbourne acts from our thriving local music scene. Taking place across two clash-free main stages, and an acoustic stage in the beer garden, the long overdue warm Spring weather made for a successful day with everybody in high spirits.

The daytime sets saw many emerging local acts, such as The Girl Fridas and Beloved Elk, display their gripping indie rock cuts to the beer and cider-sipping crowd. Slowing down the pace was the enchanting Denim Owl, whose dreamy guitar and folky sensibility was perfect for the sunny afternoon.

As daylight came to an end, the afternoon was polished off with three piece band Claws & Organs, whose drowning, wallowing brand of psychedelic infused grunge was nineties alt rock heaven. Fronted by vocalist and bassist Heather Thomas, the bands back and forth, apathetic chanting vocals embodied a slowed down cover of the Swingers‘ famous hit ‘Counting the Beat’ which they made entirely their own.


Electronic artist KT Spit took the front bar stage as evening approached, her punk influenced brand of electronica with playful, ethereal vocals meeting somewhere between Kathleen Hanna and Grimes. Playing to a mostly seated crowd allowed for an intimate performance, with her isolated dancer expanding the vulnerability of her music. The set also featured an a capalla sung with a vocoder reminiscent of the likes of Imogen Heap‘s ‘Hide and Seek‘.

Packing out the back room stage was Alex Lahey, who has had a big year, securing substantial airplay on Triple J with her track ‘You Don’t Think You Like People Like Me‘. Between her energetic bouncy guitar playing and relaxed vocals, Lahey charmed the crowd with little anecdotes of her experiences, recalling conversations she has had with her mother in times of need.


Simona Castricum took to the front bar stage with her dark eighties/early nineties inspired club tunes. A prolific member of the Melbourne queer music scene as a producer, vocalist and drummer, Simona’s performance was an essential reminder as to why events like Sad Grrrls Fest are still so important. Playing a dance-ready collection of tracks, you could really feel the emotional intensity of her set, with Simona herself brought to tears during her single ‘Still‘, a triumphant nod to the darker reverbed style of eighties synth pop.


Bringing it back to all things rock on the back room stage, punk rock act Miss Destiny’s dynamic tunes laid out a mix of political anecdotes and their signature energetic punk rock sound. Absent from the band was Harriet Stewart, who was out partying for her birthday. Yet the band remained unaffected, with their enormous stage persona and Harriet Hudson’s plentiful shredding guitar solos a highlight of the day.


Camp Cope played the back room stage with their emotional, relatable brand of indie rock. 2016 has been a big year for the band, solidifying their place in the Australian music scene and touring with sold out shows across the country. Vocalist Georgia Maq’s powerhouse vocals and charging guitar complimented the vulnerability and angst embedded in her lyrics. A highlight was their cover of the classic Yeah Yeah Yeahs song ‘Maps‘, which led the whole room erupting into a sing-along, truly encapsulating the communal spirit of the day.


As the night came to a close, the tunes become mellower, with Jess Ribeiro playing the last slot on the front bar stage. Her beautiful harmonies with her bass player made for a more indie-pop sound compared to heavier acts earlier in the day. She mirrored the soulful vocal style of the likes of Cat Power, which saw for an enjoyable and captivating watch. Polishing off the great tunes was Ribeiro and her band’s stage presence, effortlessly communicating with one another as if they were family.


Last on the bill was the always-idiosyncratic presence of Jaala, who have enjoyed widespread attention following the release of their debut record Hard Hold late last year. Coming off the relaxed vibes of Jess Ribero, Jaala fittingly brought the night to a close with their stuttering grooves and pulsating riffs, creating an emotional, disjointed performance like no other. Vocalist and guitarist Cosima Jaala’s anecdotes between songs were always enlightening and relevant, and felt like you were watching an authentic expression of her inner thoughts and feelings alongside the music.


Sad Grrrl Fest showcased some of the best talent from the ever expanding scene of female fronted and queer artists in Australia. An essential celebration and space for performers to express themselves without any limitations or fears is something truly special to watch and be a part of. In the past year, there has been a pivotal and important uprising within this music scene and it makes me truly excited to see which acts will feature next year, and for the acts who featured to continue thriving.


James McNiece

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