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08 Apr The inaugural Shady Cottage festival was an impressive debut

 

Rolling into Woodend with a fangin’ headache, little to no sense of direction and an overwhelming sense of lethargy, I must admit I was starting to question my motives. I’d missed the first night of Shady Cottage due to work commitments, but due to its dense lineup and beautiful surrounds I chose to hitch a ride and join in on the party a day late.

The setting was well deserving of the accolades; sweeping fields littered with the occasional sheep or cow. Sitting at around 300 heads, the attendees had space to move, not confined to cramped restrictions or specific segments of the property. I found my tent, dropped everything and cracked a tinnie, en route to catch the last of Alice Ivy.

 

 

At the stage I was made aware of the festival’s first true teething problem. By the close of Andras and Oscar the night before, a set of speakers had called it early, leaving the organisers in a precarious position. Luckily one of the soundies took it upon himself to make the trip back to Melbourne, grab a couple of replacements, and bring them back. This level of practicality and decisiveness rang true throughout the festival, illuminating the clear potential for it to continue to grow in stature.

Alice Ivy is deserving of the focus she is currently receiving, with each release being undoubtedly stronger than the one before. ‘Touch’ is a gorgeous representation of the talent she possesses, with a sample-heavy intro that recalls stylistic similarities to The Avalanches, with a natural dancefloor crossover potential.

Crepes have just been that band for me for so long. That one you listen to all the time, and yet for whatever reason, are seemingly incapable of catching them live. Thankfully that all changed at Shady, as I was able to laze in the sun while they worked their way through their simply affable debut. ‘Cold Summers’ was a festival highlight, while the onstage charisma shone through brightly, with a faux-theatrical nature not too dissimilar to Foxygen.

 

 

Although initially hampered by sound issues, Melbourne five-piece Leisure Suite powered through a set that perhaps commanded a later slot than they were given. Steadily growing in both stature and numbers, 2015 was a big year for the band, frequently touring with standout sets at both Shebeen and Paradise. A medley of their own work with Alicia Keys had the crowd swaying, while ‘Great Expectations’ is one of those truly brilliant tracks that messes with your mind, leaving you unsure of whether it’s joyous or drenched in melancholy.

 

 

As the sun began to set, Flamingo Jones took to the stage at just the right moment. The weather had come good after a frosty morning, and the clear blue and orange skies were the ideal backdrop for some accomplished tropical jams. Nick Bond and crew have carved out a delightful niche for themselves, delivering infectious jams with just the right combination of vibrancy and polish.

Well replenished after a trip to the campsite, we returned to a stage boasting its biggest crowd of the weekend thus far. The sun had mostly set during the intervening performance by Albert Salt, and the punters were ready to cut loose a little, with DIET. proving a great option. The five-piece (consisting of the Flamingo Jones backing band with an alternate singer) were an enjoyable watch, the highlight of their set coming with a perfectly-timed rendition of the Australian Crawl classic ‘Errol’, which brought the crowd together for an impressively cohesive singalong.

 

 

Broadway Sounds were a band fit for the occasion. Specialising in absurdist banter and frantic party heat, they truly brought a sense of debauchery upon the wintery Shady Cottage scenes. Helping caress the day into night, their performance prompted one artist who had performed prior to label them the “best in Melbourne”. ‘Booby Trap’ and ‘Sing It Again’ are scorchers, while their onstage energy is simply unsurpassable. They made the transition from live performers to selectors feel seamless, which is a credit to both their songwriting and live presence.

CC: Disco! seemed to throw away the disco cape for the night, bringing a set that progressed from bouncing house beats through to some grittier techno. Undoubtedly considered one of Melbourne’s most brilliant selectors, CC confirmed that assertion with two hours that managed to illustrate her diverse taste without losing and rhythm or flow – possibly the set of the festival.

 

 

Few producers in Melbourne have released music with the consistency of Ara Koufax duo Luke Neher and Sam Gill. Since departing from the Naysayer & Gilsun guise, Neher and Gill have been dropping some sensationally lush house, which, in the case of the Adult Concepts, dips into the realm of The Field. Pulsing and textural, the pair are clearly onto something with this pathway. Giving us an idea of their tastebuds, they went track for track, keeping with the style of their personal releases. Tom Trago’s Crazy Days remix of ‘Tutti Frutti’ was almost used as a signal, and for the final half hour the pair continued to rise in intensity, with the crescendo coming in the form of their closing track ‘Brenda’, one of the duo’s earliest releases.

And with that I trooped off to bed. The cold got the better of me, and my overcoat of alcohol was wearing thin. I dozed off to the sound of The Neighbourhood Watch, and the gleeful laughter of those who were making up for their complete lack of inhibition with a visibly overruling sense of genuine pleasure. If this is taken as a microcosm of the festival itself, then I’d say for it’s first run, Shady Cottage did pretty darn well.

 

 

Note: Due to the criss-crossing nature of our music scene, the writer of this article has a personal or professional relationship with one or more of the people involved in this festival and its lineup. This in no way influenced our coverage of the event, and a secondary writer was brought on to provide a secondary point of view.

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23 Feb Waxahatchee live at Howler (18/2/16)

The DJ out the front was playing ’80s disco, while those not worn down by the week preceding paddled a table tennis ball at one another, periodically guffawing at the other’s misfortune. The pained monotony of suburban nights may occasionally pop up in her music, but in my two years of longing for a Katie Crutchfield tour, this wasn’t the way I envisioned the entry to my first live Waxahatchee experience. But in a way that conflicted with almost everything I have learnt in music, from this moment on, everything went exactly to plan.

Arriving only moments after me was my gig buddy. We grabbed ourselves a Bohemian Ale (totally), then found ourselves nestled in the moderate front obscurity, with a mostly uninhibited view of the sparsely-lit Howler centrepiece.

I take great interest in sibling dynamics, particularly in music. It’s always fascinated me when people who have grown up together, in the same household their whole life, choose to continue spending such intensive time together. Katie is winged by her twin sister Allison, who also leans in with harmonies during the songs, and quick-witted quips in the breaks. The pair are sharp, feeding off one another, along with a touch of self-deprecating humour. To speak of them as a pair is not to discount the rest of the band, who are superbly tight, but it’s the relationship of Katie and Allison that, for me, dominates the stage presence. It gives it an edge.

Now. The music. The album Cerulean Salt dominated my 2013 like no other. As a teen traveling through the toughest year of his life mentally, and had only just discovered the likes of Elliott Smith and Nick Drake, Crutchfield’s near-whispered vocals spoke deeply to me. The manner in which she can sound so fragile at one moment, and then suddenly appear so brazen the next, meant that it was an album that could suit any mood, any feeling. Also, said teen could heavily relate to the line “and I don’t believe I care at all, what they hear through these walls”, whether that be in his context or hers.

As I grew, so too did the music of Waxahatchee. 2015 brought a far more expansive sound, with the delightful Ivy Tripp. It came with another scorcher of a line in “you’re less than me, I am nothing”. Darker at times, with slicker production, Ivy Tripp was perhaps more of an attempt to reach a wider audience.

One could view Thursday as a success in that regard, as the band were greeted by a Howler near capacity, rich with diversity in both gender and age. The archetypal depiction of this stood to the left of me. It was a father and son, stood side by side, both mimicking the words to every song with a subtlety that suggested they didn’t want the other to notice. Between songs, they’d lean to one another, trading blows, most likely regarding the song just passed.

I too was whispering along, fearing that anything louder would disrupt the equilibrium of the show I had longed for. Crutchfield sang every song like it was her favourite, from opener ‘Under A Rock’ through to the shimmering solo ballad ‘Summer Of Love’.

It wasn’t so much the setlist, nor the performance that brought Waxahatchee’s Howler performance into the dreamlike spectrum. It was how affable they all seemed on stage, how the crowd seemed to wait on every word, with lingering silence following every track. Yes, Waxahatchee put on a superb performance, but so too did the sound and lighting crew, and the timing of the conclusion was near perfect – both for my enjoyment, and the last train home. Recreating a back catalogue that is both timeless and indispensable to someone is no easy task, but Katie Crutchfield & Co. took on the challenge (to which they were oblivious) like it was a breeze.

 

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18 Feb Premiere: Ciggie Witch – ‘Meet Me In The Middle’

 

Ciggie Witch are a constant in the unpredictable Melbourne guitar pop scene. The drawl of Mitch Clemens has you hanging off the lyrics, from the mundane through to the Carly Rae Jepsen references, while the slide guitar holds a presence that no doubt separates them from the pack.

Meet Me In The Middle’ carries a melancholic tone. The kind of Monday morning blues feeling. The sort where you’re sitting there watching bullshit day time soaps, mumbling inaudible insults at yourself for your actions on the weekend past.

The tone does in fact mirror the lyrical content, as Mitch reflects on his time as a state level racing cyclist at 15 or 16, never drinking. the reflection was brought on by a friend’s party, located on a road he used to ride down. The song is set five years following these rides, at the party. The party was a mess; Clemens wound up making a fool of himself and calling some girl who still had feelings for her ex – hence the tone.

In the context of the track, Clemens stated that “people often talk about feeling they have been somewhere before, but I more often get the feeling that I will be back in a place again, so the verses convey that feeling, as well as self- and Carly Rae Jepsen-referencing.” In keeping with this thought train, the video was shot at Fairfield Boat House, a spot his dad used to bring he and his sister to when he was younger. The return visit captured this feeling, while the simplicity of the ducks and the drab, wintery essence of the footage incorporate the mundane melancholia of ‘Meet Me In The Middle’.

As a package, ‘Meet Me In The Middle’ is a brilliant representation of Melbourne guitar pop, touching upon issues of a non-geographic nature, while offering what is an undeniably Aussie skew to the sound and delivery.

 

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08 Feb Girlpool’s authenticity brings everyone into the fold

Julian Casablancas was wearing a leather jacket. So the next day I bought a leather jacket.

The power of a couple of songs on an impressionable mind is surreal. My obsession with ol’ Julesy has (mostly) dissipated, however my fascination of the concept of idols lives on.

Girlpool write music so bare, it feels almost uncomfortable, and yet forever enthralling. This rawness starts at the musical notation and ends with a lyrical presence that fills the room with the static of silence. Naturally, as a cisgender male of privileged upbringing, this discomfort is often spurned from the lyrics, and this is not something I am embarrassed to admit. Cleo and Harmony use their canvas to speak of their own real-life issues, and further demonstrate the power of friendship between two girls. It is from here that I feel like an outsider looking in.

But that does’t mean I don’t idolise Cleo and Harmony at a similar level to that of Julian.

The Rev’ was brimming with the most diverse of crowds possible. Having never stepped foot in the venue, it took me ten or so minutes to realise that the band room was out the back. Standard form.

The duo shuffled on stage, both boasting the same wry smile. Without a word, they strolled into ‘Ideal World‘. From my position, front right, two clicks back, I could see so many silently mimicking the pair, word for word. If adoration was defined by the number of crowd members singing along, then you’d have to look far and wide to find an artist currently pulling the same response.

Girlpool’s live performance extends to their onstage mannerisms. See, Julian was all suave and sexy, full of all the cliches and seemingly capable of doing whatever he pleased. Meanwhile, Cleo and Harmony giggled their way through their early tracks, showing signs of apprehension, articulating their backyard nonsensical shit while talking to a crowd of strangers. However, as time wore on, the stories came together in a more coherent, absurdist-humour way. Conversation covered today’s hard-hitting issues, from Lizzie McGuire to the Olsen twins, all the while tuning their guitars and scrunching their noses at one another.

Their material was primarily pulled from the latest album, Before The World Was Big. It feels so poignant, so engrossing. They made a name for themselves with a bunch of two-minute hits of abrasion; ‘Chinatown’ would have seemed so jarring on that first EP. Today, their music still holds a similar bite, however such a bite masquerades as warm, gentle guitar pop. It is a more refined release, and that is reflected in its live translation. The lack of instrumentation allows the lyrical prowess of the duo to truly break through, in a manner that is so sorely missing in contemporary music.

On the note of lyrics, there was one particular comment made by the friend standing one spot in front. “They changed the lyrics to ‘Paint Me Colours’ and didn’t play ‘American Beauty’ or ‘Jane’. What does this say about their feelings towards the EP?”

The specific line was: “I will never understand / What it’s like to be a man / Who is white ’cause / He never has to fight.” The alteration? “I will never understand / What it’s like to be anyone else.” The reason? “I didn’t want to speak for anyone other than myself – I just woke up one day and didn’t feel comfortable with singing that line.” Perhaps this is a sign more of musical expression than personal preference; however, from an outsider’s perspective, it seems as if Girlpool have slowly slinked away from the force of their debut, and are leaning towards a more well-constructed, ponderous path.

And this is where my idolising sits, minding its own business, yet simply not shifting somewhere else.

Because it isn’t the rockstar complex that draws me to Girlpool. It’s their normality. They talk and act like my mates, and they make everyone feel like they’re in on the joke.

A large part of the Casablancas allure was how cool and popular he seemed. With Girlpool, it is simply their authenticity, a trait that runs all the way from their music to the way they scrunch up their noses at each other.

No bullshit, no pretending, and a duo as worthy of idolisation as any that I’ve ever come across.

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08 Feb Grimes’ pop ascendancy isn’t fully realised – yet

 

Grimes’ progression towards demonic pop star may not have reached its pinnacle on Wednesday, but it sure as hell ain’t too far off. With dancers by her side, she grafted her way through an eventful, and at times highly pleasing, set of progressive pop. However, in a manner that mirrors her latest offering Art Angels, the performance felt at times too jarring, and overall left an unwanted comparison at the forefront of my mind.

2013 Grimes is of course a completely altered beast musically to that of 2015/16, but it was noted that through the stronger electronic basis from which Visions climbed from, Boucher was able to weave a more fluid set. On this point Art Angels leaves her behind slightly, with such a wide variety of tracks, ranging from howling Taiwanese hip hop to flat-track EDM. So while Boucher’s Russian rendition of  ‘Scream’ was forceful and felt as if it held great purpose, ‘Butterflies’ really hindered the set’s ability to gather any true fluidity. That being said, to see her open with ‘Flesh Without Blood’ into ‘Realiti’ was a welcome surprise, the former being arguably one of the strongest pop releases of 2015.

 

 

While it could be suggested that Boucher has lost some flow in her music, her stage presence has certainly grown to a point where it matches the music being performed. No longer does she cut a hunched, solo silhouette. Now, bold and brazen and backed by dancers and multi-instrumentalists, Boucher has an undeniable stage presence, one that mirrors her transcendence from low-fi beats to more refined, unique pop. This is not to disregard her musical competency, however. Grimes does more on stage in one show than Katy Perry has done live in her life. She may not be twirling from the ceiling in silk gowns like Pink, but she is still showing many how authentic-not-synthetic pop can be in 2016.

Her stage banter, too, was very much in keeping with the show’s aesthetic. Flicking between the gushing and the maniacal, she certainly had me holding out for what she may say or do between songs. Uttering the standard shy-slogan “I don’t know what to say between songs”, she would then proceed to fill our ears with pleasantries such as “I need to pee and burp, and it’s a really weird feeling”. Her cover of ‘Ave Maria’ included said burp, and also, at its climactic moments, succeeded in giving me a slight case of the shivers.

 

 

But the clunk. Perhaps this is just a sign of the occasional deadwood that comes with a musical shift, but it is interesting to note nevertheless. Moreover, and maddeningly so, the clear lack of reaction to her earlier releases, such as ‘Phone Sex’ and ‘Be A Body’, had me wondering just how sharply the Canadian performers demographic had shifted. Is this possible shift caused by her supporting Lana Del Rey in America?

Maybe I am still hung up on Visions. Maybe that’s what it is.

Simply put, I am a high brow wanker with very little regard for an artist I feel so strongly towards shifting their sound in a direction that may not necessarily interest me as much. I’m a dickhead. But saying that doesn’t make seeing this shift in person any easier.

I thoroughly enjoyed large parts of Wednesday’s show, and closing with ‘Kill V. Maim’ was a near perfect conclusion. I just wish someone else in the weird world of interesting pop took it upon themselves to break the boundaries between mainstream and underground.

I just want another Visions, okay?

 

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20 Jan Premiere: The Ocean Party – ‘Light Weight’ (video)

A pillar of Melbourne musical consistency, The Ocean Party have returned with ‘Light Weight’, the title track off their fourth album.

The Wagga expats visually continue on a similar thread to their previous works, using absurdism in a self-deprecating fashion. The clip itself is inspired by the DVD cover of the Tom Hanks film ‘That Thing You Do’, and the “pure frustration of trying to run video editing software on a death-rattling PC”. And I’m not entirely sure what to make of this information. Either way, the clip made me laugh, and it doesn’t take itself too seriously. So that’s a big positive.

Somewhat unnsurprisingly given past releases, the comedy of the clip works as a lovely juxtaposition to the track’s content, delving into society’s unrelenting focus on the destination – one so overbearing that it can cloud judgement and lead to failure in reaching said destination. Condensed, the song is about missing your moment. In the words of the band, “I could very well be a 9-5 butcher living between smoke-breaks if I hadn’t got my head out of the clouds. One day you wake up and ‘here it comes’ has become ‘there it went’.”

 

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13 Jan A huge lineup and a quiet beach – our first Falls Festival in Marion Bay was well worth the trip

There was a sudden sense of familiarity in the air when I heard Leon Bridges croon, “Baby, baby, baby/I’m coming home” at a festival I’d never been to, in a state to which I was virgin. A crowd milled by the stage, no more than 100 strong, with perhaps another 5,000 lounged by the trees receding from the stage. When placed next to Falls’ flagship venue, all that Marion Bay shares even remotely is its lineup.

Stretched across two stages, the 2015/16 Falls Festival lineup was perhaps its most abrasive and progressive of the last five years. Filled with artists more suited to community radio and dingy pubs, it was an interestingly-crafted body of work. With this in mind, it pulled an intriguing demographic, with a combination of drunken mops of blonde hair and young families surprisingly dominating the campsite. The opportunity to swim in the neighbouring bay gave further confirmation of the decidedly muddled demographic, with every goddamn generation pulling a variety of near-painful contorted expressions as they braved the stinging, cold waters of the Tasman.

 

 

Leaving the beach was no simple task, especially when showered in the glorious rays of a 28-degree day. That being said, I didn’t come this far for a day at the beach. Returning for Gang Of Youths, I noticed a distinct Springsteen swagger to the lead bloke’s step. On the very rare occasion that he lived up to the bounce, it became quite the spectacle. They also covered LCD Soundsystem, demonstrating at least a moderate interest in music outside of the stadium realm, and subsequently earning mad props from all those who were delighted to recognise something in the early afternoon.

Leon Bridges was the first of notable surprises to perform. Perhaps expected to be seen among the 652 other artists performing at Bluesfest, Bridges looked a touch out of place at first. This meant very little as he strolled through one of the most gorgeous compilations of modern soul you are likely to find. With the style and the smile, Bridges provided an overwhelming sense of sheer contentment, so inconceivably pleasant.

Watching Kurt Vile can be like watching a comedian who only tells in-jokes, giggling away while the audience is left half-smiling, confused, and twiddling their toes. I fucking adored his set, but following him on stage can be a journey. Almost like a ritual, Vile would ‘whoo’ into the mic with such gusto in between every track. His stage banter was delightfully weird, and his subtle alterations to his recorded versions were more than welcome. The sing-along moment that came with ‘Pretty Pimpin’ was an early ‘Vibe of the Festival’ contender, although the piano-driven ‘Lost My Head There’ maintained its near-hypnotic powers, something I had longed to see live since hearing it on record.

I’d complain about the heat at this stage, but hey, at least it wasn’t 41 degrees – am I right, Mt. Duneeders?

 

 

Having had one set ruined by The Wombats’ presence on a lineup (see: The Dandy Warhols, Splendour In The Grass), I was aware of the British darlings’ effect on members of the crowd. This is why I was close to jumping for joy when I realised they had a significant crossover clash with chillwavers Toro Y Moi, a five-piece that seems to grow in confidence with every set they play. While The Wombats played to a hefty crowd down at the Valley Stage, Toro held a devoted smattering in their palms, disrupted only briefly for a “Fuck The Wombats” chant. I didn’t start it, I swear.

For a track so layered, ‘Empty Nesters’ translates brilliantly live, with the exuberance of the live guitarist making it all seem so effortless, focusing more on his rockstar moves than his guitar handiwork in a manner that didn’t seem forced at all. A delightful soundtrack to the sun’s final hour.

I didn’t see Hilltop Hoods. I think I was the only person at this festival who didn’t see Hilltop Hoods.

 

 

Foals have proven themselves to be one of the most trustworthy headliners in music. Their live show is frenetic, sweaty, visually stimulating, and stacked with songs where you don’t need to know the words to have a good time. Even when hindered by a slightly below par fifth album, the band had you believing that every single track was their favourite to date, whipping the crowd into a frenzy with the likes of ‘Inhaler’, ‘Olympic Airways’ and ‘Two Steps, Twice’. Superb showmanship from artists at the peak of their power.

Opening the day with another swim in the icy Tasman, the absurdity of how quickly my pale body dried and then proceeded to burn was a cause for much shock and discomfort. However, scanning the beach and seeing it littered with families, lads kicking the footy, and others lazing by the sand, it was almost surreal when contrasted against any other festival I’d attended. This gorgeous imagery emphasised the fact that the music is but one part of Marion Bay, and while it may be the dominant force, it does not weigh too heavily upon the various cultural delicacies on offer.

Speaking of cultural delicacies, I did happen to find myself tucking into a heaped serving of fish and chips as Soak opened proceedings. In a manner that mirrored the likes of Angel Olsen and Chan Marshall, Soak produces this sense of genuine fragility in the way she delivers. A fragility that brings with it an underlying sense of intensity, so much so that you struggle to avert your gaze.

 

 

Alpine were never short of confidence, however; the balls of passion on stage certainly weren’t as prominent when they were supporting Foals a few years back. They’ve evolved into one of the most enthralling live acts. Capturing a weirdness that seems genuine, Phoebe and Lou are so goddamn affable, flying from point to point, blurting out toilet humour as they please. ‘Gasoline’ typified the crowd’s enthusiasm, with many planting themselves upon the shoulders of their larger friends, while their latest music showed even greater depth and complexity, perhaps foreshadowing their ascension to a higher billing in the years to come? I’d like to think so.

Mac DeMarco is as capable of brilliance as he is of overbearing stupidity. Thankfully, he reigned it in for Tassie, providing a fitting soundtrack to the afternoon glow. Shit, 2 does still stand up as one of the better albums of the last 10 years, so there’s no reason why he shouldn’t be living up to his studio superiority.

In almost a direct contrast, Courtney Barnett can be occasionally criticised of not giving enough of a presence when performing live. Of course, this criticism never comes from me. I’ve seen her ten times live, and have rarely been able to utter a word in the minutes following each set. ‘Pickles In A Jar’ copped a sing-along, as did ‘Depreston’, and the number of musicians sitting in the upper reaches to watch her performance illustrates the respect she holds among musicians and fans alike. Abrasive? Sure. At least she owns it and doesn’t hide away behind lukewarm pop.

 

 

Paul Kelly & The Merri Soul Sessions had me proceeding with caution. PK’s poetic sounds were as present in my house as spaghetti bolognese, so I have grown up with a certain level of guarded admiration for the man (only guarded, of course, because you aren’t meant to like the music your parents like when you are ten years old).

Kelly’s band were superb – a formation of the some of Australia’s great voices, from Sultan to Clairy Brown – as they recreated a collection of beautifully crafted tunes. Dan Sultan’s performance of ‘Look So Fine, Feel So Low’ cuts through at the same rate Kelly’s does, executed to perfection.

However, with all this considered, it was Kelly dominating the stage with ‘How To Make Gravy’ and ‘Dumb Things’ that received the most rousing reaction.

 

 

As the night drew closer and closer to midnight, the excitement seemed to overtake many, with the most amusing representations of intoxication littered through the crowd. To avoid the heat of this madness, I briskly left the Valley Stage as RÜFÜS were due to perform, and instead caught the festival staples, King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard. With the first true mosh of the festival, King Gizz whipped those watching into a frenzy and hit its pinnacle during ‘Cellophane’, when both Courtney Barnett and Mac DeMarco leapt into the crowd, surfing their way through. These artists showing their willingness and desire to involve themselves with the fans is perhaps the greatest example of the community atmosphere of Marion Bay, an atmosphere that so many festivals lack. King Gizzard were absolutely phenomenal, and it is almost a crime they aren’t bigger in Australia.

I like to end things on a bright note, so I think I’ll just avoid mentioning the Bloc Party set. Oh, you know Bloc Party, that band who had me convinced to go to Falls? Yeah, them.

I’m glad I went though. It’s nice to be able to spend three days with a couple of great mates at an interstate festival, set just off the beach, with a lineup so diverse that it managed to capture a number of my favourite artists from various genres. I’ve been at times skeptical towards the bookers’ mentality for Falls Festival, but I believe this was one of the strongest years they’ve had. And with all the criticism smeared within music today, I think this may be one of those moments where a congratulatory high-five is in order.

 

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13 Nov Premiere: Plum – ‘Black Doris’ EP

Black Doris feels like an important record.

It has this thick air of pensiveness surrounding it, a hazy mist of textured shoegaze, with layer upon layer of instrumental melancholia.

The bedroom project of Caleb Jacobs (The Cathy’s), Plum is not a sound easy to tie down. It’s ponderous without seeming mopey, a trap that many shoegaze artists fall into. Yes, you can hear elements of Slowdive and Ride in their synthesised walls of sound, but there is also the jangle of The Go-Betweens present, and a touch of Beach House in the construction of the guitar harmonics.

The Beach House relevance is perhaps most pertinent in the opening track, ‘Tiny Feet’, where the layers of warm synths are intruded upon by a syrupy guitar line that sways with Jacobs’ vocals. Much like Alex Scally of Beach House, Jacobs does not give great variation to his guitar melody, allowing repetition in the riff to add to the washed out aesthetic of the track. Similarly, the lack of coherency in the vocals gives it the enigmatic tinge that would no doubt draw the comparisons to other shoegaze luminaries and influences.

Built around lo-fi production that crackle and pierces, ‘Reveal’ is the strongest of the EP. “I wanted something that you could feel/how did you know where to find me?” helps maintain the ambiguity that surrounds the EP, a chorus that holds elements that one could relate to, without making a whole lot of sense. The hook seems basic however has you returning, and the sound of the track jumping in the opening to some degree introduces the world of ambient and experimental music. ‘Pavement’, although not as hook-laden, still nestles itself within your subconscious, a melody that simply won’t leave your head. What I love about this track is its sudden, jarring and overdrive-heavy synth patches, that only last a second or two, but leave an imprint upon the otherwise gentle first single.

The final track, ‘Giv.’ works beautifully as a closing track. Opening with an acoustic twang that evokes memories of Cool Sounds ‘Control’, the track introduces a subtle strain to the vocals of Jacobs. Others may find such a strain to be countering against the very framework of the EP, and whatever genre one may choose to place it within.

However, it is touch of reality that brings the EP together, in that it slices through the near otherworldly sounds of Plum. Without it, Black Doris could have stumbled into the pile of monotony that surrounds dream pop and its offshoots. However, it is the strain of the vocals and the crackle of the production that screams the authenticity of a bedroom producer, and it is this authenticity that makes ‘Black Doris’ rather transcendental in its sound.

 

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19 Aug Who Killed Splendour 2015?


It feels almost cruel to line up the multitude of magnificent sets from Splendour In The Grass and then pick a top ten. So many miss this list by millimetres, while some are combined together as one to inform of the beauty that was laid bare. While there was no scorching heat, third-degree burns or mass dehydration, this year’s festival did bring with it the odd health hazard. Stomping about in my ZX Flux’s and filling my socks with literal litres of mud was not my dream start to the festival. Nor was the mild bout of food-related illness on the first night. It ain’t a festival without dickheads, but at the magnitude and size, the masses behaved themselves exceptionally well. Splendour is fun – it brings together people of all walks of life, puts them in a bowl of mud and says, “Go enjoy yourselves”. And with the sets spoken of below, it’s pretty gosh darn hard not to.

 

10. Death Cab For Cutie

The O.C. is my favourite television series. There, I said it. And I’m not going to focus my entire fucking explanation of Death Cab’s set on their relevance to that beautiful, beautiful show. Death Cab played a set that was weirdly tailored towards my tastes, and thus perhaps somewhat deflating for others. Tracks such as ‘Soul Meets Body’ and ‘…Cath’ were sure to bring significant excitement; however, it was ‘The Tourist’ that had me jumping for joy. Death Cab arguably brought the first real ‘pinch me’ moment when performing the full eight minutes of ‘I Will Possess Your Heart’, and showed the high levels of virtuosity expected from a band that has been around for more than a decade.

9. Seekae/I’lls

The guilt levels are high here. I’lls and Seekae deserve their own category. Eurgh.

Seekae were the first act I was desperate to see at Splendour. Having witnessed the frenzied excitement of their live show 12 months prior, I was slightly surprised they were chosen to perform at a festival that also included far safer electronic alternatives. Of course, my fears that their selection would lead to an empty tent of awkward foot twiddling were proven folly, and Seekae had the newest tent, ‘Tiny Dancer’, filled to capacity. While I’lls played to a slightly smaller crowd, they nevertheless illustrated just how far they had come in 12 months, with a masterfully constructed set that showcased their latest EP. With a similar crowd attending both, it created this weird sense of an underlying subculture, perhaps more commonly found in The Mercat at 3am than at Australia’s biggest festival. That’s not a statement of taste or distaste, rather an observation of the alignment of crowds with particular sounds.

 

The crowd for Mark Ronson – Photo by Brandon John

8. Dandy Warhols

Dandy Warhols delivered, somewhat surprisingly, one of the sets of the year in 2014. While certainly more suited to a dingy bar than a main stage at a festival, the touring veterans still managed to recreate the enormous sounds of their back catalogue. A large portion of the crowd may have been watching solely for ‘Bohemian Like You’, but such is the strength of their live show that many walked away pleasantly surprised, having been left enthralled for the full hour of music.

 

7. Ryan Adams/Jenny Lewis

Similarly to Seekae and I’lls, this pairing deserve their own separate sections. Alas, having toured together and drawing similar crowds, they seemed an apt duo to cover. Jenny Lewis opened proceedings for me at Splendour, dressed in a full white suit. Her backing band were equally elaborate in their getup, while the Rilo Kiley throwbacks were simply superb. ‘A Better Son, Daughter’ was also the first sing-along, while I am a firm believer that ‘One Of The Guys’ was one of the most underrated pop songs of 2014. Adams, meanwhile, was everything I expected: petulant, abrasive, and extremely entertaining. While his releases haven’t been of the same quality as Lewis’ in the past few years, his back catalogue is so extensive that his live show never leaves you wanting.

 

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The view over the amphitheatre – Photo by Brandon John

6. LUCIANBLOMKAMP

Part of the Red Bull brigade, Lucian took his mid-arvo slot and transformed it into something resembling a dingy, late-night atmosphere. His haunting sounds provided a nice juxtaposition to the bubbly nature of the majority of other acts witnessed on the Saturday. Guest vocalist Rose helped out on a couple of tracks, including a Veronicas cover and a chillingly good rendition of ‘You Are My Sunshine’. With his second album not too far away, this was an intriguing taste of what is to come.

 

 5. Paul Mac

Splendour In The Grass 2015. Friday night prime time. Guest vocalists. A track that defined the year of its release. Sound familiar? That’s right, it’s… wait, who? No, not Mark Ronson.

Paul Mac.

While his set provided a number of highlights, it was always going to be one moment that would tie this set, and festival, together.

Seeing the Mac-daddy drop ‘Just The Thing’, the mother of all anthems, had me jumping for glee as endorphins shot through the roof.

Shit, that was fun. As time wears on, some songs get old. That banger will live on, though, a timeless classic.

 

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Trudging back through the rain – Photo by Brandon John

4. Dune Rats

I didn’t like Dune Rats on the Friday of Splendour. I thought they were a poor representation of where Australian music was today, basic music written for a crowd more interested in the weed smoked by the band members than the music itself.

By Saturday afternoon, I was more than converted to the cause. Having never seen them live, it was perhaps unfair for me to have held such fierce judgement. They are an incredibly tight band, capable of holding a massive crowd in the palm of their hand. ‘Red Light, Green Light’, beyond the bongs, is actually a fantastic spurt of melodic punk, and seeing the genuine smiles on the faces of the band members was enough to warm the iciest of hearts.

They may not be the most challenging of artists, but they are a much stronger force than I first thought.

 

3. Pond

Man, it feels like Nick Allbrook leaving Tame Impala was a good move. The difference between a Pond gig in 2012 and now is astounding. They are a tighter, more compact power, while still capable of 10-minute jams. Their 2015 release is full of gems. ‘Sitting Atop of A Crane’ is even more expansive in a live setting, while ‘Giant Tortoise’ is a beautiful song for smashing into other bodies inside a mudbowl. What impressed me most was the size of the crowd. At 7:30pm, Pond had 10,000 followers singing along to every word, a fair feat for a band unfairly viewed as a ‘Tame Impala sister band’.

 

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Florence packed out the amphitheatre – Photo by Brandon John

2. Tame Impala

Simply the most hyped set of the week. The return of Tame Impala, both in studio and live form, is something that has left many Aussies smitten, squealing for joy. Their change of direction sonically hasn’t really caused a major shift in the translation live. The shift away from the psychedelic tag on ‘Currents’ is something that has been grossly overstated, and this was most evident on the Sunday night. Tracks such as ‘The Moment’ and ‘The Less I Know The Better’ slotted in nicely among the likes of ‘Alter Ego’ and ‘Elephant’, demonstrating that Kevin and co. shouldn’t be losing too many of their oldest fans with this ‘change in direction’.

 

1. Wolf Alice

Wolf Alice are so exciting. So goddamn exciting. And it took me a long time to realise that. The British buzz band have monstered Glastonbury, and their natives are talking about them like they’re the new Pixies. While I’ll leave the hyperbole to the trashier types, this four-piece did play the set of the festival in the North Byron Parklands. ‘Your Love’s Whore’ is full, anthemic, and just made to be played to 30,000 people. Their early arvo set time didn’t command a crowd of that volume, but one can only wonder what they’ll be playing to when they return next.

 

And breaking all the rules… Total Giovanni

It is so unfair when Total Giovanni is on a festival lineup. They make everyone else either seem too serious, boring or just inferior. For a band that has released a mere four tracks, they are the experts of festivals. In a crowd littered with musicians and dominated by Melbourne-siders, Gio made a late claim for set of the festival. There were dance circles, shirts were removed, and we all just had a really good fucking time. ‘Human Animal’ has the most commandingly squeaky synth line, and everyone loves to clutch at their chest, chanting, “I just can’t control my love, baby”. They just make this shit look easy.

 

Words by Alex Gleeson / Photos by Brandon John

Shout outs to the legends at Mary’s burgers keeping us fed – Photo by Brandon John

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10 Aug Melt Festival 2015


There’s a lot to love about Germany. A bubbling hot pot of all music, electronic and otherwise. The food is sublime, the people gorgeous, and the days long.

I loved embracing all that fitted within the culture of this beautiful nation. Except for when I needed to be at a bus shelter in 20 minutes, and the bus driver decided to show us the city in all its beauty. Melt, for me, began in a screaming mess, sprinting from one corner of the depot to another, demanding ‘Melt’ or ‘Ferropolis’ at all the blank Germanic faces. I felt like a pillock. I looked like one.

My screaming, flying mass of bags and sticks seemed to do the trick. A mug of acknowledgement shone brightly my way, and I scrambled upon the bus with barely a second to spare.

There is nothing that screams ‘European Festival’ more than the 30 euro tent that breaks on arrival and is barely looked at again. Some things are cheap for a reason. The heat was also as predictable as it was oppressive, bearing down upon our pasty Melbourne bodies like a hungry coyote with its prey in sight.

A trip to the water is enough to wash away any predisposed fears of overheating, with the deliciously cool water filling up by the second. Eager heads bobbed from side to side, some daring to bring their inflatable mattress in for a dip, others coming pre-prepared with various phallic-shaped flotation devices, because why not. In the mid-afternoon summer glow, there was a hue of blissful ignorance to the outside world. The Scandinavian giggle could be heard from a mile away. So too could the Irish guffaw, or the Aussie chortle. It was a coming together of the nations of the world, many taking advantage of a sun that had been hiding from them in recent months. Such a hue made for an atmosphere rarely recreated outside of a festival dynamic. So magnificent, you can’t help but walk about with a dopey smile plastered upon your face.

And then the music started.

It’s funny to consider that for many, the opening artist of the weekend was their most highly anticipated. At 7:30pm, the lake was full. By 8pm, barely a bobbing head was in sight. Jamie XX graced the stage by 8:45pm, promising a set suited to the party atmosphere created on the soaked sands of his stage. The sun setting behind him gave it something of a superficially romantic nature; however, his set was anything but. Flooring bass and frantic drum patterns were matched with the occasional melodic twist. It was greeted in the same way as his set at Falls. While appreciated by many, few could work out how to move. One Danish chap decided that flailing arms suited the vibe. His beaming smile saved him from a belting, as his forearms nearly collected a number of nearby listeners on multiple occasions. Bless.

Having released one of the more talked about albums of the year thus far, it was interesting to note that a large portion of Jamie’s set was filled with beats unreleased. This meant that the likes of ‘Girl’ and ‘Obvs’ were thrown to the wayside. Having witnessed the impeccably constructed Falls set, I was left a little underwhelmed by Jamie’s offerings. Visually, it was astounding. Watching the masses bereft of care and swaying in the water was quite the sight. A musical experience unique to the festival. Perhaps expecting Jamie XX to match the beauty of this visual experience is unfair, but I’d be lying if I said I left satisfied.

The impression Jamie placed upon me was intensified by the incredible sets from his contemporaries. Nils Frahm played to a silent crowd, everyone seemingly hypnotized by the local multi-instrumentalist. Playing through as many as seven sets of keyboards, Frahm stalked from side to side. With a blisteringly white backdrop, Frahm’s figure looked near-angelic, dripping with effort and sweat. The layering of melodies made for an immersive experience, and while being an unusually mellow choice for its timeslot, Frahm visibly won over a German-centric crowd within minutes.

Similarly, on the second night, Jon Hopkins produced a set of undeniable enormity. ‘Open Eye Signal’ with a backdrop of the track’s film clip had the post-Kylie Minogue crowd heaving, disarming any who believed he was a poor fit to follow the queen of pop. What made the set so impressive, strangely, was the quality of sound. This was a constant across the festival, but for Hopkins, no cliché could illustrate just how powerful and influential the sound was. It allowed for him to be set free, turning his, at times, ambient sounds into festival highlights. Needless to say, both Frahm and Hopkins outdid Jamie XX on this occasion.

It’d be rude to speak of Melt without acknowledging both Kylie and Giorgio. So I will.

Giorgio Moroder provided one of the most unusual DJ sets possible. Not many people consider mixing Akon, Avicii and Donna Summer, and yet the prolific Italian knows no boundaries. It received a mixed response, with many of his bigger fans viewing it as a copout. I enjoyed myself. I think a certain amount of alcohol was needed to reach a level of enjoyment, though.

Contrary to this, Kylie fucking killed it. It’s easy to forget just how many classic tracks came from the girl from Ramsay Street. ‘Spinning Around’‘Can’t Get You Out Of My Head’ and her cover of ‘99 Red Balloons’ all had the crowd popping; however, it was ‘Kids’ and an impromptu dance group that brought it all together. We all jumped on board Kylie, and we couldn’t get enough of it. I never thought I’d see her. Then again, I never thought I’d see Village People. These things happen. Enjoy it.

Pete Tong and Sven Vath provided sets more outside my comfort zone, but, particularly in the case of Vath, there was a lot to admire. His Cocoon setup was amazing, and the intensity of his beats provided a unique juxtaposition with the rising sun. Tong, meanwhile, played to one of the most uncomfortably inebriated crowds I have ever set my eyes upon. Granted, it was 7:30am at the tail end of the second night, but it did detract from the set just a touch.

The last night was something of an easing off after the hysterics of nights one and two. alt-J redeemed themselves in my eyes. After an average sophomore album, I was close to putting a line through their name. They reminded me of the strength of their debut with superb renditions of ‘Taro’ and ‘Tessellate’, while ‘Breezeblocks’, no longer a saturated Triple J track, brought the set to a soaring climax. Likewise, Toro Y Moi redeemed themselves. Having been overrun by significant sound issues on their last visit to Australia, it was a relief hearing the pristine sounds of the latest LP, What For?, uninhibited. ‘Empty Nesters’ was translated beautifully to a live setup, with the fuzz of guitars matching the melodic layering of Chaz Bundwick, and ‘Say That’ was in many ways the final flourish of the festival, a pulsing highlight that meshes together elements of hip-hop and house, performed by a full band.

Melt is slowly growing in credentials as one of the must-see festivals in the world, with its simply sublime setting, friendly atmosphere and consistency for releasing lineups with great depth. To bid thee farewell is a difficult task, for I cannot definitively claim “‘til next year.” Rather, it is ‘til next time. I’m skint as shit, and doubt I could fund a trip to Germany for the festival in 12 months’ time. All I can do is envy those who call Germany home, curse my low-paying job, and dream of a return to the festival that left me exhausted but brimming with quality memories. Cheers Melt.

Words by Alex Gleeson / Photo by Gianna Mazzeo

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