Now in its third year of running, Gaytimes has been laying down some roots in the landscape of boutique Australian music festivals and seems to be setting itself up for further growth. This year continued to deliver a variety of artists consistent in energy, creativity and innovation. With headliners Le1f and Miss Blanks, local cool-aunties of queer-punk Wetlips, the on-the-rise and ever-talented groups HEXDEBT and SAATSUMA, techno goddess Simona, our fav club angel Brooke Powers and many, many more, this year was pretty damn huge!
Before we jump into some delicious discussions of the performances, let’s take a mo to think about Gaytimes — the concept, the intentions, the festival. In many ways, it’s an exciting, fresh and progressive event — it celebrates sex positivity, body positivity and (of course) gayness. Mainstream camping festivals can, quite frankly, be aggressive and unsafe for femmes and queers. A space that focuses on safety and sexual freedom comes as a breath of fresh air.
The tricky thing with smaller festivals that aim to offer support to a particular community, is that in doing so they run the risk of alienating other intersections of the community that can be (and often are) moreso marginalised than the dominant group being catered for. For some, the festival may have arrived on a silver platter, ready for enthusiastic consumption. For others, it may have felt like they still had to scrape tooth and nail to be heard and valued, much like they do in mainstream spaces.
This issue reared its head at last year’s Gaytimes, with artists of colour feeling tokenized and the dominant language around gender and sexuality very steeped in binary. This year, Gaytimes did make effort to cater towards the T of LGBT with a safe-space gorgeously named Transgentle, but it still carried the feeling of a band-aid to a larger issue that wasn’t being overtly addressed.
While this kind of stuff happens literally all the time across the music industry, it feels more insidious when it plays out in spaces so close to home.
It’s clear that larger festivals get away with more. There isn’t necessarily outrage at Laneway not having a trans safe-space, for example (although I would definitely get behind one happening!) – nor are shockwaves sent when jocky dude-bros take up space running round in blackmilk leggings at Meredith. We’ve not had much choice but to accept that mainstream events are too often polluted with the manifestations of Australia’s colonial roots. But when alienating behaviour happens at small, community-oriented festivals, and particularly when it manifests at both a punter level and an organisational one, it cuts a little deeper and pushes further on the wedge that already exists between marginalised communities and the dominant cis/white/gay scene.
Something I would love to see happening in the future of Gaytimes would be for the festival to invite more people of colour, trans people, people with different levels of ability and queer people to help shape the festival at an organisational level. The potential for this event to support and nurture bonds between communities is huge and inspiring, but voices from different communities need to be heard and raised up for that potential to be realised. If Gaytimes can centralise intersectionality as a principal value, that’s something I can definitely get behind and I will be very excited about its future.
All of that aside, the talent on-stage was in absolute abundance. While the sun lit up the grassy hill, things really got rolling in the mid-afternoon with LALIC X SLIPPY MANE. Slippy’s low-fi rap rolled smooth as butter over Lalic’s full-bodied synths and vocoder backing vox, and the two worked the stage with effortless cool and charisma. It was a treat to kick off the sonic tastes of the day.
Next up in the festivities, Callan took to the stage with Slam Ross on the drums. These two have been making some incredible waves, Slam a new addition to what was originally Callan’s solo act. Slam’s additional dynamic fuels the fire tenfold and the two of them offer a musical presence that catapults Callan’s masterful lyricism and looping melodies into something beyond cosmic. If you haven’t seen them live yet, please get on it. Oh, and they call themselves BABY, now.
Synth-pop duo Pillow Pro breezed onto the stage with their special brand of energy that has been turning heads for the last couple of years. With their lounge-RnB instrumentals unfolding as they interlaced their sensual vocals, Sophie and Christobel cultivated a dance floor dreamscape that got the crowd on their feet and moving.
Established legends Wet Lips consistently deliver a cocktail of menacing femme power, devil-may-care punk assertion and brazen garage rock, and this gig was no different. With their performance at Gaytimes marking their fourth last before a hiatus, the atmosphere was charged with a mix of nostalgia and excitement unique to a longstanding relationship between band and audience. It was powerful, gritty and, at times, hilarious (Grace’s stage banter gets me in stitches) — they’ve been a big deal for a while and they once again proved why.
SAATSUMA saw us into the sunset with their masterful cascading rhythm and deeply human lyrics. Memphis Kelly’s vocals drip and hum over the band’s signature building synths, creating an atmosphere of vulnerable sincerity.
Later into the night, the phenomenal Le1f burst onto the stage with the explosive track ‘Koi,’ channelling adrenalin and empowerment that reverberated through the crowd. The 28-year-old N.Y.C based rapper, dancer and performer Khalif Diouf has been honing his flirty, provocative and addictive hip-pop sound for several years, and is now buoyant on the wave of well-deserved success. Le1f served an energetic set loaded with a mix of horny trap, futuristic rap and an undercurrent of PC music production, all the while challenging outdated ideas around race, gender, sexuality and social justice.
After a night of periodically sweating it out on the d-floor of Gaytimes’ after-hours upstairs club and freezing one’s fingers off in the cold outside, Spike Fuck warmed things up in the arvo on Saturday. Absolutely captivating, endearing and piercingly genuine, Spike’s post-punk, new-wave and sometimes-almost-country sound holds the listener in tender arms. To see her live is to be transported.
Shaken out of our indulgently melancholic lulls, next on was HEXDEBT. This cataclysmic four-piece released their first single ‘Bitch Rising’ last year in October, and have been playing a string of electrifying shows around Melbourne since. Before launching into their set, bassist Isobel D’Cruz Barnes said a few powerful words on the matter of centralising POC voices in queer spaces that have historically been white-dominated, especially in Australia, where our events are already on stolen land. It set the scene for the band’s stance towards social change that circulates through their lyrics and stage presence like a heartbeat. The final renditions of the line ‘my boyfriend’s friends never liked me’ in ‘Bitch Rising’ were alive with the audacity of HEXDEBT’S signature uniting power.
A little different from her set-up at Meredith and Laneway, Miss Blanks took to the stage without her dancers and this time with Simona on the decks (what a treat!). The energy she brought was no less and no different, however, and she rallied the crowd into a passionate exchange of drive and sensory power. The Brisbane artist offers her music like an extension of her personality — there’s humour, anger, vivaciousness, with an ever-present undercurrent of empowerment. It punches up in all the right ways and extends a hand for listeners to join her in doing so.
Later, with the sun deeply set and those ethereal Lake Mountain trees glowing in the stage light, it was with much excitement that the crowd awaited Simona’s performance. It was a special moment seeing Kristina Miltiadou join the stage for backing vocals — a joining of musical forces too good to be true, and a while in the making. I’m excited for whatever these two have in store for us. Simona was joined for further tracks by dancers Lyu and Mel, who brought an additional charge to the turbo-techno queen’s set. To finish her performance and close off Gaytimes’ mainstage came Simona’s textured, structured and transformative track ‘Season 4 / Episode 6’.
It wasn’t long before daylight filtered through the windows of the upstairs club and the last stragglers of the dance floor powered on with the inexplicable dedication of those acclimatised to kicking on. There was a good reason to stick it out, though, and that reason was Brooke Powers, whose 5 am vinyl house set was a testament to her ever-growing talent as an innovative DJ. Peppered with nods to New York house, avant-garde techno and disco/house, Brooke’s set was an uplifting journey that marked the festival’s end. It was definitely a special note on which to finish.
Over a decade in the running, Laneway Festival has well and truly solidified its stronghold in the Australian music scene as a leading day festival. Always boasting a stellar lineup of international and local acts, this year was no different with the likes of The Internet, Bonobo, Slowdive, Mac Demarco, War on Drugs, Badbadnotgood, Miss Blanks and many, many more.
The downside of such a star-studded cast is the familiar and constant rigmarole of Laneway — the perilous clashes that leave one running from stage to stage in an attempt to catch as many acts as possible. This being one of the few years the festival hadn’t sold out, however, meant a fewer people in rotation and a bit more room to breathe when you did finally get to plonk yourself down in front of your stage of choice.
Before we get into the nitty-gritty, though, it would be amiss not to mention the exponential growth and change this festival has seen in its years of running. With Big Day Out’s demise and the emergence of the vibrant day festival Sugar Mountain, Laneway now slots in towards the mainstream end and certainly draws a mixed-bag crowd (some who I am not so sure would survive Meredith’s no dickhead policy, for example).
That being said, Laneway seems to have its proverbial fingers in enough pies to keep its life forces at an all-time high, continuing to cater to a diverse crowd of nostalgic rockers, internet kids, indie-pop lovers, techno daddies and everyone in between. Despite feeling slightly as though one is walking through a surrealist shopping mall (I’m referring to the constant advertisements, streams of stalls and gimmicky bars), and suffering utter fatigue at the sheer amount of legwork involved in getting from one stage to another under the beating sun, I still (optimistically, perhaps) think Laneway is pretty alright.
It’s not everyone’s cup of tea and unfortunately, it has well and truly shifted from the intimate music lover’s experience it once was. But, I mean, you still do get to see some really, really good bands.
Walking through the festival gates (adorned with a big ol’ rainbow – a nod to the queers, Cheers Laneway!), I heard Spike Fuck’s dulcet tones floating over from the Dean Turner stage. Performing with a full band (named The FML Band, at that!), Spike’s songs took on a whole new energy, bolstered by the band’s absolute teen-dream-70s-icon demeanours and outfits. Adorned with aviators and radiating ethereal and anachronistic coolness, the nostalgia of Spike’s songs hit hard and had the growing crowd on their feet and swaying. It was a pretty special moment for those who got down early.
Cable Ties took to the stage with the fierce energy they are fast becoming known for. This band have been deservedly shooting for the stars, opening the stage at Meredith in ’16, slipping over to Europe for a brief tour last year and releasing an incredible album along the way. The three band members belting out the chorus of ‘Same For Me’ (Nick Brown mic-less and singing just for the hell of it, what pureness) gave a powerful energy that the crowd happily bore the sun for.
Hopping over to Dream Wife at the river-side Spinning Top Stage. I was particularly excited for this performance, as was the increasing mob gathered to welcome the Icelandic-Brightoneon femme rock group. With dizzying stage presence evocative of Debbie Harry, lead singer Rakel Mjöll seemed at home on the stage and delivered the band’s hits ‘Somebody’, ‘Lolita’ and ‘Kids’ with memorable charisma. As a group, the three bandmates and drummer wove together tightly and projected an inspiringly energetic dynamic; it was hard to tear myself away!
But while the Wives rocked on down by the river, I jogged on over to the Future Music Stage to check the last of Melbourne act Kllo. Channelling varying degrees of electro-pop, alternative soundscape, hypnotic hip-hop vocals and bubbling housey beats, Kllo’s sound is liquid and delicious. Riding the highs of their continuing success, the duo worked the crowd into a fluid dance and the audience seemed hell-pleased to hear some treats off the debut full-length album Backwater, which came out October last year.
At the much more green and breezy Future Music Stage, next on was Brisbane’s Miss Blanks. Fed up with the commodification and tokenisation in the white-consumption-oriented Australian hip-hop scene, Miss Blanks is hitting new highs in a variety of artistic musical spaces, originally catching eyes at Dark Mofo in Hobart last year and later, BIGSOUND. Now, rocking out to a huge and pumped crowd at Laneway, I don’t think any audience member could have been left uncertain of Miss Blank’s title as iconic. Complete with her backup dancers and Kish Lal on the decks, the Australian trans woman of colour delivered a set of absolute bangers that hit all the right spots and pushed themes of black power, body positivity and femme energy to the forefront.
Continuing the theme of femme badassness in typically ‘boys club’ genres, Lucy Cliché once again proved herself to be a force of nature with a flawless live techno set at the I Oh You Bloc Party Stage. Despite it being a kind of weird vibe (the designated dance-floor area also being a walkway to and from a big ol’ portaloo arena), Lucy made the best of things and masterfully built her industrial electro sound from her all hardware set-up. I kind of wanted to grab people walking by and be like ‘hello, you’re missing some really good shit please stay and dance,’ but look, these things happen.
Back down at the Dean Turner Stage, the sun was beginning to set and the night air was a sweet relief, giving the atmosphere a transformative lift. Bonobo drew an excited crowd and sent the vibes flying high, opening with the dreamy-smooth and building ‘Migration’, before inviting Szierdene on stage to sing ‘Surface’ and playing through a set-list of diverse and powerful tracks. Simon Green’s ability to cascade through genres and sounds and have the crowd blissing out to every Bonobo iteration is testament to his skill as an artist.
With a breeze picking up along the riverfront, reformed 90s shoegazers Slowdive carried the crowd gently into the balmy summer night with their shimmering guitars and meditative vocal lines. Seeing old rock dogs in the crowd holding hands and swaying with tears in their eyes filled me with such tenderness, it was one of those ‘could literally sob’ kind of performances. Their finishing song, a reworked cover of Syd Barret’s ‘Golden Hair’ was the crescendo of their finely crafted dreamscape that left the enraptured crowd in a state of awe.
Wandering back to the Future Music Stage, now swathed in darkness and holding a growing throng of punters still riding on a high from the days’ events, Badbadnotgood gave us all a sonic hug, closing out the festival with their jazz-fusion set. It was probably what we all needed, without even really knowing it.
For those who have had their ears tuned to Eilish Gilligan‘s musical narrative over the years, ‘The Feeling‘ will come as a reward; something sweet to lift the winter blues, packed with all the elements of an Eilish track that keep us craving more.
From the Melbourne artist’s humble beginnings as a singer with a bedroom project and a SoundCloud account, Gilligan has graced international stages with her dreamy alt-pop group Frida, and as touring singer with Japanese Wallpaper.
‘The Feeling’ brings us back to her internal world, mapping instances when feelings get the better of rationality, and you can get a little lost underground. Lyrically, think Joni Mitchell or Bon Iver. Sonically, think Lorde or London Grammar.
Eilish rides the razor edge of sparse yet bubbly indie-pop, with a sprinkling of intense melancholy. If this is your first time hearing her music, ‘The Feeling’ is a wonderful introduction – it keeps true to the bedroom style of Eilish’s earlier work, while undertones of piano-house and dance-pop are indicative of her growth as an artist.
The track itself is as layered as its subject matter, with the Eilish’s musical roots in classical singing laying foundation to the melody. Easing us in, her voice is almost operatic, decorated with static and accompanied only by a simple but viscous chord progression — a moody opening reminiscent of The XX or The Knife. As distorted vocals kick in over a barely-there beat, Eilish casually puts things into gear and reminds us we’re listening to something that can’t be so easily pinpointed as dance track or piano ballad.
‘I’m in the ground / everyone else flies,’ Eilish sings as the building synths lap like waves that push us from wanting to dance to wanting to write prose poetry about heartache. With the mournfully sung ‘The Feeling comes / it comes again / it takes my breath,’ Eilish brings in a dancehall/house hybrid of layered percussions and synths that weave around her flowing vocals in a deceptively simple manner.
‘Deceptively’ being a key word here, as Eilish has an obvious talent for both composition and writing lyrics. There is a lot to be said for the art of boiling down complex emotional narratives into a skilfully crafted, bittersweet pop track, and ‘The Feeling’ does exactly that. Eilish has given us a track that steps onto the dance floor with its head still in the clouds, inviting us to do the same.