“A summit of music and art.” Nowadays this tag-line feels like something that all camping or one-day-ers must obligatorily attach to their short form descriptions. There seems to be a need to promise more than just music in order to appeal to the cohorts of millennial punters carefully deciding to how to part with their hard-earned dollars in an over saturated market. And few festivals can actually deliver.
Paradoxically, the music on a line-up is clearly still the main drawcard for many of those attending. The ‘art’ aspect of most festivals is presented as a sad afterthought, often reduced to a bunch of milk crates zip-tied together in the corner as a chill-out lounge #installation. So when an organisation like Sugar Mountain manages to pull off a day that genuinely combines both a considered music offering with a roster of international and local art curated to match, it creates a fantastic festival experience often promised but rarely delivered.
Now in its fourth year, Sugar Mountain has moved to ACCA, down the road from its previous home at the VCA. A new venue, coupled with the sense that SM is no longer the new kid on the scene, raised a few questions about how the festival would continue to outdo itself as it comes of age. But a promising line up and strong brand partnerships (such as that with Boiler Room) certainly put it on a strong footing.
Here are 15 thoughts we had while taking it all in…
ACCA is a very different space to the VCA. Narrow alleys and roads were replaced with large gravel expanses and tall, sloping rusted metal façades. It instantly gave the festival a different vibe, but once the crowds trickled in and found spaces to get moving, it really didn’t matter.
The Boiler Room stage was truly a sight to behold. Thousands of people crowded around the centralised decks, which themselves were between two large tiered slopes, creating a contour of dancing bodies. Check out the live stream of Honey Dijon’s set to get an idea of just how wild things got.
A testament to how Boiler Room has become the coolest live-set brand in the world is watching how many people push and squeeze through the crowd until they’re front and centre on camera. Please ask yourself some hard questions if you feel the need that badly to immortalise your gurn on the internet.
Solid early performances on the main stage pushed a larger music narrative front and centre. The largely female dominated roster all took to the stage wearing Camp Cope tees in solidarity with the band’s stance and comments at the recent Falls Festival regarding unequal booking representation. It’s encouraging to see that what might have originally been a linear conversation confined to one festival has been able to permeate through to others and become a larger topic within the industry.
Hyped Canadian up-and-comer Project Pablo set a perfect tempo for the Boiler Room early in the day. His signature blend of funk house, tech and disco captured the sunny arvo vibes perfectly with tracks like Octo Octa – “Move On (Let Go) (De-stress Mix)” and the pina coladas of mp3s, DJ Tonka’s “Radical Noise (Original Mix)”.
Sample Beer’s ROVER units are a game changer. Having mobile kegs moving through the crowds is the type of innovation the brand and SM have become known for. Head of activation Aaron Ollington told us “We’ve had a great relationship with Sugar Mountain and think we know what works best with this audience and festival… This way you don’t have to leave the bands, or your spot. You can turn around and just get a beer.”
Kegs are pretty neat, but it’s time we actually started partying like it’s 2018 and had our tinnies dropped to us by drones.
The large-scale calligraphy mural by Japanese artists Hiroyasu Tsuri and Jun Inoue in the central walkway created an impressive aesthetic landmark that grew and evolved alongside the festival before being started over again several times. Its ephemeral nature was an intentional analogy of the day. As Jun Inoue explained to us, “we wanted to create something that showed people’s preconceived notions of the day and how things actually change here.”
CTRL + ALT presented by VICE and ALT soft drink was definitely a crowd favorite and great way to combine drinking and interactive art. A giant waterbed rested beneath an overhanging digital display that reflected trippy, distorted versions of the viewers below. If an event is judged by how many insta-stories it creates, CTRL + ALT won best in show.
ALT soft drink’s brand ethos of ‘Keep Doing You’ was put into practice here by taking portraits of punters and printing them onto the drink labels. After looking at some of the faces of Sugar on these bottles it was clear that this probably wasn’t the best advice to be giving.
The move to the ACCA meant they were able to take full advantages of facilities like the Merlyn Theatre. This blacked-out expansive space felt more like The Forum than it did a festival side stage, and it created a surreal environment for dance and experimental techno performances like that of UK’s Actress.
No one commanded the atmosphere afforded by the Merlyn Theatre better than SEVDALIZA. The Iranian – Dutch singer/songwriter has become an art and music icon with her boundary-pushing electro and equally innovative videos. For an artist that is as rich visually as she is audibly, it was a testament to her performance to have a packed out theatre captivated with nothing but a single free-form dancer and the power of her voice.
By the time Gerd Jansen took to the Boiler Room the crowd outnumbered that at the main stage. The biggest name on the stage’s roster wasted no time raising the energy, rolling out disco burners such as Kink’s “Perth“. Rocking a strong high school music-teacher aesthetic from behind the decks, Jansen laid down a dance music education with tunes from Four Tet, Slam, 80’s neon-pop outfit Lime as well as the Daft Punk classic “Burnin”. In front of a huge crowd with huge expectations, Gerd delivered.
It wasn’t hard to understand Joey Bada$$’s widespread critical acclaim and commercial success once he took to the stage. For the most part, the Brooklyn born rapper was in a genre of his own on this year’s line up, but rather than feel at odds with the rest of the festival, a powerful, energetic performance made him feel like the main event. Stand out tracks from his second and third album such as “No. 99” and “Babylon” made up the set before ending on “Devastated” – complete with pyrotechnics. An unexpected highlight came when Joey revealed that the day was, in fact, his birthday and was met with a crowd-sung ‘Happy Birthday’. It was a nice moment until you realise that he’s only just turned 23 and what the fuck have you done with your life, you pleb?
10 years on, “Lights and Music” can still blow the lid off any stage, anytime.
Photo by Bodhi Bailey
With each consecutive year, it seems more and more boutique festivals emerge onto the Victorian market — each with a unique flavour or musical niche trying to set themselves apart. But one undoubtedly pioneering festival that many of these new players have drawn inspiration from is Strawberry Fields. Its established place in the summer calendar has long been, and remains, a standout date with festival goers — largely due to its consistent quality and continued innovation. This is proved by this year’s stellar lineup, that acts as an example of how the festival continues to keep its finger on Australia’s musical pulse and draw the attention of music fans once more.
Located on the beautiful banks of the Murray River, Strawberry Fields is truly a meeting of art and music. While many festivals claim this moniker, few actually deliver more than a few token installations and a poorly attended workshop. The stage design and visual art of Strawberry is, in many ways, its defining feature. Ambitious, intricate stage designs and sweeping large-scale projections help to define the ambience of Strawberry’s various music spaces, creating an experience that truly combines both audio and aesthetic.
As the festival has continued to grow and its lineups and developed, 2017 is no different. Here are some of our top picks (in no particular order).
One of the biggest names on the line up for good reason, Daniel Avery has been on a relentless touring schedule since the release of his break out album ‘Drone Sounds’. The success of these shows is one of the reasons he is consistently placed in the Resident Advisor top 100. His music combines traditional dance and techno sounds with more unconventional elements and vocals perhaps more at home in psychedelic releases. These experimental moments should make for an engaging performance
Expat Mall Grab has been making big waves since moving across to be based in London. His 2017 release ‘Pool Party Music’ is unique blend of garage, house, disco sounds and even a little hip-hop, that come together perfectly to create a polished, finished album that breaks many of the conventions associated with its respective parts.
The evolution of his releases shows a clear growth in his music appreciation and a drawing of inspiration from his new surroundings — recent live sets reflect this, too. What ever plays out at Strawberry, this’ll certainly be feel good hour or more of music.
Sampa The Great
Sampa is a local talent that continues to grow and impress with each successive release. Her unique style of rap breaks the mould for what has come to be expected from many female MCs and even Australian hip-hop in general. Putting a label on her music is hard to do but her renowned live set is certainly going to be one of the more unique in an otherwise largely tech-heavy set list.
Tall Black Guy
Vibe bringer Tall Black Guy’s Detroit origins are evident in his sets and productions. Jazz, Motown and hip-hop all form a strong foundation for the more modern, subtle layers of techno and house on his own music and the carefully crafted extended sets that fill soundcloud and youtube. If these sets, and reports from his Australian shows earlier in the year, are anything to go by this will be an act to absolutely not miss for fans of hip-hop and lounge instrumentals.
French producer Oxia has had a massive 2017 so far. The re-release of his techno classic ‘Domino’ along with a suite of remixes saw it enter back into the dance charts, along with his brooding take on Moby’s 1999 ‘Why Does My Heart Feel So Bad?’. His brand of melodic deep house is both approachable and engaging and sure to be worth checking out.
Sydney-siders were recently treated to one of the best lineups of this long winter in the form of Volumes 2017. Not only did it feature a massive roster of local talent including The Ocean Party, Oisima (DJ set) and Jonti, but more excitingly (for those in the rest of the country at least) was the remix package the accompanied the festivities.
The festival paired up several talents on the bill, including Mezko taking on Body Type, Gauci vs. Hatchie, and finally Wallace/The Goods taking on the Fortunes’ pants filler; 501s.
Fortunes, normally known for their sexy, understated and synth-y swoons, still fair well as The Goods add a whole lot of backbone in their remix. The reworking of the original keys makes them audibly punch along with a driving kick/snare, clearly written with a packed dance floor in mind.
This steady newfound groove forms the perfect foundation for RnB swooner Wallace to lay down her intimate vocals. Bringing in a new female vocal layer gives the remix a wholly original sound. Wallace’s delivery and sensuality is as powerful as the original, but has a uniqueness to it that keeps the track feeling fresh, despite the familiar chords and hooks found in the beat.
You can suss all the excellent remixes from the festival promo here:
Off the back of his self-titled debut in 2015, Roland Tings became a mainstay of the Australian electronic scene. Throughout 2016 he played countless gigs, peddling his unique brand of layered, rolling electro across the country before taking some time to regroup.
In late 2016 he released the first pieces of new music in over a year, with his recognisable arpeggios and percussion accompanied by a slight shift in tone and influences. New, house-ier moments in tracks like ‘Higher Ground’ and ‘Eyes Closed’ set the tone for what was to come in the critically praised EP Each Moment A Diamond. As we learned from our recent chat with Roland, this EP was a long time in the making — and perhaps even longer in securing it’s release.
Roland recently embarked on a massive Australian and New Zeland tour, and despite the delays in releasing new music it became clear that fans had not lost interest. Kicking off in March the tour covered Canberra, Wollongong, Perth, Hobart, Melbourne, Sydney, Adelaide and Brisbane before heading south for Wellington and Auckland. The new live show brings to the stage the two man live arrangement recently seen at St Jerome’s Laneway Festival and supporting RUFUS on their tour.
We were lucky enough to catch the extra Thursday show at Howler in Melbourne, only added after the Friday night performance sold out very quickly. As the Howler band room slowly started to fill, the audience found their feet to high-energy, intricate house productions by Fishing. Highlights from their recent EP Pleasure Dome — such as ‘Yuma’ and the title track ‘Pleasure Dome’ — perfectly set the pace of the evening.
After the support from Fishing and Venus II, there was an atmosphere of excitement and heady anticipation by the time Roland Tings took to the stage — which he capitalised on by immediately launching in to new material. Long, progressive tracks helped build tension in the room — like the distorted harps of ‘Turn Your Face To The Sun’ — and made the most of the impressive rack of synths and relays that adorned the stage.
Accompaniment from a live percussionist gave many tracks an added sense of weight, without overpowering the overall sound output. New numbers like ‘Hedonist’ particularly benefitted from the heightened performance value added by live drums. Its broad, reverbed-out synth lines left heaps of space for the full-bodied bass and punching kicks to cut through Howler’s sound system. Inspired by the Australian outback, the track’s sense of atmosphere made it a stand out on the recent EP and it was received as such live.
More upbeat new tracks like ‘Eyes Closed’ and ‘Garden Piano‘ were spread throughout favourites from Tings’ debut album, which helped to maintain a strong energy during the hour and a half set. The progression from track to track was often seamless, largely due to the extensions and reworks of key elements between each one. The live aspects of the performance helped to transition these extended versions together to create one continuous soundtrack for the night. The slow-to-start but eventually powerful ‘Slow Centre’ proved to be a highlight of these transitions, as it moves from a Bonobo-esque percussion piece into a powerful dance floor shaker. Another highlight was the unexpected move into a Roland staple; ‘Floating On a Salt Lake’. Its drawn out introduction was weaved so effortlessly into the proceeding sounds that the dramatic cut to only the bass line came as a welcome surprise.
Undoubtedly one of the biggest moments of the night came from recent lead single ‘Higher Ground’. The stabbing top line synths and bouncing bassline would have been more than sufficient to raise the energy in the room again, but the inclusion of the first vocals lines of the night (from local singer Nylo) gave the audience an additional element to latch onto and inevitably sing along with. A crowd singing back the words to a recently released song always creates a special moment, and through the impressive light and smoke show Howler had put on it was clear that the two piece on stage were enjoying it just as much as the audience. Bringing the set to a close was undoubtedly Roland Ting’s biggest release to date, ‘Pala’. Hearing such an often-played track live gave it a new energy that the crowd lapped up in their final dancing moments.
Melbourne psych-pop outfit Hollow Everdaze have dropped the first single off their upcoming album, Cartoons — set to be released later this year from the label Deaf Ambitions.
The track clearly draws from notable influencers within the genre with its smoky walls of sound and whimsical vocal lines — but also adds a fresh, plucky layer to the mix. These tropical guitar lines and vocal rises are hard to place but feel at home alongside Unknown Mortal Orchestra or maybe even The Kinks.
Hollow Everdaze’s sound it steeped deep in their psych-stoner rock roots but allows a little bit of extra sunshine to shine through, helping it stand apart within a saturated genre.
After the release of ‘Eyes Closed‘ a few months ago, Roland Tings has continued to drip feed music from a supposed follow up to his self titled 2015 release.
‘Higher Ground‘ is his first piece of music out in 2017, and continues classic elements of Roland Tings production now paired with various new sounds, most notably the inclusion of vocals from Nylo.
While many of the signature layered-rhythms and structures are still present, they are given a new dimension to work around with the inclusion of a female topline – something we’ve practically never heard before from the Melbourne producer. For the most part this new balance works well. The song never feels crowded, yet still maintains a high level of trademark bounce and energy throughout.
The vocals, when combined with newer house-ier elements, show a continued musical growth in the time off since his last album. This is always encouraging to hear, especially from an artist with such a definitive sound on a debut LP.
Hopefully more of this musical exploration is on display when he embarks on his national tour in March/April.
Don’t let the delicate opening piano chords of Willaris. K‘s new track ‘Alchemy’ fool you, this is by no means an acoustic number — rather a deep and brooding piece of techno, written solely for a late night dance floor.
Based in Northern NSW, the 23-year-old beat-maker has a sophistication and depth in his productions far beyond his years. The underlying rhythms and melodies in ‘Alchemy’ are solid and engaging enough, but the nuanced moments of production throughout elevate the track to a new level of maturity. These subtle moments of percussion and bass help create a frantic soundscape that is beautifully segmented by the track’s various breaks.
With only one song available online at this stage we’ve no choice but to hang out for more quality like this from Willaris K.
Mike Nolan is the new project from the Melbourne beat maker formerly known as Du Phaux. He has been quietly working out of the limelight over the last 12 months – spinning vinyl at Boney and other venues around town – but is now set to release new music ahead of his debut EP.
A1. Boketto treads the line between atmospheric soundscape and late night dance floor heater. Spacious synths layer themselves over a deep groove, forming the foundation of an off-kilter pattern that plays out in joyful repetition. You can’t fully distinguish when this track is coming or going, but it is guaranteed smooth listening throughout.
Words by Matt Bladin // Photo by Sarah Chavdaroska
Local beat maker Christopher Port is no stranger to the Australian scene. He’s played drums for artists including Airling, I’lls, #1 Dads as well as live samples for Big Scary. Despite these deep roots he has only recently started releasing music under his new self-titled project.
After a strong first release with his EP Vetement, he followed up with new single ‘My Love’. This softer, more subtle track still draws from his UK Garage influences but takes these references to a new, more spacious place compared to previous tracks like ‘Heavens’. Long, sweeping synth lines are permeated by skilfully arranged vocal cuts, giving the expansive track a sense of drive and direction.
The ‘My Love’ release on Pieater Records has been accompanied by a B-side, titled ‘Sum 1 (‘His Eye is On The Sparrow Edit’)’, a much more percussion-laden track, with equally impactful vocals. Both are out now on more digital platforms.
From his seminal 2007 release Chinoiseries – which launched him into the spotlight of the then-crowded blog landscape – Onra established himself as a pioneer in what electronic music could encompass. Onra’s music has explored new territories with every subsequent release, cementing himself as a key player in the evolution of sample-driven electronic music. Recently, his inclusion of rappers like Daz Dillinger and Chuck Inglis has created a new dynamic between beat production and vocal arrangement, best seen on his recent LP Fundamentals.
Such heavily sample-laden production can prove a challenge to translate to a live audience, but thankfully with the best part of ten years touring experience behind him audiences will be in safe hands come New Year’s Day 2017. With a packed-out schedule already, Onra promises to be a unique point of difference at Let Them Eat Cake 2017.
Matt Bladin: As we near the end of 2016, what has been the highlight for you?
Onra: Hard to say, every day has been a blessing really. If I had to choose one thing, I’d say to finally own a property.
What’s the collaboration process like with rappers like Daz Dillinger and Chuck Inglish? Are they involved in the beat making process from the start, or do they follow the initial production?
No vocal artists have been involved in the production process. It’s very easy to work with American artists ’cause they’re true professionals and when they send you something back, it doesn’t really need any touch [sic]. They built their verses on top of what I sent, and it just worked out like that.
How do these collaborations normally come about?
It depends if the artists know me (in that case, they do a friendly deal), or if they don’t, then I have to pay some money. I just try to hit them up on social media or their manager – when the email is available – and that’s it. It’s real straight forward.
Your music has always featured unique and diverse samples, where do you go to find new music that you can draw from?
I find new music every day, I’m still digging every day (almost), in various shops for various formats. It just never stops. I have a few other genres that I would like to explore in the near future.
Your music has spanned a whole spectrum of genres, where have you been looking for inspiration lately?
I’m still doing the same thing, just looking for dope samples that have potential to make a classic hip-hop beat. I can find these in any kind of music, any kind of era and that’s the beauty of it. I don’t really need to find inspiration like that, it just hits me spontaneously, just like it has always been. I’m constantly discovering new old music all the time, and that’s the only source I look into for inspiration, anything old. I’m also more composing stuff now, so it’s very inspiring to work with different tools in a different way.
I saw you’ve been digging deep through the record crates, digging up some old gold. What recent finds are you most pleased with?
I recently went to Ivory Coast and found bunch of African music from various countries. I found an insane amount of rare stuff in real good condition, but the one of the nicest pieces would be N’draman Blintch‘s Cikamele’, some crazy Nigerian disco from 1979. But the stuff that pleased me the most recently, would be that album on cassette by this artist called A-Jay, Free Style. I’m obsessed with mid-90’s R’n’B cause that’s the music I grew up on (as well as hip-hop), and to discover this singer from Texas who recorded his album in Bangkok, this is so random to me. It came out on a Thai label, and it’s a pure classic, this album could have sold millions back in the day. I was quite amazed to find this in a small record shop in Bangkok, no info on the Internet about that release.
What went down at the recent Red Bull Music Academy Weekender in Barcelona? What do you take away from these music community events?
This RBMA weekender was special because it was an opportunity for a few artists who attended the academy in 2008 in Barcelona, to come back to that city and gather one more time. It was quite a big event, almost like a little festival in a 2-club room, and it’s always a pleasure to play for RBMA, especially in Barcelona. My set has been recorded from that night and should be up online on RBMA radio soon.
What does an Onra live set sound like today?
You will have a pretty good idea after listening to that set I was just speaking about earlier when it is online, ’cause it won’t really change that much for the next few months. Working with this equipment is pretty limiting and I can’t really do anything else but to play my own music, and I’m trying to play it just the way you heard it on the record (or online). I still play some old tunes from various projects but a lot of it are exclusives to my live set, or upcoming stuff. It still is a mix of hip-hop, funk and 80’s/90’s R’n’B. Some people would say that there are a few electronic music elements to it as well.
How do you perform the rich, layered sounds of your production in a live setting?
I simply use the same equipment that I use to make music with. It’s nothing too complicated and it shouldn’t be because my music is pretty simple/straight forward. So I just have to reprogram all my beats for a live set, and try to find ways to play something live, either drums or samples or both, and find a way to make it challenging for me while not too technical for the people. I’m trying to do simple things so people can understand what’s happening… Kind of pisses me off when people think I’m just DJing, but at the same time, it means that I’ve been playing pretty tight!
What has been your experience with Australian crowds in the past?
Australia is one of best places on earth to tour, I’m probably not the only one to think that way. I’ve been playing many times on many different continents but it’s always a pleasure to play there. It’s always a challenge too, because people get to go to a lot of gigs, and there’s tons of local talents, so I think the expectations might be higher than other countries. I always have to revisit my set before flying out.