Words by James McNeice // Photos by Sarah Chavdaroska
If there was one phrase that was the unprecedented focus of the weekend it was “Oh my gosh, its so cold!’
As a thrifty boutique festival that’s soon to put Bambra Bowl on the map, By the Meadow returned for its sixth year running. Despite the rogue temperamental weather, its few hundred-odd partygoers still ventured out with raincoats, scarves and beanies to battle a cocktail of rain, sun, rain, icy wind, rain, hail, and some more rain. I knew little else about what to expect besides a dedicated crowd of reoccurring punters and an emu that frequented the perimeter of the grounds, namely an entertaining opportunity for people watching.
As I rocked up after dark still munching on lukewarm maccas (the Friday evening road trip staple), everything was breezy – no lines (not even at the toilets!), easy to follow instructions and a straight forward camping area. But in the few short minutes it took for me to pitch my pop-up tent, Mother Nature unleashed a preview of the icy wind and continuous rain that would unfortunately plague By the Meadow for pretty much its entirety.
As the thought sunk in that the only choice was to go hard or go home, I thought “fuck it,” grabbed a beer and headed to the where the action was. As I shivered my way down to the festival’s one and only stage, I could thankfully feel a sense of community flourishing – we were all in this together.
My first encounter was Melbourne based urban music guru Thando, who was getting things heated with her finger clicking soulful bops. In the midst of her set it became instantly apparent that standing deep inside the crowd was going to be the best source of warmth for the night. Next up, murmurmur‘s dreamy psychedelia shone like a sonic daydream of light, playing a tight set of articulately produced tracks. Yet the party didn’t truly start until The Vasco Era’s cheery opening song, an ode to the Elvis Presley classic ‘Can’t Help Falling in Love‘. The cover spawned a wholesome and hearty sing-along frenzy before Vocalist Syd O’Neil abruptly shifted gears, morphing the set into their noisy post-hardcore brand of mosh pit ready punk that had people shaking their bums and banging their heads. For someone who was not familiar with this act, it was a golden shocker to see this incredibly fun and joyous transition at the beginning of their set. It was also huge to see half of the festival suddenly going nuts – whether this was in the name of rock’n’roll or an exciting excuse to stay warm.
Bringing the stage to a close at a sensible 12.20am was Zeitgeist Freedom Energy Exchange whose aesthetic of psychedelic visuals and deep-house-played-live was not only mesmerising but the most thought inducing set I have seen in a long while. There were many times I would fall into a deep hypnotic state, bopping my head and staring in a haze at the quartet – loving every moment of the music. It was the soundtrack for a million epiphanies at once, and just like that, night #1 had come to a close.
From that point forward, there were three options left – head back to your campsite to be rained on, the movie theatre showing back to back movies with sound, or join the renegade UE Boom party which emerged in a nearby shelter dome. Thanks to hearing a drunkenly sung version of Madonna’s ‘Like a Prayer’ wailing in the distance we politely opted for the latter. As we joined in on the sing-a-long, our mystery DJ’s role of selecting the next banger became one of immense pressure. The party’s population had just about tripled before the song had even finished. Thankfully they delivered, and after a few more tunes we decided to be sensible and hit the hay at the reasonable time of 2am.
Saturday morning kicked off with the inviting sound of light rain pattering on the tent top. Thank god, we had woken up dry. One coffee and a bowl of poorly executed Sultana Bran later, we found ourselves doing the morning admin by the car. As our Marie Kondo inspired campsite consisted of two fold-out chairs and nothing else, it quickly became our prime chill out zone, heater and all, where many front-seat tinnies were sunk in-between sets.
We got our shit together right in time to catch Hobson’s Bay Coast Guard in the early afternoon. Miraculously, the rain had fittingly cleared, and out came the most euphoric ray of sun that had ever hit my skin, perfect for the band’s progressive jam-sesh brand of indie surf rock. They kicked off the set with their ten-minute self titled track, which worked seamlessly alongside a unique harmonising blend of yell-y yet pop vocals that rode the sun-kissed twangy rhythms like a wave. If you haven’t had a chance to see these guys (whose debut album dropped literally a few days before the festival) then tack it on your to-do list. Hopefully next time we can see them as the Ronald McDonald quartet they intended to play as.
Brisbane’s Clea unluckily battled the relentless return of grim weather, particularly coming head to head with a seemingly never-ending gust of icy wind. Yet she still managed to lay down her lax chilled-out indie pop with a hint of mild psych. Her set was a haze of bliss, her vocals wistfully flowing through the nearby hills, like a solid glass of mulled wine by the indoor wood fire.
As the fierce rains reached their climax throughout the late arvo, watching the stage from the Marquee bar almost became a necessity, particularly for the people like myself who foolishly forgot to pack thermals. I sunk an espresso martini and kicked back to The Goon Sax, a band from Brisbane who could easily pretend to be from Brunswick and nobody would question them. Their fuzzy classically Brisbane indie rock was a perfect fit for that soon-to-be-dark evening piss-up vibe.
Another cocktail later and the marquee bar became a hideout for what felt like half the festival, and then the Sunset act began. This makeshift busking-like set had the whole tent at its capacity– whether this was initially planned for the main stage or not is a question that has gone unanswered. The band played an ode to Irish folk with some woodwind thrown in, reminiscent of something in between a cheery Christmas Day party in the trenches during the war and your cool Uncle’s 40th birthday party. It was this particular set that encapsulated what By the Meadow seemed to be aiming for – a communal, no shits given festival where you come across the same faces again and again as one big festival family.
As the rain had settled in for the night, Western Sydney’s Lauren brought a pumped-up set full of electro hip-hop bangers, at one point announcing that “this one is for the people who wanna fuuuck!” As a stark correlation, The Seven Ups followed, playing a largely instrumental set of groovy funk that commanded festival goers to dance. Headline act The Murlocs hit the stage in the midst of the fog which brought people out from under the covers to get up close and personal for their lively thriving set, aided with enough energy to direct a workout routine and an abundance of harmonica solos. Frontman Ambrose Kenny-Smith ended each track with a signature yelp of ‘YOOO!’ to keep things amped up, and at one point indulge in a hands-in-the-air call and response of the Backstreet Boys classic ‘Everybody (Backstreet’s Back)‘.
The night ended with subsequent trips between the stage and the movie theatre, where a screening of Die Hard drew in a surprisingly large number of people, as DJ Harvey Sutherland and Roza Terenzi pumped out thumping beats until the icy depths of rural 4am.
If you’re looking to make the move from other big league festivals then By the Meadow should be atop your list. The weekend felt like a once in a lifetime party your mate decided to sneakily throw on their farm while their parents were out of town. Rather than creating an atmosphere of competitive cliques that can easily be picked up in bigger festivals, By the Meadow felt always welcoming and never pretentious. People were there to see music; people were there to drink and dance and have a blast with their mates, and how these musicians managed to play dope sets in the freezing cold without their hands frosting over was a feat in itself. You’ll be sure to find me at next year’s festival, sporting a heavy rain jacket and new gumboots.
Situated just a few kilometres north of Ararat is a large volcanic crater some kilometre wide. Aside from a small lake and a vineyard up the top (shoutout to Kulkurt Volcanic Shiraz for making a delicious drop) – this spot might not be too much to write home about. However in recent years, thanks to the tireless efforts of the Hopkins Creek team, they have managed to put this spot on the map. More so than just a festival, Hopkins has gone some lengths to foster a genuine atmosphere and a music-loving community. Having come some way from its first incarnation, it is very refreshing to see how a music festival can progress in size from a single stage and a selection of (excellent) local acts, to the full-blown festival it is now with a bevy of international acts.
With all the new faces on the lineup at Hopkins, it was nice to see some familiar ones like Sunnyside. Kicking things off on Friday afternoon, the sextet got people dancing with some uptempo funk brimming with energy.
Part of the Hopkins Crew, Ryan Berkeley has been making some waves with his live sets lately. Working his way through dubbier sounds to more pumping techno, Ryan worked his way over an impressive set of machinery, backed up at times with the sultry sounds of Sunnyside member Archie on saxophone.
Another standout live performance was that of Norachi, who probably gets the gong for best on for Friday evening. With warm, aqueous sounds playing out for the start of his set, Norachi brought things deeper and darker as the night went on.
Onto Saturday morning and Adriana was kicking off proceedings, with plenty of tracks international in flavour and a lovely version of “Everybody Loves the Sunshine” by Takuya Kuroda and “Parachute” by Sylvia.
Later in the afternoon, the music died down for a Welcome to Country. Not something to risk overlooking in the festivities, it was a spot on idea to do it in the middle where people can take a moment to absorb and appreciate the information. Jidah Clark spoke to the festival goers about the origins of the land and how people used to hunt the eels in the area. Jidah also talked about how Hopkins Creek team rallied around the community to save some local redwood trees slated for destruction. Building a festival through solidarity that really feels inclusive goes beyond more than pitching a stage and a bar once a year, it means getting behind the community in those instances they need it.
As the evening rolled in though, the skies opened up above the crater and started to wreak some havoc on the festival. As the main stage closed and the tent was taken down it felt like we were there more for a long time than a good time.
Despite the inclement weather, nothing could stop Millú delivering some heat from FFSOM’s “Resist the Beat”, recently released on Noise In My Head’s compilation of 3AM Spares and “Make Me” by Borai & Denham Audio.
The pelting rain and open main stage meant that Barry’s Bait Shop on the hill was the next destination. At this point, it’s worth noting the effort invested in putting together a second stage with its own identity. Clever bar set up and some nifty graphic design goes a very long way to making a stage feel just a bit more special. No one up at the bait stage was ever in doubt where they were or what kind of time they were here for…
Having made her first Australian appearance, the crowd was raring to go for Ciel‘s second performance after her brief stint on the main stage. Hemmed in from all sides of the bait shop, Ciel delivered blistering track after the next, highlights including her own track “Hundred Flowers Groove” on the EP of the same name.
Next to grace the stage was the no holds barred performance from Swede Samo DJ. Straddling the unlikely balance of harder techno and R&B samples, one of his closing tracks sounded like an entire Kelis track played over a relentless beat (please let me know if you find an ID). The set was unabated with tunes like “Da Rebels” by House Nations Under A Groove; a perfect slot for the earlier hours of the Sunday morning.
With the sun starting to peek through, Mitsuki was about to enter the booth with some 350 records in tow from Japan. Playing almost exclusively on vinyl, Mitsuki played to the rising sun an incredibly jazzy and uplifting house set throwing down plenty of Detroit classics. Some notable numbers would be everyone singing along to “Set It Out” by Omar-S, Mood II Swing‘s “All Night Long” and Dubtribe Sound System “Do It Now”. Even at 7.30AM Mitsuki obliged the crowd with an encore, putting on one last record and leaving the booth for a cigarette and a chat to those bedraggled and very muddy dancers who had stuck it out.
Having made a bit of noise on Butter Sessions this year, I was quite keen on seeing what Turner Street Sound had to offer – the side project of Dan White and Midnight Tenderness. Real smokey and shaking dub tracks, with jungle undertones throughout their DJ set shook the crater to its core. Playing rock steady tunes on Sunday morning the pair was one of the highlights of the festival.
Rounding out the afternoon was Love on the Rocks label head Paramida. The German DJ had an uncanny ability to read the festival and play the weird and wonderful tunes that make a set of Funktion-1’s sing. I didn’t get as many IDs as I would’ve liked to but I can tell you that Paramida’s edit of Run DMC vs. Jason Nevin’s “It’s Like That” was a set highlight. Fingers crossed the Hopkins team gets round to releasing the mix for our listening pleasure. With the tent taken down from Saturday’s storm, the lid was really off for all three hours of Paramida, before closing her set in a cacophony of creepy laughter samples.
Sydney’s Ben Fester was next up, keeping the energy going. Shoutouts go to dropping Ultra Nate’s “Free” to get everyone up and around each other, the disco goodness of Fern Kinney‘s “Love Me Tonight” and the breaksy singalong “It’s My Life (Max D Edit)” by Watt Noize.
For those still keen after the main stage closing, it was back up to Baz’s for the last dose of music for the festival (notwithstanding some scattered mind’s playing “Keep The Fire Burning” on a muddy UE Boom). The level Hopkins crew reached last year was hard to top but the DJs gave it their best shot with some time honed classics.
All in all, you have to admire the ability to nurture an idea of a few renegade parties, through to a festival of this size with only one serious hiccup. For all the natural beauty of the crater and investment in the local community, the location was an issue for the festival. The storm well and truly flattened tents, gazebos and stages and sent a few punters home early – something that is very hard to mitigate. Putting that aside, Hopkins is a festival truly deserving of all the love that the festival goers have for it.
The drive to By The Meadow doesn’t feel all that different to the drive to Meredith or Golden Plains. You head towards Geelong, you take the bypass and at some point, you take a turn off away from Geelong for 40 minutes. The first main difference that caught our attention was instead of going through a small town with a pub like Meredith, you read a green wooden sign that says Bambra Bushland Reserve – Removal Of Forest Produce Illegal. This sign sets the tone early, you now know you’re entering nature with some music inside, not a music festival carved into nature.
It feels like the location of the Shady Cottage 2016, on a farm in Trentham, except upon entry to Shady Cottage you went past the house on the property, reminding you that you’re on a farm. At By The Meadow, it took until 7 pm on Saturday for me to notice the location of the house on the farm, hidden back up the hill behind the back of the camping area. For 24 hours I could’ve easily have been in a National Park instead.
When you enter the festival site, there’s one woman checking the car for glass, but instead of the reasonably thorough search one would get at Meredith or the very thorough search at Falls Festival, there’s a trust by the woman. If you say you don’t have glass, she trusts that you’re telling the truth, no search is actually needed. This trust is important, like leaving your clothes by the side of a public pool; you’ll enjoy your swim more if you don’t consistently think somebody will steal your stuff.
By The Meadow has all the nice aspects of other Victorian boutique festivals. The area feels expansive yet close like Camp Casual 2015 in Gippsland. The divide between the tents and car area brings the friendly neighbour tents closer together like Inner Varnika 2013 in Ruffy. There’s an endless view as the sun descends like Paradise Music Festival on Lake Mountain. There’s a valley drop facing the sunset like Sunset Point at Meredith, except at this one you can also camp on it and make it your morning view from your tent. In the words of two overheard early comments “fuck it’s fucking nice” and “this feels like home, very calming.”
But no festival is perfect and there’s still some work in progress elements for By The Meadow. But first, the tunes:
Unfortunately, I missed Tram Cops, but he’s definitely an artist I’m curious to follow the progress of as he plays more live shows. The first band I saw was Totally Mild. If you were new to any of these artists, but you had some understanding and appreciation for hearing four individually talented musicians working together as a cohesive unit, creating something bigger than the sum of its parts, then Totally Mild would confuse you as to how they are still playing 500 people festivals. In another world where dream pop is pop, By The Meadow can’t snatch Totally Mild, because they are too busy headlining festivals worldwide. But instead we don’t live in that world, and lucky for us, because we get to hear them up close, with a quiet appreciation around us, on a sound system that’s 10 out of 10. Yes, the sound system was that good — it made hearing bands you’ve heard many times before a whole new experience.
Cameron Wade (who is behind By The Meadow) said in his interview that the sound was the most important thing to get right. I won’t get too technical, but essentially the sound system was the XD15 series by Martin Audio London with 3 stack X118 series (I think) subs on both sides. What that means was that bands had a full range of highs, mids and lows, and the wide frequency distinction was clear up close or up on the hill. You could hear separation between guitars, between different toms, it wasn’t quite like monitors in a studio, but it was an ear pleasure nonetheless. But the really impressive part was that because of the 6 subs, the electronic acts at night had a powerful low-end to work with, throttling your gut into the early hours. That’s hard to do and is rare at small festivals, to make both bands and electronic artists sound even better than most small venues in Melbourne.
Next up was The Harpoons, and despite having to restart one song due to I think laptop problems, they came home particularly strong and worked seamlessly as a segway into the Daydreams DJ set. Which is in part due to their latest album Amaro carrying a stronger house structure than their previous work, likely influenced by member Jack Madin’s latest side project Shouse, which dives into a variety of house genres.
Max and Mark of Daydreams (no Luke Pocock) know what time it is. They didn’t waste any time pretending this was a Sunday daytime Daydreams set at The Gasometer with light-outside house or disco. They got dark and hectic quick, taking turns whipping this party into shape. Then as soon as you thought you were in for a session of hard techno, they starting dropping lots of ’90s tracks and pop songs. Which isn’t my personal taste, but it’s a wise move to make at a festival, where people are generally more social and silly than in the club environment, but dropping Jimmy Barnes was surely too far. I know he’s relevant again due to that Kirin J Callinan collaboration, but I’m calling them out on that one, a very rare mistake. Almost as if they knew they pushed the boundaries a little too far, they won me back by dropping ‘On & On’ by Orbital, which again, on that sound system, had me lost in my head for at least five minutes
It also helped that the lighting technician was dialled in on every track drop and mood change. What a lot of big festivals do, is they tend to use their best technicians on the bands because they have a lot of pressure to not miss a cue, but then they generally tend to sub out and sleep when the DJ’s come on stage late at night. Usually, it’s either a young tech told not to use the best lights and save them for the bands or the sound guy takes over. Which often leads to bland and boring lighting just scrolling on a loop for the rest of the night. Which doesn’t sound like a big deal, but when the lights are cued throughout the whole night, the highs are way higher — after all, there’s not much to look at during a DJ set, so the lighting is how we process the journey. This minor detail brightened many sets throughout the weekend.
As the Daydreams set continued beyond its intended finish time of 1 am, the crowd began to walk on to the stage, with no objections from Mark or Max. After all, everyone at By The Meadow felt like family (or at least felt like they could be trusted like family). With smiles on every face, the pin was finally pulled on the Daydreams set after they finished with ‘Call On Me’ by Eric Prydz, everyone began the “big” 2-minute walk back to their tents. If night one was meant to feel like an opening ceremony, then they hit the nail straight bang on its shiny head.
On the walk back to the tents, there were some security guards present, but so far back and away from the crowd of people that you never noticed them during any of the sets — but you could easily find them just in case you needed too, which is how it should always be. At the tents, there was condensation, it was cold, but I guess being on a hill near the sea lends itself to those sorts of conditions. It wasn’t Lake Mountain freezing, but I do recommend bringing solid sleeping gear if you plan on going in the future.
In the morning we went for a walk down the hill, past the By The Meadow sign, opened the gate and meandered the Kangaroo track. I don’t know what counts as a Kangaroo track, but my friend who lives in the country assured me that it was one.There was a creek maybe 20 metres further down the steep ditch, but we decided to do some brief yoga instead. After all, the sun was out, and we had some pleasant shade under a tree with no wind, and not a person to be heard near us. After around 30 minutes we ended up back at the campsite — it wasn’t quite the exploration you can take at Lake Mountain, but at least you can escape, unlike the current Inner Varnika location. It’s probably not further of a walk than the one you can take at Hopkins Creek, but at least people can’t still see you at By The Meadow, especially when you just need some escape time that’s not sitting on a public toilet.
Back to the stage action and it felt like Stella Donnelly was the headliner, or at least the name most talked about. She’s been generating attention in the US market and that appears to be helping her exposure back here in Australia. The crowd was all over the hill, sitting down with both ears pointed at the stage, like a school assembly by a guest speaker. After opening with a respectful stolen land speech, she played huge singles during her set such as ‘Mechanical Bull’ and ‘Boy Will Be Boys’. Even threw in a short funny song about the negatives of Sportsbet, that got plenty of laughs. Even told the funny story of explaining the EP title Thrush Metal to her formal Welsh family. This is where Stella is very impressive at such an early stage of her career — she commands the stage and people are just locked into everything she says. I haven’t seen a crowd more quietly locked in at a festival since The Tallest Man on Earth at Golden Plains 2013.
To help process Stella’s set, we took a break about 30 metres away on an open section of the hill to play Finska. Yes they had Finska, freely available for anyone to take and play anywhere they wanted. It was a great way to stretch the legs, meet a few locals confused by the game, and then clearly see when the Dianas were about to take the stage.
This is where I found myself scratching my head and shaking it at the same time. How is one of the countries best bands and best live bands, still completely unknown to even the niches of boutique festivals. Dianas had one of the smallest crowds of the entire weekend, maybe the crowd used the sunny afternoon as a chance to explore the festival campground, I don’t know. But what I do know is that Dianas are like punk angels from another world, almost telepathic with their on-stage musical chemistry. The kind that makes other bands watching say to each other “we need to get more in sync like them”. They’re the kind of band that wouldn’t work if they were missing a member, and despite it clearly being very hot on stage with the back wall all sealed up, by the end of the set the crowd was watching in awe (based solely on the look on their faces). Even when member Caitlin accidentally kicked her volume down via her guitar pedal, during their final song ‘Somebody Else,’ she kept her cool and managed to recover for the final explosive finish to the song — like a skateboarder messing up a trick, yet still managing to remain standing on the skateboard, pure class. My only advice on both the band’s end and the audio technician’s end would’ve been to lift the vocals, they were buried a tad too low in the mix (and this is coming from a fan of low vocals in mixes).
The next activity of the day had the right intentions but needed a little more originality. I’m not talking about the Welcome section, where Cameron and Ruby thanked all the workers, punters (for not destroying the stage during Daydreams the night before), bands and general vibe of the festival, which was all very cute. I’m talking about the running race up the hill in order for one man and then one woman to win a free pass to next year’s festival. The gender separation wasn’t the only awkward part, it’s the fact that this activity is something Meredith has held since the ‘90s. So any real exciting enthusiasm was mixed in with comments of “they took this from Meredith.” Don’t get me wrong, it’s very generous to give up two free passes, but there are so many ways this could be more creative. A stage talent show perhaps, or how about a wholesome activity course without gender separation, or clothes swapping, even — always hilarious, especially with strangers. At festivals like Camp Casual, they would have had dance circles and moments of musical yoga. You could take it one step further like Dan Deacon, and curate those spiral dance circles. Ground participation is so easy at a small festival, there’s nowhere to hide. If anything they should break up the sets with a few more activities throughout the day. Make the crowd very intimate with each other. Even before any music on the Friday, why not start with an activity down at the sunset point area — but I’ll speak more on that area soon.
I’ve seen Suss Cunts a few times now, and this probably wasn’t their best set. I’m guessing a combination of the heat and something else, like having to rush back to Melbourne, because the songs felt a tad rushed, even considering the already short length of them. However, even to fresh ears, the songs would’ve come across tightly constructed, led by their singer Nina Renee, who doesn’t mess around with half cooked ideas — she knows exactly what she wants with every song. This assertiveness makes you a believer in Suss Cunts, a quiet confidence, that they can weather any storm, and that this is still only just the beginning for the band. Or they might flame out at any moment, which makes each set even more vital.
Then came perhaps the favourite moment of the weekend, a real grounding reminder of how lucky and fortunate we are in Melbourne, and it didn’t really have anything to with the strength of our music scene. Recently, Pitchfork posted an article about how artists in the US are leading a trend of running their own festivals, small festivals with a communal feel, moving away from the generic commercial ‘play the set, get paid, and leave’ festivals like Coachella and Lollapalooza. This article would be really exciting for people in the US, but as someone from Melbourne, where we’ve had small niche communal festival all around Victoria for this entire decade, you almost had to feel sorry for US music fans.
Which brings me back to the sunset gathering at By The Meadow. The location and the view would’ve been magical even in a windy gusty storm, but luckily for us we scored a warm gradient sunset spectacle. Painters couldn’t paint how magnificent the sunset was. The stroke of genius move by BTM (By The Meadow) was having a classical duo including a Cello, playing delicate arrangements including the Game Of Thrones theme song, that forced the gathering to keep chatter to a low volume and really take in this special country land we are surrounded by in Victoria. Even after a festival season that started all the way back in October and took me all around Victoria, by early April we’re still able to wear shorts and t-shirts at 7pm. This special secret world for 600 people did make you wonder how we got so lucky, and reminded us that we shouldn’t take any of it for granted, and that any missteps we could accuse of the festival of making, would really be us just being incredibly selfish.
I decided to leave behind my new found elderly friends drinking wine well outside my price range to check out Flowertruck‘s set. When I think of Sydney bands that I wish would make the permanent move to Melbourne, Flowertruck is definitely one of the first who come to mind. A lot of that is because I want the lead singer Charles Rushforth to reach his full potential, unleash his personality and get weird in ways he hasn’t yet achieved. He’s got the stage presence, the character, the vocals, the lyrics — he just needs to embrace weird, surround himself with madness and get lost in it. He’s just a bit too clean, a bit too tight. If those screws get loosened, he could become one of those lead singers that’s great in 20 years.
A good example of his confinement was his bewilderment of somebody bringing a couch down to the stage. Then his following bewilderment from the lack of crowd reaction to his comment. Now maybe he’s been to Meredith or Golden Plains before and forgotten, but it sounds more likely that he’s never been to either festival before. In that case Charles, there’s literally 100’s of couches down at the stage there and they feature everything from personal bars, to totem tennis poles, to popcorn machines. The stage comment that was however very funny, was when he described the feeling that all the festival’s millions of crickets must be experiencing down at their ground level. Comparing it to the end of the world or 100-foot tall Slipknot Monsters blasting music above us and then proceeding to dedicate the next song to the crickets. Then they finished with my favourite song moment of the weekend when Flowertruck emphatically played ‘Come Across’, a song I already featured on several of my Spotify playlists, but live on that Maxim PA it was another experience altogether. It couldn’t have felt more from the heart. Throw on top that keyboard hook by Sarah Sykes, which is as vintage as any Depeche Mode keyboard hook, and I looked like the take-all-my-money Futurama meme up on the hill.
If ‘Come Across’ was my favourite live song of the weekend, then The Senegambian Jazz Band were my favourite band of the weekend. There were numerous reasons why. They managed to ride that fine line between fun festive big band and tight, interesting, dissectible, headphone-worthy music. Then there was their noticeable pure enjoyment and smiles across all the members, the kind that comes from enjoying their own music and seeing the crowd’s warm reaction to it. Simple, but the enjoyment was mutual across everyone in the area. The real festival MVP however was the singer and Kora player Amadou Suso. He may be one of the coolest musicians in Melbourne. I have no idea what he’s like off stage, but I don’t want to ruin that illusion of just how cool he is. He automatically makes the band almost a must on every festival in the country, which would actually kind of suck, because I don’t want to get sick of The Senegambian Jazz Band, which could happen if everyone booked them, like they really should. They just spice up not only the Melbourne music scene, but the Australian music scene.
With an evident West African influence in his rhythms and flows, he makes you want to get down and be silly. More impressively the set never feels tiring, there’s enough variety in the arrangements that it makes you actually never want it to end, or at least for it to go a little longer. Whether it’s turning the Kora upside and playing it like a magician or covering a ‘90s song — of which I sadly can’t think of title, despite it being a very famous song (I’m better at naming obscure B-sides). Please DM me the song title if you were there.
I had to gather myself for a moment and went to get some food, $10 small pizzas to be exact, which hit the spot. On the way to the toilets I walked past a classic Australian scene. On the left people were watching Jaws in the movie theatre inside a country hut (props to the selection of movies including Trainspotting, Spirited Away and Kill Bill: Vol 1). Jaws may not be Australian, but a film about a killer shark is more Australian than any other country could claim. Then on the right I could see inside the First-Aid RV, yes a mobile home First-Aid (something you would see rock up to a country footy match), people watching the AFL live on Channel 7. Felt like a scene dropped from The Castle’s final edit. It was all very endearing, and because there was never any lines for the toilets in the toilet truck, I didn’t feel guilty sitting on the toilet for a while, while I typed down all my notes. A nice pause, something you don’t get at big festivals, where you know there’s a busting line outside the door and the guilt gets to you, forcing you to hurry up and not actually gather yourself for a few minutes. Or maybe that’s just me.
Outside of Billy Davis and Pjenné, the rest of the Saturday night set times could’ve been reworked more effectively, and again this is something BTM were aware of, and sometimes it’s unavoidable due to scheduling clashes and stage criteria etc. Firstly, Tiny Little Houses felt like somebody pulling you away from a dance floor (The Senegambian Jazz Band) for a serious D&M. I’m all for D&M’s, but the timing was off, the mood was too positive, those two bands should’ve switched set times. GUM was actually more interesting than I expected, a one-man show like D.D Dumbo, but more focused on snyth and guitar layering. But honestly I wasn’t expecting much — I’m surely not the only person a bit tired of Tame Impala members getting so much exposure (over far more interesting Australian musicians), simply because Kevin Parker is a genius. Jay Watson tried his best — he comes across as a good dude, no ego. Apparently, he was originally meant to have a band, again he would’ve worked better before Senegambian and Billy Davis. Darcy Baylis was also his usual hard-to-pin-down self, twisting and turning from ‘90s electronica to hip-hop to PBR-RnB. It was more noteworthy and discussion worthy than party mood. Which is how Paradise used him when he played upstairs in clubland, while there was an option of basement party DJs at the same time downstairs. Giving punters an option. The crowd was a little confused at BTM by the set time pacing at this point and started to thin out.
Which was unfortunate for Pjenné, who was 100% from the get go. The lighting guy made a big no-no by sitting tight on the lights for like 20 minutes — FYI, DJ set lighting must be 80% go-go from the start, very different to lighting a band or group. This really hurt the early momentum of loosening up the crowd, which was evident by the time the lights got moving and the crowd finally appeared to be back in full party mode, but a good 4 hours later than the full party mood during Billy Davis. For those who hung around, it was a genre world tour experience hour, with the only blemish being playing too much Kylie Minogue, again another trend I wish Melbourne DJs would stop, trying to be too cute and full-circle self-aware, playing pop songs we’ve already played too much for the last 20 years. There’s so much amazing music out there, new and old. Keep it exciting, please. It’s really hard to not get behind Pjenné, who sings along to many of the songs dropped, and chats to everyone in the front row.
The music stopped at 4 am, and for most, it was late enough, however as someone who loves dancing until sunrise at festivals, I had to take the UEboom down the hill to continue the party. Only 8 other people came along, but it’s when I started to jog down notes on how the festival’s identity needs clarifying. By finishing the nights with DJs, some punters come along thinking each night will be a loose party. Instead the DJs need to be advertised as a little boogie before bed or just spread out between the bands, and they had the right lighter DJs to do so. I think to advertise the festival as a day and evening festival, a summer season winde down, would help its market and would leave punters a little less confused at the end of the night. A lot of this was also my fault, naturally assuming the nights should finish the same way, just like every other festival, instead of viewing By The Meadow differently.
This was a notion I didn’t fully grasp until the next morning with a lush closing combination of Leah Senior (who Lachlan, during the following The Ocean Party set, claimed to be his favourite set in a long time) and The Ocean Party. It’s an unfortunate situation Leah Senior find themselves in. Their calm, angelic lulling atmosphere is ideal for festival recovery mornings, I can honestly only think of one other equal option in Australia, that being Dannika. The unfortunate part is that Leah deserves a later time-slot, a bigger audience. Maybe that’s why two of the band members started the more upbeat and fun band Girlatones, trying to break their typecast.
Having said that, Leah Senior looked liked she had grown up on this farm, her music embodied the purity of the country community.
Despite some strong wind kicking in and knocking down the fences around the stage, nothing could prevent the sound during The Ocean Party. I question every PA I’ve ever heard them play through, and there’s been a lot of PA’s I’ve heard them play through. I sat on the hill thinking “oh, this is what they must actually sound like in the studio.” Almost like a jump from Earbuds to $1000 open headphones. They introduced a guest pan flute player as Aldani, which I still find funny typing this up weeks later and I don’t even know the story behind the joke. I think he’s from the band Cool Sounds. Then after reading on Facebook that Snowy (their Saxophone player) couldn’t find his Saxophone the day before, in true dolewave DYI fashion they closed with a local classic ‘Head Down’ with Snowy bringing it home via somebody else’s Saxophone. Please never change, The Ocean Party.
And that’s it, really. By The Meadow is a few slight adjustments from being a flawless wholesome weekend. Add some gripple wire across the stage, hang some ferns. Get rid of the gap between the stage and the crowd, no fence needed, bring everyone together. Add one more vegan option and group activities between sets. Open the gates earlier on the first day, give people a couple hours to set up their tents before the first band. Really minor adjustments, that’s just how impressive By The Meadow truly is.
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.
By The Meadow is a small festival held 1.5 hours out of Melbourne in Bambra. With both Paradise Music Festival and Shady Cottage taking a year off this summer, By The Meadow is this summer’s most eclectic festival line-up of local musical artists.
Held from the 6th-8th of April, tickets are only $97.20, which is absurd for the talent ratio per dollar. There’s a wide range of talent and genres, from Fazerdaze to Tiny Little Houses, The Harpoons to Billy Davis and The Good Lords, and The Senegambian Jazz Band to the DayDreams DJs. But here’s five artists your future self may proclaim with pride to have once seen at the small festival called By The Meadow.
Darcy Baylis isn’t entirely sure what his sound is, but his hardworking quest to discover himself has made him fascinating since he was a teenager playing as Naminé. His EP last year had enough talking points to write a thesis — it’s not always perfect, but when he get’s it right and it clicks, it’s eye-opening stuff. The man does it all himself, an all-in-one package who could easily disappear off the map or become the next big thing. So catch him now, in case of either scenario.
In late 2015 the Sydney band Flowertruck dropped one of the more underrated Australian EPs of recent years, an EP I still listen to regularly. Five songs that glisten with optimism, fun and skill that make it all sound so simple and effortless. Lead singer Charles Rushforth is full of joy and character — he draws you in but he’s not demanding. Nor is he the only star in the band; Sarah Sykes who also provides vocals is a another talent to keep an eye on, with her own band Sunscreen dropping a great EP last year. Watch out for Flowertruck’s next album release, they have too much talent not to take the next step.
Thank fudge this awesome trio moved to Melbourne from Perth. Perth’s lovely and all, but they deserved far more exposure and respect. These three women are a powerhouse live, playing at 100% every time on stage. I mean, you don’t move across an entire country unless you take your craft seriously. Dianas have the kind of band chemistry that makes you want to start a band.
I always enjoy Leah Senior — you’d have to be soulless not to. But it wasn’t until BIGSOUND 2016 when I watched them in person, that I really become mesmerised by Leah. There’s a lot of singers out there that sound a little too close to their idols. There’s a huge wave of Angel Olsen singers right now for example, but Leah comes across genuine with her vocals and delivery. Leah truly has a beauty inside her and she translates it magnificently with light finger play and her angelic vocal range. The world could use more Leah Seniors.
File Stella in the “catch her before she’s huge” folder. Stella continued her rise throughout 2017 and is set to play all over the world in 2018, at SXSW, Live in Leeds Festival and is opening for Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever around Europe. But before she takes over the world, you can catch her intimately at By The Meadow. Which honestly suits her better than the larger stages she’ll soon be playing; her music needs the quietest of crowds to be truly appreciated.
“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.
November means two things: Summer isn’t far away, and the wildlands of Strawberry Fields are calling. For many, Strawberry marks the official start of bush doof season. A time to break out the glitter, dust off the parasol and put on your finest disco kit. An eclectic mix of music nerds, Instagram it-girls, hippy ravers, and excited backpackers converged on the tiny town of Tocumwal for the weekend, keen to escape reality in one the most scenic (and uniquely Australian) festival locations in the world.
Compared to the searing heat of last year, the 2017 edition of Strawberry was much milder. A big downpour on Thursday night meant that the site was less dusty. And while there were a few patches of rain across the weekend, it didn’t seem to dull any enthusiasm. Now in its ninth year, the organisers at Strawberry should be applauded for creating a great atmosphere that continues to set the tone for the rest of the summer. A beautiful setting, carefully considered stage-design and world-class musical lineup culminated in a memorable weekend for many. Here are five key performances from across the four days.
Greeting punters with a warm Glaswegian hug on Friday night were Scottish legends Optimo. Over two hours, the duo showed off the diverse, all-encompassing track selection that they’ve become famous for over the last decade. Drifting between techno, disco, electro and rock, there was definitely something for everyone, regardless of taste or mood. Highlights of their set included a swag of festival favourites like the KiNK remix of ‘Unit 2’ by Sunshine and Bicep’s latest single ‘Glue’. It was also nice to see the guys showcasing some locally produced music — raving along to Coober Pedy University Band’s anthem ‘Kookaburra’ felt even more special when amongst the gum trees, while Ram Jam’s 1979 classic ‘Black Betty’ gave any closet-rock fans opportunity for a quick headbang. Although Optimo’s genre-bending set lacked the musical cohesion most are used to seeing on the Strawberry mainstage, it was an inspired choice by festival organisers. The raucous energy of their tunes was the perfect way to get the party started and help the crowd lose any early inhibitions.
It’s been a busy 12 months for 23-year- old DJ and producer Jordon Alexander, aka Mall Grab. The New South Wales native managed to crack Resident Advisor’s prestigious top 100, grace the cover of Mixmag and headline some of Europe’s biggest clubs and festivals. With over a year between sets on home soil, it was a triumphant return to Melbourne as he graced the Wildlands on a sunny Saturday afternoon. Playing to the first big crowd of the day, there was clearly quite a few punters curious to see what all the hype was about. Full of energy as he bounced around the stage, Mall Grab played a set that seamlessly moved between funky hip-hop beats, jacking techno and lo-fi house. Alan Fitzpatrick‘s unrelenting ‘Beshektas’ was an early highlight, while Blaze’s classic house track ‘Lovelee Dae’ was the perfect soundtrack to a raving, sun-drenched crowd. I love seeing a DJ who is genuinely enjoying himself behind the decks and Mall Grab looked like he was loving every minute. The second hour of his set was full of big party tunes including the Switch classic ‘A Bit Patchy’, his own cut ‘Catching Feelings’ and a festival sing-a-long to ABBA’s ‘Lay Your Love On Me’. Watching Mall Grab perform live, it’s not hard to see why he has become one of the fastest rising names in dance music. His Strawberry set certainly didn’t do his reputation any harm — delighting his old fans and probably gaining a few new ones in the process.
CLUB COCO (CC: Disco, Simon TK, Chico G)
Meanwhile, down at the Beach stage, Melbourne trio CC:DISCO!, Simon TK and Chico G played a joyful B2B2B set under their Club Coco moniker. The daytime slot was the perfect remedy for anyone keen to escape the heat, take a dip in the river or dance off Friday night’s hangover among the gum trees. From midday to sundown, Club Coco brought 6 hours of power with a relaxed set that was big on good vibes and low on formality (bath robes were the uniform of choice). All three DJs showed off why they’ve individually earned a reputation as some of Australia’s best selectors. Cycling through an eclectic collection of happy disco edits, dreamy piano house (Latin Blood‘s ‘Deseo’) and cheesy 80’s Eurodance (Sabrina‘s ‘Boys Boys Boys’), it was very tempting to stay at the Beach stage all day, despite the bevy of internationals on offer elsewhere. As their set crept to a close, Toto‘s ‘Hold The Line’ gave the crowd one final hands in the air moment before the night’s festivities kicked off.
There was a distinctly German flavour about the festival on Saturday night. For those keen to get their techno fix, a world-class lineup awaited them on the Wildlands stage. After a chilled live set from Berlin’s Monolink, Cologne’s Tim Engelhardt was the next man to take to the decks at 10pm. With just a 90 minute time slot, Engelhardt wasted no time getting down to business, immediately setting the tone for the rest of the evening. The ominous breakdown of his track ‘No More Words’ sounded monstrous on the Funktion-One sound system with its rhythmic, rumbling bass. Engelhardt’s brand of lush, melodic techno has made his original productions a staple in the sets of industry heavyweights such as Tale Of Us, Andhim and Patrice Baumel in 2017. Fortunately for fans in the crowd, he showcased lots of his own material (old and new), including his hypnotic remix of Superflu’s ‘K5000’ and the immense ‘We Didn’t Talk For A While’. For his final song, Engelhardt teased the unmistakably wonky chords of ‘Reality’, the title track from this year’s standout EP. Slowly letting it build for what seemed like hours, he unleashed a wall of sound for one last dance. It was a masterful performance from the 19-year-old, who showed he’ll be a mainstay of festival lineups for years to come.
FRANKEY & SANDRINO
Continuing the German theme on Saturday night were Berlin residents Frankey & Sandrino. In recent years the duo have made a reputation for themselves with a string of killer releases on Dixon & Ame’s forward-thinking Innervisions imprint. With Frankey busy touring in Europe, it was left up to Sandrino to fly the flag for the outfit on their first appearance in Australia. Taking over where Engelhardt left off, Sandrino played a top-shelf techno set, full of new and unreleased tracks that struck a delicate balance between dark, sinister melodies, basslines and emotional builds. The stomping, drone-filled sounds of labelmate Trikk’s new track ‘Voltaire’ set the pace early, as did the Redshape remix of Rampa’s ‘Newborn Soul’ with its terrific, rising vocal. In the final stretch, Sandrino dropped Kienemusik’s soon-to-be-released single ‘Muye’. With a sea of smoke and lasers covering the crowd, the melancholy piano track gave the crowd a genuine goosebumps moment and one of the night’s top highlights.
Musically, attendees were spoilt for choice across the three days. Amongst a host of talented locals, there were great sets from Moopie, Ben Fester and Francis Inferno Orchestra. Other highlights across the weekend included Daniel Avery’s characteristically dark and brooding sound, a crowd-pleasing set from German hitmaker Lovebirds, and Yothu Yindi who played a brilliant 1am set in tribute of the late Dr G Yunupingu. Despite the bush doof calendar becoming increasingly crowded over the last few years, Strawberry Fields yet again showed why it’s one of the premier festival experiences not only in Australia but the world. I’m sure I’m not alone in echoing those famous words… ’Strawberry Fields Forever’.
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.
Words by Blake Creighton // Photos by Yannick Van De Wijngaert
Dekmantel brings together an impeccable lineup, incredible organisation, lush settings, solid sound systems and such a welcoming atmosphere that it is truly a festival that accommodates for a very special time. It also provides a platform for their affiliated and booked artists to test themselves as performers, musicians, DJs, producers and the like. It is a festival that is truly a haven for disco, house, techno, electro, acid breakbeat lovers.
With a significant portion of the world’s top and upcoming DJs, producers and artist all in the one vicinity, the standard of music across the three days was unbelievable. Set after set, the stages were heaving with crowds. Even between sets, the artists themselves could be seen enjoying each other’s craft – dancing and joining in as their peers performed for the crowds.
It was truly a three-day-extravaganza, with so much to be said about every aspect that brought together the pure enjoyment experience. As I spent my time there, I decided to note down my top tracks and sets so I could share them with everyone back home. This is my way of bringing everyone closer to the experience I had, to be right in the thick of it.
Calmly taking over from Nina Kraviz, Phoung-Dan dipped into an intrinsic variety of slow jams that entwined into acidic breaks, wonky basslines and humbling movements of abstract sounds. His bubbly stage presence and calm approach on the decks allowed for him to dip and dive through a range of atmospheres that would test and be well received by the many who joined in on his sublime selections.
Having seen Rodhad a couple of times before, I had a feeling that this set was to be one of a kind. The essence of his flow came down to his unique reading of the crowd, feeling their psychedelic energy and perusing abstract sounds. The arrangements slowly built to unremarkable drops that flowed from the speakers in odd yet welcoming time signatures.
Just before handing over the speakers to Juju Jordash, Joey Anderson slowly mixed in classic track Trans Europe Express‘ from Kraftwerk, which fit incredibly well with Juju Jordash’s sound, serving to both signal to and toy around with the pair before they begun curating their incredible live set.
On three separate occasions, Inga Mauer entranced me through diverse selections and mixing. Piecing together a broad range of trippy tracks at the Red Light Radio stage early in the afternoon on Saturday to a slowly gathering crowd, the intimate setting and energy from Mauer created a fulfilling hour that set her up beautifully for her set at The Selectors.
Mauer’s Selectors set, of which I only caught thirty minutes due to clashes, moved through acid and bass-heavy techno, and was rounded off with a fun stage presence as she kissed ice cubes and threw them to the crowd.
The third and final time that I caught Mauer was at Radion on Monday morning. Walking into the main room as she blasted a post-punk/metal track that was slowly blended into heaving techno, her efforts fell on deaf ears as the babbling crowd were still heavily intoxicated from the day. Despite the lack of attention, Mauer lay down a range of melodic, acidic, entrancing yet heavy tracks till it was Objekt‘s time to take a hold of the decks.
Donato Dozzy & Peter Van Hoesen (hybrid)
Five hours and two geniuses of the minimal/techno/acid scene, who on a number of special occasions have been paired together to enlighten everyone; this time it was in compounds of Dekmantel’s UFO tent. Working together on an almost telepathic level, Van Housen and Dozzy moved through heaving rhythms, structured to slowly build and drop into bending synth, captivating acid, and booming bass lines as rolling percussion swiftly manoeuvred the dance floor.
I partook in the journey for four and half hours of the five and came out of the tent completely mesmerised by what I had witnessed. An unforgettable set that I wish every Dozzy/Van Housen fan gets to experience at least once in their lifetime.
As I was sitting, collecting myself after being blown away by Peter Van Housen and Donato Dozzy’s set, a strong gust of wind brought across a short but intense downpour across the festival site. As many scattered under cover and to the bar to collect their free poncho, I proceeded to be mystified by Jon Hopkins at the back of the Main Stage in the rain as he dropped Daniel Avery‘s ‘Drone Logic‘. Hopkins entranced all that took cover, as a number of people around the edges of the covered area embraced harsh downpour.
It was as if the woodland settings of The Selectors stage was Vladimir’s home, with the festival just so happening to be on his doorstep, as he quietly wandered from his cabin out back to close out Saturday evening. Playing warm natural soundscapes with groovy soulful melodies and baselines, Vladamir slowly built his set from natural instrumentals into reformed electronics that held varied structures and crossed genres; consistently creating a bubbly and heartfelt atmosphere within each mix.
After catching the beginning of Illum Sphere’s set, I came back into the Greenhouse to the sounds of this masterpiece that stunningly drifted and built into the next track, creating a sense of suspense as the crowd waited for the anticipated drop.
The UFO tent hosted throughout the weekend some of the world’s top techno affiliated artists, and Karenn (Blawan and Periah) for an hour took a hold of everyone’s mind, body and soul. Searching deep into some of the more obscure and hard-hitting sounds, implementing them through energetic structures, they unleashed an intelligent, vibrant and yet savage live set.
Playing a 4-5:30 pm slot, Willikens brought animated and bombastic sounds to the bustling and lush settings as the sun shined through the windowed walls of The Greenhouse. Bursting with energy and a clear vision of what she wanted to explore, Willikens instantly fixed everyone’s hangovers and depleted energy reserves from the day/night before, restoring each and every soul through charismatic and genre bending electronics.
Orpheu The Wizard
At the end of any festival, everyone scampers to find the perfect finale and as I got a little underwhelmed by the crowds reaction to Objekt & Call Super‘s eclectic set, I set off to find a vibing closing set which so happened to be at the smallest stage of Dekmantel, The Red Light Radio stage.
Playing psychedelic and charismatic house tunes to what would have been 100+ people, Orpheu’s selection built for a grand finale and within each mix had everyone busting out their last moves of the weekend in style.
A last special moment was at Radion in the early hours of the morning. After the crowd had dispersed and the loyal music lovers were the only ones left, Objekt dropped a tribal percussion-based gem, Lena Willikens‘ remix, and this brought a heaving atmosphere back into the room.