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.
02 Jul INTRODUCING: Luboku
Photos by Sarah Chavdaroska
Since 2014 Melbourne producer, singer and songwriter Luboku has been steadily releasing music online. Collaborative work with NZ-based Hosaia and last year’s solo release ‘The Surface‘ has seen his name popping up more frequently and with growing praise.
This year, after already releasing two singles ‘Without You‘ and ‘None Of You‘, Luboku’s burgeoning career has started to take off – with a Triple J ‘Feature Artist’ select, support-spot on What So Not‘s national tour and his recent signing to Niche Talent Agency‘s growing roster of amazing artists.
After the busy start to the year, we managed to squeeze in some time with Luis Kennett (aka Luboku) to have a chat and get to know him. We wanted to understand from his perspective how he has found this year so far, how he discovered his visual-aesthetic and what he has planned in the near future for shows and releases.
Tell us about Luboku. Who is he? Where did his passion for electronic production come from?
Luis Kennett: Luboku is many things, sometimes a musical vampire, sometimes a balladeer, always making songs though, that’s the important part. Luboku came about because I needed something to focus my creativity toward. I can focus inspiration more clearly when I have something specific to work on so it came out of necessity, to be honest.
‘Without You’ which was released earlier this year is a stellar track! How did that track come to be?
Luis: Why thank you, I guess people are really digging it! I had a lot of fun making that song and I think that comes through. ‘Without You’ was also one of the quickest songs to come together so far, it always felt a bit edgy. Simon Lam (Kllo, Nearly Oratorio) helped me mix this one actually, he managed to pull in some of that edginess but keep a really great vibe which was just ace.
Your John Fish video collaboration and music artwork is all very visually appealing, carrying a very strong aesthetic. Trying to balance music and visual expression is a particularly important thing at the moment for a lot of artists. Who designed your cover art? Tell us a bit about that process.
Luis: A Melbourne designer named Darren Oorloff, in collaboration with Nick Keays, created these first few pieces. I’ve felt really lucky that they’ve been on board with all my ideas and have executed an aesthetic that I am 100% behind. I feel very strongly that visuals and music work hand-in-hand, carrying a desired look and feel through any art form I’m creating.
A John Fish video also makes me *crosses fingers* expectant of a big light or visual show on the horizon?
Luis: Big light show? Of course! Working with John Fish on the video for ‘Without You’ has definitely given me some ideas on what a BIG headline or festival slot could look like.
Only the other weekend you were a support act for the Melbourne leg of What So Not’s Australian National Tour at The Forum Theatre. Tell us about how that came about! How did you find the support act spot on such a large, electronic tour?
Luis: The show was wild, one of my favorites so far. As for the opportunity, that’s something I did not see coming. All of a sudden I’m on the phone to Triple J Unearthed, being asked to play the Forum Theatre with What So Not, it was all pretty crazy. The hardest parts of playing live, I find, are always the moments just before the show – you feel like you’re waiting in live music limbo. The best thing was getting out there and playing the new live set, it was so much fun.
Last week you released your new single ‘None Of You’ and already it’s taking off – congratulations on such a solid release! Tell us about ‘None Of You’ and (if I’m not mistaken) if there is a theme connecting your two new singles?
Luis: Thank you, I’m glad you vibe it! I guess ‘None Of You’ is a pretty personal track for me. It’s about a time when I was struggling to connect with someone who was going through some stuff, sometimes that person doesn’t have any space for you and I think this song captures how I felt about that whole situation. I have always felt ‘None Of You’ and ‘Without You’ to be Ying/Yang (hence the piano at the end of Without You) – they are definitely connected. But that needs more context… There is an EP coming!
If you could play one stage or one event in the next year, what would it be and why is that your pick?
Luis: This is a bit left of field but I think the Boiler Room live stream gigs are pretty iconic, tonnes of people moshing around you as you’re performing to an endless amount of people online, that would be so sick.
Do you have any future collaborations in the works? (Dreams collaborations welcome.)
Luis: Nothing I can talk about yet… I’ve got a secret passion for really heavy hip hop though, I think a dream collaborator would be
As a producer and song-writer in Australia, do you think that the music industry is helping young, emerging artists make a break? Or is it a tough job and difficult to navigate with the sheer amount of new artists?
Luis: I couldn’t think of a better place to start a career in music. Australia, and Melbourne in particular, have such vibrant communities, I feel like creativity flourishes here. There are also many opportunities for up and comers in the live arena and with platforms like Triple J Unearthed the ease of discovery makes things pretty accessible (they listen to everything! That’s intense). Shoutout to my manager Brandon who’s been a literal lifesaver (haha).
Plans for the rest of the year?
Luis: More tunes! And lot’s more shows.
Held on the first Friday of every month, Melbourne Museum’s Nocturnal has established itself as a highlight of Melbourne’s live music and cultural scenes. On Friday 4th May, guests were treated to a special offering hosted by the Museum in collaboration with the independent record label and management collective Our Golden Friend. The artists on display included Jade Imagine, RVG, Jess Ribeiro and Totally Mild, each of which is managed by Our Golden Friend. The ensemble recently concluded a tour across the United States in March, giving Nocturnal the feel of a happy family reunion which happened to feature some of the most unique and promising talents in Australian music.
Before recapping the performances, it’s worth reflecting on how extraordinary Nocturnal is as an interactive venue and immersive experience. Located in the Edenic Carlton Gardens, the postmodern Melbourne Museum is transformed into an otherworldly “adult playground” with an impressive array of bars and other dining options. The exhibits are open to the public for exploration between sets, including the stunning Vikings: Beyond the Legend, Te Vainui O Pasifika, and Dinosaur Walk. We are encouraged to re-experience the childlike sense of wonderment, awe and discovery that children have when they step into a museum.
With summer in the rear-view mirror and Melburnians now bracing for a bitter winter, cultural offerings such as these have never been more important. They represent little oases of colour, pleasure, and abundance that sustain us through the desert of the working week. Melbourne Museum and Our Golden Friend should be congratulated for this outstanding event.
Keeping the themes of discovery and contemplation of the sublime in mind, patrons flocked to the main stage to see Melbourne indie staples Jade Imagine take the stage. Resplendent in her pink power suit, black RM Williams boots, and orange polka-dot socks, lead singer Jade McInally (Teeth & Tongue) created an ethereal aesthetic and atmosphere which suited Nocturnal perfectly. She was brilliantly supported by guitarist Tim Harvey, his brother James Harvey on drums, and bassist Liam ‘Snowy’ Halliwell.
With their dream-pop, low-fi and folksy sound evoking The Shins, Simon & Garfunkel, and Sibylle Baier, Jade Imagine were spellbinding to watch live. As an ensemble, they have gone through many incarnations, but this line up of performers feels just right. Each band member also performs as a vocalist, which Jade Imagine used to great effect on stage through harmonization to create a dreamy wall of sound, which feels like they’re wrapping you up in a big hug. Their musical style supports the band’s deeply evocative and poetic lyrics, which sometimes border on magical realism.
One of the most anticipated acts of Nocturnal was RVG, led by the sensational frontwoman Romy Vager. Despite Romy battling through sickness, RVG put on an electric and rollicking performance which had the crowd in raptures. Having released their debut album A Quality of Mercy (Our Golden Friend/Island Records) in August 2017, the band has already picked up a suite of awards including four nominations each for The Age Music Victoria Awards and the AIR Music Awards.
One is struck by the sense that RVG is on the brink of a very special career, spearheaded by Romy’s unforgettable and deeply moving voice, which transcends genres and eludes definition. Punters revelled in the power, goth and glam of the performance, which recalled the brooding and melancholic stylings of Joy Division’s Ian Smith. Romy’s lyrics are pared-down, hardboiled and often monosyllabic, which lets the profundity of the words hit you in the chest like a hammer: “I used to love you / but now I don’t / and I don’t feel bad / we’re just not the same any more / we’re just not the same”. *dies*.
When enigmatic Jess Ribeiro took the stage patrons were enveloped by the smoky texture of lead-singer Jess’s voice, which is informed by the diverse hinterland of her travels and musical background. It’s been a remarkable personal and creative journey for the talented frontwoman, ranging from the outback and tropics of the Northern Territory to the urban wintriness of Melbourne. Along the way, Jess has found critical acclaim with My Little River (2012), which won the ABC Radio National Album of the Year and Best Country Album (AIR). This dusky country feel came through at the Museum, where the band performed tracks such as ‘Hurry Back to Love‘, ‘Slip The Leash‘ and ‘Strange Game‘.
Jess Ribeiro is getting ready to release their next record in 2018. Jess has worked with some impressive producers in her career, most notably Mick Harvey (The Bad Seeds) who helped Jess rediscover her muse after a three-year hiatus to produce the critically-acclaimed Kill It Yourself (Barely Dressed Records, 2015). She’s recently spent a lot of time in New Zealand collaborating with producer Ben Edwards, who has worked with other emerging Antipodean sensations such as Marlon Williams, Julia Jacklin, and Aldous Harding. One has the feeling that big things are on the horizon for Jess Ribeiro as a collective, and I also suspect that lead-singer Jess will one day make a brilliant producer herself.
Rounding out the evening was Melbourne lush quartet Totally Mild. Frontwoman Elizabeth Mitchell was sublime and at her charming and magnetic best. Her angelic and versatile voice enchanted the crowd, and one could feel the influence of her choral background coursing through her. She was brilliantly supported by the intricate sounds of guitarist Zachary Schneider, the subtle indie drumming of Dylan Young, and rolling bass of Lehmann Smith. Totally Mild make for disorienting performers. You’re so beguiled by the heady, atmospheric sweetness of their musical stylings and by the band’s extroverted stage presence that you miss the dark and brooding nature of their lyrics, best exemplified by their biggest hit ‘Christa. I think this makes their music more impactful and compelling, as it enables Mitchell to speak about highly-sensitive topics such as depression and loneliness in subtle, disarming ways.
It was fitting that the night closed with Totally Mild, who released their second record Her in February. It’s a thoughtful and complex meditation on the experience of being a woman in the 21st century, which was a powerful acknowledgement of the fact that Nocturnal was headlined by four bands which each featured creatively confident, highly-intelligent, and empathic frontwomen at a time when the Australian music industry is being criticised for inadequate representation of female artists at music festivals. Speaking with Elizabeth over the phone, she informed me that Her “speaks to the tension between independence and the sense of having unlimited potential as a young woman, but also still being bound by structural oppression and other personal limitations, such as mental health and other social roles”.
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.
By The Meadow is a Music Festival set 90 minutes south-west of Melbourne in Bambra. They started in 2014 and they have slowly and carefully built up a respected fan base. This year marks their 5th festival and it’s their biggest lineup to date. In fact, I don’t believe there’s a better snapshot of 2018 Melbourne (plus a few imports) via a festival lineup. Without Paradise Music Festival or Shady Cottage this year, the spotlight is brighter on By The Meadow than ever and it sounds like they’re more than ready.
A few weeks ago we caught up Cameron and Ruby, two of the festival organisers. We discussed all the usual questions about running a small festival, but it was really their emphasis on the concept of local that made me believe this festival truly does care more about people than trying to make money or become the next big hot festival. By The Meadow wants to bring what they love about Melbourne to a region of Victoria that’s going through changes and deserves to be a part of the excitement, hoping to inspire the next generation to take part.
I was originally keen on attending based on the fantastic lineup alone, but now I just want to support the great cause that is By The Meadow. Tickets are still available if you not only feel like a good time, but want to also support our locals doing great things.
Marcus Rimondini: What’s the story behind how the festival started?
Ruby: Well, Cameron, for his 21st, had a festival party at his parents’ property.
Cameron: We had two 21sts in a row, mine and then my brother’s the year after and then the next year there was no birthday.
Ruby: So we were like, we just want to have a party, and my parents had a property, and so we started it there. It was really good for us to do it there, and the local community was really good.
How many people were there?
Ruby: The first year was 200…
Cameron: I think we capped it at 200, but we were pushing so many boundaries, we ended up saying “let’s just stop at 150 and it’ll be good.” Sold it in two weeks, didn’t have any permits, and just said if you want to make a donation at the gate to cover the generator *laughs*, that would be great.
Ruby: And we did cover it. The next year I thought, I don’t want my parents to lose their property because something happens, so we started getting permits, and then it started getting bigger, so we had it at my parents’ farm again. The year after (the third year), some of my very good friends’ parents’ were nice enough to let us expand on to their property, which is about 100m away over the hill.
Are they your closest neighbours?
Ruby: They’re not the closest neighbours, but it’s a lot bigger space for us, they loved the festival, and they were just like “yeah come have it at our house, we’ve got more room, more spaces for camping.
Cameron: We’ve gone from this tiny little spot. It was originally ‘by the meadow’ because it was going to be on the deck of a house, which would look out into the meadow. But we were like “ we cannot put this here,” so we put it in the meadow *laughs*. So we went from down in the bottom of this valley, where her parents house is. And now we have this site that’s right up on top of Bambra, and the view is mental. You just get this whole sweeping view of the flat plains out the back of Geelong.
Ruby: And this will be our third year (fifth overall) doing it there.
Was the first one in the back of a truck?
Cameron: Yeah, the first three were in the back of the same truck.
Ruby: And we had to wait until after business hours on Friday to set it up.
Cameron: It was stressful as. We had music starting at 10 am on the Saturday morning, after the trucks only shows up at 6 pm the night before… AND we had to deck the whole thing out like a professional stage.
Ruby: And then when we started doing the Friday night as well, we couldn’t get the truck in time, so now we have a proper stage.
Cameron: We now have the luxury of delivering a better package for the punters too, we can it in on a Wednesday, and then have all of Thursday and a good chunk of Friday to build something that looks really nice against the background.
Ruby: It started very DIY — and we’re trying, we’re slowly building it up *laughs*. We still like to keep it very local and what we really love, too, and lots of everyone being very involved. So hopefully we’re making it a bit cleaner, a bit more professional too.
What are some of the main things that have changed over the five years, aside from the stage?
Ruby: I think we have learnt that sometimes you need to outsource more and spend a bit more money to make it easier in the long run.
Cameron: Yeah, we’ve kind of ended up focusing on the core part that people enjoy, and then handing off a lot of the other stuff. So we’re involved in making sure that the lineup is amazing, and the sound that delivers the lineup to the punters is as good as we can get. We’ve been so lucky, the sound guys we started with have been phenomenal, they’re audio nerds, they’re amazing. We work pretty close with the food, we think that’s a pretty core part as to why people dig festivals. We try to keep it local as well.
Ruby: Really local, so it has been one of our very good friends for the first couple of years.
Cameron: So we’ve had a chef from back home in Colac, we get him to pick a pop-up menu for the weekend. The food’s important, making sure all that stuff is consistent.
Ruby: We want to make sure it’s good food, but not super expensive. We’re really lucky, Cameron has a motorbike shop, so he has access to a lot of things that we need. My dad and my brothers are builders, without them — at the start especially — we wouldn’t have been able to do it.
So you get the whole family to help out?
Ruby: We get my brother’s friends, and Cameron’s brother’s friends come down.
Cameron: They’ll be there for like six or so days. They’ll work hard a couple days before, then enjoy the festival, and then on a Sunday morning when they’re feeling like dirtbags, they’ll be the ones working the hardest.
Ruby: They’re very good, they put up with a lot, but they have a very good time at it as well.
Cameron: That stuff all around the outside has changed, but what we deliver in the middle is identical. We just try to take a really tidy snapshot of what’s up and coming in music around here (northside Melbourne).
Was there anything in particular you were looking to mix up this year with the lineup?
Cameron: I guess we need to talk about gender equality on the bill. We’re super conscious of it now. We always tried to cater towards gender equality, and I think we managed to do so pretty well from the outset like we had Ali Barter headlining four years ago. Now that there are people specifically going out and pointing out the percentage of females in your lineup, it really makes a good point. And when you see a lot of festivals that don’t, you think, you’ve got to do something about it. There’s no reason why you shouldn’t be able to, given where we are and what we have access to. So we’re extremely conscious of trying to book an equal lineup and I think this year we have over 50% bands with female members in them, we’re pretty happy with that. But it is difficult to do so still; it takes way more work, and it would be far easier to ignore, but that’s a big part of what we set out to do this year.
Do you feel the genres are a little more varied?
Ruby: Yeah, I guess we like to put bands on that we’re going to have fun listening to, mostly.
Cameron: We’ll spend a lot of time going out and seeing these bands.
Ruby: We’re there working, but we want to hear it and be having a good time, and see people having a good time.
Cameron: So if it’s varied, it’s just an indication of what we’ve been listening to in the last 12 to 18 months. But it doesn’t feel that much more varied, I think there’s less hip-hop than we’ve had in the past.
Ruby: This is off the record, but I love hip-hop! So that’s a real disappointment to me.
Cameron: We normally tried to get two or three, but this year we’ve just got HTMLFlowers, 30/70 is I guess a little bit swinging towards hip-hop, but we definitely don’t have as much clear cut hip-hop on the bill this year as normal. There really is no picture, we’ll go out targeting some big acts to head the bill, and then fill in below, as to where we need to find the diversity. If we have heaps of rock bands, we’ll find pop bands and electronic music..”
Ruby: It’s nearly a bit selfish because it’s all just bands we love to listen to, but we think other people will enjoy it as well.
Cameron: It also has to represent either somebody who has put out a debut album that’s doing really well, or somebody that’s emerging and showing such clear talent that they’re going to go somewhere. There are not many bands on our bill that have been just punching around in the middle of the music scene for a long time.
Ruby: What I really like about Meadow is that a lot of it’s done by word-of-mouth, by people who have been before and then their friends come and they’re like, “this is amazing!” Or you go out to a bar and someone’s wearing a By The Meadow t-shirt and they’re talking about how good it was. It’s really nice to hear that, we don’t do that much advertising.
Cameron: We shut it down (during the year).
Ruby: We want to maintain the vibe of people being friendly to each other, we don’t want to cater to a completely different audience. The people who come are amazing people. You want their friends, and the people they would be with to come as well.
Did you have any issues leading up to this festival?
Cameron: This one’s been as smooth as anything. Early on we had some sound pollution issues with neighbours, but you work through those, and you try and build some relationships with those neighbours.
Ruby: It was funny because some of the biggest issues were with neighbours who actually came from Melbourne and had a holiday home.
Cameron: We’ve had nothing this year.
Ruby: Or last year.
Cameron: The hardest things would’ve been in just the band booking. Last year I was away through October, November and start of December in Detroit. That was difficult trying to book a bill from the other side of the world, because it would be like one email a day, if they came back with a bad answer, I’d be like “shit I’ve wasted another day.” I underestimated how hard it would be to converse back and forth. So the bill came out a bit later than we hoped, but that was it, we got there in the end.
What are some of the highlights of the previous years?
Cameron: One of the best ones for me was when I was at the urinal, and this bloke pulled up next to me and he’s like “you run this thing don’t you, you’re one of the ones who runs it, this is great, it’s like a house, but outside and not at a house.” It was like the best thing to hear. This guy was clearly wrecked, but I was like “oh my god, he’s so wise.”
So why the weekend after Easter?
Ruby: It’s a weird time of the year, because you’ve probably just gone to Golden Plains and then pay three weeks later to go to another festival. It’s necessary for us, because of the area we’re in, it has to be out of total fire ban season. We couldn’t do it any earlier than when we do it.
Cameron: Yeah, I don’t how Easter works, but it moves a lot *laughs*. It like follows a full moon or something. We pushed last year forward, because Easter was late April. We just get guided by the first weekend of April, otherwise we try to go the weekend after Easter. Because we’re all working, so we all need that time off over Easter to go and set it up. Last year was hard, because we were all trying to get time off work the week before to go and do it. The idea at first was to go the opposite time of the year to Paradise Music Festival.
Does the timing of the festival worry you financially?
Ruby: We’re really careful with what we spend money on.
Cameron: It would be so easy to go out and spend so much money on a bill, and make an amazing bill and still not get that audience down there. This year was the biggest step we’ve ever taken. But we’ll end in the same position again, net zero, everyone’s had a good time, and we’ll be like “thank god we didn’t lose any money!” You learn so much, and you just make so many connections and meet so many people, you won’t get that from going to gigs or being in a band or whatever, you just don’t learn the same stuff.
How’s the weather in April?
Ruby: Well ours was a little bit colder than usual last year; it wasn’t super cold, but it was colder. I actually noticed a drop in the visits to the first aid tent for people who got thorns in their feet and stuff — everyone was wearing shoes, which is alright!
Where do you source your artists from?
Cameron: We start booking kind of around BIGSOUND time, which is a good indicator of what’s going to go well, but you have to be careful, too. There’s also Melbourne Music Week. We source from everywhere, if you went to one source only, you wouldn’t get a very good picture of what’s happening right now.
Have you tried to reach a crowd that’s outside of the Melbourne bubble?
Cameron: We advertised for the first time, because I truly believe there’s got to be a bunch of kids in that Torquay area, there’s got to be a massive audience down there of this young population, even young families. But maybe we’re too early, and they’re going to have kids, and their kids are going to be ready for festivals. There’s just this massive population boom in and around Torquay and that side of Geelong.
Ruby: I think it’s getting them there in the first place. This isn’t meaning to speak bad of the country people, because I’m from there, but a lot of the bands we’re having are well-known in Melbourne, but not so well-known in country areas. Once people come though, they tend to come back, again and again, it’s a lot to do with them loving the music.
Cameron: I think there will be more people from that area eventually engaging with it. I think Geelong is coming up again, there are a few music venues popping up there now. Better bands are touring out there. Ten years ago they had really good music culture coming out of Geelong, it’s where like King Gizzard and The Murlocs started out. Then it died and all the cool pubs that bands played at, closed. It’s coming back, Workers Club is helping. So here’s hoping there will be more of an audience, because that’s 20 minutes from us, half an hour from Bambra.
What are some of the things about running a festival that are much harder than you expected?
Cameron: We didn’t have any experience. We went to the council and were like “how do you run an event?” like “what do we legally have to do to run this?” Then she started calling in police officers and CFA people to talk to us. We were like 21, and the police officer was like “what are you going to do when somebody dies of a drug overdose?” It was just frustrating being talked down to, we were trying to do the right thing.
Ruby: It’s a weird situation especially with drug talk, a lot of people said “what are you going to do to prevent this?” Well we’re trying to promote a culture where it’s not encouraged, and at the same time we’re going to have everything available in the event that something does happen. Originally they wanted us to put security cameras on every tree. This is when we had 400 people coming to the festival, we couldn’t even afford lights for the campground.
Cam: They were the biggest hurdles, and now that they know we’ve got the ability to run it, we’ve kept people safe for five years in a row down there. That hurdle kind of disappeared.
If you had more money, what would you do to the festival?
Cameron: I wouldn’t change much to be honest.
Ruby: We would probably hire people to do all the work that our dads do, so they wouldn’t have to do it.
Cameron: That’s actually a good one *laughs*. But it wouldn’t matter, they would find something else. If I get somebody else to do the things dad will do, dad will find something else that needs doing, it doesn’t matter if there’s nothing left to do. He will find something.
Ruby: They do love it, though.
Cameron: We’re nearly where we need to be for it to run successfully, and to give us the opportunity to do it again next year. We’re pretty happy. We love the way that it’s forced upon anyone, it’s not on giant billboards or anything. I don’t know if you got the press release, but we get our beers from the guys down the road, our wines from a local winery, our food from our friends in now Lorne, one from Aireys Inlet, and one from Colac. We’re pretty passionate about keeping that stuff strictly local, and deliberately steering clear of food trucks. So there will not be a food truck at our festival.
Ruby: Our stage comes from Winchelsea primary school, which is a primary school about ten minutes away, we have a guy from Colac who brings us a truck full of ice, our sound guys come from Geelong, and the coffee comes from Apollo Bay. Everything we can do, we try and keep really local!
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.
Photos by Sarah Chavdaroska
It was a stroke of absolute genius whoever decided to combine music, a museum and an all-time Australian favourite – booze.
Heading down to the Melbourne Museum on the first Friday of every month to see a fantastic line-up, go exploring (including just standing in absolute AWE of the blue whale skeleton) whilst enjoying a glass of red… Well, as the saying can go, money CAN buy happiness.
It was an absolutely packed affair at the last Nocturnal when the folks behind the planning of this stellar Melbourne event had Total Giovanni, Sampology, Francis Inferno Orchestra and Kate Miller grace their stage.
The stronghold of people (and I say stronghold because there was A LOT of people) was a true testament to the sensational line-up and organisation of one of, what I would call, Melbourne’s more unique music offerings.
Only occurring once a month means it truly stays as a special evening that can be enjoyed by anyone. So although a lot of the booze-happy-crowd was perhaps, at times, over-indulging on the service of full wine bottles (I mean lines, who wants to wait in them – get a bottle) it was still highly enjoyable. Happy, dancing faces could be seen for miles as the people had absolutely flocked to enjoy a night at the museum.
For the month of March (and being the first Friday it’s happening TONIGHT) they have again organised a line-up to be reckoned with – Jordie Lane & The Sleepers, Ainslie Wills, with support from Sean McMahon and Hollie Joyce. Tickets are still available and we couldn’t recommend heading down to Carlton highly enough. Supporting the live-music ventures that happen in Melbourne is exactly why we get to see these dynamic and exciting new things.
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.
“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.
The months leading up to Christmas can be an absolutely tiring time for some. Between festivals that go loud and large like Strawberry Fields, time honoured classics like Meredith and a slew of other events, it’s easy to get lost among the big names. Hopkins Creek not so much managed to get its foot in the door for summer festivals, as it did firmly kick the door down. While only sporting two international headliners, Hopkins Creek nailed so many things in its second year that larger and more established festivals still seem to fluff up.
If you’ve kept your ear to the ground you’re sure to have picked up a bevvy of track IDs from the weekend – so rather than a comprehensive list of every act, we decided to go with Hopkins Creek’s top five moments (in no particular order). Hopefully, if you were there you might agree – and if you missed out, maybe this will encourage you to get your act together and come along next year.
CC Disco smashing out “Great Southern Land” by Icehouse
If you follow Melbourne’s disco darling on Instagram you might have seen a great clip from under the tent of Courtney pounding out an Australian classic. In a set typical of CC’s fondness for definitive disco cuts verging into housier gems, it’s hard to pick out a song or two. However, closing up her set as Saturday night ticked over was a track that got everyone singing. Other noteworthy numbers would be “Dance Ritual I (Lipelis Dream Dance Remix)” by Auntie Flo, but nothing quite compares to a track that would have my parents dancing as much as I was.
Mount Liberation Unlimited teasing out “Double Dance Lover”
The two Swedish maestros brought a brimming live performance to the crater this year, the first international act to play for the festival. Stringing the crowd along with the chipmunk vocal snippets of their most popular track, Mount Lib kept punters going with a fifteen-minute epic.
Sunnyside bringing the funk on Sunday morning
Bringing some balance to the electronic skew of tracks, Sunnyside’s psychedelic jazz performance was the perfect balm for those who might’ve gone a bit too deep in the crater the night before. Proving once and for all that the clarinet can well and truly be an instrument of dancefloor destruction, the quartet swung effortlessly through tempos and some bonus lyricism, bringing some hip-hop swing to their jazz.
Brian Not Brian singing along to Vera’s “Take Me To The Bridge”
Coming in hot from the UK was certified crate digger Brian Not Brian to headline Hopkins Creek. Slotted with the closing set for Hopkins, Brian Not Brian came on after a phenomenal closing track from Pjenne (Kings Of Tomorrow’s “Finally” if you’re interested). Opening up with a spoken word piece announcing that “peace is the word, the word is peace. Peace,” Brian brought in the healthy kick drum, bells, and whistles of Beautiful Swimmer’s “Oh Yeah”. With plenty more percussive belters like “Trummor” by HNNY, Brian Not Brian guided dancers through an exceptional sunset over the crater. As darkness settled and the end of Brian’s set came rolling around, a scarily familiar slap bass line came crawling over the speakers. There was a palpable energy as everyone grabbed their closest friend and sung the hook to “Take Me To The Bridge”. Clearly, Brian was vibing it too –
having an absolute ball in his gumboots (clearly well equipped) and it was enough to get an extra half an hour out of his set.
Hopkins Creek DJs, playing pretty much every classic under the sun
Whispers had been floating around that there would be an extended bar set after Brian Not Brian from the organisers – and after such a stellar effort from the team, they had truly earnt themselves that dream closing slot. Not one for subtleties, things got started with Tears For Fears‘ “Everybody Wants To Rule The World”. Between Todd, Olly, Ryan, Josh and James Keys there was a bit of one man upmanship over some hours, maybe being a bit disjointed sometimes but certainly entertaining. Everything from some deeper cuts (Dense & Pika’s “Colt” and Fort Romeau’s “Saku”) to soulful disco numbers (Jocelyn Brown’s “Somebody Else’s Guy” and Mary Clarke Jr’s “Take Me I’m Yours”) to the downright classics (Eric Prydz “Call On Me” and Groove Armada “Superstylin’ ”). Arguably it would be “Retro Grade” by Moda that burnt the house down, heavy on the effects and a nostalgic throwback to the parties that incubated the idea of Hopkins Creek. For me, that would have to be a personal highlight for Hopkins Creek 2017.
Of course, there were plenty of other exceptional moments that deserve a mention. Andy Garvey playing some electro bombs like “My World (Night Drive Mix)” by Sunday Brunch would have to be a hit. Also props to the annoyingly rare “Do I Do” by Maurice McGee getting a spin by Barry Sunset and Fitz-e (Rayko’s edit to be specific, a gem that teases out the vocal for oh so long). Also Claudia Jones – you guys were so much fun and exactly what Hopkins needed to get everyone dancing that Friday night.
All in all, Hopkins Creek proved that bigger isn’t necessarily better, during a time where Australians seem to steer towards smaller and more boutique festivals. The organisers held it together despite any inclement weather (I was feeling nervous camping in what was essentially a giant bowl during a one in a hundred year storm).
Everyone looked like they were having a good time, and from what I heard their policy of inclusivity and calling out any unwanted behaviour was held up. Facilities were ace; staff, sound, and light all did a fantastic job – as did Rhys Newling on the visuals. Not to mention the setting in the crater was sublime. Checklists aside, it was simply an incredibly fun weekend, and hats off to the crew who put it together. You can count me in for the crater next year.